Unexpected but true department: a Fuji dedicated flash is my favorite for non-dedicated Leica hot shoes.
(For dedicated shoes, too)
Maybe it’s making up for the fact that Leica makes the best strap for Fuji, but I use a Fuji strap on my M5 (unlike most M’s, it has flat lugs).
Anyway, here’s the flash: Fujifilm EF-X20.
Only Fuji seems to make little flashes like this any more: small and with manual controls. Contax used to make the TLA200, but like most things Contax it’s turned into a desirable fashion accessory: well over $200 for a decent-looking copy, and since it uses pricey hard-to-find CR2 batteries, you can’t handily recharge – which means it’s not really so useable. Looks cool though.
The Fuji uses rechargeable AAA’s. Besides manual operation, it’s also a perfectly good dedicated Fuji flash. With the X-Pro, I like to use it with an off-camera cord. It has a variable lens & can also run in manual-exposure multi-flash slave mode.
(Edit: a little internet digging has revealed that I’m not alone in the love for this flash!)
A Handy Calculator and Why You Might Not Need It
Back in the not-so-electronic days, there used to be little calculator sliders and dials on flash units. Not any more! The manufacturers leave you, err, in the dark. But: we can hack that.
Here’s a small and helpful calculator. I’m trying to get the essentials to print small enough that I can just tape a tiny printout of the part I use most to the back of my strobe.
This DIY calculator can live on your phone, on the web, or on paper. At least for Android, you can drop it right on your home screen. Regardless of how you access it, the calculator lets you quickly look up either:
- What’s my ƒ/stop, based on a distance and a power level?
- What’s power level should I set, for a given a distance and ƒ/stop?
The second “reverse” question is usually more awkward to do in your head, if you’re in bright ambient light (outdoors) using a camera with a low sync speed (the M5 is 1/50 sec – the M240 is 1/180). The ambient light might force you to use a specific ƒ/stop. I added a helper for that, too.
If you’re shooting at night or indoors, flash might be the main light source. Just set according to the method above (you might find you like one ƒ/stop best, say ƒ/8, and just shoot everything at around two meters at ƒ/8. I call this the “Instamatic Flash-Cube Method” and it has a long history of success. This is the way Weegee did it (you can’t alter the power of flash bulbs).
Mixing Flash and Daylight: Complications Ensue
If, like me, you usually like to shoot 400 ISO with an older camera, keep around a 3-stop ND filter, which will knock your effective ISO down to 50 for using flash outdoors. Otherwise, even in shade your forced ƒ/stop might be ƒ/16, or even ƒ/45 in the sun. With a 3-stop ND filter (or slow film), shaded ƒ/stop is only around 5.6. At at that point, the flash can usefully get to that brightness for fill or even as a good contre-jour source.
So for a camera with 1/50 sync speed (Leica M6, M5, Canon AE-1, etc), here’s short enough formula to memorize:
- 400 ISO + 3-stop ND filter (or 50 ISO film)
- stay in the shade (or use the sun for strong backlight) or darker
- ƒ/5.6 (the same as open-shade-level ambience at your shutter speed of 1/50)
- strobe at full or half-power
- focus to 2 meters (what I think of as portrait distance most of the time).
Pretty easy to memorize as a favorite setup: ONE base setting. Use as-is or season to taste.
Also remember, you’re adding light – if you subject’s truly in full open shade, a full-power flash pop will double the light: the brightest regions will go to ƒ/8. When in doubt: try it out.
If you favor a different film or have a higher sync speed, it’s still pretty easy to look up a good base-value favorite for yourself. Write it on gaffer tape, stick it to the back our your gear, and just leave the calculator in your phone – in your pocket.
What I Actally Do Most of the Time
For the M5 (sync 1/50 sec) and the EF-X20, no filter, on HP-5 or Tri-X film:
Indoors or Night: ƒ/8, focus to 2 meters, 1/4 power.
Outdoor Daylight: ƒ/22, focus to 2 meters, 1/2 or 1/4 power. It’s going to be overexposed if it’s sunny – but…. okay? Or find that shade.
If you are a Contax user, or even if not, the non-stylish Contax TLA 360 flash is twelve times the tool than the expensive stylish one is, and can be found for about $50-60 these days. It’s a cool flash that can be used manually, with Contax TTL, or (and this is a rare combination) with on-flash thyristor “auto” sensor on any manual camera. A great flash for anyone.