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06-22-2012, 03:27 PM   #1
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Looking to get into off camera flash, need ideas for a lens/flash combination

My K-x is broken and barring a miracle will not be replaced. After considering my options (and fixing the K-x is not one of them due to the expense vs return - I can buy a used camera cheaper then the repairs would probably be) I've decided I want to broaden my horizons a bit and get into mucking about with light.

Basically I have a ~two year plan~ involved here, slating a chunk of my tax refund in two parts to eventually reach my overall goal.

Part one involves getting a new camera - most likely the K-30 - sometime this fall or winter when my budget allows. I'm planning on getting both the 18-135mm and some sort of prime lens which I can use for mucking about with off camera flash.

This also, of course, means I need to invest in an off camera flash system of some sort. I'm honestly completely ignorant of strobism and flash in general. Up to now I've taken the attitude of avoiding it like the plague, even with my K-x.

If given a choice of a fast lens vs autofocus, I'll take a fast manual focus lens over AF as I'm quite comfortable shooting in manual mode.

I'll be looking at a budget of roughly $2,000 to $2,500 which would incluse the cost of buying the K-30. I'm hoping like hell they offer that kit in blue by the time winter arrives, otherwise I may actually eat the price difference just to get that camera in blue.

So what I'd like to know is within the constraints of $1,000 to $1,500, what would the suggested combination of flash and lens(es) be for me?

I happen to already own a number of old, cheap lenses, so if need be I could skip the fast prime and make do with what I have already (I'd rather not though).

I'd also prefer the prime to be a decent portrait lens, as I'd like to get into portraiture as well if I can.

This is what I have already (AKA, my current kit).
  • Broken K-x. Doubt that it will live again, but I could get lucky. This doesn't effect my plans for a new rig at all other then perhaps skipping the K-30 purchase for a year (at which point I would be able to buy the K-5's successor).
  • A bunch of primes - 2 Sears 135mm f/2.8's (one macro, one non), a Sears 28mm f/2.8 macro, 2 Sears 50mm f/1.7's, an old Pentax M 50mm f/2, and two really crappy 400mm and 500mm Quantaray tube-of-dooms.
  • A few zooms - an old MF Sears 75-260 f/4.5 that I love to death, a Sigma 70-300 thats of dubious health, an FA 28-90 that spent more time on my K-x then the kit lens did, and my DA 18-55 kit from my K-x.
  • No external flash at all.
My "Going to buy regardless" list (coming from my $2,000 budget) will be the K-30, and the 18-135.

Next in line will be the external flash (or flashes)

Finally a new fast prime. I'd prefer something around 85mm give or take, and AF would be nice, but is not necessary. Alternatively, I'd go for something around 30-40mm, but again, I'd like it to be fast and able to work as a portrait lens as far as qualities are concerned. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4's REALLY been intriguing me.

Also, as a final note - with the exception of my 18-55 and the future 18-135, all my lenses are full frame. If Pentax drops an affordable full frame camera (ie, under $3,000 or so) between now and when I go to make my K-30 purchase come January or so, all bets are off for me.

So... what would people suggest for me as a flash/lens combination be? My priorities are speed over autofocus when I make the final choice, but a fast autofocus lens would be a great thing to have once the flash purchase has been made.

Oh, and FWIW, part 2 of my plan is buying the K-5 successor in about 2 years.

For a general idea of what I tend to shoot, I have stuff up on 500px and flickr.

500px / John Roberts / Photos
My Most Interesting - a set on Flickr

EDIT: I'd also like to and probably will get the O-GPS1. I have a 910mm telescope just BEGGING to have a camera shot through and / or piggybacked to it.

06-22-2012, 05:42 PM   #2
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I am also just starting to fiddle with off camera lighting in anticipation of a new baby girl and a project involving her. I think I'm a little farther ahead of you in thinking, but that's about it, well plus my K-x still works (thats a bummer by the way). I have gone the cheap and cheerful route for lighting and have ordered from a Hong Kong ebay store:

- a trigger kit incl 2 wireless triggers and 1 wireless transceiver: $22
- a yongnou manual 560II flash - $76
- an umbrella kit, incl: 1 umbrella, 1 stand and 1 umbrella/flash holder - $36

I have recently purchased a rokinon 85mm, manual focus with auto aperture. This thing is freaking sharp. I haven't really used it in anger yet, but here is a 100% crop (I think) using an old Minolta flash bounced off a wall. ISO 100, f2.0 1/160s.

EDIT: Oh yeah, an A lens is pretty handy for flash work, as it makes metering way easier, especially if you are looking to balance your flash with available light.
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06-22-2012, 07:38 PM   #3
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Any flash can be an off camera flash with a mount and a remote trigger, unless you are looking for a major studio setup. I'd browse the reviews to see whats what that you might like, I just picked up a 2nd AF280T flash from ebay for $26 shipped with a telephoto adapter and one of those off camera phone cords for when I don't need wireless. I plan to tether the 2 identical flashes together with one of those Cactus setups and build some reflectors and deflectors and anything else with flector in it.

As far as portriat lenses, if I wanted to blow a ton of money the FA 31 makes a wonderful lens for that, but if you like manual stuff an A35 F2.8 would be perfect, would talk to the camera for lighting, and is actually possible to find unlike the faster A35 F2 which you don't really need anyways with flashes. The 50mm you have would have been wonderful in film days or with a FF sensor, but its kinda pain in the ass narrow with APSC unless you have a gymnasium to use as a studio (slight exaggeration).
06-22-2012, 08:55 PM   #4
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I would suggest getting a copy of the Stobist Boot camp (if still available) or Zack Arias' DVD. They are pricy but give you a wealth of off camera info with great buying advice that will save you in the long run. Trust me I know. There are also websites like Lightenupandshoot which is a funny site by two great guys. I went to one of there weekend seminars and learned a lot.

As far as a lens, you will be surprised that you could very well with the 18-135 or the Tamron 28-75 mm/2.8. One thing about flash is that you can shape and shade your subject by light placement. With Off camera flash, you don't have to have fast glass. (of course, you may want faster glass for many other reasons) You can stop down to f 4-5.6 or smaller to get sharper images. A lot of the pop comes not from limiting your DOF but with the lighting. I wish I had the time to do more with off camera lighting. It is amazing what you can do with one or two inexpensive strobes.

I use older Nikon flashes (SB 24, 26's) and cybersync transmitter and receivers. I started with umbrella's and now use a 24" softbox.

06-22-2012, 09:13 PM   #5
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What's wrong with the K-x? Maybe re-loading the firmware would help.
06-22-2012, 09:16 PM   #6
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I don't think there's that much to specific lens and flash combinations. I suppose one thing to watch out for with lens selection will be to try and get one that is flare and CA/PF resistant but, that's always the case. It won't be often, if ever, that you'll use flash and have the lens wide open.

If you are going to be doing off camera flash you don't need to worry about getting a flash with PTTL as you'll be using it in full manual. This opens up the option to get third party flash units or used ones. I have three old Nikons that I really like. Check out this chart to see if the voltage of a used flash is safe or not.

Wireless triggers are going to be a must. Optical triggers are fun to start with, and will give you taste of what's possible, but they won't satisfy for long. Using wired connections is cumbersome. I'm very happy with the Paul Buff Commander and CyberSyncs I have. They're not near as expensive as the "industry standard" Pocket Wizards but they're also not as cheap as Cactus or Yongnuo ones. The PCB Commander is awesome in that it allows creating multiple custom group configurations. If you go for AlienBee or Eintsein strobes, well priced compared to the competition but not as cheap as speedlights and more for studio set ups, you can dial in the power setting directly from the Commander.

You'll definitely want to learn the principles of using off camera flash. The OneLight Workshop DVD from Zack Arias is very good but pricey. Look or ask around though and maybe you can get to watch it without having to buy it. He's also got a great tutorial, but more for studio, on his blog that's very informative.

OCF is a lot of fun and opens up tons of creative possibilities! Using OCF gives you good light in situations you wouldn't normally have it and with lots of control. If done right, that extra light will give your images better IQ than you'd otherwise get, regardless of what lens or camera you use.
06-22-2012, 09:29 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by audiobomber Quote
What's wrong with the K-x? Maybe re-loading the firmware would help.
The shutter is dead. I suspect I may have something in the works inside there gumming up the gears.
06-22-2012, 09:32 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by TomTextura Quote
OCF is a lot of fun and opens up tons of creative possibilities! Using OCF gives you good light in situations you wouldn't normally have it and with lots of control. If done right, that extra light will give your images better IQ than you'd otherwise get, regardless of what lens or camera you use.
This is one of the big draws for me. I like the idea of having something portable I can take with me when I go wndering to nail shots I normally can't due to ambient light/no ambient light/a mixture of no light and lots of light/etc.

Also, as I said, I'd like to start doing portraits, so I'd need to control things that way as well.

06-23-2012, 11:04 AM   #9
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While I shoot in the Strobist style with manual flashes (YN-560) and radio triggers (Cactus V-5), I would still suggest that a first flash use TTL. Manual flash is great for studio setups, even portable ones. There are times when it's very nice to just put the flash on the camera and go. Lot's of times. Yesterday I was asked to do some head shots of some musicians after a long rehearsal. Neither party had been warned that this was going to happen. If I'd taken the time to set up with manual flash, and umbrella and triggers, then taken the time for a couple of test shots, the musicians would have been out the door. After quickly attaching a flash (Metz 50 AF1) and a bounce diffuser (Gary Fong), I got the shots off in a couple of minutes. They weren't great photos, but adequate for the program for the play they were performing for.

I'd been shooting the rehearsal mostly with a 50 (F 1.7), which makes a good portrait lens. Sigma and Metz make decent quality flashes for less than Pentax branded ones. Some people don't like the controls but a little practice will make operating them second nature. You can use the camera's pop-up flash for a controller and and of the flashes would act as remotes.

Assuming you can get a blue kit with the lens you want:

K-30: $1200
Metz 50 AF1: $230
Umbrella, stand and bracket ~ &75 (for off camera flash)
Pentax 50mm DA 1.8 $250

Save by using manual flash and lens:
YN 560: $62
Pentax M 1.7: ~70

For either I'd add at least setup, I'd add a small diffuser for your flash ~$10-$40 depending on kind.

These are current Amazon. com prices
06-23-2012, 08:19 PM   #10
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Can't go wrong with a Yongnuo YN560 or 560 II. full manual, though, but good thing about it - it even works on my ol' K2! =)
For auto-zooming flashes check out old Metz ones especially the Metz48 and Sunpak Pentax-compatible flashes. They're very handy

a Nikon SB-24 in manual mode is also freaking good (and powerful to boot)
06-25-2012, 01:43 PM   #11
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I've been crunching the numbers, and realized that I could probably pass on the 18-135 and grab the DA*55. Much better lens thats actually intended for portraiture, still WR, and I can just rely on my existing zooms (DA 18-55, FA 28-90) to take care of the day to day shooting, even if they aren't WR lenses. That or pick up the WR 18-55 as well.

Decisions, decisions...
06-25-2012, 04:04 PM   #12

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To me lightings is just as important as lens selection or even camera body selection. If I had a choice as to what I'd carry with just any one camera body; it would be two lens' and at least that many flash units. As a matter of fact I could rarely make do without some 3k in Metz flash units on a true professional job

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