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jimsh Feb 15, 2011 6:28 AM

Canon T1i vs. Pentax Kx flash systems
On another thread I narrowed my choices down to the Canon T1i and the Pentax Kx. I now realize either camera is fully capable of taking good pictures. But I am rethinking what I really need to buy first. I had been wanting to go with a two lens kit package with either camera, but now I realize that the pictures I am most disappointed in with my current superzoom are the blurry indoor family gathering pics. So if I want to end the blur and get more natural looking indoor pics, maybe instead of another lens I should be looking at an external flash as my first purchase with my first dslr. On the other thread I got the impression that Canon was superior to Pentax in the flash dept., but what I want to know is specifically what flashes should I consider for these two cameras, I suppose even considering third party flashes? What should I be looking for in a flash and how much am I going to have to pay? Oh, and I also would like to know if the built in flash on either camera is superior and whether it really is necessary to invest in a separate flash. Thank you.

JohnG Feb 15, 2011 7:04 AM

A couple questions are easy:
Is one built-in superior to another? Not the flash itself - they're both equally good/bad. They're better than the built-in flashes in many digicams but they still have the same problem all built-ins do:
  • Not very powerful
  • long recycling time since they run off the same battery as the camera
  • harsh when close
  • red eye
  • lack of refinement for bouncing.
As to whether an external flash is a huge improvement - absolutely - for a lot of indoor family stuff, without doubt an external flash is your most important 3rd piece of equipment (after the body and kit lens).
To add on to what I said in the other thread, the issue between the two systems is their implementation of what is referred to as TTL (stands for thru-the-lens ) flash metering. With this type of metering the flash lets off a quick pre-burst and the camera meters the light from the flash bouncing off the subject and then communicates to the flash how to adjust the power and then the shutter/flash fire - it's all very quick. Nikon has probably the best implementation of the system, followed by Canon & Sony. Pentax and Oly behind. As with anything else, it's all relative - it's not that Pentax' flash system is terrible. But it's not the system's strong suit. Just like weather sealing isn't a strong suit for Canon.

When you buy an external flash you'll want one that both tilts and swivels (tilting allows you to bounce the light off the ceiling, swiveling allows you to bounce it off a wall OR if you rotate the camera into portrait orientation you swivel the lens to bounce it off the ceiling).

Typically you'll have several different models of flash a company offers. What you pay more for as you move up is Flash power and added features. For example, in Canon I have the 580exII flash and a friend has the 430exII flash. Forgetting multiple flash setups, the biggest differences are the 580 is much more powerful, recharges quicker and allows for an external battery pack to be attached (useful when you're doing event photography as you now use 3 sets of batteries instead of 1). The 430 my friend has is just fine for most household photography - it's only when there are larger distances, like a wedding reception or school auditorium where he starts running into issues. I wouldn't worry too much about multiple flash setups right now. In canon I would recommend the 430exII. To me, something like the 270 may be a bit underpowered so it's better to stretch just a little up front.

acscoggins Feb 15, 2011 9:04 AM

I received my Pentax k-x yesterday and I played with it most of the evening. My kids/husband/dog were probably getting very sick of me taking pictures of them! One thing I immediately noticed is that, even indoors in dim lighting, the pictures w/o flash were very good...MUCH better than what I was used to with my p&s. So while an external flash will be a good thing to get, I don't feel like I need to rush out and buy one today. I took lots of pictures with the built-in flash, too, and I think it will be completely adequate for my needs in the near future. You must remember, however, that I am comparing it to a p&s. If a long-time dslr user looked at my pictures from last night, they may not be as happy as I was. But compared to what I am used to, the pictures from my new pentax (both with and without flash) looked great.

acscoggins Feb 15, 2011 9:06 AM

One thing I should add...the recycle time was fairly lengthy...that would be my only complaint at this point. I'm wondering if that's b/c of the AA batteries that the pentax uses???

JohnG Feb 15, 2011 9:50 AM

acscoggins makes a great point - everything is relative. Relative to a point-and-shoot with built in flash - the images out of your entry level dslr (regardless of brand) with built-in flash are going to look better. But there's also, IMO, just as big an upgrade in quality going from and dslr with built in to a dslr with external. Given there are just too many real-world scenarios where a DSLR with kit lens just isn't going to get the shot, I think the OP is right to consider flash if their major need is family photography.

lesmore49 Feb 15, 2011 10:47 AM

I've got a Pentax 360 flash for my Pentax DSLR's. After I finally figured it out (problem was me, not the flash) I like it...bounce is really are well exposed.

I recently bought a Canon G of the flashes Canon recommends is the Canon 430 EX 11 (think that's the nomenclature) and although it is a bit overwhelming in size for the smallish G has good power, bounce capability, etc.

I'm planning to get it. In many ways I think it's the Canon equivalent of the Pentax 360, although as it is more current....I think it will have more features than the older 360.

What I'm saying is that Pentax and Canon offer a number of flashes...the 430 is middle of the road...the 580 Canon has more features, power...but is more $$$. The Pentax 360 is middle of the road....the Pentax 540 has more features, power....but is more $$$.

Both Canon and Pentax also offer smaller flashes with correspondingly less power, less features.

As an aside...I just wish I could use my Pentax 360 on my Canon G I wouldn't have to spend $$$ on another flash, when I have a perfectly good flash in the 360.

However, if I choose to use two separate camera systems...I gotta pay the piper. :D

acscoggins Feb 15, 2011 10:56 AM

When using an external flash, which has more power than the built-in flash, how do you keep it from looking even harsher than the built-in? Is it pretty simple to figure out, or does it take a lot of practice?

JohnG Feb 15, 2011 11:08 AM


Originally Posted by acscoggins (Post 1200455)
When using an external flash, which has more power than the built-in flash, how do you keep it from looking even harsher than the built-in? Is it pretty simple to figure out, or does it take a lot of practice?

You bounce it. I also prefer using a $15 stofen omnibounce which diffuses the light. The nice thing about it is it is designed to operate at 45 degrees whether or not you bounce - so I can keep my flash at 45 degrees even if shooting without a ceiling if my subjects are close (if they're not then I use direct flash). BUT, it's possible for a flash to put out too much or too little power so you can still end up with 'hot' spots on people (overexposed subjects). This is where I say different systems do a better job - for nikon, it just seems to "get it right" more often. You have to realize though that with flash, by default you are still relying on the camera to do the metering. In some situations the camera just isn't smart enough to "get it right" and that's where concepts like flash exposure compensation (FEC - it's a canon term, I forget what other systems call it) come into play - where you tell the camera to reduce or increase flash exposure. It's just like learning to identify when the camera without flash will get exposure wrong and telling the camera to use different exposure values than it wants to use. But the strict answer to your question is: bouncing and/or diffusing the flash is what reduces the harshness to the greatest extent. After that it's a matter of allowing some ambient light in (more advanced stuff for another thread).

jimsh Feb 15, 2011 1:09 PM

Thank you JohnG for the info. in the first post. Lots of good info. I esp. didn't understand the ttl metering concept. I'm assuming for the flashes mentioned, we're talking between $200-300? Or more. It's probably because I don't understand all that goes into a flash, but shelling out that kind of money for what seems like a rather elementary thing (a quick burst of light) seems excessive. I suppose I'd be smart to first see what kind of results the camera flash produces. Is the downfall of third party flashes that they aren't at all automatic with your camera? Even if you buy a flash made for a particular brand? Is that universally true? So you agree that buying the external flash is a better use of limited funds at the outset than the extra 200 or 300mm zoom? I just need to wrap my head around the concept that a flash costs as much as or more than some lenses. Thanks for the responses.

JohnG Feb 15, 2011 1:58 PM

Third party flashes are available - but like lenses, the communications for TTL are device specific. So Metz for example will offer the same flash in Canon and Nikon mount but you can't use the same one on both cameras. You can use automatic flashes that way, but not TTL.

In the end, remember - photography is about light - the lens' ability to capture it proeperly and when not enough exists, the ability to create the right amount is very important. Besides, if it makes you feel any better, lots of people use $1000 lenses as their 'walk-around' lens. So if that makes you feel better about spending $250 on a flash :)

Seriously though - two aspects to consider about the importance of the flash implementation - getting that short burst of light coordinated with your camera. If the two are not communicating well, then the burst of light may be too much or not enough. Additionally I know that with a certain body/flash combination within Canon the white balance performance goes up when using flash. You also have in some combinations the ability of the flash to change the focus of the light to correspond to focal length - i.e. create a narrower beam for longer focal lengths.

As to whether or not an external flash is more desirable than a telephoto-zoom, that's a case by case basis. How much of your photography will be inside (and thus benefit from external flash) vs. how much will be outside and at a distance greater than 20 feet (and be a human like subject vs. landscape type shot)? Only you can answer which need is greater.

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