D50's secret flash feature revealed
I just picked up a D50 for my work as a virtual tour photographer. The residential interiors I photograph present the same exposure problem- strong contrasts between interior walls and the sunlit views out the windows. I've learned to use fill-flash to equalize the light levels, but it's hard to light a big room using the maximum 1/200 sync speed of my KM 7D. I was attracted to the specs of the D50, which claims a max shutter sync speed of 1/500. On my first tests, the built-in flash indeed gave fine exposures over the full frame at 1/500 second. That's a clear speed record among all the digital SLRs I'm aware of.

I prefer these old self-metered flashes for their simple controls and low prices. I fired the Metz at 1/500 second, with good results. What the hell I cranked the shutter up to 1/640 and got another fine exposure. Then 1/1000 proved usable too. Ditto at 1/2000! At the maximum 1/4000 shutter speed (iPhoto calls it 1/3999th, but who's counting?), I still get full, usable frames, but exposure is reduced by a stop, as if the sensor neededmoretime to do it's work.

That's three whole stops above the point where my 7D is showing a shadow of the shutter curtain during flash exposure! This is a revelation to me. It should allow me to light up much bigger rooms with smaller flashes. I can select large apertures and the faster shutter speeds will tame the outdoor light. It's so odd that Nikon hides this unique capability of the D50. Using the built-in flash, it won't set a shutter speed faster than 1/500th.

This opens up such a useful capability for daylight-flash syncro, but nobody even knows! It makes my $50 used semi-auto flash look even more attractive against the $200+ Nikon units. My flash just got three stops stronger! Why does Nikon keep this a secret? Are they hiding the shutter's max sync speed in order to sell us bigger and stronger speedlights? I don't get it. Did you know it can do that? I'm attaching a painfully dull photo taken at 1/2000 sec. with flash. Attachment:DSC_0029.JPG..

Comments (7)

And here's a better and smaller photo at 1/1000th. This came out dark, but there was no difference between exposure between 1/1000 and 1/2000 in idendical shots of the chair.. Attachments:.

1:1000th small.jpg..

Comment #1

Wheatridger, First of all, it sounds like what you're seeing isn't related to a synced flash. It might be, but I doubt that seriously. It doesn't appear that way in your linked photos either. The manufacturers will NEVER understate a spec on their equipment, and will certainly know what their own shutters are capable of. Even if it would sync that quickly, it's one of those things that sounds great in theory. What can actually happen however, is that the shutter speed can exceed the duration of the flash.

That's especially an issue with larger more professional flashes. You can end up with an underexposed image. It obviously depends on the flash setting. In the manual settings in particular, you could lose much of the flash effect in the process. In fact, it's common for photographers with leaf shutters on their medium format cameras, to set them at no more than 1/125 for certain flash photos.

That's in spite of the fact that they'll generally sync at 1/500th. Regardless, I think that what you're seeing is actually existing light that was adequate for the exposure at hand. If the white balance on my monitor is any indication, that appears to be the case. Robert..

Comment #2

Other Nikon DSLRs have a documented mode called "FP" that is entered in different ways, depending on the model. The new D80 simplifies this, so inserting any flash into the hot shoe allows Manual and Shutter exposure mode shutter speeds to rise all the way to the top. Without anything that looks like a flash in the hot shoe, top shutter speed red-lines at 1/200 sec. What you're experiencing with the D50 seems like a precursor to that documented feature. Nikon seems to have thrown most of it's experiences from the past into each new model, so it doesn't surprise me to see the FP mode from the D70 showing up in the D50 in a different form. I think my first question would be this; What is the top speed with an SB-800/600 in the hot shoe instead of a generic single pin flash? Do the extra data contacts tell the D50 body to limit sync to 1/500 sec as the manual claims? Curious...

Comment #3

JPEG, I've got a series of three painfully dull chair photos shot with flash at 1/500, 1/1000 and 1/2000 second, and they're all equally and evenly lit- no difference at all. The lighting was a 150w bulb bounced from a low ceiling, at night, with ISO 200 and the lens at f4.2. There's no way that would ever be sufficient exposure without the flash! Look at the absence of shadows- that's no available light shot. Today I shot a panorama in A mode, lens at f 4.5 and the shutter ranging up to 1/200 when facing a window with neg Ex Comp added. Again, the exposure and the photo were fine. You write, "The manufacturers will NEVER understate a spec on their equipment, and will certainly know what their own shutters are capable of." That's what puzzles me.

For my work, it's probably the most critical spec of all. Slow sync speeds had me avoiding DSLRs altogether for a long time. Maybe Nikon doesn't want to encourage the use of non-OEM flashes? I bet they make more profit on an SB-800 than a D50. Most photographers who buy DSLRs are anxious to get the latest dedicated flash features, and wouldn't think to try old flashes on them. And those knowledgable enough to think about that are deterred by warnings about excessive sync voltages, and what happened when somebody fired a Honeywell Strobonar with a D1H or something.

It only goes to 1/200 sec, though. With the built-in flash, I can only set 1/500th, so KM plays this game too. But why? Take this news as a gift. Grab an old flash, try it and see. Maybe your camera is capable of even more than you realized...

Comment #4

I see that Ken Rockwell had something to say about this a year ago:.

"Nikon has done the world a great favor in the D1, D1X, D1H and D70 cameras by adding an electronic shutter to take care of the faster speeds. By doing this the sync speed becomes unlimited. The only reason the D1, D1X and D1H (and for all I know the D70) limit the speed to 1/500 is because of the loss of efficiency above that speed for shoe mounted flash." Since the D50 has the D70's guts inside, that applies to it, too. So perhaps this hidden talent has been around for a while. But I'm not seeing any sign of that "loss of efficiency" he mentions, all the way to two stops above the listed speed...

Comment #5

Wheatridger, You're addressing at least three separate issues that you're lumping into the same category. The issue with some generic flashes aside from the camera manufacturer's, has NOTHING to do with flash sync. It has EVERYTHING to do with return voltage that can fry the electronics of the camera. I use NOTHING but older flashes, so you're not amazing me with your perceived revelation. I use Photogenic Powerlights, a Sunpak 120J portable, and a 200 wattsecond Lumedyne. ALL of those flashes CAN fry the electronics of my camera without my use of a buffer called a Wein Safe Sync.

In spite of the fact that I shoot with a Fuji S3, a cameras flash sync is still it's flash sync. You HAVE NOT discovered anything revolutionary about your D50. You're not going to change the industry, or amaze anyone other than yourself. I can look at the photos, and clearly see what's going on there. Before you make a even bigger dingy out of yourself, you might consider dropping this.

And by the way, I won't banter this any further. Robert..

Comment #6

Forgive me, JPEG, for cluttering your beautiful mind with this redundant knowledge. I'm ever so sorry. I know "a little," after 30 years in photography, but you seem to know EVERYTHING. "In spite of the fact that I shoot with a Fuji S3, a cameras flash sync is still it's flash sync." Yes, if you use the OEM deidcated flash that limits the shutter setting to the listed maximum. But when I use manual flash on my KM 7D, I get an extra half-stop of shutter speed sync capability, and I think that's nice, since that's what I need to to my job quickly, without lugging your suitcases full of pro lighting. But when I discovered that the D50 had 4 stops of extra flash sync capability, over and above the manual and the specs, that's really nice.

But I bet lots of other folks who shoot by the book and use only the current flashes don't know this. So I thought I'd share. Maybe some one will find this knowledge useful, though you didn't. Flash trigger voltages are a real issue, as this site documents: Using common semi-auto flashes from the '80s on up, (Metz, Philips and Osram), however, I've never had a problem.

I certainly will...

Comment #7

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