Why I like my Sony a6000 more than my Olympus E-M1 (Part 3: The flash system-page 2: The HVL-F20M flash)

I headed out the door Sunday morning for our three year old granddaughter's birthday party. I grabbed the Sony a6000 and the HVL-F20M flash as I knew we would be indoors.  In my prior post here, I described how great this little Sony flash works on the a6000.

(I also own the new Nissan i40 flash with its guide number of 40. The i40 aims anywhere I want it, in fact swiveling 180 degrees in either direction, and of course angling from straight ahead to straight up. But on this day, like most days, I wanted to keep things simple and compact. The F20M shines when it comes to simplicity.)

Several product shots:

Folding the flash down like this turns it "off"

Flipping the flash up like this turns it "on"

Bounce flash versus direct flash.  I almost always use bounce.

Two AAA batteries.

Below is a sampling of the images of the party girl and her older sister. As always,my goal is to use a flash to get better light and also to get a higher image quality by the fact that a lower ISO can be used.  Each photo below was taken with the Sony 50mm lens (e75mm) at F2, 1/80 sec, and auto ISO. In all cases the flash was bounced off the ceiling. The ISO used was 400 to 2,000. The auto ISO required had I not used a flash would have ranged from approximately 800 a 4,000.

Depending on the monitor I think these might need a white balance adjustment. Perhaps a bit warm, but the room was indeed filled with incandescent light. 

Now, I'm not saying these are great pictures. They're snapshots, and they seem a bit soft to me.  Perhaps F2.8 would have sharpening things up a bit. But I think if I were to have increased the shutter speed, this would have helped, as half the light was ambient light. After all, even when little kids are stationary, they're always moving!

Older sister


Why I like my Sony a6000 more than my Olympus E-M1 (Part 3: The flash system-page 1)

To be fair there are also reasons why I like my Olympus better than the a6000.  They are both great systems but each has its pluses and minuses.

In this third part of "Why I like my Sony a6000 more than my Olympus E-M1" I am writing about the awesome way (IMO) Sony handles flash. I'm not talking anything fancy here. I'm talking about single, on camera flashes. I'm not talking about multiple flashes, wireless flashes, or remote flashes,or radio triggers or the like.

I've not read anything anywhere about using Auto ISO with a flash. But I'm a big fan of Auto ISO, and on the Sony a6000 (and the NEX 6 I owned before it) the flash plays very well with Auto ISO. This capability is what I like best about using a flash in the a6000.

I was delighted with how the Sony behaved when I first used the pop-up flash.  But because it's a bit under-powered (very noticeable when bouncing off a higher than normal ceiling or when using narrow apertures), I bought the little but handy HVL-F20M (guide number 20) flash.  This is
 my favorite flash. Ever.

Pop Up Flash.  I never use it facing forward like this.
The results are way too ugly.

It seems I frequently use a flash indoors, taking pictures of the family or food.  I like the challenge of using a flash to create a better image without it being obvious that a flash was used. I never aim the flash directly at my subject. That ends horribly: the classic deer in front of the headlights photo.  Instead, I bounce the flash off the ceiling.  The angle is up and forward a bit with both the in-camera flash and the F20M.  Unfortunate there is no option on either one to turn the flash left or right or rearward.

Operating the in-camera flash is a bit tricky if your want to bounce it.  The flash pops up easily enough, but to bounce it you must use your right forefinger to pull the flash back so it aims upward. It would be nice if it somehow clicked into place.  But because it doesn't, you must hold it back with your finger while triggering the shutter with your second finger.  That's what I mean by being a bit tricky. Having long fingers help.

My fingers are a bit contorted here because I am holding the Sony with my right hand,
while taking this picture with a Panasonic LX5 in my left hand.
But you get the idea:  the forefinger pulls the flash back to bounce light off the ceiling
and the second finger is on the shutter button.  It's awkward at first.

The F20M is a very well thought-out accessory, in my opinion. I've never seen a flash quite like it. It's rather small in size.  It requires just two AAA batteries. I use rechargeable batteries. There is no/off switch. The flash slips into the hot shoe, and turns off when you fold it down and turns on when you flip it up. This feature makes it very easy to alternate between flash "on" and flash "off". On the side is a slider adjustment that rotates the flash head into the bounce position.

Flash off.

Flash on.
You can direct the light forward or upward.
I always choose upward.

One criticism I read about on the Internet is that because the guide number is only 20, that you need to shoot with a high ISO. That may be true, but I do not see this as a disadvantage. Just the opposite. I like using a high ISO because this allows for a nicer balance between ambient light and flash. The resulting images look more natural, albeit with a bit more (but manageable) noise.

Here's how the Sony flash system works with Auto ISO (awesome):

Let's say that you are indoors and that with no flash your exposure is 1/80 sec at F2 at ISO 640. There's nothing wrong with shooting without flash in this situation as the camera can handle ISO 640 with no problem. But let's say you decide that the quality and direction of the light is less than ideal and that a bit of flash could help. Just flip up the flash. Be sure to bounce it. The camera will automatically adjust the ISO down approximately one stop, to about ISO 320 in this example.  This effectively underexposes the ambient light by one stop. In other words the ambient light is cut in half.  The flash then adds the other half of the light needed to make a decent exposure. The result is a nice mix of light as well as a higher quality photo because of the lower ISO. I love it.

If it seems that the result is over- or under- exposed, just use your EV compensation.  I suggest setting up EV  in the menu so that it moves both exposure compensation and flash compensation together (see image below). That way the 1:1 balance between ambient light and flash light can be maintained.

For the three images below I turned on the floor lamp (see gold tube on the right) which had a 100 watt incandescent bulb. This is on our screen porch and there was natural light coming in from behind me on a cloudy day.

No Flash.  F2, 1/80 sec, ISO 640

In-Camera flash pulled back and aimed upward to ceiling
F2, 1/80 sec, ISO 320
Note: ISO is cut in half resulting in less noise,
and the color is better IMO than without flash.

F20M flash bounced off ceiling
F2, 1/80 sec, ISO 400
Again, color is better than without flash and ISO is almost cut in half

How the Olympus would work with flash and Auto ISO (terrible (IMO)):

The Olympus doesn't work as well in Auto ISO. In the same example as above, as soon as you slide a flash into the hot shoe the ISO moves to the base ISO of 200.  This means very little ambient light will register in the image. The flash then must make up the difference. The result is an image that is mostly flash exposed. This is horrible lighting. The use of flash will be very obvious. As best as I can figure out, auto ISO will come into play only after the flash has reached maximum output. At that point, if the flash can not supply enough light, the ISO is increased. It is nearly impossible for the photographer to balance ambient and flash light using auto ISO with Olympus. This does not mean that one cannot take great flash pictures. You absolutely can; it merely means that one must manually set the ISO.  In this case that would be 320 or 400.


The red soil farmland of PEI

I had heard about the red soil of PEI but was nevertheless in awe when my wife and I vacationed there in June.  (I wrote a separate 12-day blog during the trip here: http://peterspeiblog.blogspot.com)

I am reviewing my pictures this month, discarding many of them and using Lightroom to process the keepers.

Here are a few of the images showing the PEI farmland.  Nothing had yet been planted when we were there, but farmers were certainly busy turning over the soil.


Macro set up #2: Olympus E-M1 + Panasonic 35-100 + Canon 250D close up lens

This set-up is similar to the one used for the flower photos in the previous post and which is shown two posts-ago here.  But instead of using the 500D closeup lens designed to focus a zoom lens at 50cm (about 20"), the 250D is designed to focus a zoom lens at 25cm (about 10").

The 250D is slightly thicker, perhaps because of its
greater magnification. More magnification = more glass.

Olympus E-M1 plus Panasonic 35-100mm plus Canon 250D close-up lens

This is what I found out on the Panasonic 35-100:

The advantage of the 250D is increased magnification. Assuming the lens is all the way zoomed in at 100mm (FF=200mm), by cutting the focusing distance to 10", the 250D gives close to a 1:1 macro (FF equivalent). The 500D  can only give you about a 1:2 macro (FF equivalent).

But with greater magnification comes decreased depth of field.  The depth of field with the 250D is so thin that I found it necessary to use F5.6 or F8, whereas with the 500D I used F2.8 or F4.

Depth of field at F2.8 and 100mm (FF 200mm) = Perhaps 1/2".

Depth of field at F8 and 100mm (FF 200mm) = Perhaps 3/4".
But with more gradual fall off giving the appearance of much more DOF.

Regardless of the one you use, or with any other acromatic lens for that matter, it takes some getting used to.  Your lens will not focus at infinity!  The 10" and 20" focusing distances are not minimum focusing distances, they are essentially the focusing distance.  That is why they work best on a zoom.  To widen your composition you can't move further back more than a few inches from the subject. Instead, you need keep the same focusing distance and zoom out.

Zoomed in at 100mm (FF 200mm)

Zoomed out at 35mm (FF 70mm)

The photos below were all taken with the 250D.  However, for flower photography I prefer the greater working distance of the 500D.  With less magnification, the depth of field is greater, and I can consequently use a bigger aperture thereby allowing more light to enter the lens.  The more light entering the lens, the lower the ISO required and/or the faster the shutter speed, both of which are good things.  Also, the 500D seems to be more forgiving when it comes to focusing distance.  The sweet spot is 20", but it seems I can go a couple of inches more or less than 20" and still lock focus.

Zoomed back to 65mm.  F8

At 100mm.  F8

At 100mm. F8

At 100mm. F8

80mm. F4

35mm. F2.8