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Fuji X100s - Leaf Shutter and High Speed Strobe Sync
Old 04-06-2017   #1
honozooloo
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Fuji X100s - Leaf Shutter and High Speed Strobe Sync

After crawling RFF, I've noticed that there doesn't seem to be much (any actually) conversation about the one feature I absolutely love the most about my little Fuji: The leaf shutter.



Why does it matter that this killer little camera has an old, mostly fallen out of favor shutter design? Well, because unlike focal plane shutters found on just about EVERY other camera on the market, Fuji's little X100 family can sync with off-camera strobes at extremely high speeds. When you live in Hawaii like I do, that means my X100s can produce truly impressive results when shooting in full-on, harsh, tropical sunshine when paired with an off-camera strobe, diffuser, and a radio trigger. And unlike those faux "high speed sync" modes offered by Canikon's speedlights and select off-camera strobes by Profoto and others, being able to really, actually, honest to goodness sync with a strobe at a higher shutter speed gives you the ability to get much more useable levels of power out of your lighting kit, while also getting a shallow depth of field at the same time.

The many advantages of leaf shutters combined with off-camera lighting have been explained better by people far smarter than I: Click here if for an excellent explanation of the advantages of leaf shutter photography at kernphoto.com.


I regularly use my X100s with two sets of off-camera strobes, and can report that the leaf shutter can accomplish impressive sync speeds with both setups:

Setup 1:
2x Yongnuo 560VI strobes + Yongnuo 560TX (Canon version works fine)
Can sync up to 1/800 sec - excellent compact strobist kit, works wonders during dawn or dusk hours but doesn't have quite enough power for full sun use with light modifiers so if I use this in full sun it's usually bare or with a simple grid or snoot

Setup 2: (MY FAVORITE - used to shoot all the images in this post)
2x Paul C Buff Digibee 800s + Vagabond Mini + Paul C Buff V2 radio trigger, transceiver, Cyber Commander
Can sync all the way to the full 1/4000th; PCB's radio triggers have an impressive 1/4000 sec latency, and yes it actually works as stated
This setup will do pretty much whatever you'd want to do in full sun - thanks to the effectively "limitless" sync speed, I could actually leave my X100s shooting in Aperture Priority and just shoot away


The above image was captured at about 3PM, sun is camera top right and slightly behind the subject. I kicked in the handy dandy ND filter, set the camera at F/2.8 to get 1/2000 sec, and dialed in a single Digibee 800 in a diffused 47" silver umbrella. Processed in lightroom with RNI TMAX 400 emulation preset and some minor tone adjustment.


I have used my X100s and Digibees to produce images for full-page spreads and magazine covers and my art directors have loved the shallow depth of field and drama that can be accomplished by lighting a subject well and underexposing the background by a 1/2 - full stop. I couldn't say that the 28mm teleconverter would be that useful for me given my style of shooting but the 50mm teleconverter has been AMAZING for full-sun portraiture.

As far as I am aware, the only digital cameras with leaf shutters and "real" high speed strobe sync capabilities are as follows:
  • Fuji X100 family
  • Phase One family of cameras when paired with leaf shutter lenses
  • Hasselblad family of cameras when paired with leaf shutter lenses
  • Pentax 645D/Z cameras when paired with leaf shutter lenses (I think there are like 2 available)
  • Sony RX-family of cameras (RX1, RX10, RX100)
  • Leica Q
  • Possibly the new Fuji GFX, when the roadmapped leaf shutter lenses hit the market
  • Ricoh GR series
  • Leica S with leaf shutter lenses
  • Leica X Vario, X1, X2 (Thanks 2WK!)

The list above is a rather exclusive little club...many of the full frame 35mm and APS-C options aren't exactly cheap, and the Phase One/medium format cameras are more or less completely out of the question for me and my humble working photojournalist's budget. To be honest so is the Leica Q and Sony RX1R II. When you consider the IQ you get from ANY of the x100 family of cameras, and the fact that OG X100 cameras can be had for very little money these days, you can see how the Fuji system offers a strobist incredible value for money. No wonder David Hobby loves this little guy.

So in addition to sharing any experiences anyone else has had with using the X100 series cameras with off-camera lighting, could everyone maybe also add to my list of leaf shutter-enabled digital cameras worth using with off-camera lighting, and possibly share any experiences you all may have had with other off-camera lighting setups. I'm curious what others have been able to accomplish with their amazing little Fujis. How fast has everyone managed to achieve sync, and with what sort of lighting setups?

I'm more than happy to answer any questions and thanks for reading. Have an awesome day everyone.
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Old 04-07-2017   #2
Dogman
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Excellent work. Obviously the X100 series models are members of an exclusive club of highly adaptable and capable cameras. But, personally, I haven't even owned a flash since I quit working as a photographer in 1991 (other than the flashes that are built into some cameras I've bought...and I'm not even sure any of them actually work).
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Old 04-07-2017   #3
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Wow. In the third photo you almost killed the subjects shadow. Very impressive!
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Old 04-07-2017   #4
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yeah those portraits have something large format-esque going for them. I like them, except mabe the diver/squid one - that almost looks like he is a cutout.

while the leave shutter makes this easier, what speaks against shooting at 1/250th (some focal plane shutters pull that off) and a strong ND? (You'd have full frame with shallower DOF at same aperture etc.)

anyway - good portraits!
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Old 04-07-2017   #5
charjohncarter
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I have a bunch for FP shutter cameras I think the fastest is 1/125, but most are 1/100 and below. They are worthless even for simple fill flash. I have an Olympus 35RC which is synched up to 1/500 which is plenty for beating the sun.
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Old 04-07-2017   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charjohncarter View Post
I have a bunch for FP shutter cameras I think the fastest is 1/125, but most are 1/100 and below. They are worthless even for simple fill flash. I have an Olympus 35RC which is synched up to 1/500 which is plenty for beating the sun.
Yes it's a good feature you get with a leaf shutter. But my favorite thing about leaf shutter is the little noise they make compared.

A D810 is 1/320th according to the website, which freezes time enough (not as cool as 1/1000th)
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Old 04-07-2017   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by k__43 View Post
while the leave shutter makes this easier, what speaks against shooting at 1/250th (some focal plane shutters pull that off) and a strong ND? (You'd have full frame with shallower DOF at same aperture etc.)
Thanks k__43 and everyone else for your feedback! As for the advantages of faster shutter speeds when using strobes - using an ND or stopping down the aperture means that you must then increase the output of your strobe to properly light your subject. Let's say you wanted to shoot something at f/4 and 1/250 and you used a 3 stop ND, well that would mean your lens is effectively letting in light like it were stopped down to f/11. That would also mean your strobe would need to be capable of putting out at least enough light to illuminate a scene at f/11. Diffusers and light modifiers weaken output from a strobe, so actually if you wanted to use a softbox to diffuse your light a bit you'd need a strobe that can put out a little more light than you'd actually need at f/11, just call it f/16 for argument's sake. Small speedlights and even bigger strobes like my 400WS Digibees just can't put out enough light. And you'd be using higher power levels on your strobes, which also means fewer pops from your battery pack and longer recycle times between shots.

The simplest way to properly balance a bright scene would be to increase shutter speed beyond 1/250 instead of messing with aperture and ND - it means you do not then need insanely high levels of power output from your strobe to properly light your scene. Case in point, if you wanted to get a shot at f/4 without using the 3-stop ND filter in the scenario above, if you could go from 1/250 to 1/2000 sec instead of using the ND, you'd get the same exposure without having to use an extremely dark ND/aperture combo. Then you can accomplish the same exposure without having to use bigger, more expensive, and heavier strobes.

If weight and convenience were not factors, then yeah you could use an ND filter and bigger lights with more powerful battery packs to accomplish the same sort of look. But if you're having to carry all your gear up staircases and through jungles and over sandy beaches (my least favorite thing to do by the way), then using a smaller kit and a camera that can work with it is almost a requirement.
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Old 04-07-2017   #8
2WK
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My Leica X Vario has a leaf shutter. The X1, X2 as well. I know the T doesn't, not sure about the newer X series...
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Old 04-07-2017   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2WK View Post
My Leica X Vario has a leaf shutter. The X1, X2 as well. I know the T doesn't, not sure about the newer X series...
Added to the list! THanks 2WK.

Quote:
Originally Posted by k__43 View Post
Yes it's a good feature you get with a leaf shutter. But my favorite thing about leaf shutter is the little noise they make compared.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrMcCoy View Post
Though I don't use it for it's flash benefits often, the leaf shutter is also my favorite part of the X100 series. I work on movie sets and that sucker is IRREPLACEABLE.

I'd be really happy if they came out with a MILC leaf shutter camera in the vein of the X-Pro/X100. Even adding a focal conversion above 50mm (preferably 70-135) for the X100_ would be amazing.
YES. Stealth is my second most favorite thing about the X100 - it pulls courtroom duty with me and it is pretty clutch. I'd seriously consider a Sony A7R-style MILC with leaf shutter lenses over the GFX or 645Z (two MF digitals I'm considering upgrading to once used prices drop a bit), especially if the MILC offered f/2 or faster glass.
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Old 04-07-2017   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by honozooloo View Post

The simplest way to properly balance a bright scene would be to increase shutter speed beyond 1/250 instead of messing with aperture and ND - it means you do not then need insanely high levels of power output from your strobe to properly light your scene. Case in point, if you wanted to get a shot at f/4 without using the 3-stop ND filter in the scenario above, if you could go from 1/250 to 1/2000 sec instead of using the ND, you'd get the same exposure without having to use an extremely dark ND/aperture combo. Then you can accomplish the same exposure without having to use bigger, more expensive, and heavier strobes.

That is making the assumption that your strobe is firing at faster than 1/2000 of a second. It may or may not be.

For example, I have a Coolpix A which has a leaf shutter and a Godox AD360 flash. If I set the Coolpix to shoot at 1/1000 of a second above a certain power level on the flash I can keep increasing the flashes output and see no difference in the resulting exposure. The way a flash regulates output is by how long it is on. At full power the AD360 is on for about 1/300th of a second. I loose almost two stops of the flashes output with my shutter at 1/1000 of a second and would lose a little less than three stops of output at 1/2000.

In this situation if I want to shoot fairly wide open (and overpower the sun) an ND filter is the only way to do it. The AD360 has the power to overcome the sun.

Shawn
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Old 04-07-2017   #11
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Leica S series when paired with the full line of CS lenses... I think all the S lenses except the 100 Summicron are offered in CS versions.
Pentax 67 line had two leaf-shutter lenses also... 90mm and 165mm
Leaf shutters are a traditional need for flash photographers!
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Old 04-07-2017   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shawn View Post
That is making the assumption that your strobe is firing at faster than 1/2000 of a second. It may or may not be.

For example, I have a Coolpix A which has a leaf shutter and a Godox AD360 flash. If I set the Coolpix to shoot at 1/1000 of a second above a certain power level on the flash I can keep increasing the flashes output and see no difference in the resulting exposure. The way a flash regulates output is by how long it is on. At full power the AD360 is on for about 1/300th of a second. I loose almost two stops of the flashes output with my shutter at 1/1000 of a second and would lose a little less than three stops of output at 1/2000.

In this situation if I want to shoot fairly wide open (and overpower the sun) an ND filter is the only way to do it. The AD360 has the power to overcome the sun.

Shawn
Correct! t.1 times factor in a lot, and depending on the strobes you work with, there is definitely a theoretical ceiling where you're not gonna see any increase in brightness at high enough a shutter speed. If your strobe is capping off at a 1/300 sec t.1, you may have some trouble getting the "punch" you need at higher shutter speeds. The Digibee 800 has a stated t.1 time of 1/975 sec, however, I've found that most good quality strobes with IGBT control (specifically Einstein 640s and the Digibees - it's what I use at work) tend to discharge the majority of their light early in their "pop" - early enough that I can successfully use Digibees (and the MUCH faster Einstein 640 with its 1/13,500 sec t.1) at pretty much any power setting and shutter speed. Even though the Digibee's t.1 isn't fast enough to "keep up" with 1/2000 sec, it seems like it discharges the majority of it's light fast enough to get the job done. I feel like at higher shutter speeds I lose a fraction of a stop's worth of light on the slower Digibees but its nothing major. This NEVER happens with the Einsteins by the way - they're pretty impressive. The only time I have a problem is when the power is set too low - lower power settings cause slower t.1 times.
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Old 04-07-2017   #13
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Beautiful shots, honozooloo, the best outdoor lighting I have ever seen anywhere, bar none. And yes ya gotta love the leaf!

And WOW I LOVE my X100Tcamera! Moved up from the 'S', not really worth the incurred expense, except I now have a facial recognition feature. Which is off by default, go figure.

I'd love to live there and shoot photos all over Hawaii, but the sun has always hated me and wants me to die. :-(
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Old 01-15-2018   #14
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Nothing beats leaf shutter for flash. My X100s is used mainly for flash and I truly love it.


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Old 01-15-2018   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charjohncarter View Post
I have a bunch for FP shutter cameras I think the fastest is 1/125, but most are 1/100 and below. They are worthless even for simple fill flash. I have an Olympus 35RC which is synched up to 1/500 which is plenty for beating the sun.
That's because people use underpowered flashes with FP cameras. I have an Agfatronic 643CS sitting on my desk that has a GN of 212, which pretty much moots the need for HSS. Now I totally want to try it with my X100!

D
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