Another day, another post about my love of the Fuji X-T1.
Before we get to photography, I just want to mention our subject here and the great work he's doing. Jon here is a James Madison University student, an academic rockstar, and he's the lead on a capstone project that's helping disabled children in Haiti by designing incredibly light and inexpensive wheelchairs. He said that this was an early prototype, and the final product is even better. Incredible stuff if you ask me.
Now onto photography. One of my only hesitations of fully adopting the Fuji X-series cameras was the lack of sophisticated flash system. Yes, the X-T1 comes with a flash (a very small one). Yes, you can use the Fuji EF42 flash and it does support TTL. But how about off camera? Well, Fuji doesn't support off-camera-flash out of the box. To be fair, Nikon and Canon only support it via infrared/line-of-sight which is acceptable in some situations, but it doesn't work when the flash is buried in a light modifier such as a softbox. So then our only solution is to use radio triggers to tell the flash when to fire. And that's exactly when things start to get complicated.
This isn't a technical review of Fuji's X-series flash support. If you want to read more about the nitty-gritty details, please check out Derek Clark's three-part series exploring the variety of options you have when it comes to Fuji's flash system (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Instead, I'd like to tell you about my setup and explain what works and what doesn't.
I have a complete set of PocketWizard Flex/Mini's (2 complete sets, actually) and a set of RadioPopper JrX's. Anyone who knows these two products knows that they both try and accomplish the same task, only they both do it a little differently. In TTL mode, both transmitters receive the camera's flash signal, tell the transmitter to fire, and tell it how much to fire (to my understanding it send it a start and stop signal). The RadioPoppers have 3 different dials/knobs indicating the power levels, the PWs have 3 different dials as well, only they have numbers and grooves. The PWs can easily switch between two different configuration modes, which means one mode can be set to TTL, while the second mode can serve as a basic trigger, meaning the flash is set to 'manual power' rather than TTL.
No matter what anybody says, I can tell you that both do work, and yet they don't work at the same time. In TTL mode, both transmitters are hit-or-miss. Sometimes the RadioPoppers would fire, sometimes they wouldn't. Sometimes the RadioPoppers would fire, only they'd fire a millisecond too late and would miss the exposure. You could watch the flashes go off, but just a tad too late. I updated the PWs firmware, played around with TTL (using the Nikon version with Nikon flashes) and only sometimes would it work. When adjusting the TTL levels, sometimes it would register (as indicated by the red blinking light on the Mini TT1), sometimes it wouldn't. It's hit or miss. Like I said, I have 2 sets, so I tried a different one only to experience the same results. If we place the same transmitter on a D610 or D800, magically it works. And I don't fault PW for this at all, I'm trying to use a Nikon version of their product on a Fuji X-series camera. Not something they planned for at all. But logic would follow that since the transmitter tells the flash the duration of the fire (when in 'M' mode on the AC3) then it should work all of the time. And that's our hangup: It doesn't work with consistently good results. I've read numerous forum posts about this type of hack and some people have success, some don't, its all very unclear. But there is good news here: the PWs function near-perfectly as a basic trigger.
Setting up the Flex and Mini's Configuration 2 (C2) as a basic trigger allows me to pop in and out of TTL/Manual flash mode. Yep, it isn't as convenient as TTL, no way around that. Also, one doesn't need an expensive PW Flex/Mini setup if you're just going to use the flash in Manual mode. But at the moment, it's the only setup with this equipment that delivers consistent results.
Now lets leave nerd-talk and get back to the photo...
The shot above shows the SB-800 stuffed in the softbox (just a cheap one you'd find on Amazon) connected to the PW Flex in basic trigger mode. Note, the spotlight effect is caused not by the softbox alone, but by adding the gridspot (the black eggcrate insert) to the softbox. The black gridspot eats up all of the light that wants to stray and forces it to go straight forward. Think of it like a snoot, only not small and harsh, but large and soft. Yep, I had to get up there and adjust my flash's power after I had already climbed up there. But no, it really wasn't that hard to do and once it was set, I didn't want the light to vary in power so in all, not having TTL control cost me 60 seconds of my time, a loss I'm totally fine with.
This shot is another one I liked, it's a wider option. Oh, and I chose to bring the light up that high for two reasons. First, to get it out of the frame for this wide shot, yet still have the same lighting for the tight shot. Second, the further away the light is from the subject, the more pronounced the spotlight effect is. Yes, the further away it gets from the subject, the harder the light is (less diffused), but that's not really an issue with our subject. We want it out of the frame and we want that spotlight effect.