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12-08-2010, 04:58 PM   #1
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Help with choosing my first flash.

Evening all,
I have tried the search function and not finding easily what I am looking for so hopefully you mind the question. I am a complete beginner with my camera. I would like to purchase a hot shoe flash. I want good quality and one that will last me a long time as far as options go. I have no idea how much I will use it but I want one that I wont regret buying and say I should have bought this one instead.
I am quit surprised at the price of the Pentax AF 540. Could you help shed some light on the basics of choosing a flash. What about Sigma or metz. I have no idea what I need.

Thanks.

12-08-2010, 05:15 PM   #2
Ira
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It's complicated, but the main thing you want to know at this stage is the POWER of the flash. The 540 can illuminate a much bigger room than the 360. (I forget if that's the model # for the smaller of the two Pentax units.)

Both Pentax flashes will offer you true P-TTL (Through-The-Lens) metering, not just TTL, which is a long story and you don't need to know that know. P-TTL flashes mean this:

The flash sits in the hot shoe, but that shoe isn't just used to trigger the flash:

There are contacts there that take your P-TTL flash and turn it into a mini-computer almost--actually integrating it as part of your body's metering system. As the camera's metering system analyzes the amount of light actually entering the lens and what's needed for your choice of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, the flash behaves accordingly.

This can be done in a fully auto mode because you don't WANT to know what the heck is going on (you just want it to work), or you can choose one of dozens of ways to manipulate the variables for the exact effect you want or need.

Some older flashes just sit on your camera and fire at full power, and you adjust aperture for proper exposure. (They're DUMB flashes, but if you know what you're doing and are shooting in manual mode, you can sure use them.) Some other older flashes actually have an "eye" that measures ambient light, so all you do is set your shutter speed and the aperture, and they adjust their output based on the ISO that you selected on their little wheel. (The wheel is just a diagram that tells you what aperture and shutter speed to set based on your ISO.) But this eye is based on the flash's position--not the light that actually hits the sensor.

P-TTL flashes are specifically programmed for your camera type (Pentax, Nikon, etc.), and they read the light entering the lens. And yes--there are third party flashes out there that will work just fine for your model. Jolepp here bought a reasonably priced model off eBay, from Hong Kong.

There's more, but I'm not saying I know it. I'm also not saying this is the best explanation available, but I hope it points you in the direction.

For example, the advantages of true P-TTL versus just straight TTL are important when using more than one flash.

But:

If you can afford it, you can't go wrong with that 540 for ease of use, power, and compactness. However, if you switch to Nikon next year, you're screwed.

Last edited by Ira; 12-08-2010 at 05:22 PM.
12-08-2010, 05:27 PM   #3
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How big a room would one need to be working in to require the extra power of the 540?
12-08-2010, 05:59 PM   #4
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You need power for bouncing, or HSS, or shooting through a Stofen, or using CTO gells. All of those things eat flash power, it's not just a matter of room size. The mMore power the better.

That said, I bought a Metz 48 as I couldn't at the time afford the 58 or the Pentax 540. The 48 has a lot more power than the Pentax 360 for the same money.

12-08-2010, 06:06 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by paperbag846 Quote
How big a room would one need to be working in to require the extra power of the 540?
I guess more is always better when it comes to flash power, especially when you consider bouncing off a ceiling, where you'll lose half your power.

This is one of the reasons I'm looking to go the old manual flash route--I just want the most powerful thing I can get that I can easily manipulate and angle to point anywhere I want, or to attach a diffuser box to.

Not only is an onboard flash not going to cut it as far as this last requirement is goes, modern P-TTL is going to cost me a lot more.

I'm only looking for a flash to do the occasional party, and walk around portraits with that diffuser. I was considering P-TTL, but since I'm not going to be doing intricate stuff, I decided on just some cheap power.
12-08-2010, 06:57 PM   #6
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I had a Pentax 540, and only used it a very few times. I never used its full capabilities.

I also know that I am not a "flash type", so I found a better home for the 540 and got a cheap Bower (even though I'm not a big fan of Bower products) that has 2 auto modes and a manual mode. It bounces and swivels, and has a manually zoomable head. It cost under $40 and I have used it far more in 6 months than I did with the 540 in 2 or 3 years.

Last edited by SpecialK; 12-08-2010 at 09:07 PM.
12-08-2010, 07:18 PM   #7
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I'm a big fan of the Metz 48
12-08-2010, 09:06 PM   #8
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First, there are several options, comprehensively covered here:

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-camera-field-accessories/43215-pen...omparison.html

I skipped all that, scraped up enough cash for an AF-540FGZ, and bought it. It is a very nice flash, does all kinds of cool tricks. However, what you'd really like for that much money is perfection - just pop the thing on, turn it on, and perfect exposures every time. I do not think any flash will do that for you. For me, the AF-540FGZ comes close, and I have learned how to make adjustments when it doesn't.

If I didn't get the 540, I was considering a dumb but powerful flash and setting everything myself. Light is light, as long as the exposure is correct. I didn't do this because when I use flash, I'm only interested in full automation. This type of flash will never be obsolete, and the knowledge you gain might be priceless. I can see getting good enough so you don't need much setup time for shots.

The third possibility is picking through features and prices until you find a good mix. That may be hard for you because you haven't defined your potential use.

12-08-2010, 09:32 PM   #9
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Original Poster
Thanks for your replies,
Good points and especially the one about my intended use.
So I basically would like an all purpose flash for indoor use with family etc... I do not really know where else I would utilize the flash as my knowledge is not there yet. I just want one that I can grow into later as I develop my skills and knowledge. I do not want to buy a second flash later on if my needs change.
Hopefully that helps and makes sense.

Thanks again.
12-08-2010, 09:58 PM   #10
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Something I just remembered: I don't like the balance of my camera (K-7 or *ist DS) with the AF-540FGZ on the hotshoe, unless I have a zoom lens on it. I mostly use the DA 16-45, the kit lens, or a really heavy FA 28-105/4-5.6. With a prime lens, the camera is top-heavy. That makes an auto-zooming head a valuable feature. The wireless operation with the upper-tier cameras is a nice way to get the flash off the shoe.
12-08-2010, 10:47 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sitting Bull Quote
Thanks for your replies,
Good points and especially the one about my intended use.
So I basically would like an all purpose flash for indoor use with family etc... I do not really know where else I would utilize the flash as my knowledge is not there yet. I just want one that I can grow into later as I develop my skills and knowledge. I do not want to buy a second flash later on if my needs change.
Hopefully that helps and makes sense.

Thanks again.
Makes Perfect sense. What you want is something so that you won't discover later you really wanted the other features in a flash. I'm sure the Metz 48 is a fine flash and I Know the Pentax AF360 is. I don't have any experience with what I call aftermarket flashes with Pentax so I cannot speak on the Bower type options. They may also be fine units, I just don't know. The only thing the AF360 lacks that some find really useful is a Swivel head. It's plenty to light up a small family setting indoors and has most of the other features of it's big brother, the AF540.

That said, My recommendation now, is to decide on a budget. The prices of these guns varies wildly depending on where you buy them. There are also used options for all of them. Decide on a budget and then buy the flash that offers the most bang in the way of features and power. Even if you think you'll never use them, better to have and not use than not have and want.. Get what I'm saying? I would make the same recommendations for any purchase such as this, including the camera body.

12-08-2010, 10:50 PM   #12
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Metz 48, a great balance between power and price and fully compatible with Pentax.

I love mine.
12-09-2010, 05:08 AM - 1 Like   #13
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For about thirty dollars you can pick up a used Pentax AF280T somewhere. For about thirty minutes of your time you can learn all you need to know to use it. And there isn't a soul on earth who can tell the difference between a photo shot with that and one shot with a brand-new $500 flash.

Just recently I shot every single one of these with a $30 AF280T left over from the 1980s and all of these with a $10 AF200T from the same era.

Another flash picked up for $10, an early-1980s National PE-3057 provided the light for these








For the first one, twenty bucks supplied the lens.

My point for the original poster is that just because taking pictures is a hobby that can require a lot of money doesn't mean that it is a hobby that must require a lot of money. In the final rubber-meets-the-road analysis of flash photography all ANY flash unit does is provide a measured output of light. Some offer more automation or bells-n-whistles than others which are intended to make your life a little easier and some are capable of providing a bigger dose of light than others...but when all is said and done they all do the exact same thing. That being the case....combined with the simple fact that I am poor....I have never seen the need to buy brand-new top-dollar flash equipment. This is one area where a little time and effort spent learning what are truly the very simple basics of using a flash can save you hundreds upon hundreds of dollars with no deleterious effect on your photography whatsoever. If you have to scrimp in some area of photography, this is the area to do it in.

I'm not telling you not to get the 540 or one of the units from Metz; I am sure they are fine products and would serve you well. I simply wish to point out that you can dip your toes into the flash photography pool for very little investment and see how you like the water if you like instead of having your wallet do a cannonball off the high dive first.

(If you get really bored, I have a couple thousand photos in a Flickr set titled Low-Budget Flash, thrown together just to illustrate the point I have tried to make here)

Last edited by Mike Cash; 12-09-2010 at 05:17 AM.
12-09-2010, 06:55 AM   #14
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I want to second Mike Cash on the AF280T and just want to add that it is very versatile and very easy to use in auto mode for your applications
12-09-2010, 12:10 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by paperbag846 Quote
How big a room would one need to be working in to require the extra power of the 540?
Is this a rhetorical question?

I don't know if there is a definite answer to that. But I'll tell you my story.

The room that is most photographed in my house is the dining room. It's 14 ft X 19 ft with a 17 ft ceiling. The biggest baddest flash unit I have is a Sunpak 611 (I think GN 160 ft @ ISO of 100). Many times I wish it were more powerful.

I don't want to go over ISO 800 for the K7 or over ISO 400 for the K10D. I want to bounce the flash off the ceiling to get even lighting. With the Pentax 540, The smallest aperture I can use is f/5.6 (K10D) or f/8 (K7). In many cases the DoF is not sufficient. With the Sunpak 611 and the K7, I can go f/11.

Of course multiple flashes help. But sometimes I don't have time to set them up.

If I used direct flash, the built in flash would be sufficient.

Last edited by SOldBear; 12-09-2010 at 01:15 PM.
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