With More Flash More Lumix.

Synchronising an external flash unit
with the Panasonic® Lumix DMC-FZ1.
(And other digicams too)

I'm very happy with my Panasonic® Lumix DMC-FZ1 digicam (see Steve's Digicams Review) except for one aspect. The built-in flash is only adequate up to +/- 3 meters (9 ft) and there is no external flash synchronisation. On the other hand a greater flash to subject distance will improve (lessen) the contrast between subject and background, which is my reason for using a powerfull external flash unit.

At first I meant to use my 20-year-old Sunpak® auto 300 or Sunpak® Auto zoom 4000 flash units combined with an even older Metz® Mecalux 11 slave trigger. This did not work because the slave trigger "sees" both the camera's first (weaker) measuring flash and its main exposure flash. Consequently the Sunpak is fired during the measuring flash and usually has no charge left for the exposure flash and, because the Sunpak strobes at the wrong moment, the camera's automatic setting is way off the mark.

Instead of buying a special digital slave trigger I thought of a simple and dirt-cheap solution.

I managed to decrease the sensitivity of the Metz Mecalux slave trigger so that it does not "see" the first weaker measuring flash, but triggers on the second stronger exposure flash . Now the slave trigger must, of course, always be mounted in the same position relative to the camera flash and pointed toward it. But that turns out to be easy too.

  1. Materials:
  2. Assembly:
  3. Complete Flash System:
  4. Comparison Test Shots:
    • Power To The People
    • Light Up That Background
    • For A View Of The Front
  5. A Different Solution:
  6. Conclusion:
  7. UPDATE 14 March 2004:

1. Materials:
  • Adapter Ring: from the bottom of a small black plastic dispensing bottle (ask your local friendly dentist, he might have an empty one), and maybe 6-12 cm of black plastic adhesive tape to give the adapter ring a snug fit,
  • Diaphragm Disk: from the gray cover of a Kodak® film box,
  • a Set of Endodontic Files (or obsolete reamers) ( 0.15 - 0.20 - 0.25 - 0.30 - 0.35 - ... - 1.40 mm diameter at the point) - (ask your local friendly dentist for a set of worn files or obsolete reamers, they're good enough for soft plastic),
  • Self-adhesive Velcro® (not shown).

2. Assembly:

This is self-explanatory. Note that the former hot shoe is the perfect storage place for additional diaphragm disks.

Attach the slave trigger to the external flash unit with Velcro so that it points toward the camera flash. In the gray plastic disk drill a centrally located hole of 0.15 mm diameter, make a test shot and, in small steps, increase the diameter until the trigger "sees" the camera's stronger exposure flash. As it happened, 0.15 mm (just a pinprick) sufficed for my Sunpak auto 300, while in a disk for use with my Sunpak Auto zoom 4000 I had to widen this diaphragm up to 2.5 mm (with a regular spiral drill). It all depends on the relative position of the slave trigger and you have to find the right size for each particular flash by trial and (hopefully without) error. Remember that increasing the diameter of a diaphragm by 2x passes 4x as much light, so proceed in small steps.

3. Complete Flash System:

4. Comparison of Test Shots:

The original pics were reduced in size and jpg-compressed, but no other parameters were modified.
  • Power To The People:

  • Light Up That Background:

  • Put Some Light In Front:

5. A Different Solution:

Keith Walker built an electronic controller module to connect between slave trigger and flash unit.

6. Conclusion:

I haven't mentioned f-stops or shutter speeds because my fully automatic camera has no manual control for these parameters. The Sunpaks are both permanently set to ISO 50 and f-stop 2.8

There was no need to spend money on new strobes, triggers, cables and whatnot, whilst adding a (homemade) electronic controller module would, in my humble opinion, complicate things.

With a simple and foolproof plastic adapter my old Mecalux trigger and Sunpak strobes work just fine and fully independent of ambient light sources.

This humble trick can also be used for a digicam whose hot shoe or flash connection is incompatible with the (too high) trigger voltage of an external flash unit.

7. UPDATE of 14 March 2004:

The Panasonic models DMC-FZ1 and DMC-FZ2 are basically the same. I was able to modify (upgrade) my camera to the FZ2 specifcations by installing FZ2 firmware. Now I do have manual control for aperture priority, shutter priority and incremental white balance adjustment.