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06-04-2018, 07:24 AM - 1 Like   #1
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Thoughts about wedding cameras

I’ve read many reviews of the 645z declaring it suboptimal for weddings compared to a small-format setup. Now that I’ve handled the 645z for a little while, I confess I don’t get it.

Granted, I have history with this topic that colors my thinking. I photographed my first wedding in the late 70’s using a Mamiya C3, with its 80mm normal lens and a Sunpak 611 potato-masher strobe. I would walk in the door with two 5-roll “Pro-Packs” of Vericolor Type S Professional film, which provided 120 exposures total. I would deliver a proof book with 120 pictures in it, maybe 119.

I used that camera (or it’s C-33 and C-330 successors), later with Vivitar 283 strobes, up until the early 2000’s. Then, I switched to a 645, and upped my exposures per event to about 300. My last film wedding was in 2005.

Digital changes things. My wife and I do them together, and with digital we make about 1600-2000 exposures per event. I do the formal photos and altar returns, and she does the candids. I would like to dial that back—too much time in editing. I keep my cameras in single-shot mode—timing is about anticipation, not motor drives.

Certain skills from the film era never leave me: prefocusing on a spot and making the photo when the target passes that spot, using a powerful automatic flash (or two) instead of “available light” (if you have the flash, it’s available), planning film changes for lulls, planning battery changes in advance, getting the shot without chimping, checking the M-X flash sync switch frequently (a nudge of that switch will ruin your day), having a camera utterly unlike the one Uncle Harry has, being willing to organize the photographable events during the reception (without getting in trouble with the bride’s mother, the only person to be truly afraid of), and so on.

The complaints I see about the Pentax being too slow tells me that wedding photographers are reacting instead of planning. The 645z is a screamer compared to traditional commercial-use cameras. And who needs to worry about wide apertures when using a camera that provides great images at ISO 3200, and can be dialed back to 100 to allow an open aperture or a useful flash range?

The AF540FGZ is about as powerful as that Sunpak, and two of them work together very well. A better battery pack would be nice, but those are available.

The camera is different from the APS-C camera Uncle Harry has, which makes it easier for the photographer to command attention for a group photo.

A Stroboframe QuickFlip with an Arca-style quick-release works perfectly, with a soft box attachment in the flash (which makes the biggest difference when moving in close). Rear-curtain sync is useful for what we used to call “dragging the shutter”.

The 645z supports all these features more than adequately.

For me, it’s the perfect wedding camera, and a real differentiator.

So, there are all these reviews saying it handles too slowly. What am I missing?

Rick “maybe too much of a throwback” Denney

06-04-2018, 07:40 AM   #2
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I have used my K-7 and K-1 for weddings (I don't do them much, thankfully) and from seeing what wedding photographers are doing now (they seem to like long, 200mm lenses more than before), I think it comes down to weight. The APS-C camera will be smaller, lighter and because of this, quicker to handle. But the 645 has advantages too, some of which you mentioned. What about the photographers using a Hasseblad? Few I know, due to the price, but they're out there! Maybe it is the photojournalist mentality of shooting weddings!

Regards,
06-04-2018, 08:31 AM   #3
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You're not missing anything. You are obviously someone that knows how to use a camera, and are getting good results. I have done events/weddings with the K-1000 film camera, K-20D dslr, and have shot with two K-5s, a K-5IIS, a K-3II, and a K-1 II. They all did well.

Happy shooting!
06-04-2018, 09:09 AM - 1 Like   #4
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The photojournalist mentality is certainly part of it. But I think a lot of semi-pro or new-pro photographers misunderstand what that means. (Maybe I do, too.) They think it means the photography is entirely spontaneous, unplanned, and invisible. It seems to me it really means that the photos are of people doing things, not just standing in front of the camera, with more environmental light. When I look at the work of pros used as examples by the wedding industry, I see the illusion of spontaneity created by careful planning and lots of flash power devoted to general room light. Again, anticipation is more important than reaction time.

Photographers of the 50’s used Graflex cameras, with flashbulbs. (Speaking of photojournalism, these were also the press cameras of the day, and the cameras that originated the term “dragging the shutter”). Those are beasts and handling nightmares, but they got spontaneous photos with them by anticipating their shots and being ready. Then, they used Hasselblads or rollfilm press cameras, with Honeywell Strobonars or Normans. Then the Mamiya C330 was very popular (I had a C-3 because I couldn’t afford a C-330). A C-330 with a belt-battery-powered Norman flash head on a Stroboframe was the standard free-lance side-man setup for many pros. Bronica SQ’s were also popular as a cheaper alternative to ‘blads. Then 645 cameras—Bronica and Mamiya mostly (Pentax was a little late to that game).

The advent of thyristor automatic flashes was more revolutionary than any camera change until TTL flash metering came along. The Sunpak 611 and (especially) the 622 became the dominant choices—the popularity of the Metz CT-4 came later when Sunpak moved downmarket.

Photojournalism had forked into 35mm by the late 60’s, which was good enough for a 90-Line screen on newsprint. But we all hoped the bride’s family would want 11x14 prints (enlargements were where most made their money), and 35mm is too unforgiving at that print size. But the average photojournalist of the Vietnam era would carry two or three Nikon F’s or F2’s each with a different lens—certainly a lot to handle.

My point is that photographers need to bulk up. A 645z on a Stroboframe QuickFlip with an AF540 flash is a lighter rig than a Hasselblad with a Honeywell or Norman (or Sunpak handle-mount) flash. It’s lighter than two Nikon F’s, and no bulkier than a C-330 with a pro strobe. It’s no heavier than than my 5DII with battery grip, QuickFlip, f/2.8 zoom, and 580EX Speedlight.

In return for the bigger rig, we get great large prints even if focus isn’t perfect, and more respect from those we want to pose (in a way that makes it look spontaneous). We also get great high-ISO performance irrespective of pixel-level noise, simply because pixel effects just aren’t enlarged as much. We can shoot at 3200 and f/8 and still get great flash range.

The only possible downside I see is that we just don’t need 50 megapixels, until the bride’s mother decides she wants a big enough print of the family group photo that she can admire her diamond earrings, even after cropping out the hated in-laws.

Rick “wondering why so many people work out so much these days only to be unwilling to carry heavy things” Denney

06-04-2018, 09:15 AM   #5
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Perhaps it is from a perspective photo journalistic style of recording weddings these days. Know doubt you'd have more than one camera on hand for the event. And I see reaching for a fast sports-like camera that has stabilization in the lens or body for capturing those needed candid shots an excellent choice and using the MFD for more formal shots.
06-04-2018, 09:18 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by C_Jones Quote
You're not missing anything. You are obviously someone that knows how to use a camera, and are getting good results. I have done events/weddings with the K-1000 film camera, K-20D dslr, and have shot with two K-5s, a K-5IIS, a K-3II, and a K-1 II. They all did well.



Happy shooting!
Old-fart rant notwithstanding, I must acknowledge that I have shot my last few weddings (and truly I do them rarely) using my 5D and 24-105 zoom lens, with an even older 550EX flash. It did fine, but it didn’t look any different than Uncle Harry’s digital Rebel and it was hard to get people to acknowledge me as the principle photographer. And believe me, most people still want all the formal group shots, photojournalism notwithstanding. But big print needs are rare, true enough, and the 13 megapixels was usually enough. My wife used a Nikon D300, but has since upgraded to a D500, which has much better high-ISO performance.

Rick “thinking the 645z is a big step up, at least for the formals and altar returns” Denney

---------- Post added 06-04-18 at 09:23 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
...No doubt you'd have more than one camera on hand for the event. And I see reaching for a fast sports-like camera that has stabilization in the lens or body for capturing those needed candid shots a excellent choice and using the MFD for more formal shots.

Indeed. But I still think the 645z is better at that sort of thing than the reviewers acknowledge. Good photography happened before stabilization.

Rick “or leaving that for the ‘assistant’” Denney
06-04-2018, 10:07 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by rdenney Quote
Indeed. But I still think the 645z is better at that sort of thing than the reviewers acknowledge. Good photography happened before stabilization.
Agree. But the bar has been raised. For handhold work where you're keeping the ISO low as possible for the best tonal scale, stabilization is something I'd rather have than not.
06-04-2018, 10:16 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
Agree. But the bar has been raised. For handhold work where you're keeping the ISO low as possible for the best tonal scale, stabilization is something I'd rather have than not.

Seems to me it takes a pretty high ISO to reduce the tonal scale of the 645 down to that of smaller cameras (particularly APS-C cameras).

But that Vericolor was ISO 100 film, and it worked.

Let Uncle Harry get the available-light fluorescent color cast. I’ll take the corrected color of strobes.

Rick “speak softly and carry a big flash” Denney

06-04-2018, 10:47 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by rdenney Quote
Seems to me it takes a pretty high ISO to reduce the tonal scale of the 645 down ...
What is your minimum handhold shutter speed for a focal length equivalent to 200mm on a FF with your Z?
06-04-2018, 11:25 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
What is your minimum handhold shutter speed for a focal length equivalent to 200mm on a FF with your Z?


I can’t think of a wedding photograph I have ever made or wanted to make at a focal length of 4.5 times the format diameter, except maybe a few ceremony closeups from the back of the church. I’ve always wanted more environment than such a lens provides.

My 70-200 for my Canon is not stabilized. My wife’s 70-200/2.8 VR Nikkor is, but it’s easily as heavy as the 300 A*, which is no lightweight.

But to answer your question, I can shoot the 645 300 A* at f/4 with excellent results, which provides 48 feet of range at full power for the AF540 at ISO 100. At ISO 200, it’s nearly 70 feet.

I can also handhold it with reasonable confidence in a typical moderately well lit interior at ISO 3200. And those are not the prints people want in large sizes.

Plus, the 645z can reach deeply into the shadows.

I doubt I would ever use a focal length longer than 200, and the 645 200 FA is a lightweight.

I do enjoy the stabilization of the Canon 24-105, but not so much in wedding situations as in other situations, because at a wedding reception I’m always using strobes, which freeze action and camera motion better than IS.

I have a 5DII and a 645z. I think an experiment is in order.

The key, though, is that pixel-level camera motion is not a problem at a 6x enlargement to 8x10, but my wife’s D500 requires a 13x enlargement to make the same 8x10. That enlarges noise, motion, and lens faults twice as much. The larger sensor is more forgiving.

Rick “a master at finding usable camera supports in the environment, too” Denney
06-04-2018, 01:33 PM - 1 Like   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by rdenney Quote
I’ve read many reviews of the 645z declaring it suboptimal for weddings compared to a small-format setup. Now that I’ve handled the 645z for a little while, I confess I don’t get it.

The complaints I see about the Pentax being too slow tells me that wedding photographers are reacting instead of planning.
For me, it’s the perfect wedding camera, and a real differentiator.

So, there are all these reviews saying it handles too slowly. What am I missing?
Back in the film days when I shot weddings with my 645, the two main arguments against the Pentax 645/67 systems, for wedding photographers, was the lack of interchangeable film backs and a slow flash sync speed for outdoors fill flash at receptions.

The flash sync issue could be overcome with a leaf-shutter lens, but traditional Hasselblad, Rollei, Contax, Bronica, and Mamiya shooters would still claim that Pentaxʻs lack of interchangeable backs, made it unsuitable. It was never an issue for me, but I can imagine if you were used to swapping out backs to either change B&W to color or for speed between rolls, it could be a deal breaker.

It is clear that Pentax was not trying to compete with the likes of Hassie and Mamiya for the wedding niche. Mamiya still makes and sells 13 different leaf-shutter lenses for their 645 Mamiya mounts. For the Pentax 645Z, the flash sync speed of 1/125" limits use of fill flash outdoors and there arenʻt many leaf-shutter lens options.

In terms of small format vs. medium format....the only technical argument I can see is for spray and pray photographers. Youʻre not going to get the buffer or the fps from MF as you would from FF.

If you ask me, a good photographer with planning and anticipation can get the same or better shots than one who needs technology to improve their chance and luck approach.
06-04-2018, 02:33 PM - 2 Likes   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Alex645 Quote
Back in the film days when I shot weddings with my 645, the two main arguments against the Pentax 645/67 systems, for wedding photographers, was the lack of interchangeable film backs and a slow flash sync speed for outdoors fill flash at receptions.

The flash sync issue could be overcome with a leaf-shutter lens, but traditional Hasselblad, Rollei, Contax, Bronica, and Mamiya shooters would still claim that Pentaxʻs lack of interchangeable backs, made it unsuitable. It was never an issue for me, but I can imagine if you were used to swapping out backs to either change B&W to color or for speed between rolls, it could be a deal breaker.

It is clear that Pentax was not trying to compete with the likes of Hassie and Mamiya for the wedding niche. Mamiya still makes and sells 13 different leaf-shutter lenses for their 645 Mamiya mounts. For the Pentax 645Z, the flash sync speed of 1/125" limits use of fill flash outdoors and there arenʻt many leaf-shutter lens options.

In terms of small format vs. medium format....the only technical argument I can see is for spray and pray photographers. Youʻre not going to get the buffer or the fps from MF as you would from FF.

If you ask me, a good photographer with planning and anticipation can get the same or better shots than one who needs technology to improve their chance and luck approach.
True enough. I especially favor your last two paragraphs.

There are two reasons to need interchangeable backs: Quick film changes, and switching between different films. With a 645z, the latter is just a few button pushes. Want to switch from ISO 400 to ISO 3200 for a shot? One button push and rotation of the thumb dial. And popping another memory card in there every 700-800 shots (I use a 64G card) seems no real heartache.

But even with the film 645, which I used for weddings, switching inserts is no more difficult than switching backs. In fact it's easier, because you don't have to worry about that thin dark slide. I own four 120 and two 220 inserts. That would cover me for the pre-ceremony batch, and then I would reload during the preacher's homily. Then I'd be good for the altar returns, and then I would reload after the B&G had arrived at the reception. Then I'd be good for the reception activities and escape.

Of course, not all the Mamiyas had interchangeable backs.

But lots and lots of pros used Mamiya C330's for weddings, too, and those certainly don't have interchangeable backs. You learn how to load film fast.

Did you ever switch from black and white to color? Me, neither. Changing film speed was more useful, but I had two 645's, and often would bring my Exakta 66, too. I would set the Exakta up in the balcony with a fisheye lens to get a comprehensive view of the church interior, and maybe a comprehensive group shot, looking down on the assembled crowd from a ladder (that worked well for small weddings). The N would have the 75LS lens on it, with a QuickFlip and a Vivitar 283 plugged into the lens. The NII would have the 45-85, with the AF500FTZ.

Polaroid was another advantage to interchangeable backs, but not any more, and never at weddings.

Now, for the leaf shutter thing. The reason Hasselblad went to leaf shutters is because the focal-plane shutter in the 1600f was too unreliable. But now you have a different shutter in every lens, which means a different meaning of shutter speeds in every lens. If you just use one lens, you get used to it, but if you change lenses often, you end up with a table of corrections on the side of the camera. Nobody I knew would send their lenses in for CLA every year or two, and even then +/- a third of a stop was acceptable variation.

Now, of course, there is high-speed synch, and the two leaf-shutter lenses. I would only use those for set shots, though. In an outdoor venue, I'd rather have the assistant holding a white reflector than a second flash on a stick as is now common practice. But it is a real limitation, to be sure. Most photographers these days use small-format cameras, and they only gain one stop of shutter speeds for flash sync (1/256 instead of 1/125). I've had HSS on my Canon for years and I'm not sure I've ever used it.

And it only takes a 2x neutral density filter to be able to run f/8 with a flash at iso 100, even in full sun, with a sync speed of 1/125.

Part of the appeal of Hasselblad, Mamiya, and Bronica was that by the time Pentax came out with the 645 in the early 80's, wedding pros had already consolidated their equipment. Pentax was too late in the market to really compete for the wedding trade. Also, by that time, Pentax was "an amateur brand"--it was before the LX came out (which also came out too late to be competitive). Too many Uncle Harrys had a Spotmatic or K1000.

As much as I am deeply in love wtih the Pentax 67, I would never want to use one for a wedding. But for lots of other things, it was special. I recall a pro making photos of exhibition booths at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston in about 1974. That was the first time I saw a Pentax 6x7 being used, and by a skilled pro. I fell in love from that moment, but couldn't afford to dip into it significantly until about a decade ago.

Truth to tell, I bought the 645NII because my wife was doing weddings with me, and she is no technician. She needed the automation provided by the NII--my C330 was utterly unusable by her. Then, the C330's film advance crapped out on the next gig, and fortunately I felt it happening and switched to my backup C33 for the rest of that wedding. I immediately bought a used N to go along with her NII. But the NII was still too much for her, so she went back to her Nikon for doing candids and I used the two 645's.

I seem to get pulled into doing weddings often enough to need all my past skills but not so often that they are easy to remember. I always have to do a little rehearsing with the camera beforehand.

Rick "old stories" Denney
06-04-2018, 02:45 PM - 1 Like   #13
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Everybody and his dog seems to have a 5D with f/2.8 lenses these days, they prowl forums asking for wedding advice, hoping that their high ISO will avoid them having to buy a very expensive flashgun(s) or more suitable lenses. Many see it as a means to a quick buck, seduced by the 'courses' that give you a certificate and ability to put a fake portfolio together or the agencies that will send a pool 'photographer' to such and such a wedding.
MF digital by comparison is a _much_ more expensive and limited field (alien to most). In the film days I don't recall anyone not using MF for formal wedding shots, although 35mm began to creep in towards the end as 'reportage style'. Complaining about the tools you haven't got (or can't afford), probably goes someway to justifying the gear you have.
06-04-2018, 03:43 PM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
What is your minimum handhold shutter speed for a focal length equivalent to 200mm on a FF with your Z?
Quick test. I took a picture of a kaleidoscope made from a section of a flute sitting on my piano. Conditions were typical well-lit interior.

I compared shots made using my Canon 5DII with the 70-200 f/4 L. I braced this camera solidly against a door jamb to prevent movement, in order to simulate IS, which the lens doesn't have. ISO was 400, f/4 at 1/50.

The 645z shot was made with the 645 A* 300 ED(IF), manually focused using the focus confirmation. I braced this against the door jamb, too, but less carefully. A little camera motion is visible at the pixel level, and I think I missed focus a hair. ISO was 3200, f/4 at 1/200.

Both got the default sharpening and noise reduction provided by DXO Photolab. I did not sharpen after downsampling.

First, I show the two full-frame images to get a sense of the feel of the rendering. There is no doubt that I prefer the color and tonality of the 645 image. Again, this is straight out of the camera as RAW with exactly the same default treatment in Photolab. Note that Photolab has the 70-200 in its database and it thus benefitted from the default corrections, while the Pentax lens is not.

Then, I show a center part of the image cropped and then downsample to 800 pixels. In both cases, these simulates the look of the center part in an 8"-high print (8x10 for the 645, 8x12 for the Canon), if printed at about 360 ppi. This, of course, required much more downsampling from the Pentax file. Note they show up on a 100-ppi monitor nearly four times the size they would be in an 8"-high print, so pretend you are looking at the print through a 4x loupe. No attempt was made to sharpen at target resolution.

645z full image:


Canon full image:


645 center crop at 8x10 sampling rate:


And here is the Canon center crop:


Conclusions: 300 on the 645 is a little more pull than 200 on 24x36.

The full image tonality strongly favors the 645, in my subjective opinion. This is partly because of greater blur in the background. And it's partly because the Pentax colors are simply more accurate. The Canon image has more color contrast, letting the blue coexist with the yellow in a way that would be harder to correct. It looks good, but the Pentax rendering looks better. This is an advantage of the larger sensor.

The Canon lens focused more reliably, and also benefitted from slightly greater depth of field. And it's probably a little sharper at f/4, too. It is an L-series lens, after all.

The noise of the Pentax image at this magnification is certainly no more noticeable than on the Canon image, despite the much higher ISO.

If these were people pictures, I'd prefer the Pentax image.

So, what have we learned? For this to be a fair test, the Pentax lens would need autofocus to be sure of accurate focus in the heat of battle. But it also tells me that the Pentax at ISO 3200 makes prettier tonality than the Canon at ISO 400, which takes advantage of the greater pixel count and also the larger sensor. Both of these had effectively the same shutter speed, with respect to camera shake--1/50 with the "advantage" of two-stop IS, and 1/200 without. The ISO's were three stops different, so the Canon's meter just went a stop darker than did the Pentax.

There is clearly an advantage to having IS to minimize any potential camera shake. The advantage is not huge, however. The advantage of accurate autofocus is greater. My point was that it is easy to overstate that IS advantage. I certainly cannot refute Tuco's point of view, and if I really needed a 200mm lens (on 24x36), I would probably optimize for that a bit more.

Rick "pretty goofy test" Denney

---------- Post added 06-04-18 at 03:55 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by johnha Quote
Everybody and his dog seems to have a 5D with f/2.8 lenses these days, they prowl forums asking for wedding advice, hoping that their high ISO will avoid them having to buy a very expensive flashgun(s) or more suitable lenses. Many see it as a means to a quick buck, seduced by the 'courses' that give you a certificate and ability to put a fake portfolio together or the agencies that will send a pool 'photographer' to such and such a wedding.
MF digital by comparison is a _much_ more expensive and limited field (alien to most). In the film days I don't recall anyone not using MF for formal wedding shots, although 35mm began to creep in towards the end as 'reportage style'. Complaining about the tools you haven't got (or can't afford), probably goes someway to justifying the gear you have.
Could be. But I do think it's true that professional results are quite possible with small-format digital equiment, which generally has better lenses and resolution than did the 24x36 film cameras of yesteryear.

I wasn't trying to argue that a proper small-format camera wouldn't work. I was arguing that the reviews that claim they are clearly superior to the 645z for weddings at the very least overstate the value of quick handling.

But you are right that back in the film era, a 35mm camera was the mark of an amateur at a wedding.

Rick "weddings are not sports, nor are they news photography" Denney

Last edited by rdenney; 06-04-2018 at 03:50 PM.
06-04-2018, 04:23 PM   #15
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This has been an interesting discourse. It also made me realize that I knew nothing about the 75LS lens. So I looked into it and discovered some ambiguity in directions for its use with flash. Perhaps one of you could translate this English statement from Page 8 of the LS lens instructions:

"Precautions on flash photography using X sync socket:
When an electronic flash is used in the lens shutter mode, connect the cord to the X sync socket. When using a dedicated Pentax clip-on type electronic flash, utilize Hot-shoe Grip, 4P sync cord C, etc. available as optional accessories. ..."

Evidently, this direction is tailored to the 645, as the 645N uses 5P flash cables, and doesn't require the Hot-shoe Grip because it has a hot shoe on the finder housing. What I am questioning is when using the leaf shutter and a Pentax dedicated flash, e.g., AF500FTZ, whether an X-connector cable is used on the 645N from camera to LS lens, or does the camera control the lens shutter through the camera-to-lens interface contacts while controlling the flash through the hot shoe (or any 5P cable)?

My second question is if the LS lens shutter is controlled by the camera via the lens contacts, does TTL work on the flash? Even 1/500 second (2000 microseconds) is long compared to typical flash quench timing in TTL.

Thanks
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