Sunday, November 25, 2007

G9 and Flash

With winter coming on, we’re all likely to be taking more indoor pictures. Here’s a scenario that will be repeated many times this winter: Someone comes upon a nice indoor scene and decides to take a photo. Up comes the digicam, the shutter button is pressed, the camera decides that flash is necessary and the resulting picture is not at all what was expected. In the days of film, the photographer would not have known how the picture turned out until it was too late!

There are several things to be learned from the photo above. First of all, don’t stand directly in front of a reflective surface when using on-camera flash. Second, try not to even use on-camera flash. Third, don’t overpower the existing light with the flash. The G9 provides several ways to work around these difficulties.

The G9 has a hot shoe for external flash and works well with the Canon ETTL flash system except that ETTL does not work in the G9 Manual mode. Some Canon flashes and accessories cost nearly as much as the G9! Fortunately, the G9 also works with other flashes – even very inexpensive flashes.

Cowardly Disclaimer: Recent Canon cameras can be damaged by high flash trigger voltage. This is also true of many cameras. Before using older flashes with your new G9, check for compatibility. Here’s one reference:

I have personally used the Canon 380EX, 420EX, 580EX, a Nikon SB-24 and a Nikon SB-28 on my Canon G3 and Canon G9.

To capture this particular fireplace scene, moving to one side was easy enough. but how to turn down the flash and how to get the flash off of the camera? More importantly, how to do this without spending a lot of money?

To more accurately record the fireplace scene, I placed my G9 in manual mode at ISO 80, 1/30 second, f4 with the in-camera flash turned on but with flash power minimized. I moved slightly to one side so that the in-camera flash would not reflect from the fireplace. A small auxiliary flash with optical trigger was placed on a near-by table and the table moved closer to the fireplace. A sheet of common copy paper was placed between the flash and the small statue to reduce and diffuse its light. These and other techniques are explained at

My auxiliary flash, a Quantaray MS-1, cost about $15 several years ago and is still available. The MS-1 is not very powerful, is slow to recycle and does not trigger well in sunlight; however, it has served me well on many occasions. It is small and fits neatly in the small bag with my G9 equipment.

With optically triggered auxiliary flashes, it is important to know that Canon main flashes emit a "pre-flash" as part of the Canon ETTL system. Most auxiliary flashes are highly likely to be triggered by the pre-flash; this includes the in-camera flash of the G9. Therefore, it is essential to set the G9 for manual flash in order to properly trigger the auxiliary flash. My Quantaray MS-1 falls victim to the Canon pre-flash in every mode except for Manual.

Now, I have to confess that those manual flash settings, flash location and even the placement of the copy paper diffuser did not all come together on the first attempt (but with practice I’m getting faster). The point is, the G9 is a very versatile camera for learning to use manual flash. Also, it is not essential to purchase expensive external flash equipment to improve your G9 pictures with flash.

Here is an excellent reference for learning the Canon flash system and other flashes on Canon cameras. Much of this information applies to the G9 as well.


Hector R said...

Excellent document. I wish I had read it before last week when I was taking thanksgiving pictures with my G9. Thank you. You have given me new ideas.

Hans Granlie said...

The same trick can be done with the Canon-TTL-flashes, some of them also can be triggered optically. I have done it with my Nissin Speedlite Di622, which is similar to Canon 430 EX. But again - it is trial and error which usually is a minor problem with a digital camera which shows the result immediately.