I have been shooting in natural light all these while. However, when there was an opportunity to shoot Thaipusam Festival over a period of 3 days organized by PhotoSafari, I was looking for a solution on how to take pictures of the night Chariot Procession and documenting 10 families as they participated in the Thaipusam Festival.
I hate carrying those huge TTL flashes around especially on a photosafari trip. It just took up precious space in the camera bag when I hardly use the flash.
My criteria of choosing a flash were:-
- It had to be small and should fit the camera vest pocket.
- It should not look awkward on my mirrorless camera, the Ricoh GXR.
- It should have sufficient guide no (GN) to use as a direct or bounce flash.
- Should have sufficient manual control.
- Able to pair with a wireless trigger.
I asked Uncle Google for a unit that would suits my needs. I came across a Metz 20C-2 flash that had rave reviews on how it fits a small compact or mirrorless camera. The vertically swivel head could be positioned to bounce off ceilings and walls. It has a guide no of 65 feet at ISO100 and good manual control capabilities. There were 3 flash settings:- Manual, f2.8 and f5.6
Here is the product information
- Guide No: 20m or 65ft at ISO100.
- Camera connection via central contact (x-synchronisation) or via sync cable (included as standard)
- Vertical swivel reflector +90°
- LED displays
- Flash readiness indicator and correct exposure display on device
- Automatic flash mode with 2 automatic apertures
- Manual flash mode
- 2 x AA alkaline-magnesium batteries
- 2 x AA NiMH rechargeable batteries
- Flash coverage equivalent to 35mm lens on full frame.
On the Field
I loaded the unit with two AA alkaline-magnesium batteries. My initial reaction was, with this low voltage requirement, the battery life would be short. I had another two batteries as a spare.
I bought a Phottix Ares wireless trigger to use the flash off camera. You can find out more about Phottix Ares here
Next I tried to soften the light by attaching a muslin cloth onto the flash using a double-sided tape. This acts as a diffuser.
After a couple of tryouts, I was ready for the night shooting. This is my work flow:-
- I set the camera on M (manual) mode.
- One thing to remember when using flash is that the aperture controls the lighting of the foreground subject and the shutter speed controls the lighting of the background.
- I set the aperture on the flash to f2.8 to prolong the battery life.
- Next I set the aperture on the camera from f4 to f8.0 depending on the subject distance. Why f4? It is because the widest aperture on my lens was f3.5.
- I use the ISO setting to control the lighting of the subject. There is no magic or calculation involved. All the necessary settings were given in the manual chart attached to the flash. However, one must know how to read it.
- My shutter speed setting was around 2 to 3 stops less than the recommended shutter speed.
- Flash mode on 2nd (rear) curtain sync.
My initial few exposures were off the mark but after a few tries, I got the hang of how to optimize the exposure. By using the flash off camera, I can now have a greater control on what to light up and what to leave underexposed. This was exactly how I used the LED lights for fill in lighting. I am now trying to design a snoot to do localized lighting for my next outing.
The flash was small enough to fit in my camera vest pocket even with the Phottix receiver attached. It was really convenient.
It was easy to use in manual mode (in fact I prefer manual mode over TTL). The lighting of the flash was perfectly tuned at 5500K. One can use AWB (Auto White Balance setting). The colours of the subjects were rich and natural.
The swivel head was an added bonus. The power or Guide No (at 65ft at ISO100) was sufficient for my use.
The built quality was what you would expect of a product from Germany. There were no sloppiness in the design and the flash construction felt solid.
The best part is the price. At around RM200 apiece, there is nothing to really think about. It can be abused on a tough photography journey like a photosafari without feeling heartache.
The flash recycle time was slightly long especially if you point the sensor the wrong way (not directly at the subject). However, if the sensor was pointing directly at the subject, the recycle time was almost instantaneous for about 3 shots.
As expected, it drains the battery fast. A fresh set of batteries would last about 150 shots. Towards the end of the battery life, the capacitor of the flash would not be properly charged and it gave a blue cast. However, if it was shot in RAW, adjusting the white balance in ACR would not be an issue.
After using it for the entire 3 days of shooting the Thaipusam Festival in Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, I must say I am very happy to have it in my camera bag for my photosafari trips.
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