I had someone ask me about using the Fuji X100 with off camera flash via a twitter conversation the other day. I promised him I would post something short and sweet about it so here it is. This was in the context of the Simulating Sunlight eBook specifically. I don't really talk about gear related technical things in that eBook so consider this a crash course supplement on the absolute basics for that sort of thing.
This really isn't X100 specific but I will cover a couple of things that are - not in a comprehensive way - that's been done a million times elsewhere. First off let's talk about the two major divisions of how to go about doing this off camera thing.
Automatic Exposure Control - AKA TTL
I will cover this first but I don't use it very much. At least not in the way that it's intended. Everybody raves about the wonders of TTL flash exposure automation. Well - the manufacturers do and the camera reviewers do but honestly if you are actually taking the time to setup a shot and position lights off camera, etc. It's sort of a bigger pain in the ass than it's worth. I mean sure it's great and all if you have only got one shot it certainly is better than random results. If you happen to be taking more than one shot of the same subject then all it's going to do is increase the chances that your results will be random based on a million variables like your framing. I much rather just set it and shoot with the various exposure values locked in. I am not going to argue with the camera via compensation values dialed in every other shot for sure.
I will tell you the one thing that is very convenient but not without it's flaws and that's wireless triggering and power control from the camera without having to walk to the flash adjust, walk back, test, repeat. Very convenient. I do use that all the time - because I am lazy. It's especially great with Nikon's because the wireless commander is built into almost every camera Nikon makes. No need to buy more stuff. No extra flash on top of the camera just to control other ones. When I use it 99% my on-camera built-in flash is set to commander mode but it's output is set to off. I dial power levels on off-camera flashes manually - as in 1/16, 1/8, etc. It does have it's flaws for sure. Here's what they are…
- Speedlights that talk the same language as the on-camera controls are crazy expensive for what they are. Hundreds of dollars each. As much or more than big-boy real strobes like a set of Einsteins or something. Crazy for little low power plastic junk that is not really color controlled that runs on a couple AA batteries.
- Most of the off camera control is line-of-sight IR. Not great for sure. Getting them to trigger reliably in a lot of cases is tricky. Canon makes a new radio wireless system but only the very very newest stuff supports it and it's crazy expensive for what it is x 2. I am sure all manufacturers will go this way sooner or later. Wait for a bit unless this will be something that will save you tons of time every day.
- That wireless IR thing… well with Nikon's the IR given off by the built-in flashes always point forward and it's not just IR it's a tiny little pop of visible strobe that generates the IR which sucks. At all ISO's/Apertures it's reflection shows up in anything shiny which is usually bad. At higher ISO's and large apertures it actually is not "off" it influences exposure in the foreground in a big way - which is also usually not good or desirable. A filter that only let's IR through can help but makes triggering other flashes even more tricky. To deal with that you need a huge dedicated IR only trigger to stick on the top of camera - yet another piece of gear.
- To eliminate all of that you can go for third party radio triggers that also support TTL signaling but consider that Nikon/Canon only and they are also crazy expensive for what they do. Some of the will allow power control but not TTL exposure at the camera even on Non-canon/nikon cameras but obviously you need the Canon/Nikon flashes to use with your non-canon/nikon camera. Expensive for saving you 10 seconds and a 6 foot round trip to the flash.
The Normal People Way - Non-TTL Manual
As I said this is the way I happen to use my crazy expensive dedicated wireless TTL 99.9% of the time anyway. The only difference is that you have to go to the location of the speedlight to adjust it's output up or down. No big deal. To tell you the truth after some practice you will find it's like 2 tries at most to get you exactly where you want to be. Sometimes none. At least that's the way it works for me. If you are arguing with TTL exposure comp you will never get a feel for how much power you need at what distance using what modifiers - ever.
Forget wires. Wires suck. They are a mess and are extremely disaster prone. Go wireless but do it on the cheap with something like this. As an added bonus a lot of the cheapy triggers are small which works great with an X100. I happen to have old style Pocket-wizards which although not heavy are kinda ungainly on the little X100. I may pick up a set of something like this just for the X100 but to tell the truth I am mostly ambient with the X100 - just how I roll.
As for flashes - I personally would not invest in the Fuji TTL stuff. I would use what I have - Nikon speedlights or I would buy cheap and powerful stuff. Prolly something like these or use any old thing I happen to have laying around in a box. Old non-ttl speedlights are a dime a dozen. The ones I referenced have a great reputation, come in a variety of flavors at various price points, etc. I do believe that they have their own little wireless trigger system built in for some of their flash units - with a bunch of triggers/receivers that you can hook to other units as well - check it out. Kill a couple of birds with one stone. There's all kinds of stuff like this for dirt cheap in lots of different combos. The end results will be the same no matter if you spend $100 or $1000.
Moving on to the X100/X100S - well I am not into stupid pet tricks like flash sync at 1/4000. Flash sync at 1/1000 might actually be useful but not much for me. The only thing to worry about with all this stuff might be if the latency of the flashes/triggers you happen to choose actually are low enough to work as you go up the shutter speed spectrum. On the Fuji you have the option due to the leaf shutter. I consider 1/1000 the real world useful max shutter speed due to it's availability at f/2. Higher shutter speeds are going to force you into smaller and smaller apertures on that camera and small apertures with speedlights in conditions where you are trying to overpower daylight are just not going to cut it unless you have 10 of them in which case just go with a real strobe - like the mentioned Einsteins.
If you really need stupid pet trick shutter speeds with flash sync then there are plenty of folks that have spent a ton of time "testing" what triggers work up to what shutter speeds on the little Fuji cameras. I would imagine that could possibly depend on the flash as well - not just the triggers. My stuff seems to be fine at 1/1000 and it's all pretty old stuff. I say seems to be because my testing was not clinical it was just to see. At normal shutter sync speeds like 1/125 or 1/250 it's definitely fine.
So there you have it. I hope this answers any questions - if not. Please just ask and I will do my best to tell you what I know if I know it.