Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Problems With Using Slave Flashes on Compact Digital Cameras

Posted by larrylohrman on August 22, 2006

Recently I was rummaging through my old film camera gear and ran across my old Nikon SB-26 flash unit that I used to use with my Nikon 6006 film camera. While thumbing through the manual I noticed that it has a slave mode where light from another flash can be used to trigger it. I decided to set it up and try to trigger it with my CoolPix-4300. I a post back in February of this year I recommended using a slave external flash unit when you are using a compact camera that doesn’t have a hot-shoe for an external flash unit.

It turns out there are serious problems with this technique. Virtually all compact cameras need a wide-angle converter to get a wide enough angle of view (Kodak V570 is the only exception I know of) for interiors and it turns out that wide-angle converters block the built-in flash and make a nasty shadow in the image (see the image above). The built-in flash triggers the slave flash OK but there’s not much you can do about the shadow. The image below is what results when you take off the wide-angle converter- the slave flash illuminates the room beautifully but the angle of view is not wide enough for a pleasing interior shot.

I doubt if this is a problem unique to my CoolPix-4300 and WC-63 wide-angle converter. I believe the conclusion is: Don’t expect to use a built-in flash unit to trigger a slave flash unit when you are using a wide-angle converter. To state it differently, if you’re going to use an external flash unit with a compact camera that requires a wide-angle converter you need to have make sure an external flash can be fired on a hot-shoe or with a PC sync cord without the built-in flash firing. At this point, without doing some research, I’m not sure if there are any compact cameras that work well with external flashes!

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5 Responses to “Problems With Using Slave Flashes on Compact Digital Cameras”

  1. just put a little mirror in front of the built-in flash to lit the ceiling, you won’t have this shadow and it will still triggers the slave. Of course, going to far in DIY ghetto lighting asks for a more adaptable DSLR.

  2. Wow, what a problem solver you are Marc! I’ll look around and see if I can find a small mirror to see if I can get your solution to work.

  3. Randy January said

    I would think the SB-26 would overpower the wimpy built in flash. Are you sure you were using it in the right mode. Most digital cameras fire a pre-flash to judge exposure prior to taking the actual picture. To the human eye it looks like one flash, but in fact there are actually two(maybe even three if you have red-eye reduction on). Standard optical slaves will fire on this first flash and have no impact on the image. Fortunatly, the SB-26 has a “delay mode” that will wait until the last flash to fire. Experiment triggering the flash in a way that you can see(point it at the camera to really test it) and make sure it is firing at the right time. I’m not positive, but the delay mode “should” work with point and shoot digitals.

    Randy

  4. Randy,
    Thanks for the suggestions. I was in fact using “simultaneous” mode on the SB-26 so I’ll try “delay mode”. I’d convinced myself that the SB-26 was in fact firing at the right time since I could tell the difference on the resulting image between letting the SB-26 fire and turning it off. But using delay mode as you suggest may eliminate the shadow from the built-in flash.

  5. Randy,
    I tried using the “delay mode” on the SB-26 an the shadow from the wide-angle adapter is much less but still there. I’m also puzzled that the SB-26 does not completely make the shadow disappear. Unless perhaps the delay in “delay mode” is not enough.

    I’ve also tried using the SB-26 as a slave with my Canon 580ex as the master and they seem fire at the same time.

    Thanks again for your suggestions.

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