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EF-X20 Flash for Daylight Street Portraits

· 1.April.2016

I love the Fujifilm EF-X20 compact flash. It is my favourite flash from any brand and I won’t leave the house without it. I love it so much that I put it on every review camera that has a hot shoe, especially if the camera has a leaf shutter. I’ve used it on the Leica Q, the Pentax Q-S1, Canon G5X, and every Fujifilm X camera with a leaf shutter.

In fact the opening image was taken with a non-Fujifilm camera, but the secret weapon is the compact Fujifilm flash. If you love street photography or even street portraits, the tiny EF-X20 flash should be with you at all times, especially if you have the X100T, X70, X30, or any camera with a leaf shutter. What’s so special about the EF-X20 with a leaf shutter combo? High flash sync speeds for daylight fill. Unlike the new top-of-the-line X-Pro 2’s fast 1/250th sec flash sync with a focal plane shutter; most leaf shutter equipped cameras will flash sync to 1/1000 sec or faster!! The advantage? Wide-open apertures with low flash power output for discrete fill flash photography in daylight. Yes, the X70 can actually do something that the X-Pro 2 can’t do! Let’s look at some examples using the Fujifilm X70 and the EF-X20 flash.

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Fujifilm X70 1/1000th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 200. No Flash

 

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Fujifilm X70 1/4000th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 200 with EF-X20 flash at 1/64 manual power output

In the first image you can see the typical daylight portrait with no flash. It’s not horrible but it’s not great. You can not control the ambient light levels of the background without it affecting your subject, and you get shadows everywhere. In the second image there is a clear difference in light levels between subject and background, and the major shadows are filled in with very little flash output. At 1/64 manual flash output, the EF-X20 can recycle enough power to shoot again within seconds. This is only possible because of the leaf shutter, allowing flash sync at 1/4000th of a second. If I took the same shot with the X-Pro 2 with the limit of 1/250th of a second flash sync speed, the aperture would have to be 4 stops smaller (f/16 instead of f/4) and the flash output would have to be 4 times more powerful to compensate for the smaller aperture. Who wants to take a portrait at f/16 or use a stack of ND filters? And remember you can’t use electronic shutter with flash.

Many will already know this, but shutter speed does not effect the flash exposure, it only effects the ambient light exposure in conjunction with the aperture and the ISO you are shooting at. When your camera can only flash sync at 1/250th of a second, it seriously limits the apertures and ISO you can select when using flash for daylight fill. It also effects the amount of flash power you need to compensate for the smaller apertures needed for correct exposure, thus forcing you to shoot with a bigger flash unit and creating more of a distraction when using it for street photography. With a leaf shutter lens and a compact flash, nobody even notices you taking flash photography in daylight. You can also shoot all day with quick recycle times due to the high sync/low flash output. That’s pretty cool.

Let’s look at a series of images using the same flash output, same aperture, but different shutter speeds to see how the ambient exposure changes. Images taken with the Fujifilm X70, f/5.6 @ ISO 200, EF-X20 flash at 1/32 manual power output:

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1/500th sec

 

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1/1000th sec

 

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1/2000th sec

 

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1/4000th sec

As you can see, the exposure on the subject remains relatively even due to the consistent fill-flash exposure, but the ambient exposure (both background and on the subject) is dramatically affected as the shutter speed changes. Note that the slowest speed used (1/500th) is still twice as fast as the maximum flash sync on the new X-Pro 2. The lesson? If you want to control the ambient light exposure in the middle of the day while using flash, you can use a  leaf shutter camera and a compact flash and do what a much bigger camera cannot do without specialized and more powerful equipment. Did you also note the vignetting effect when using higher shutter speeds and fill flash? It allows you to get away with portrait photography with a 28mm equivalent lens!!

Let’s look at another image with the exact same exposure, one without and the other with flash. Both below images were taken with the Fujifilm X70 1/1000th sec f/4.o @ ISO 200

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without flash

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with EF-X20 flash at 1/4 power

Notice both have the exact same exposure settings and the only difference is the fill-flash. Again this shot would not have been possible with a camera with a standard focal plane shutter, unless you have a specialized flash with a pulsating flash exposure which also needs more power and gives much less range and is very distracting to unknowing subjects.

My conclusion is the same as my introduction: I love the Fujifilm EF-X20 compact flash. It’s not perfect, but it has little competition, which surprises me. There isn’t another flash that is this compact with a manual control dial for quick exposure adjustment. I highly recommend not shooting TTL unless you are new to flash photography. There is no way the camera knows exactly what you are trying to do. Are you trying to match the exposure of the background with your subject, or darken it? If so, by how many stops? TTL can’t think for you, it only analyzes the scene and chooses the most likely scenario and gives you that exposure. Since the manual output control is an external dial that can be accessed quickly, it allows you to shoot quicker versus using TTL flash. This feature also allows you to use the EF-X20 flash on any camera with a standard flash shoe with full control, TTL not necessary. Some things I want changed on the EF-X20 is the silly on/off button (press and hold) and the finicky battery compartment door. I also wish the manual flash output can be part of the EXIF data on Fujifilm cameras, since I had to make a mental note of my flash settings. It’s good to have this information for post analysis of a shoot.

Moreover, if you haven’t given daylight fill-flash a try and you own the EF-X20 flash and a leaf shutter equipped camera, give it a try. If you don’t own the EF-X20 flash, it’s a great addition to your more powerful flash units, even if your camera isn’t Fujifilm. If you own the X100, no excuses, get it now! The Fujifilm EF-X20 flash will improve your daylight portrait and street photography, it’s easy, fun and less intrusive than you think. Happy shooting!

 

Take Kayo

Take Kayo aka BIGHEADTACO is a Vancouver photographer, camera reviewer, YouTuber, instructor and iPhoneography advocator. Over 20 years in the photo industry, 10 years with Kodak. Currently reviewing for Fujifilm, Leica, Canon and Ricoh-Pentax.

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