Saturday, 24 May 2014

Out in a flash

Last Thursday as I made my weary way to the polling station to vote for some lizards (As the late Douglas Adams said, if you don't vote for the lizards, the wrong lizard might get in) I got a text from my wife asking if I would like to take some photo's at the Brownie's pop themed party going on at that time.(There was an alternative motive here since it was both my daughters birthday that day and both were at the party. That's right I have twins who were born 5 years apart, which makes that day twice as stressful as it normally should be)

So I was faced with a tough decision. Should I go and fulfil my constitutional duty or go back and grab my cameras and spend an hour taking photos? We'll after mulling over the dilemma for at least 10 microseconds I did an about turn and rushed back to the house to grab my kit (Don't worry , concerned readers, I later managed to get to the polling station and single handedly managed to save British politics ).

Anyone reading my previous blogs will now know I have a habit of forgetting critical pieces of kit, such as memory cards, tripods etc.  So despite my rush I was very careful to check and as an extra insurance grabbed my bag of kit as well. I also grabbed my flash unit which I had only purchased a few weeks ago, determined to use it.

Now there is a fundamental problem with  Sony cameras. In many ways they are very talented engineers, but they don't want to be Sony. They want to be Apple. Apple have a history of creating a closeted walled garden into which unsuspecting punters are lured into, but then find they can never leave because all there stuff is so locked into Appleyness things the pain of leaving is too much(If Apple had a theme tune it would be Hotel California). Sony would love to do the same, but there is only room for one deity in the technology world(The 1st commandant of Jobs. You shalt have one true  technology god, and it shall be called Apple).

Unfortunately Sony forget this once in a while and try and and enforce a new standard on an uninterested and unwilling world. Here are just some of the standards that Sony have tried and failed to impose.

  • Betamax(just when everyone moved to VHS). 
  • Minidisk(Good but too expensive and trounced by MP3)
  • Memorystick(Because there was a big need for a new memory format that had lower capacity, was more expensive and fitted virtually nothing else)
  • Blue ray(just as the world was moving to digital downloads)

I bring this rant up about Sony, because it explains the issues with Sony flashes. Sony engineers could of said, well we are behind Canon and Nikon in the DSLR camera market, lets embrace open standards and allow those users to easily migrate to us. Make's sense right? Not in Sony world. In Sony world they said, we are the mighty Sony. Lets make a new flash interface standard which everyone in the world will gratefully fall upon and leave the false gods of Nikon and Canon.

The upshot is, you cannot go and buy any flash and stick it on your camera. You either have to buy one specifically for Sony (strangely enough only made by Sony) or have to get a special adapter to fit all other flashes onto your camera. This would be fine in Sony flashes were as cheap as other flashes or offered some great new capability, but they don't. An adequate Sony flash costs over £100 and up to £500 for top of the range. In comparison an adequate 3rd party flash can be got for £25. Maybe Sony flashes contain magic pixies that illuminate any scene better than other lesser flashes, but I think that is doubtful. A flash when all is done is not a particular sophisticated bit of kit. It's basically a big light with a few sensors.

Anyway being cheap economically challenged I bought a cheap flash and spent the necessary Sony tax to get an adapter. This unfortunately comes with a price. Because the Sony interface is so propriety, the e-TTL signals do not work, so you end up having to manually set the power settings.

Also I do not have much previous with flashes. All DSLR's have one built in but generally I find these useless because they have a tendency to flatten the scene too much. There is also the problem that flashes tend to be intrusive. There is nothing much worse than going to an event such as a graduation then flashing(if you don't mind the pun) all over the place. So generally I avoid flashes as much as possible.

However they do have there uses. They are best when offering extra light, such as reflecting of the ceiling to provide extra illumination  without overwhelming the subject. But this is really the 1st time I had used a flash and because it was not Sony I had to manually set it, which was another pain,

But generally the results were pretty good. After playing around with my zoom for a while i went back to my 50mm prime lens. Now I love my 50mm lens. It is the only prime I have but at £100 I think is a bit of a bargain. When it works it makes lovely results and the combination of it and the flash gave a lovely soft focus look.

With a prime lens you need to work a bit harder. Rather than composing the photo with the zoom, either you or the subject need to do the moving which comes as a bit of a shock when you initially switch. The great advantage of the 50mm prime is the narrow depth of view and the great bokeh effect. Unfortunately this can sometimes be too narrow and if you have two subjects in the shot, there is a danger of one being out of focus.

However the biggest danger with the 50mm prime is getting carried away with it.  Once I take a great portrait from it, I tend to go mad and try all sort of shots with it, most which are a disaster.

So the lesson here is to know which lens are suitable for which scene and don't be to ambitious. 50mm work great for face portraits, but anything else and you are asking for trouble

Anyway here are some of results

My Wife looking particularly gorgeous

Abba when they were young


As a postscript I may of been a little harsh on Sony and flashes. It appears the inherited the standard when they to0k over Konica-Minolta and the newest DSLR's have now moved to a common flash interface. It only took 7 years to get there....

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