Nissin firmware update for Fujifilm users: wireless HSS made easy

Until recently, Fujifilm users with Nissin speedlights could do:

  • off-camera radio-triggered TTL, with the Air 1 commander unit and a compatible speedlight (Di700 or i60A)
  • on-camera (or off-camera with a cable) High Speed Sync flash photography (Fujifilm calls that mode FP, but it’s exactly the same)


However, Fujifilm users with Nissin flashes could not do radio-triggered HSS. This has now been resolved with the latest firmware update that Nissin has been rolling out: Fujifilm users (X-T2, X-Pro2, GFX…) have now access to radio-controlled off-camera TTL HSS flash with Nissin.

The bad news if you already own an Air 1 commander and Nissin speedlights is that you cannot update these firmwares yourself, so you need to send your units back to Nissin for them to perform the update. However, if you are buying them now, chances are that the units on sale have already been updated. I bought my Air 1 commander and a i60A speedlight this week-end, and both were already rocking the updated Firmware for Fujifilm users, but make sure to check with your retailer beforehand.

My previous wireless flash system with my Fujifilm cameras

35292351220_a3b3456d42_oUntil I got the Nissin flash system, I was using a Yongnuo YN560-III with a couple of RF603C-II transceivers (no TTL, no HSS).

The pros of my Yongnuo system were:

  • Very affordable
  • Small transceivers
  • Easy to use

The cons:

  • Nearby photographers with Yongnuo triggers would trigger my flash when shooting
  • Bulky speedlight compared to my limited needs in terms of flash specs
  • Had to walk to the speedlight to change the flash power levels
  • It worked great for some time… and then suddenly stopped working, apart from the stroboscopic mode, which I never use 😦

Given the last point, I was in need of a new flash system. What I was looking for:

  • Radio-triggered
  • Can adjust the flash power (either in manual or TTL mode, don’t really care about TTL or not) directly from the commander unit
  • Can do HSS
  • A guide number of 50 or more
  • Reliable
  • Simple (no need for stroboscopic mode for example…)
  • Compact
  • Reasonable price
  • Will not die of a premature death like my Yongnuo…

Obviously there are more advanced Yongnuo products including radio triggers + flashes, but since I was not impressed by the durability of my previous Yongnuo experience, I wanted to explore new options.

What about the Fuji EF-X500?

Being invested in the Fujifilm X-Mount system, it would be logical to consider the EF-X500, which finally made it to the market after a bumpy development road between Metz (who is doing this flash despite of it being ultimately branded Fujifilm) filing for insolvency and overheating issues of the early design.

However the EF-X500 does not make it for me. In the absence of a remote trigger being developed and released at the same time, you need to buy 2 EF-X500’s in order to trigger one remotely (the other bulky unit being mounted on top of your camera), so the entry cost is already 2 times the cost of one speedlight. Moreover, the trigger is optical and not radio, so you need “line of sight” between the commander flash on top of your camera and the receiver flash. You might think it’s not a big deal, but a lot of time when you light up a scene, you will be looking for ways to do so while hiding the flash behind some elements of the scene or walls, hence breaking the “line of sight”.

The one small advantage that the EF-X500 gets is that the flash has a light that can be used to assist the AF in the dark. Other brands also have this AF-assist light on their flash units, but Fujifilm is currently preventing them from being used.

The Nissin flash system

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While I also considered options such as Cactus or Godox, I decided to go with Nissin, because it is a Japanese company (while the other 2 are from Hong Kong and Shenzhen), hoping for better quality control, but more importantly for good local support if needed after my Yongnuo experience. In fact, the shop where I bought my Air 1 and i60A has very close ties to Nissin, as Nissin has shot test images in this shop’s studio, and their stock was already upgraded to the newest firmware for Fujifilm users.

In any case, please note that I never used any Cactus or Godox products, so I can’t speak to their quality and they could very well be awesome products. I am just sharing my personal decision process.

Di700 or i60A?

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If you decide to go Nissin and buy an Air 1 commander, the first question to ask yourself is should you get the Di700 or i60A flash (the i40A does not have a radio receiver to pair it with the Air 1 commander)?

While slightly less powerful than the i60A (GN54 vs GN60), the Di700 is more than powerful enough for my and most people’s need, costs less than the i60A (especially if you get it in bundle with the Air 1), but has the same radio transmission system… and also a super cute and stylish screen with bright color icons. I think it is great value.

However, it is markedly bigger than the i60A, and for me having a flash small enough that I will be carrying it in my bag – rather than leaving it gathering dust in a closet -, was a very important factor, which is why I personally went with the i60A. Also, the Di700 has a weird compartment supposed to make loading the 4 AA batteries easier, but it just looks more cumbersome to me.

Using the Nissin Air 1 commander + i60A speedlight with the Fujifilm X-T2

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Pairing the commander unit with the flash

Pairing the Air 1 commander with an i60A flash is very easy as long as you know the secret handshake:

  • Hold simultaneously the Lock button and Power button on the flash unit for 3 sec until you hear the beeping sound
  • Hold simultaneously the S button and Power button on the Air 1 commander for 3 sec until the screen is flashing

Pairing

That’s all there is to it, the pairing is done. The beeping of the flash unit and the flashing of the commander unit will then stop.

What is HSS?

In standard mode (not HSS), the flash fires one flash of light, so you can choose between front curtain sync (the flash fires immediately after the shutter opens) or rear curtain sync (the flash waits before firing just before the second curtain is about to start closing).

If the shutter speed is to fast (faster than 1/250th of a second in the case of the X-T2), the second curtain has already started to close when that flash of lights happens, creating a black band at the bottom or top of the picture (depending on your sync mode). In HSS mode however, the speedlight does not fire just one single flash of light, but simulates some sort of almost continuous lighting to avoid the black band by firing several very fast bursts of lights close to each other.

While HSS will enable you to use a fast shutter speed with your flash, it will also take a much bigger toll on your flash as you are asking your speedlight to fire several bursts in super quick succession, while pushing the power up for the same exposure as with a standard speed sync. With great power comes great responsibility, I guess (or something like that).

Fujifilm camera settings for HSS


To enable HSS on your Fujifilm camera:

  • Press the Menu button, go into the flash setting tab and select the flash function setting submenu
  • Move the cursor to the sync setting, and set the value to FP

That’s all for there is to it, so if you are using a fast shutter speed with your flash and getting a black band, make sure you have selected the setting above.

What does this look like in real life?

You want to use a wide aperture for shallow depth-of-field during sunset?

First, meter for a good exposure of the sky. In this example, the X-T2 gave me 1/8000th of a sec at ISO 200 and f1.4.

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This will likely leave the subject completely underexposed, as in the example above, hence the need to bring in a flash. The shutter speed being faster than 1/250th of a sec, HSS comes to the rescue.

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Another example, again the X-T2 reading of the sky gives me 1/8000th of a sec at ISO 200 and f1.4:

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Adding the flash in HSS mode:

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All these images are JPEGs straight out of the camera. Setting up the flash exposure was very easy. I paired the commander and the flash unit, put the flash where I wanted the light to come from, and then I just used the wheel on the commander to dial the flash power up or down. Since this was in HSS mode, I had to use the flash at almost full power.

Keep in mind though, it’s not because Fujifilm cameras can now handle wireless HSS with Nissin that you should always be using it. If I had wanted more depth-of-field, I could have stoped down my aperture, leading to a slower shutter speed that does not require HSS. For example, 1/60th of a sec at ISO 200 and f16, + flash at a lower power setting than previously:

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So far, very sweet. I was mainly looking for something simple but that works consistently, and I think this is exactly what Nissin has delivered. Next step, I am taking the Air 1 commander and i60A flash unit to the studio, but that’s a story for another post 😉

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How to make the difference between a shrine and a temple in Japan?

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According to estimates from the CIA World Factbook, the religious composition of the Japanese society is the following:

  • Shintoism 79.2%
  • Buddhism 66.8%
  • Christianity 1.5%
  • other 7.1%

Yes, the total is above 100% but it is not a typo, as many people will be categorized as both Shintoist and Buddhist.

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Let’s start with a (very tiny) bit of History…

Historically, from the 6th century when Buddhism was imported into the country, until the end of the Edo period, Shintoism and Buddhism remained intimately entwined, during a period of syncretism referred to as shinbutsu-shūgō. During these many centuries, both religions influenced each other, and shrines were built to warehouse the shinto spirits (Kami) the same way that buddhist temples protect Buddha images. The syncretism went so far that you could find shrines-part in temples, while some shrines would warehouse Buddha images, with bettō monks performing buddhist rituals at the shrines. In 1868 the new Meiji government attempted to name Shintoism the “true religion” of Japan, in order to orchestrate a cult of the Emperor, with the shinbutsu bunri law proclaiming the separation between Shintoism and Buddhism. Looking at the statistics above, one quickly realizes that even the imperial law cannot undo centuries of History, but this is a discussion that would deserve its own separate post(s)…

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Given the deeply-rooted connection between Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan, it is not surprising to find many similarities between shrines and temples. This will often confuse non-Japanese, and brings this question: how to easily make the difference between a (Shinto) shrine and a (Buddhist) temple without being an expert on religions? This is actually easier than you think, if you know where to look.

1) The name

Shrine or temple? The answer is usually easily found in the name.

Jinja (神社) is the most common Japanese word for shrine. However, other names or suffixes can indicate that you are in a shrine, including: jinja, jingu, taisha, myojin, gongen, -gu, -sha.

Similarly for temples, look for names ending in -ji, -dera or -in.

2) The Entrance Gate

If you don’t know the exact name of the place where you are, no panic. There are many other signs, starting with the entrance gate.

A torii gate (if not many) stands at the front of every shrine. It is the easiest way to identify that you are at a shrine. Torii gates are commonly made of 2 vertical posts with 2 horizontal posts at the top , though they can be as simple as 2 vertical posts with a (sacred) rope inbetween. Having said that, torii gates can come under many shapes and sizes. Here are a few examples:

The entrance gates of Buddhist temples almost look like buildings of their own. The most important gate is called the Sanmon, even though it usually not the first gate at the entrance of the temple. Here are a few examples:

If there is a building shaped as a pagoda, it is also a good indication that you are in a temple.

3) The guardians

In the case of a Shinto shrine, you will most of the time find a pair of statues of lion-dogs, guarding the entrance, called komainu. Fox statues (instead of lion-dogs) guarding inari shrines are also very common, but other less common variants such as turtles or wolves for example are also possible.

On the other hand, temples will be protected by a pair of Niō guardians. They usually look like wrathful and muscular demons. The one with the mouth open is called Agyō, while the one with the mouth closed is called Ungyō.

4) The purification ritual before praying

Each visit to a shrine starts with a purification ritual using the water fr the temizuya (small fountain): you rinse your left hand, then the right, and finally your mouth (this water is there to cleanse, not to be drunk).

While you will also find temizuya near many temples, the purification process when arriving at a temple is usually done by burning some incense in a large burner, and fanning the smoke towards you. The smoke is thought to have healing power.

5) Kami or Buddha

An obvious one, but if you see an image of Buddha… then you are in Buddhist territory, meaning you are in a temple.

In most cases, the kami (god/spirit) enshrined in a shinto shrine, is said to reside in a physical object (often a mirror, but could be a sword, a rock or else) called the shintai, stored in the honden (in a few exceptional cases, the shintai could also be a natural phenomenon, such as a peculiar tree, rock or waterfall…). The honden is the most sacred building of the shrine and is not accessible to the public.

6) How to pray

In a Shinto shrine: after you have thrown your coin into the offerings box and rung the suzu bell (if there is one), bow twice, clap your hands twice, and bow once more once you have finished your prayer.

Prayer at the shrine

In a Buddhist temple: the prayer is silent, do NOT clap your hands at the altar like you would in a Shinto shrine.

Conclusion

With just a few handy tips, it is easy to make the difference between a shrine and a temple. Being able to make the distinction is not only important to know how to pray and to whom address your prayer, but it is also a first step in being able to recognize how Shintoism and Buddhism can be entwined in the Japanese society. The first step on a long but fascinating (some would say enlightening 🙂 ) path.

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Geishas and Floating Hina Dolls in Tokyo: Edo Nagashibina

When people think about seeing geishas in Japan, the first thing that come to their mind is probably Kyoto (where geishas are called geikos and their apprentices maikos) with the Gion district or Pontocho. However, that does not mean you cannot be entertained by authentic geishas in other cities. In Tokyo, the main geisha area is the Kannonura street in the Asakusa district. One way to maximize your chances to see them from up close, is to find out the public events or festivals in which they participate. One of this events is Edo Nagashibina, a  ceremony during which children and their parents send into the Sumida river floating Hina dolls made with paper to dispel any potential misfortune waiting for them in the year ahead.

Again this year, 3 geishas from Asakusa were taking part in the official ceremony, and sent their own wishes into the river.

Edo Nagashibina 2017

In a red kimono, we had Rei-san:

In a dark green kimono, Tsugumi-san:

And in a blue kimono, Akane-san:

When you see geishas in the street, they are usually on their way to (or from) a work appointment, so they usually don’t have time to stop and talk to you. However, when they are on “official public duty”, they will let you take all the pictures you want as long as you don’t disturb the overall organization of the event.

Once the usual preliminary speeches are over, the geishas and the city officials joined the rest of the crowd on the Sumida river bank, where they release a flurry of balloons shaped like doves. Everyone can then let go his/her paper hina doll into the water.  Children from the Taito City “Ishihama Hachiba Children’s Center” have the extra privilege to do it from a boat especially decorated for the occasion.

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I got printed in 3D by the Fujifilm GFX 50S

As I wrote in my previous article, it has been a very busy weekend, shooting Kyoto’s maikos and geikos on Saturday, and Tokyo’s geishas on Sunday (see my Twitter feed for previews).

Nonetheless, I rushed to Yokohama on Sunday afternoon, for a speedy visit of the CP+ 2017 before the show’s end. Don’t hold your breath, but probably more on that later. Anyway, the good news is that opposite to Fujikina last January, it was this time allowed to to record samples on your own memory card. Yeah!

CP+ 2017

The first lens I tried on the GFX 50S was the GF63mmF2.8, but the models working on the Fuji stage were too far for my liking to use this focal range (50mm in 35mm equivalent). So I asked the Fujifilm employee who was helping me to take my own portrait instead:

My portrait taken with the Fujifilm GFX 50S + GF63mmF2.8

This shot was taken at ISO 6,400. Obviously the lighting was horrible, which emphasizes even more the fact that I am no model, but at least you see me “pop” against the blurry background, which gives the 3D feel to the image. And I confirm Japanese people pronounce it “bokeeeeeeeeh!!” and not “boka” 😉

Thanks again to all the people working on Fujifilm’s booth at CP+ 2017 for their patience with me and support! Can’t say the same with all camera manufacturers…

More to come…

Fujikina 2017 in Kyoto: hands-on with the Fujifilm GFX 50s

Fujifilm was holding at the end of January in Kyoto the second edition of their Japan-based event celebrating the X-Series… and now the GFX series as well. They are calling it Fujikina, as an echo to the Photokina that takes place every 2 years in Cologne, Germany. This was both a good excuse to spend the week-end in Kyoto and an opportunity to touch & try Fujifilm’s first foray into the world of digital mirrorless medium format cameras, so i did not miss on this opportunity.

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I love Kyoto. I would rather live there than in Tokyo if I had the choice. I have been to Kyoto many times in the past, and I am quite glad I did because quite frankly the higher number of tourists every time I come back makes the experience less pleasurable than what it used to be. I guess I should not complain as I am a tourist in this city myself… but at least I am not running around wielding a selfie stick in the middle of other people’s pictures to take my own. Hmmm, I digress already. The weather was not really clement anyway, but I did manage to go to the Heian Jingu as the sun was rising, in order to avoid the flocks of tourists and enjoy a small patch of clear weather.

Pano of the sunset at Heian Jingu shot with the Fujifilm X-T2

I also spent a night in Gion photographing the geikos and maikos of the district on their way to entertain their patrons, but this was more of a scouting job, as it is a subject I would like to delve into, giving it the time to study it deserves. Maybe more on that in 20 years?! 😮

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Anyways, the main reason for me to be in Kyoto was Fujikina. Fujifilm had set up 3 different exhibitions in 3 separate places but having used (if not owned) pretty much all the existing X-series cameras, I was only interested in the one place that was offering to touch & try the upcoming medium-format GFX 50s.


As usual with Fujifilm Japan, the people working at the event were passionate about photography and Fuji cameras (sounds stupid, but for example they know how to operate on their own the exposure compensation and ISO dials when you hand them over your camera to take your own picture… nothing complicated but yet very revealing). Unfortunately, where Fujifilm shines with its people it lacks with its exhibition setups, as I always point out at CP+. A few of the sample images that have been released since the camera was announced had been printed in big size and were being exhibited in the gallery, but not only the prints were poorly lit but the quality of the prints was also underwhelming… which is mind-boggling for a company trying to showcase their brand new 51.4 megapixels medium-format sensor. Fortunately, one of the photographers whose work was being exhibited (and was present at the event as a speaker) was able to show me the original file of his picture on his laptop and zoom in on it. And quite frankly I was blown away: absolutely gorgeous details. Splendid!

Next step was to get my hand on the beast. And when I did, I was immediately surprised by how light it is, especially as I was carrying an X-T2 with the battery grip and its extra 2 batteries with me at the time. Even though the camera is light, they did not use it as an excuse to go small on the grip: it is big, for easy and comfortable handholding with one hand. The positioning of the ISO and exposure compensation dials will be very familiar to the X-T2 users, and so the buttons layout will. The one thing that I did not feel natural as an X-Series user was the location of the playback button. It is located above the back screen, as on the X-T2, however it is not on the same vertical plane as the screen: it is almost horizontal, so you need to reach it from above. This will probably make sense for people shooting on a tripod and looking at the camera from above, however it seems like a poor design decision for those shooting handheld. For sure, you can customise one of the buttons that you can access with the fingers of your right hand, but that means giving up on a customisable button, and therefore this should not be considered an acceptable solution given the importance of the playback function.


The “touch &I try” area for the GFX 50s was further highlighting the progresses that Fujifilm could do when setting up such events: while they thought to hire a model and makeup artist and provided them with some stylish traditional Japanese clothes, they forgot the lighting part. This led to my first surprise: when I was given the camera the ISO was set on 12,800… which made sense given given the poor lighting conditions, but you would imagine that a camera manufacturer would rather have you not have your first experience with their new product at super high ISO. Unfortunately, it was not allowed to use your own memory card to check the file later (which is a real bummer for a camera that is available for pre-order… in my opinion if you are ready to take people’s money you should be ready to let them take your files… just saying), so difficult to really judge the quality of the result from the back of the screen. From what I could see in this context, it seemed very good for such a high ISO, but, since you won’t let me look at the file, instead of praising the high-ISO performances that you seem to be capable of I will just reserve my judgment. The funny thing is that when you zoom on the JPEG displayed on the back of the camera and  look at the way it handles the noise at high ISO, it does feel very familiar with the JPEGs we know from the X-Series cameras.

In terms of handling, the autofocus did its job, not with the fastest speed but with reliability,  which is actually not bad if you remember where the X-Series started from. In any case, the GFX 50s with its big files was not built to be a speed monster. When shooting in “RAW + JPEG”, I would have the time to take one picture and chimp at the back of the screen, and the green light indicating that the camera is writing into the memory card would still be illuminated for a fraction  of second. And that would be for just one single image (begs the question of the speed of the memory card they had put in the camera… maybe next time let me use mine, you know, just saying…). I feel like there is some room for improvement there in the next iterations of the GFX series. Similarly, phase detection autofocus and a faster flash sync speed (only 1/125sec max) already sound like logical hardware improvements for the next version. And of course it will also take time for Fujifilm to deliver on the GFX lens roadmap, delays are not unheard of. So whether you are a professional who will make a living off this camera or someone with really high disposable income, just be aware that you are falling into a product line with several “early adopters” warnings. But then again, when you see those gorgeous files and how light and easy to use this camera is…

CP+ is this week-end in Yokohama, and will provide another opportunity to test the GFX 50s for those interested. I usually go to CP+ every year and I will try to do so this year as well, but timing might be tricky this time, as I am doing a day trip to Kyoto on Saturday for a festival, and then I am shooting a different event on the totally opposite side of Tokyo on Sunday.