New flash

Once upon a time, I took a couple film photography classes.  I used a simple 35mm Pentax that was pretty pricey at $150, a few old lenses, and other assorted bits and pieces.  So when I needed a flash, I headed down to the local camera shop and picked up a used $30 model.  How naieve I was!  It lasted only a few weeks, and I was back in need of a flash.  I really splurged and got a $50 one.  A couple months later, my beautiful new flash had died and, teary-eyed, I tried another brand with equally low success.

Then, on a trip to New York City, I bought my first digital SLR, memory card, batteries, and a flash: the wonderous Vivitar 285HV!  My trusty flash has lasted longer than all the rest combined, multiplied by 5, and rounded to the nearest whole number.  It’s also multi-talented – at full power it can be used to cook eggs as well as promote retinal scarring.  Yes, this beauty has been the pride of my flash collection for many years.

Now a challenger awaits – a Promaster 7500EDF (shudder).  Yes, the Promaster name strikes fear in me – its inferior brother was one of the early quick-dying flashes.  But I was attracted to the swiveling bounce head, the rear-curtain switch, the multi-exposure burst and most of all, the Pentax dedicated P-TTL.  Oh, and the price of less than half of the Pentax model didn’t hurt.  It promises to talk to my camera and calculate the appropriate light level without my assistance – no more guess-and-check light levels, no more confusing exposure calculators.  Could this be flash nirvana?

OK, so I admit – I haven’t really used dedicated flashes before.  How do I set the exposure, can I over-expose, what setting should the camera be on?  Through trial and error, I found that my best bet was shutter priority mode, use the exposure compensation dial for under/overexposure, and let the flash handle the rest!

What next?  Well, I like taking picture of Roller Derby, though the action is pretty fast and some motion blur is appreciated.  The biggest problem here is that the overhead lights are very yellow compared to the flash, so any color correction will either make the Rollergirl glow blue or leave a yellow streak.  Solution: gels.  Order a gel sample book from Roscolux and tape the mini sheets in front of the flash!  The gels are made for studio or theater lights and can take the heat, and the books are cheap.  Set the camera to 1/4 second, attach a bounce card (or not), flip the switch to rear curtain, set levels with exposure compensation and start shooting!  Well, that’s the theory.  In practice, the rear curtain switch seems to disable the “dedicated” control.  Well, it’s still handy, even if it just shoots as a manual.

The multi-exposure mode is fun to play with.  Set the camera to manual (no dedicated metering here, either), 1 second exposure, F16, and the flash to Multi with 10 bursts at 10 hertz.  Oh, this won’t work in Rear Curtain mode – it took me a while to figure that out.  Move something a few feet in front of the lens and see the results!

So, new flash in hand, it’s off to the Culture Fair I go!  Held in a gymnasium, it’s perfect to check how bad the colors get.  In short, not bad without a gel for stop-motion – the natural blue tint ballances the yellow fairly well.  Then the dancers start, and it’s time to try the rear-curtain mode.  Not bad – crisp images with a hint of blur.  Last, an international “fasion show” of traditional clothes.  Meh, not great.  Using a bounce card throws off the light levels – some are overexposed, some under, only a few usable. Later I wondered if the rear curtain mode was still on, though bouncing was unpredictable even later.

Verdict: For $150, better than most $80 flashes.  It has the uncommon, though less functional “rear curtain” switch and multi-exposure modes.  It lacks (when compared to the $200 Pentax dedicated flash) the high-speed sync, reliable bounced light metering, wireless sync of most features, built-in diffuser, and a place in my camera bag.  I’ve traded it in for the high-end Pentax.  Promaster, you’ve failed me for the last time.

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