The new SuperFast flash heads from Lencarta
Well, we launched our new SuperFast flash heads at Focus on Imaging, people queued up to buy them and full details are on the Lencarta website, but it’s clear from some of the questions that are being asked that this new technology isn’t as easy to understand as we hoped, so I thought it might be best to go into a bit more detail about how these new flash heads work, and what they will do for you.
Basically, the Superfast uses pretty much the same IGBT technology as hotshoe flashguns, but with all the advantages of professional studio flash.
So, it has a modelling lamp, it has plenty of power, it takes the full range of S-fit accessories, it’s fully compatible with ordinary flash heads and it can do everything that an ordinary flash head can do – and it can operate as a high speed flash too!
It’s the ‘high speed flash’ bit that people are struggling with, and that’s not really surprising because the term means different things to different people.
With hotshoe flashguns, it means that the flashgun puts out a series of strobe flashes, very close together, to allow high shutter speeds to be used. That series of flashes acts just like a continuous light, not a flash, and it has a few limitations…
- The power of hotshoe flashes is limited to start with, and when the power is divided by the number of flashes fired, there is very little power left
- It’s pretty good at freezing action, but the action-freezing capability depends on the fastest shutter speed of the camera, which currently is never faster than 1/8000th sec
- There’s no modelling lamp
- Many of the essential light shaping tools don’t work well (or at all) with hotshoe flashes
- They overheat
- They produce inconsistent power, especially towards the end of the burst of flashes
The SuperFast is a normal fully featured studio flash when fired at full power, it has a very respectable flash duration and recycling time and a remote control is available too, but apart from that it’s normal. It’s when the power is turned down that it becomes very special, because at reduced power, the flash durations become incredibly fast and it recycles instantly. And although the power is reduced, because it has so much power to start with, it has plenty left!
So, the main advantages are
- Fast enough, even at full power, to freeze all normal subject movement in the studio
- At minimum power, has an incredibly short flash duration of just 1/20,000th second
- At low power, it recycles so quickly that it out-performs even the fastest camera
- Fan cooled
- Lencarta/Bowens accessory mount
- Modelling lamp
- Has enough power, even when set to the minimum.
Let’s go through that list in a bit more detail.
- Even at full power, the flash duration is around 1/1600th sec, expressed as t.1, not as the t.5 measurement normally used for studio flash heads. The difference is important, because t.1 roughly equates to the equivalent shutter speed and t.5 doesn’t. What this means is that even at full power, the flash duration is short enough to freeze action just as well as a shutter speed of 1/800th outdoors, and it compares with a t.5 flash duration of around 1/4800th – so it’s just as fast as a conventional flash head with a claimed flash duration of 1/4800th!
- When the power is turned down, the flash duration becomes even shorter, and on both models it reaches an incredible 1/20,000th sec! On conventional flash heads, the flash duration becomes longer when the power is turned down. The performance of the SuperFast is breathtaking, and comfortably beats all competitors.
- At minimum power, it recycles in just 0.05 second – yes, 1/20th second. This means that it is always ready for the next shot, and even if you have a camera that has a fast burst mode, you can shoot action in a burst that is limited only by the speed of the camera. If we ever have a camera that can operate at 20 fps, the SuperFast will keep up with it. What this means is that you can shoot an action sequence such as a dancer, gymnast, sports, hair tossing, bursting balloons or even a bowl of milk hitting the poor model in burst mode, which virtually guarantees that you’ll get several shots that work – you won’t have to rely on your own good timing of the shot, and won’t need to do the shot over and over again until it’s right. This series of shots proves it. The first shots, of a bowl of milk thrown at the model, have given us choices that would have been very difficult to achieve without the burst mode, and which would have needed the model to shower between each individual attempt.
And this burst of shots of a twirling scarf works too. Frames 4, 5 and 6 are all usable .
- The fan cooling is important, hotshoe flashguns don’t have it and they overheat. The SuperFast doesn’t overheat.
- The Lencarta/Bowens accessory mount is important because it allows you to use literally any light shaper, that isn’t possible with hotshoe flashguns, which are always a bit of a compromise with large light shapers such as beauty dishes, softboxes etc and which don’t work at all with more specialised tools such as focusing spotlights and fresnel spotlights. It’s difficult to be creative when the tools are limited.
- The modelling lamp is important too. You can manage without it if you really have to, but having a powerful modelling lamp makes life much easier and takes away the need for trial and error.
- Power is important. A typical hotshoe flashgun, set to 1/32nd of full power, only puts out the equivalent of about 3 Ws, that’s very low. The SuperFast 300 at 1/32nd power still has 9.375Ws and the SuperFast 600 still has 18.75Ws, and that’s plenty for most situations.
- However, the SuperFast 300 has 6.6 stops of power adjustment, so can be reduced right down to 2.81Ws if required, and the SuperFast 600 has an even grater range of 7.4 stops, reducing as low as 1.875Ws.
As an example, the exif data for this shot shows that it was shot on a D3 set to 800 ISO and f/10 – and the image quality was fine in a 45″ x 30″ print. Even if we had set the camera to 200 ISO we would still have been able to shoot at around f/3.5
Please read the comprehensive independent review carried out by Phil Harboard here
And another customer, Aaron “Az” Karnovski, has posted his review here. It does contain some technical errors, but is useful.
And Advanced Photographer has now published their own independent review, which praises the performance – issue No.32, published June 2013
Here are the flash duration test results, published in Advanced Photographer.
There is a disparity between the times we state, and the times stated by the various independent testers. The reason for this is that there is no accurate, scientific method of testing flash durations as short as these!
The standard testing method involves testing the flash pulse with an oscilloscope, and this method is valid for ‘normal’ flash heads, but oscilloscopes seem to struggle when the flash durations are incredibly short.
Advanced Photographer (and many other testers) uses a spinning disk as the test method, and simply takes a series of photographs using a high performance camera without flash, these shots are taken at various shutter speeds and provide a benchmark, showing the action freezing potential at any tested shutter speed. The shots are then re-taken, this time using the flash unit under test, and the results can then be compared.
It’s a pretty good testing method, because shots taken at, say, a shutter speed of 1/10.000th second produce a very similar result as a flash with a t.1 time of 1/10,000th second.
The problem though, is that although this is a very useful and meaningful test, it isn’t scientific – a visual comparison needs to be made, and an estimate arrived at.
Professional DSLR cameras tend to have a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th second, which is nowhere near fast enough for testing the SuperFast.
The focal plane shutters fitted to DSLR cameras inevitably create a distorted image of a spinning disk, due to the movement of the disk as the camera
shutter moves across the sensor, and this makes estimation difficult.
The camera used in these tests was a Nikon V1, which has a very fast electronic shutter, producing a shutter speed of 1/16,000th second.
You will see that the distortion here is even worse, making an accurate comparison between the freezing effect of a camera shutter and the freezing
effect of a flash even more difficult to compare, but it’s the best method available.
I hope that this helps, but if there’s anything I haven’t covered, please ask away and I’ll do my best to provide a full answer.