As can be seen in various other posts here, I’ve never had a good relationship with the camera flash. Relying on what’s built into the camera, what I always got was harshly lit people with black backgrounds that have no substance at all. Using inexpensive manual external flashes that only point forward, the story was the same. For the longest time I thought flashes didn’t work enough to justify using them.
This shot of the original starship Enterprise at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. was shot in 1999 using the flash built in to the Canon EOS Rebel 2000. (Long before its 50th anniversary restoration in 2016 in which it was relocated from the gift shop to the main lobby near the one piece of moon rock that they actually sit out on display for visitors to touch)
Why would I use a flash on a subject that’s behind glass? I will reiterate what has been so often – people do lots of stupid things in their 20’s. Harsh, abysmal, dark, overly bright. Boldly going where no man really wants to go. There’s not enough Romulan Ale in the universe to make that shot look any better.
One exposure later, I opened my aperture up as far as I could (1.8 on the Canon 50mm lens I had at that time) and chose to use ambient light, for which I had little of. A bit blurry and the color is skewed, but boldly going where maybe some men might care to visit. Knowing that the glass reflections were horrendous and I probably was not going to get a picture worth looking at, I left and decided that I was better served walking out to 6th street and hitting up a street vendor for a half-smoke.
In short, I hate flashes. They hate me. It’s a society of mutual disparagement. But, in recent weeks I have had an odd thought. What if such a tumultuous relationship could be repaired? What if a “modern” flash was utilized that was compatible with all of the new electronic goodies that modern cameras, both film and digital, have to offer?
The first option I explored was the Canon Speedlite line of flashes. In particular this model caught my eye. It looked great being able to light up to 200 feet, move around at different angles with several automatic bits that worked with the camera electronics. It looked great, except for one thing. That one thing would be the price – $549.99. Seriously? It’s going to cost me 600 perfectly good, hard earned American dollars to find out if I can take good pictures with a flash or not? I’ll admit I’m a little crazy in the head, but I’m not that crazy. Even for a professional photographer, that price is still just stupid for what it is. As the search went on, I went to the place that every connoisseur of the technical goes. There is only one place where a viable alternative will be found with free shipping all Christmas season long – Amazon.
There were tons of brands to choose from, manual and automatic. The one I settled on was the Opteka IF-980. Specifications are very close to the Canon Speedlite above, it supports over 90% of the things the Canon Speedlite does, it comes with a carrying case and a cover to soften the light, and costs $49.99. No tax, no shipping. Now, that is a good deal.
With AA batteries in hand and the UPS carrier having come and gone, I decided to embark on this new journey with an old adversary. All over the world there are legions of photographers, artistic amateur, professional and everywhere in between, that won’t leave home without one of these in their bags. How come?
First things first, no review of new gear is complete without the obligatory unboxing.
Surprisingly unscathed considering how it was packed. I suppose you get what you pay for with Amazon’s free shipping.
The case it it came with is surprisingly nice plush, but still sturdy nylon with a loop on the other side that can use velcro to attach to your camera strap. Complete with a bottom compartment for extra AA batteries.
The actual flash is huge. It’s nearly twice the size of a Pentax camera. And what do all these buttons do? There are lots of things I’ve never seen before. The Canon DSLRs are a tad bulkier, but even so, that’s still really big. It reminds me of that line from the first “Shrek” movie when they get to Lord Farquad’s castle. “You don’t suppose he’s compensating for something do you?”
So the big question is mounted to the Canon SL1, what do images look like? To test this flash, I chose to photograph our pet bunny Gracie. To put this picture in perspective – with no flash mounted, and with every light available turned on, the camera’s meter was giving me a shutter speed of 1/6 of a second, at an aperture of 5.6, at ISO 6400. The picture was shot with the Opteka mounted, pointed straight up toward our ceiling, at a shutter speed of 1/125 at 5.6, at ISO 400.
This one had it pointed at 45 degrees, same shutter speed, also ISO 400:
I am flabbergasted. I was not expecting to get these sort of results. Since it was pointed away from her, it did not bother her in the slightest. She just kept staring at me waiting on me to feed her. I had no idea flashes could do this. Perhaps there is hope for me in low light conditions after all.
All it took was $49.99 to set up this glorious behemoth monstrosity.
Shoot photos, not each other!
And by the way, this is what happens when you try to photograph a bunny at 1/6 of a second.