Thursday, February 28, 2013

Flash Exposure Problems FIXED!

The kinds of problems I had with automatic fill flash (left) with the NEX-7 (the A77 behaved the same way).  Switching to manual flash and manual exposure (right) was the only way to correct for it... until now.
Also in this issue:
  • Not Your Father's Flash Exposure
  • Living Vicariously through war photojournalist Chuck Nacke
  • Upcoming Events
  • Underwater Photography with the RX-100
Anyone who’s followed my blog knows the problems I’ve had to endure with the flash exposure accuracy of the A77, A65, and NEX-7.  Above is an example of a subject taken outdoors, in the shade, with the NEX-7.  The left image is with the camera set to AUTO (where not only was the flash overexposed but so too was the background), and the right is when I switched to Manual Exposure Mode and put the flash on Manual output.  (Good thing I grew up doing this sort of thing so it took me only a minute to recover from this frustrating output.)  I wrote about this problem in my books and blogged about it on more than one occasion.


Well, a miracle has happened!  Although Sony has never acknowledged the existence of the problem, and although the release notes make no mention of it, the latest firmware updates for the A77, NEX-7, and presumeably the A65 (I sold mine a year ago) seems to have completely fixed this problem!  I haven't done any exhaustive testing (I've been spending all my time on the A99 book), but I took about two dozen test shots in similar conditions and the exposures were consistent and it handled the background much, much better than before!  (Test image below.)


The trivial delay demonstrated on the A77 in last December's video has been reduced as well, which is another welcome addition (although the huge delay of the A99 is still there).  At long last, the A77 is the camera I wanted to fall in love with when I first got it.

So major kudos points go to Sony for doing the right thing (plus a few bonus points for practicing classic Soviet-style silence and denial :-) ).  You can go to Sony's eSupport website, enter  your model number, and download the latest firmware updates (with accompanying instructions) here.

Not Your Father's Flash Exposure

Although you'd think that flash exposure calculation would be a mature algorithm, it turns out Sony continues to tinker with it.  Check out these images taken in Cuba by the Konica Minolta 7D:

Fill-flash the old way.  A girl in Cuba with the Konica Minolta 7D.  It had a look that I liked .

When used as a fill flash, the 7D (and most earlier Minolta cameras) would tend to balance the fill and the ambient giving such images a distinctive "look", without necessarily making it look like a flash was used.  Another example appears below.

Another example of where the 7D got it right without calling attention to itself and automatically balancing subject with background.
The A550 was the first camera I owned which tried to alter this formula, producing OK results when it was the sole source of light in a dark room, but horribly overexposed backgrounds when using it as a fill:
The A550's exposure metering was tweaked to do well in extremely difficult and non-standard light, but it failed when it came to doing fill-flash.
The A900 went in the opposite direction - it always tried to minimize that "Hey, everyone!  I used a flash!" look.
When shooting on overcast days you either have to meter manually (because the bright sky will confuse the exposure meter) or, better yet, use a fill flash.  The A900 is the only camera I ever owned that tried to minimize the flash impact without adjusting the flash exposure compensation.
To show you how much things have changed, here are some pictures of an 18% grey card:


When you take a flash picture of an 18% grey card, it should look like an 18% grey card.  And it did in the old days (A700, left).  But the same card taken with the A99 (or any modern Sony camera, including the A77, or NEX-7) is overexposed by about 1 stop (center).  In order to have it look "normal" I need to set Flash Exposure Compensation to -1 (right).  Because I really don't like the blown-out-flash look that the newer cameras provide by default, I now keep my flash exposure compensation permanently set to -0.7 (a healthy compromise - sometimes I'll set it to less light depending on the ambient light level and the look I'm going for).

Living Vicariously
Anti-Yeltsin government demonstrators barricade the Garden Ring road outside of the Smolenskaya Metro station in central Moscow.  More than 100 Russians died during the two week revolt against the Yeltsin government in 1993. 

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a working photojournalist - specifically a war correspondent when the former Soviet Union was breaking apart?  A couple of days ago I had the privilege of interviewing photographer Chuck Nacke for the upcoming issue of Cameracraft magazine.  Chuck has had a remarkable career as a photojournalist, and during the 1990's there probably wasn't a single news medium you could pick up any time of year that didn't have one of his pictures in it.  (When his pictures weren't being published he'd call his agent and harass him -- "You're not working hard enough!".  Times change. :-) )  He took portraits of heads-of-state which ran all over the world.  Richard Nixon once put his arm around him and said with a smile, "So what's it like working with Tricky Dick?".
Former U.S. President Richard Nixon speaking with press after visiting the Russian Duma in Central Moscow during his last visit to the Russian Capitol in March of 1994. Nixon died in April of 1994 after suffering a heart attack in his New Jersey home.
Chuck also covered the "Stan Wars" - Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and nearby regions (like Chechnya) when he voluntarily moved to the Soviet Union to document that country falling apart.  He told me fascinating stories of his times there, and you can read all about them in the next issue of Cameracraft.  

I'll share with you two brief stories: Photoflex had created for him a lighting studio that fits in a pelican case for his travels, and gave him some T-shirts with their logo on the back.  (I don't have permission to post their logo here, but you can see it on their website: www.photoflex.com.)  One day while drinking vodka with some snipers from the Republic of Georgia, they mentioned that his T-shirt had a target on the back and it ended up in the sniper's scope several times that day.  (The T-shirt was retired after that.)
Russian Soldiers from the 191st Motorized Rifle Regiment take cover from incoming sniper fire next to their armored personnel carrier in Kurgan-Tyube, Tajikistan. The ethnic conflict in Tajikistan in the early 1990's between communists, democrats and Muslims killed more than 5,000 people after the demise of the Soviet Union. Shot 1992.
Another story: During those days it was standard practice for the KGB to assign someone to tail every foreign visitor.  (Most of the time he would sit in his car and record the visitor's comings and goings.  Today we have smart phones and foursquare to do that for us. :-) )  One day the "minder" got out of his car and said, "Mr. Nacke, are these yours?"  He held up some Nikon cameras, which were in fact his.  Tied up in the back seat of the KGB guy's Volga (a bad Soviet copy of the old American Motors 4-door sedan) was the guy who tried to rob Chuck's apartment.  Chuck invited the KGB guy upstairs, offered him $100 as thanks (he pretended to refuse it but you can guess how long that lasted), and the two became friends after that.

Chuck has amazing stories to tell, and if you'd like to read it all I strongly encourage you to support the last bastion of old-school, hand-crafted, high-quality photography matter and subscribe to Cameracraft magazine!  (Then you'll know what happened when he reported his Chernobyl-shooting Nikon F4s stolen to the New York City police!)  It's a reasonable price for a magazine and we work hard to ensure the topics are worthwhile and timeless.  (Oh, and while you're waiting for the issue to arrive in the mail, visit Chuck Nacke's website to see a tiny fraction of his impressive work at www.ChuckNacke.com.)
Worker measuring ground radiation in Lenin Square in Pripyat, a model Soviet town built for Chernobyl workers and their families less than two miles from Chernobyl station. Pripyat was abandoned after the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Soviet authorities used more than 1,000 large buses on April 27th of 1986 to evacuate the nearly 50,000 residents of Pripyat. The explosion inside of reactor 4 at Chernobyl nuclear power station has been called the worst man-made disaster in human history. Shot 1990. 

Upcoming Events

I'll be in Singapore conducting the Friedman Archives High-Impact Photography seminar on March 23-24 (sign up here!)  

Here's what the rest of the year looks like seminar-wise:

Seattle, WashingtonJune 22-23, 2013Learn more and sign up!
Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)June 29-30, 2013Learn more and sign up!
Australia and New ZealandSeptember 2013Click here to register interest for Australia
Click to register interest for New Zealand

The Vancouver event has been moved to the close-by artistic community of Gibsons.  Check out the link to find out more.

I'm also about 3/4 finished with the Alpha 99 book, which is taking longer than expected because I want to be very thorough and I know that 90% of those who buy that book will be repeat customers.  (And remember, the A900 book took six months and this camera is significantly more complex!).  I'm shooting for March, 2013 (probably toward the end).

Mike Hendren is also working just as furiously with me on the NEX 5R and 6 ebook, which should be out at about the same time.  To be notified of either one upon its completion, fire off an email to Gary at Friedman Archives dot com.

Underwater with the RX-100

Guest Blogger Neal Katz loves his RX-100 and has used it for taking photos while scuba diving.  His experience may be valuable to others with similar asperations so I've asked Neal to write up what he's learned and "share it with the rest of the class". :-)  His writeup appears here.


Until next time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

43 comments:

  1. Your newsletters are always a welcome sight in my email Gary. Keep 'em coming and thanks for the heads up on the A77 firmware change. Cheers, Dale

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  2. Thanks for the always good information. Just a note on the Sony firmware update... They do admit to fixing flash overexposure:

    "Improves overexposed images while in ADI flash control"

    This is good, for it means the changes were intentional and should remain as time goes on.

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    1. Actually, their admittance and fix that you mentioned was under the section of "Benefits provided by previous updates."

      The "fix" you quoted was already implemented a few versions back. However, it did not fix everybody's problem nor the main problem at hand.

      What Gary is mentioning here is Sony must have implemented something else on top of that old fix in this latest release that actually fixed the problem but they failed, or denied, to list it as a fix (let alone publicly acknowledge there was such a problem).

      I haven't tried 1.07 yet, I am still at the previous version, but I can confirm I was still getting the inconsistent flash exposures even though Sony claimed they fixed the problem. I'm hoping what Gary says here is true, and this firmware version finally resolves my flash problem.

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    2. Let us know of your experience. My testing wasn't anywhere near thorough.

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  3. Gary, when is your A99 book coming?

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    1. I'm working on it as fast as I can! :-) Right now it's looking like late March.

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  4. I have the Sony A57 & HLV-F58. Do you tilt or rotate the head when you shoot outside or do you shoot straight on?

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    1. It depends. If the flash is solely a fill flash then I keep it facing forward. In just about all other situations I point it straight up and use the piece of paper reflector as I discuss in my books.

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  5. Thanks for the post Gary.

    When you mention having the newer cameras permanently fixed to -0.7ev exp. comp., is this most situations or only when using with flash? Also if using with flash, with the -0.7ev exp. comp., do you combine this with -1ev flash exp. comp. or just leave flash exp. comp. to 0? Finally, does your preference on these settings change if you're doing bounce or direct flash? ;)

    Also looking forward to your A99 book when it's ready!

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    1. Whoops! I meant to say "I now keep my FLASH exposure compensation permanently set to -0.7". (Fixed.) The amount of flash compensation I set depends entirely on the circumstances - how much ambient light, how far away the subject is, how much shadow is on the subject, and the "look" I'm going for.

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  6. I can see you use all of your time on A99 book which I really look forward to read. The publishing plan Is it still sometime in marts?

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    1. No, sometime in March. :-) (That's tentative. But I'm also leaving for Malaysia and Singapore in 11 days and there's a ton of other things to take care of as well.)

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  7. I have your a57 book; I'll have to look over the flash section again.

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  8. Thanks Gary, great to hear. Interestingly I got a 60M flash and found that (even on 1.06) I didn't have the exposure problem on my A77, expensive fix. I was beginning to wonder if it was something that could be affected by a camera firmware change. Pity Sony don't provide the full list of changes on their releases.

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    1. Not all cameras experienced the problem. My guess is that other flashes will work properly for you too.

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  9. "...the latest firmware updates for the A77, NEX-7, and presumeably the A65..."

    Yes, Sony has released A65 Firmware Update: V1.07.

    Thanks for notifying and for your Blog.
    aaanouel

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    1. I meant presumeably the flash problem has been fixed with the latest A65 firmware update.

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  10. I just updated to 1.07, not having thought that I needed it until I read your entry above. I was hoping the flash delay problem would have been solved. I just tried firing two HVL42s with my HVL58 as a controller and had the same delay as I had before the update. I just tested the A700 in a similar fashion and perceived no delay, as you mentioned, I believe, in a recent post.

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    1. That's because you're using the new wireless flash protocol which is slower than the native one with the pop-up. Try triggering your flashes using the pop-up flash. You'll notice a significant improvement.

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    2. Thanks very much for the tip. I'll try it out. I've since bought and tested the RX100 side-by-side with the A77 and will also try triggering slave strobes with that small camera's pop-up. Have you tried it?

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    3. Most slaves strobes will fail because they will blindly fire on the pre-flash instead of the real flash. Your mileage may vary, but don't get your hopes up.

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  11. Thanks for the update Gary! I will update my firmware. I'm reading your a77 book again. Love my a77 but for the flash issue and the noise. I just got Lightroom 4 and will see if it does any better on noise reduction. Any other tips on that subject?

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    1. Yes, stop examining your images with an electron microscope! :-)

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  12. Porque vendio su Sony Alpha 65, si en el libro dijo que era una de la mejores cámaras del momento?

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    1. Yo vendo mi A65, pero mantuve mi Alfa 77. ¿Cuántas cámaras excelentes necesita una persona? :-)

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    2. Un excelente fotografo creo que solo una...Si ya se tambien me equivoco.

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    3. Gary - Tu eres el hombre - you're the man
      :)

      I enjoy/benefit from your books and your blog. And now I'm surprised with the Spanish.

      Que otro idiomas sabes? Travel well and live well, danny T.

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    4. Daniel - don't be too impressed; I used Google Translate. :-)

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  13. I had bought the A77 in January, but took it back mainly because of the flash problem. I didn't think they would get this corrected. So I figured I'd wait for the next A700 replacement. In the mean time, I picked up the now discounted A57. What a little bargain. Am really enjoying the camera, but I find I have to use at least -1 flash comp as well. But at least it's consistent and I can trust it after that. Any other A57 owners out there find the same thing?

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    1. I've been struggling a little with this lately myself on the A57. I found this to be a common problem particularly if the backlight is strong behind whatever you're shooting. It was suggested to me to AEL on the bright area, then recompose and shoot, so that the camera fills in the subject you want lit up without blowing it out. I just found out and haven't had a chance to try it yet, but you can give it a shot. If that's unsuccessful, I was going with the - flash compensation next. The A57 also had a firmware update recently I haven't yet applied, but don't know if that's improved flash performance.

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    2. The A57 didn't suffer from the kinds of random flash exposure errors that the other cameras did. The technique you describe is essentially what I did in the portrait of the swimmer to keep the background from blowing out (spot metered and then hit AEL).

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  14. I might need a 12 step program to give up my microscope :)

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  15. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I had nigh but given up on my A77, just updated and took it our for a few shots. This is the camera I had hoped it would be. I like to use the flash to fill out some shadows and it was always disappointing when doing so. Today I got some beautiful shots all exposed the way I had pictured it in my mind via the data from the viewfinder. I was not paying attention to any firmware updates and when I read your posting, I had to give it a shot. If anyone is not yet up to 1.0.7 - go get it!

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  16. Thanks for the Neal Katz article on underwater photography with the RX100. He used an underwater housing I hadn't heard of, so I went to his source to check it out and found an even newer housing from Meike for under $200! No reviews yet, but it looks pretty nice for the price. It's only good to 40 meters, but I would use it only for photography from a sea kayak. It's compact, too, about the size of my Nikonos V.

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    1. I've seen a few $200 RX100 housings show up recently, I think they are all the same but marketed under different names, not sure though. Hopefully I will find a store that carries them and check it out.

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  17. I have updated my A77m firmware to 1.07 with no change at all in flash overexposure. Any combination of ADI or TTL settings with the A77 built-in camera flash, or my sony 58 or minolta 3600 om camera or wireless, it is still the same problem!!! What firmware do you have?

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    1. This doesn't address the flash overexposure problem (as the grey card test shots indicate) - it addresses rampant shot-to-shot inconsistency of the flash, plus really bad overexposure of the background when used as a fill. As the blog post points out, the flash is still a little hot which is why I set my flash exposure compensation to -0.7 (or more).

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  18. Hi, thank you for the link for updating the software. i did not know. I just got new a77 and i am not sure if i may ask you a question. I had before a30 and changed for a77. the question is: when i look at the people in the viewfinder -it kind of fuzzy, but when i take a picture - the result is looking good. is that normal for that camera? i do nor remember that in a30 or a100. thank you.

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    1. Sounds like your diapter adjustment (that little wheel next to the EVF) needs turning.

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  19. Any update on A99 flash delay?

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  20. Nice post.I think it is very helpful for me and other. Thanks for great post.

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