Mobility Thoughts and the Nikon SB400

I SHOULD be doing other things, but…… Smile  We won’t go into weather here, but we went from about 20 deg. C to very close to 0 deg C (freezing) AND with snow……  in a couple of days.  Calgary….. you say….. Streets are good enough, but lots of snow – these are at about noon’ish,

AlleyStreet

In my last post, I was mentioning an upcoming shoot and some of the things that were running thru my mind in getting ready for this shoot.  In getting ready for this, there were a couple of things I wanted to accomplish.

1.  I wanted more “fire power” and better battery life.  Last year, I was swapping batteries like crazy on both my Panasonic GX1 and Fuji X10.  I was using the in-built flash, which was fine, but I needed the flash for just about every shot due to the low level of lighting AND I needed cycle times!!  From then to now, I’ve acquired a DSLR, the Nikon D3200 AND the Nikon SB400 Speedlight AND a spare battery for the D3200.  To make this a little worse, I don’t know the new location and won’t really know until I get there due to time constraints.  UGH……

2.  The event is taking place right after work and I have to commute to the site (I’m in the downtown core, so parking a vehicle is out of the question), so lugging my daypack a couple of camera bags just isn’t going to work.  The “plan” was to take the D3200, 50mm prime, flash, the Panasonic GX1 with two lenses and associated “pieces” for everything, including chargers, batteries, etc. The plan for the GX1 is to be the backup to the D3200.

I’ll start with #2.  I’m thinking here that for most of us, as we add “stuff” along the journey, there’s the never ending story of camera cases and the amount of gear one needs to take on any one given shoot.  It stands to reason that, for the most part, we will try to take enough to get it done, but not so much on the overkill side.  So … what does one do? 

I might be different than most in the fact that I tend to carry multiple cameras as opposed to something like a DSLR with multiple lenses, etc.  For me, usually, it’s my Fossil Sling bag, a more complex camera like my Fuji X10 or XF1 or Panasonic LX7 plus one of my travel cameras.  I do carry spare batteries with me for the X10 or LX7, but I don’t have a spare on for the XF1 (this is a super small camera, and up to this point, there really hasn’t been a need for one).  IF I’m heading into something where I need to take something more advanced, i.e. events where my stuff is going beyond family, it’ll be the Panasonic GX1, lenses, etc. plus perhaps one of the travel cams. Depending on the event, I may also pack the Fuji X10.  I have a National Geographic sling that manages this quite nicely but doesn’t take up space, or is heavy either, for that matter Smile  When my D3200 gets involved, I have a Nikon bag that handles the camera, spare lens, etc. and still has room for a travel camera.

So now, I have this event coming where I do need or want to take, the D3200 with my accessories, PLUS the Panasonic GX1 and perhaps one other or maybe two.  I want a low light one, and this time I’ll take the Fuji XF1 and likely a travel camera.  AND I need something that I can carry easily along with my daypack Smile  I didn’t want it to be too big and I knew that for this particular situation, whatever bag I got was going to be cutting it close.  In other words, there wasn’t going to be a lot of expansion, in one sense for future growth.  The bag I settled on was the LowePro Transit Sling – 250 AW.

LowePro bagLowePro_inside

Sooo, it take a bit of time to figure out the partitions and arrange gear to fit easily Smile  I kinda wanted the DSLR in the top compartment instead of the flap side, but nothing I did worked that way.  Yes, it’s a little jammed up but after a few jaunts to test it, it works Smile  Anything else I looked at was simply larger than  wanted from a mobility standpoint.  That might change if I do a “deeper dive”, but for the foreseeable future, I think I”m good. 

Back to #1.  For starters, aside from using the in-built flash, I really haven’t done a lot here.  Even back in the 35mm days, I didn’t do all that much.  So in looking at today’s technology, the world has changed Smile  AND, HOLY SMOKES!!!  Talk about pricing being “up there” for even a small unit.  Now in saying, that after doing a bit of monkeying with the SB400, the $130 or so I spent on it, it look like its worth going to an external flash.  It even came with it’s own case Smile

sb400   case

My first thought was to get the bigger one, the SB700 but then reality set in Smile  The reality being that it was a real unknown just how much I would need a flash once this event was done.  In looking at the spec, it looks like this puppy can perform, especially on a set of Ni-MH batteries.  I use Sanyo Eneloops for other things, and so I’m good. 

What I was looking for initially, was the ability for rapid cycle – I’m going to need to be able to take a couple of shots in a matter of a few seconds.  There will be maybe a minute max before I need to take the next couple of shots.  If you are thinking fashion photography and ramp, you are dead on.  Candids will be a no-brainer.  Time to swap batteries?  Yes but only a minute or two.  I will need to be in that  2 to 3 second cycle range for anywhere from 20 to 30 models coming up that ramp.  That means at least 60 to 80 shots, worst case, and with any sort of luck, within 20 ft/6 m.  So.. the theory is that by using an external flash I could take the load the camera battery.  The D3200 is rated for roughly 540 shots before using the in-built flash.  As as just-in-case, I bought a spare battery for the D3200. The SB400 looks like about 200 with Ni-Mh, but that remains to be seen.  I have 3 sets of batteries plus the ones in the SB400, so all in all, if I need to get to 500 shots, the capacity is there.

So… on to more planning.  Next big thing – WHAT am I going to need over and above?  This one is a bit of a long shot in this case, but the chargers for the cameras comes to mind Smile  For me, I’ve just paranoid enough, that I’m going to take the chargers by default.  My smaller cameras?  NO, not really, though if I take either the X10 or LX7, I probably will.  SD cards – yes.  I’ve had only one blow out, and IN THEORY, something like the D7100 would be safer with two cards, but – not going to happen.  But keeping extra cards around?  Absolutely.  I try to get the highest quality and highest performance cards I can get without breaking the bank.  Sandisk and Lexar Professionals at class 10. I’m a jpeg person, so it’ll be jpeg fine at 24 MP on the D3200 (APS-C) and same for the GX1 – 16MP/Micro Four Thirds. A 16GB card on the D3200 will give me roughly 1,000 shots if I stay in JPEG, and about the same for the GX1.  I have 8 GB cards in most of the other cameras.  We’re good for shot capacitySmile  This will be a “volunteer shoot”.  In other words – free, but the other side of this is that I can get my name out there.  I”m still trying to figure out this brand thing, so this will be a good opportunity to make some preliminary connections.

The SB400 – Because this one got discontinued last year, it took a bit to find one, but I did Smile  I’ll show more once I get past the test shot stage, but my initial impression – HOLY SMOKES!!  This is one neat flash for it’s size.  It like it’s size as it’s not obtrusive on the D3200.  It doesn’t do tilt, but it does have bounce.  I’ve always liked bounce for certain shots, and this one does a great job.  Sooo… what have I found out so far?

I did do a bit of research, and one of things that the SB400 does, is over ride the ISO.  The information I was able to find showed that the ISO is set based on ambient lighting.  Depending on the mode you are in (Auto, Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority, Manual), your shutter speed changes, for starters.  Auto and Aperture Priority and Programmed Auto syncs you at 1/60 of a second.  Shutter Priority and manual will sync you at 1/200th.   ISO in full Auto can get up quite high depending on the shot.  The rest seems to set around 400 but the indicator is showing red when you preview.  In looking at the shots, though, they did expose correctly, so maybe a little bogus. 

When I first started shooting with the SB400 and I saw that ISO 400 show up, I was a little concerned, as my usual preference around flash is either 100 or 200.  And then when I looked at the shots, that concern went away Smile  In reality, I could probably get to either ISO 800 or even higher and still get a pretty good shot with the D3200.  I also monkeyed with the bounce a fair amount and it was really amazing how well the shots came out – much softer lighting.  The kit zoom is not quite as wide as I would like, but in the future…..

One test I also ran, was to shoot a series of photos (same scene) at two or 3 second intervals to see how many shots I could get before the flash started to underexpose.  It was about 40 shots, give or take, so I turned it off for a few minutes and it was ready to go again.  Amazing.  When it does underexpose though…..

Now, a whole new area opens for me, but again, that remains to be seen.  I have to play more with fill flash, but I’m thinking the built in flash will handle that – I’ve done that already and it works great. 

Some Other Findings – In the last couple of days, in taking both the D3200 and the GX1 with me, I found myself using the GX1 more.  Mind you, that was I was doing some comparison work too Smile  BUT the big thing here, is that depending on the shot, I now have options.  The bag allows me easy access to both units. Actually my other units as well when it gets right down to it.  Snow is always tough both seeing it this time of year, but taking those shots, , but with the amount of snow we got, there are some pretty interesting shots Smile  Am I pleased so far?  Yes. 

As I mentioned before, my initial reaction would be been to run out and get a D7100 and the SB700, but time made me come up with a different approach. and it save me a a lot of money that might have been wasted. 

BerriesLIght

Onward…..

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About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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