Using the GF1's Built-In Flash

Started Dec 24, 2009 | Discussions
Sam Bennett
Sam Bennett Veteran Member • Posts: 4,596
Using the GF1's Built-In Flash

Some recent discussions got me to finally un-tape my GF1’s flash to see if there’s any hidden potential in the pint-sized unit. Immediately upon using the flash it became clear that the GF1’s system is a bit quirky, so more research would be required before I started giving advice. In the end I’ve found it to be a frustrating system to work with, and I likely will not use it on a regular basis.

The overarching issue I discovered with the GF1’s flash system is the limited operating range in which it can operate effectively. Most of the unsatisfactory output I’ve produced has come as a result of unknowingly operating outside of this range. As far as I can tell the camera gives no indication that the exposure has been compromised, resulting in confusing, unpredictable behavior from camera.

(My findings are greatly biased towards my use of flash in indoor, low-light situations. I typically use either Aperture Priority or Manual modes when doing flash work so that I have control over DoF and the level of ambient light to flash power.)

High-Level Issues

  • The GF1 does not support a FP or “High Speed Sync” flash mode, limiting you to a 1/160th max sync speed, no matter what mode you’re in. This greatly limits the apertures you can use outdoors – shooting wide-open with the 20mm f/1.7 will likely result in overexposure.

  • Forced Flash mode has an artificial floor of 1/30th of a second, making it problematic in low-light shooting when balancing flash with ambient light. In combination with the 1/160th maximum speed, this is just over a 2 stop operating range before either the aperture or ISO will need to change.

  • Both the Auto and Slow Sync Flash modes will only fire the flash when the shutter speed dips below 1/60th. The only difference between Auto and Slow Sync mode is that Slow Sync will allow for fairly slow shutter speeds – down to one second.

  • Auto ISO and Intelligent ISO only serve to make the problem worse, where they easily could have made the situation better by allowing the camera to stay within the “window” required for the flash to work optimally. Instead, both modes simply result in an ISO 100 setting when the flash is enabled.

  • For close-up work, the camera’s limited control over its power makes it easy to overpower your subject – particularly in low light situations. This comes as a big surprise considering the flash is fairly low-powered to begin with. The camera’s control appears to be limited to Full to 1/16th power – much narrower than dedicated flash units.

  • Changing the Flash power through Flash Exposure Compensation requires a trip to the menu – there is no way to easily adjust this either through the Quick Menu, or a combination button-press/wheel turn.

  • The Exposure Compensation (for ambient) is downright buggy in how it adjusts itself when the flash is enabled and you’re near the minimum shutter speed. This is a difficult issue to characterize, so I will likely start a thread dedicated to it. Long story short – if you’re at the “minimum” shutter speed, the behavior of EC is completely “wrong”, so watch out.

Using GF1 Flash Indoors

  • Consider using some sort of light modification to change the color temperature to match the ambient conditions. I will be starting a thread dedicated to this. Without doing this, you will wind up with overly-warm backgrounds and foregrounds with warm shadows and cool highlights.

  • Keep a good bit of distance to your subjects in low light. Shooting groups of people will generally be less problematic than shooting individuals up close, although the light will be harsher.

  • Use aperture priority mode, and establish settings that give you a bit of “wiggle room” for the prevailing conditions. Having an average of a 1/60th shutter speed should be your target.

  • Try dialing in -1EC, which should give you a look that gives a bit of “pop” to the flash exposure, without looking too “flashy” and resulting in “ghosting” with the foreground/background exposures “competing” with each other. If you’re not gelled, this will also minimize “warm shadows”. This takes a bit of experimentation and really depends on where the light is in the room.

  • Note that EC and FEC exposures are “separate” exposures. Changing EC has no effect on FEC, making the camera more similar to Canon’s system than Nikon’s. So if conditions change radically, you may have to change both.

Suggestions for Panasonic

  • Remove the “auto” aspect of the Slow Sync Flash option. Allow it to operate as “Forced Flash”, but with the ability to sync to slower shutter speeds. I would use this option if it were there, and it would make it much easier to control in low light situations that are not really consistent light-wise.

  • Provide an easy means for adjusting FEC. Pressing and holding the flash release button was what I tried first, and is probably the most natural place to put it. At a minimum, adding a Quick Menu item would make it much easier.

  • Work on getting an FP flash mode in future models. It’s a bit ridiculous to have a daylight balanced flash unit that is essentially useless in daylight.

  • Consider being the rogue company that finally uses Halogen-balanced flash color temperature instead of Daylight-balanced. It only makes sense, given the FP limitation anyway.

In Summary

The GF1’s flash will help a few people in a pinch, for others it will serve as an exercise in futility. The GF1 is limited both in the power-range in which it can control the flash and in the ambient exposure it can operate consistently at (especially in Forced Flash mode) which can make getting consistent results challenging. Take the advice above and experiment a bit in controlled situations to really get a handle on the system and you’ll be more likely to get the most out of it.

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Mountain Joe Senior Member • Posts: 1,451
Re: Using the GF1's Built-In Flash

Nice writeup Sam - I did want to mention that there is one use of the on-board flash that no one seems to mention - which is to trigger another off-camera flash (like the Oly FL36/50R) in slave mode.

I use this configuration and without the on-board flash I would not be able to do this quite so easily - it makes this sort of setup quick and easy and has the side benefit of freeing up the hot shoe for the EVF.

I do agree with your wish list and most would not require an actual change in the flash but mainly could be handled with just FW changes.

Cheers,
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Sam Bennett
OP Sam Bennett Veteran Member • Posts: 4,596
Not a fan of this approach, because...

Mountain Joe wrote:

Nice writeup Sam - I did want to mention that there is one use of the on-board flash that no one seems to mention - which is to trigger another off-camera flash (like the Oly FL36/50R) in slave mode.

...you can't set the GF1's flash to manual mode, which means you'll always get the TTL pre-flash for metering in addition to the flash for the exposure. This means that when triggering other flashes optically, you'll effectively cut the power in half. You can use it in a pinch, but I feel radio triggers are a better solution in this case.

But it is worth bringing up in any case - thanks.

I do agree with your wish list and most would not require an actual change in the flash but mainly could be handled with just FW changes.

Thanks. Yeah, I'm hoping the Slow Sync behavior and the EC bugs will be able to get fixed with firmware.

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Mountain Joe Senior Member • Posts: 1,451
Re: Not a fan of this approach, because...

Sam Bennett wrote:

Mountain Joe wrote:

Nice writeup Sam - I did want to mention that there is one use of the on-board flash that no one seems to mention - which is to trigger another off-camera flash (like the Oly FL36/50R) in slave mode.

...you can't set the GF1's flash to manual mode, which means you'll always get the TTL pre-flash for metering in addition to the flash for the exposure. This means that when triggering other flashes optically, you'll effectively cut the power in half. You can use it in a pinch, but I feel radio triggers are a better solution in this case.

But it is worth bringing up in any case - thanks.

Damn! - forgot about that - I can turn that off on my Nikon so I just assumed I could do the same with the GF1 - funny though as I thought I did this with my G1 - will have to go and check...

I do agree with your wish list and most would not require an actual change in the flash but mainly could be handled with just FW changes.

Thanks. Yeah, I'm hoping the Slow Sync behavior and the EC bugs will be able to get fixed with firmware.

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mark kay Veteran Member • Posts: 5,477
Optical Slaves- metz 28 and effective power

Sam great write up. I have to say that I have not really used the internal flash too often because on the longer zoom lenses, the hood really gets in the way as this has been discussed before. I have used the flash, mostly with the 20mm prime. Since i use aperture control 95% of the time in my shooting, and with the flash usually at -1EC, I usually have been ok with indoor shots as long as the subject is not too close.

So i purchased the metz 28 optical flash. What i am not clear about is why the pre flash effectively "cut the power in half" I believe this optical slave is not subject to the preflash issue if I understand what you are saying here.

I have not used this flash enough but I generally set camera to -2FEC on the panasonic to trigger this slave.

Mountain Joe wrote:

Sam Bennett wrote:

Mountain Joe wrote:

Nice writeup Sam - I did want to mention that there is one use of the on-board flash that no one seems to mention - which is to trigger another off-camera flash (like the Oly FL36/50R) in slave mode.

...you can't set the GF1's flash to manual mode, which means you'll always get the TTL pre-flash for metering in addition to the flash for the exposure. This means that when triggering other flashes optically, you'll effectively cut the power in half. You can use it in a pinch, but I feel radio triggers are a better solution in this case.

But it is worth bringing up in any case - thanks.

Damn! - forgot about that - I can turn that off on my Nikon so I just assumed I could do the same with the GF1 - funny though as I thought I did this with my G1 - will have to go and check...

I do agree with your wish list and most would not require an actual change in the flash but mainly could be handled with just FW changes.

Thanks. Yeah, I'm hoping the Slow Sync behavior and the EC bugs will be able to get fixed with firmware.

Sam Bennett
OP Sam Bennett Veteran Member • Posts: 4,596
Re: Optical Slaves- metz 28 and effective power

mark kay wrote:

So i purchased the metz 28 optical flash. What i am not clear about is why the pre flash effectively "cut the power in half" I believe this optical slave is not subject to the preflash issue if I understand what you are saying here.

My Nikon flashes, when running in SU-4 mode pop twice for each shot. I've heard there are some flashes that will ignore the pre-flash, so it's possible your Metz is doing this. If the flash can't ignore the pre-flash, the flash will fire at whatever power you've set manually. Saying that it cuts the power in half is admittedly not entirely accurate - but what may happen is that the first shot will be first power and the second either will not fire at all , or will fire at less than the power you intended. It's not guaranteed to operate like that, but you run the risk if you're running the flash at near full power.

I have not used this flash enough but I generally set camera to -2FEC on the panasonic to trigger this slave.

This is a good idea. Again, I wish Panasonic allowed manual control of the flash so you could throttle it down to its minimum level (which as I pointed out is not very low) and prevent the pre-flash. Throwing an IR gel on the front would be a good idea in this instance so its not contributing to the exposure. Throttling the flash down all the way would also allow you to fire at a higher rate since the flash doesn't need to speed as much time refreshing.

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jimr Forum Pro • Posts: 11,405
Nothing Unusual..Typical Of Built In Flash Units ....Having Owned A D40 For A Few ...

years everything you are pointing out is typical and usual....and still I found its presence to be an asset.

masoncl Regular Member • Posts: 125
Re: Using the GF1's Built-In Flash

Thanks for taking the time to experiment with things.

'll second the request for faster access to the flash adjustments.

Other ideas from my testing:

Face detection does make a difference when trying to keep the ttl from overpowering people, but it's very hard to rely on shot after shot. It seems to have the most trouble when there is a light bulb shining close to the subjects.

If you set the camera to review and hold, you can use the display button to turn on histograms in the review. This way you can see the actual histogram for the shot taken and adjust if needed...assuming the auto-review doesn't drive you nuts.

Your suggestion to underexpose a bit makes sense, most of my best shots with flash started off underexposed.

Jerry_R Regular Member • Posts: 468
Re: Using the GF1's Built-In Flash

Hi Sam!
Thanks for starting thread. I am waiting for next one, about gells.

After reading your first post - I have small feeling, that you expect too much from built in flash . Are Nikon or Canon built in flashes better?

I use it on GH1 and GF1 quite often, mostly when taking pictures of people inside - and it acts quite good for me. I do not need to carry external flash all the time with me.

One day I plan to make first night shot, with longer exposure (for background), flash at the end (for people close to camera) - from a tripod.

Also - very often (but not every day) - I need HSS, more power - then I attach FL36 or FL50 (if I need higher frequency of shots).

I wouldn't like people to think that this small built in is useless. In fact - for me it is very useful, but limited . Limited - as other companies built in ones, too . But definitely, no doubts for me - better than no flash like in PEN.

Your comments about camera settings - probably I care for them much more less, as I mostly use Manual mode, and sometimes Aperture mode.

See one of my shots with bulit in flash:

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Best Regards,
Jerry_R

jimr Forum Pro • Posts: 11,405
Jerry...Your Comments Are 100% Correct! Having Had A DSLR with

a built in flash before....these are typical...normal...results.....

P.S. I love the picture!!!!!

Jerry_R wrote:

Hi Sam!
Thanks for starting thread. I am waiting for next one, about gells.

After reading your first post - I have small feeling, that you expect too much from built in flash . Are Nikon or Canon built in flashes better?

I use it on GH1 and GF1 quite often, mostly when taking pictures of people inside - and it acts quite good for me. I do not need to carry external flash all the time with me.

One day I plan to make first night shot, with longer exposure (for background), flash at the end (for people close to camera) - from a tripod.

Also - very often (but not every day) - I need HSS, more power - then I attach FL36 or FL50 (if I need higher frequency of shots).

I wouldn't like people to think that this small built in is useless. In fact - for me it is very useful, but limited . Limited - as other companies built in ones, too . But definitely, no doubts for me - better than no flash like in PEN.

Your comments about camera settings - probably I care for them much more less, as I mostly use Manual mode, and sometimes Aperture mode.

See one of my shots with bulit in flash:

Sam Bennett
OP Sam Bennett Veteran Member • Posts: 4,596
Re: Using the GF1's Built-In Flash

Jerry_R wrote:

After reading your first post - I have small feeling, that you expect too much from built in flash . Are Nikon or Canon built in flashes better?

I don't really know to be honest, I've never felt compelled to use them for anything other than triggering my off-camera flashes. But it's a bit beside the point since my experimentation was to just get a feel for what it can or cannot do. It isn't about expectations, it's just about establishing the facts so that people can get the most out of their gear.

In any case, some of the issues I found are decidedly of a "buggy" nature, so hopefully if nothing else my experimentation will provide feedback to Panasonic. I will be pointing my contact at Panasonic to this thread.

I wouldn't like people to think that this small built in is useless. In fact - for me it is very useful, but limited . Limited - as other companies built in ones, too . But definitely, no doubts for me - better than no flash like in PEN.

I never said it was useless. Whether it's better than "no flash" I think depends on your skill level. As I found, using the flash can be highly confusing and frustrating, particularly for inexperienced users. If someone ends up just beating their head against the thing because they can't figure out what the hell its doing, it isn't very useful, in my opinion.

Your comments about camera settings - probably I care for them much more less, as I mostly use Manual mode, and sometimes Aperture mode.

Fair enough, some of the issues are certainly minimized when using manual. I shoot manual when I shoot fill for sports work, but in social situations the lighting is usually much more dynamic so I prefer to shoot AV and use TTL flash metering for the most consistent results.

See one of my shots with bulit in flash:

Not bad but, no offense, but this is another example of the kind of look this and other cameras produce indoors that I really dislike. The foreground is WB'd for the 5600K flash, making the background a super unnatural glowing orange (although I suspect the wall to the right is actually orange, I hope). If Panasonic had the balls to throw a CTO on there, the photo would have looked better, IMO.

Not great examples since I'm still getting a feel for it, but here's some shots from our Christmas Eve over at the first set of Grandparents. These were shot with a 1 and 1/2 CTO gel and a makeshift softbox (which I will be sharing in another thread).

(flash is a bit too overpowering here, following my own advice of -1EC and not getting the results I wanted)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4211620225/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4211620343/

(next two are a little soft since they were hastily NR'd in Noise Ninja)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4212383594/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4211620715/

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TEBnewyork
TEBnewyork Forum Pro • Posts: 11,337
The easiest way to deal with the different color temps....

Sorry to crack a joke in the middle of a serious thread but when using the onboard flash in these situations I find it easiest just to shoot in B&W and forget about the color. The dynamic B&W jpegs work out quite well.
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Jerry_R Regular Member • Posts: 468
Re: Using the GF1's Built-In Flash

Sam Bennett wrote:

this is another example of the kind of look this and other cameras produce indoors that I really dislike. The foreground is WB'd for the 5600K flash, making the background a super unnatural glowing orange (although I suspect the wall to the right is actually orange, I hope). If Panasonic had the balls to throw a CTO on there, the photo would have looked better, IMO.

The wall, whole room in fact - was ineed real orange .

Anyway, for me - warmer background, like in your and Karl examples here:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1041&message=34019328

is simly not very distractive, especially when it is blurred. And 100% correct white balance - is often unnatural in my perception.

I will continue reading your advices and make some tests with gels later, too.

Merry Christmas!

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Best Regards,
Jerry_R

William Ing Contributing Member • Posts: 628
in defense of the GF1 onbaord flash

Sam:

I appreciate your detailed analysis of the shortcomings you perceive in the GF1 flash. This is no criticism of the points you made in your original post, but I must say I agree with some of the statements pointing out that the GF1's onboard (OBF) flash is not outrageously inadequate, especially when I compare it with other built in flashes on other cameras I'm familiar with, viz., the Canon Rebel XTi or the Panasonic LX3.

Granted, it's not saying much to state that the GF1 flash is far better than what Olympus has offered thus far in the way of built-in flash on its M43 bodies, i.e., NADA. Still, I deploy the OBF on my GF1 quite frequently in P mode, just as I quite frequently use OBF on my Rebel and Canon 40D in a pinch. Nobody claims the OBF will ever supplant the speed, power, responsiveness and flexibility of a proper off-camera flash like my Canon 580 EX II, but it's nevertheless a useful and valued tool I've resorted to in a pinch.

As pointed out in a prior post, it's handy for indoor social shots. Admittedly, you may have to do some post processing in Photoshop to adjust contrast and skin tones, but it works pretty fine for me. (Sure, Sam Bennett might point out the aesthetic and technical shortcomings of some of my flash results, especially the excessive warmth of some of my background shadows, but, hey, we don't all have the same standards.)

Mostly, though, the so-called underpowered flash of the GF1 has proved a great way to open up those harsh shadows one encounters outdoors under a bright sun. I often shoot in P mode at close range with the 7-14 zoom, pretty much anticipating extreme depth of field, even at the lowest ISO setting possible. (Question to GF1 shooters: Have you discovered that, even with the lotus shaped, non-removable lens hood of the 7-14 in place, you can still shoot outdoors with OBF and experience negligible to no visible lens shadow in the lower part of the photo PROVIDED YOU'RE SHOOTING IN BRIGHT TO MODERATELY BRIGHT ambient light? Shooting an uneven surface also helps to mask lens shadow, but don't expect to get away with it indoors or at night. Absolutely no problem shooting OBF with the 40mm pancake, of course, or the 14 to 45 zoom SANS lenshood.)

lattiboy Regular Member • Posts: 201
Re: Using the GF1's Built-In Flash

Very nice writeup Sam! Thanks so much for taking time to show exactly the limitations. I'm actually impressed with the built-in flash, but that's because I had basically ZERO expectations on it (figured it would be about as useful as any other P&S flash) and have gotten some quite decent shots using it for fill purposes.

My biggest issue with the flash (and the GF1 in general) is the lack of MINIMUM SHUTTER SPEED! It's infuriating that you can't set a minimum shutter speed in conjunction with ISO and aperture settings.

I feel confident Panny will resolve this in a future FM upgrade, as they've been quite good with the LX3 (the last firmware was just amazing).

I'm going to put your good advice into use tomorrow while the whole family is over opening presents.

Thanks!!!

Sam Bennett
OP Sam Bennett Veteran Member • Posts: 4,596
For what it's worth....

Jerry_R wrote:

is simly not very distractive, especially when it is blurred. And 100% correct white balance - is often unnatural in my perception.

...I'm not a big "correct WB" guy - I often err on the warm side. It really is the mixed color temp thing that bothers me more than anything. And even having variations within that are good - sometimes I like having an unnaturally warm foreground, for instance. My main gripe is that for most people's use how most cameras look indoors is waaaaay off the mark. And it isn't just the foreground/background look, it's the highlights/shadows issue where when shooting fill you see mixed color temperatures in the foreground - in your subject.

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Sam Bennett
OP Sam Bennett Veteran Member • Posts: 4,596
Don't put words in my mouth...

William Ing wrote:

I appreciate your detailed analysis of the shortcomings you perceive in the GF1 flash. This is no criticism of the points you made in your original post, but I must say I agree with some of the statements pointing out that the GF1's onboard (OBF) flash is not outrageously inadequate, especially when I compare it with other built in flashes on other cameras I'm familiar with, viz., the Canon Rebel XTi or the Panasonic LX3.

William - people who are bringing up this point in this thread are fighting a strawman. I never said the system was "outrageously inadequate". This post was simply to detail the system, show its shortcomings and provide guidance to get the most out of it.

All systems, including external flash systems, have their shortcomings. As someone who's done a lot of paid event photography in the past, I have to understand these shortcomings to produce consistent work. I have to understand that an SB-600 can't throttle down as much as an SB-900, and I have to understand that, regardless, an SB-900 can easily overpower a scene when used for close work and balancing ambient light. Exploring the limitations of your gear will always serve in your best interest.

I think often people see things in black and white - either a thread is an attack or it's partisan praise for a piece of gear. This thread is neither. It's simply informative. I do have my judgements about the system based on my use of it, but it is not a blanket condemnation of the system.

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jimr Forum Pro • Posts: 11,405
Re: For what it's worth....

Often we have mixed lighting in a room Add the color temp of a flash and you can easily have variations across an image.

Sam Bennett
OP Sam Bennett Veteran Member • Posts: 4,596
Yep.

jimr wrote:

Often we have mixed lighting in a room Add the color temp of a flash and you can easily have variations across an image.

Again, it's just a matter of getting things as close as reasonably possible. It will never be "perfect". But indoors, you can be sure that Daylight balanced will virtually always be off. Most people do not have Daylight balanced bulbs in their homes.

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Jerry_R Regular Member • Posts: 468
Re: Yep.

OK, just example from this summer.

Built in flash, this time GH1, orange diffusor used, RAW, WB set in LR to 7100.
"Correct WB" (around 3750) - was boring for me.

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