This blog is devoted to the application of optical fibers in photography. I have several homemade (DIY) flash adapters channeling the light from the flash close to the lens. The technique can be used mainly for macro photography, but I will show examples for wide angle close focus techniques as well. The recent version is called fiberstrobe V3, hence the name of the blog is "fiberstrobe".

Saturday, February 4, 2017

DIY Styrofoam flash adapter

Short macro lenses tend to be popular, especially for smaller mirrorless systems. It's probably due to the their compact design fitting perfectly to smaller camera bodies and their affordable price tags. I guess it's also easier to design and cheaper to produce them than tele macro lenses. Sony has the 30mm f3.5 macro (I use it frequently and reviewed here), Canon EOS-M system has the 28mm f3.5 and DSLR users can use the 40mm f2.8 lens for Nikon and 30mm f2.8 for Sony. The only problem with those lenses is the extremely short focus distance. At 1:1 the subject is just few mm from the front glass of the lens and the camera usually cast a shadow on it. So lighting the subject properly is extremely difficult. You can forget the built-in flash and even external flashes you can tilt down will lit behind the subject. Ring-flashes and lens attached twin-flashes might work. My fiberoptic twin-flash adapter, of course would be a perfect solution, but I'm not ready with the new design (it will be a three-armed adapter), so I wanted to create some easy to use adapter for macro snapshots. I still had some styropor (styrofoam) wrapping material from the Christmas presents. It's easy to cut, carve and make various forms from styrofoam but it's not so sturdy and makes lots of dirt while working with it. The idea behind the design was to use a mirror at 45 degree in front of the flash had to reflect the light down where an angled styrofoam ring around the lens further reflect it to the subject.
The core is a styrofoam ring around the lens with an opening on the top. I glued two panels together to start with but the glue is not completely white, so it's better to get a wider panel.
Cutting is easy since clean cutting surface is not really the aim because the light should be scattered. Finally this is the form I found the most promising.

I carved a bit the right back side because of the grip of my Sony A6000. I used cardboard for the attachment to the flash. I glued a mirror (cheap plastic based) to the contraption and in addition I covered it with reflective tape inside.

After some adjustment I glued the two parts together. You can see the adapter below (outlook is not final).

First I wanted a perfect circle but I also wanted manual focus, so I cat out some part from the bottom. Here you can see the light pattern it provides. It's not surrounding the subject and it reflects more light to the top.

However, I don't see it as a problem. It's quite natural that more light is coming from the top. Only in case of portrait format macro, one side will be brighter, but it's fine for me.

It's wintertime in Germany, so I have not much opportunity to test it, but so far it works well in TTL mode. Some subject requires + or – corrections. The light is nice homogeneous, but it's always the same and you don't have too much creative options. A flexible arm system with optical cables would give more creativity, but in most cases this lighting is just perfect.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Review of the sony HVL-F32M flash

One weak point of my Sony nex-5 camera was the lack of stronger flash shoe. It had only a smart accessory terminal that could accommodate only 2 types of small flashes. The HVL-F7S is more or less equal to a built in flash, while the HVL-F20S is stronger, but still not up to all kind of lighting jobs. My biggest grippe was that none of both flashes can command an external wireless flash in TTL flash mode.  I managed to circumvent this by a Wansen radio controller using manual flashes. I even built a twin-adapter forthe HVL-F20S but the light output was not always enough after channelling it through the optical fibres. So I was happy to learn that new Sony mirrorless cameras have a redesigned hot shoe for accommodating bigger flash lights and left the Minolta system behind. The so-called “iISO” Minolta type of hot-shoe (or Auto-lock Accessory Shoe in the Sony era) was not a bad idea and attaching and detaching of flashes were really fast. However, after a while I experienced contact problems on both of my KM 7D and Sony A100 cameras.
My current camera is an A6000 and it has a small built-in flash. Unfortunately it cannot be used as a commander for external wireless flash, and it’s hard to understand why it was not properly implemented by Sony. Anyway, I needed a new flash for this camera and started to look around first among the third party suppliers. First I wanted to get only a small flash can control my old Minolta 5600 HSD as cheap as possible, so I went for a Travor SL-282S (around 40 euro from amazon). It’s clearly a copy of the HVL-F20M. I don’t have this flash but my HVL-F20S felt much sturdier. Unfortunately I had a bad luck with the Travor, after few tries it stopped working. I sent it back and didn’t try another copy. The next flash I've tried was a Meike MK320-S Mi Flash (72 euro on Amazon). First impressions were good but I couldn’t command my external flash with it. I still wanted to keep as a macro flash, because the size and guide number looked perfect. I even made a soft box specifically for the 30 mm macro lens, but the TTL didn’t work well. It always seriously overexposed the subject. I think de-coding of the Sony TTL protocol was not perfect and it can’t control very short flash burst. For normal scenes it worked OK, so as a standard flash it might be used, but due to these two flaws (macro, lack of wireless) it went back to Amazon. I even considered the widely praised Nissin i40 but finally I had enough experimenting with third party flashes and just bought the Sony HVL-F32M. Its price recently dropped (190 euro on Amazon while Nissin goes for 174 currently), so it’s quite affordable and the flash head is not so protruding (important for my DIY plans) compared to the Nissin that has slightly better specifications.
After the long, but I hope useful introduction, let’s have a closer look at the flash. It arrived in an elegant etui containing a foldable mounting foot (works as a mini stand) and a shoe protector.

The size and weight is just perfect for the A6000. It’s approx. 235 g without batteries.
Mounting is easy and I actually like the lock mechanisms a lot, I hope it will be sturdy. Time will tell.

The guide number is 32, which is good for most of the jobs but it’s surely not a monster you would use in a studio for big soft boxes etc. The head swivels 90° left and 180° right and tilts vertically from -8° to 90°. It can be used creatively in various lighting set-up such as bouncing off ceilings with vertical camera or lighting the wall behind the camera.

Tilting down is surely not enough for macro photography when the SEL30M35 lens is used. For this you will need some DIY flash adapter. I will create some fibre optics adapter soon but I made a ring-flash adapter quickly. Actually I used a polystryrene ring from a previous DIY project. The light is reflected with a mirror but the cardboard tube I’ve folded is also covered inside with a self-adhering reflecting tape.

You can’t see well in this picture but the mirror is in a 45 degree position reflecting the light downwards. 

In this series of photos you can see the excellent work of TTL. The exposure is perfect on all of those different set-ups:

ISO 200, F5

ISO 200, F10

ISO 200, F20

Some more from the forest:

It can be used as a commander for wireless photography but only one channel is used. The flash mode should be set in the camera first (wireless) then on the flash which mode the flash is intended to be used (commander or remote). Manual functions are only available when the camera is also set to M mode. 

The wireless function works fine. It contributes a bit to the lighting, so you may use an IR pass filter (unexposed, developed slide film can be used as an IR filter, if you still have some in your cupboard).
The same orchid was photographed but the main light came behind from a Minolta 5600 HSD flash (with a small soft-box):

The best, when the external flash is combined with some specific light former, like this rim-light adapter below:

The flash is dust and moisture-resistant due to a special inside sealing, nevertheless I don’t recommend using flash in a rainy day, but special sealing to keep the dust and moisture out is welcomed. It can do ADI flash metering (considering distance information from appropriate lenses) and high-speed synchronization (HSS) so it can supports all shutter speeds and wireless operation. To test this I managed to convince my son to pose me for few photos. The first photo is a typical back-lit picture, and such situation happens quite frequently in a city trip, when the direction of the sun is just not optimal:
iso200, F6.3, 1/1000 seconds
I'm still quite surprised how good the sensor's dynamic range is. The second photo was taken with the HVL-F32M on the camera in fill flash mode. The flash works well in elemininating all shadows even at a very short exposure time (1/800 seconds).
iso200, F6.3, 1/800 seconds
The third photo was taken in wireless mode. Máté was holding the Minolta flash and you can clearly see the direction of the light from this external flash:
iso200, F6.3, 1/800 seconds

It takes two AA batteries and it works well with ready to use rechargeable ones (e.g. Eneloop). The flash head zooms automatically and unfortunately it cannot be modified manually. When a fiber optics adapter is attached to it and used for wide angle photography (fisheye lens) it narrow beam of light would be still better.
My first impressions are good, it seems to be a great affordable small flash for Sony’s new APS-C mirrorless cameras (I think it would fit well to the full frame models as well). Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

DIY giant monopod

Changing the viewpoint in photography can be rewarding. Many of my wide angle macro photos are taken from ant’s perspective, which makes them specific. I also like aerial photos but I never had a chance to try by myself. Couple of years ago I bumped into a wedding photography blog (don’t remember which one) where the photographer threw up the camera to the air in the middle of the circle of the wedding guest in a constant shooting mode hoping that few of the photos will include the guest. I liked this random approach but I would never risk my camera. However, I wanted to try photography from a bird’s view. Another inspiration was, when I met a guy in a park using a giant monopod taking photos of the new channel harbour in Leipzig. I’ve checked the prices and such long monopods start from 200 euro. Hefty price just for experimenting, but it’s definitely worthy for professional photographers.  
Last year the local chain store Aldi was selling cheap angling sets and the idea for a new project was born. I don’t remember but I paid around 15 euro (including reel) for a strong telescopic 3 m fishing rod. Choose something intended for big fish (giant carps or catfish) if you want a stable monopod.
I’ve simply cut the last ring and removed the last flexible piece. The difficult part was to install a ¼ inch screw to the end piece. It’s in general difficult to get such screws in Germany but I found a good internet vendor ( with a great selection of non-metric screws compatible with the photo camera’s standard. I’ve tried many things and I still don’t have a final good solution. I used a threaded rod with a nut in the middle and glued it into the top part. I run out of sugru mouldable glue, so I tried a similar product from teas glue. But it didn’t work, so I quickly ordered a new batch of sugru. It’s expensive but perfect for DIY projects.

Another important part is the remote controlling of the camera. Few years ago it was still very expensive thing, but modern cameras include various solutions for it. My current sony A6000 can be well controlled from a smartphone via wifi.
The last missing peace was a flexible holder. I found it in an unusual place. I was waiting in the primark shop waiting for my family shopping for clothes, when I bumped into the lazy arm smartphone holder. I don’t remember but it was below 8 euro so it was an instant buy. You can find similar things under 10 euro/USD under various names.

The fishing rod is not really designed to hold heavy things and have force from the top, therefore, just for additional safety to prevent that the parts slides accidently together, I applied some tapes to prevent it (at least for the top parts).

You can further improve it by adding a ball head to the system. The final DIY monopod was easy to handle. Maybe it’s not appropriate for heavy DSLRs with fast chunky glasses, but it worked well with my mirrorless camera with a fisheye lens.

 I took only few photos. Nothing special but it convinced me about its potential. I will probably use it for the coloured leaves in autumn more.