Thursday, October 30, 2008

Review: Sonia Optical Slave

As I mentioned last week, I love my Nikon SB-20s but I could not get them to reliably sync with my cheap Chinese optical trigger from eBay. So I went ahead and bought an alternate optical slave trigger from an Indian company named Sonia and put it through its paces this week.

My one-sentence review:

The Sonia slave syncs great with the SB-20, but it's still an inexpensive optical trigger and has limitations.

Hardware and Build Quality:

Most eBay Sonia slaves have a female PC-sync and are packaged as a pair with a hot shoe -- at least, that was what I purchased. Sonia slaves are available individually with other connection mechanisms (FlashZebra has a range with male PC, female PC, microphone jacks). While I'd love if they'd packaged the male PC-sync slave (so I could slap it directly on an SB-20 if I desired) I expect it was probably a safety-type issue to make sure the multiple-sync capability worked.

Yes, I said multiple sync. But more on that later.

I went with the hot shoe option because the price was about the same as the peanut alone and I need a 1/4" screw mount to fit my flashes to my tripod/light stand/monopod. For the record, I paid $12.95 + $2.01 shipping, which is relatively cheap for a slave + hot-shoe mount, but still the cost of half an SB20.

Actually, maybe I should refer to everything in terms of SB-20s now... I get paid about one SB-20 an hour at my job and my rent is a little under 100 SB-20s a month! Yes, I know my hourly rate is too low compared to my rent -- I live in the bay area after all! Anyway, back on topic...

First, the slave itself.

There really isn't much to it -- a few components soldered together and epoxied into one solid little package about the size of my thumbprint. By inspection, it looks like a few resisters, a cap, a transistor, and a phototransistor at the business end. My phototransistor isn't centered very well which may be influencing my sensitivity (or maybe that's by design). The female PC connection is solid and unlikely to break (good thing too -- I could never fix it if it did). I'd have no qualms about letting these little guys float around in a gear bag -- they'd never break. FYI, all pictures are clickable if you want to see the units larger.

The hot shoe is definitely a big step up from the Chinese optical triggers. Instead of plastic, the entire unit is made from metal. I suspect it is machined because I see no obvious mold marks, which is remarkable for such an inexpensive unit. It really is a tank and you'll break your hot shoe before you break the foot of this thing. The back is marked with "Sonia, multi-terminal slavettach solid state" in retro RCA fonts. Somebody in India likes their antique radios. And you gotta love the solid state to let us know they didn't cram any vacuum tubes inside!

The most important part of any hot shoe is the connections, and there's no disappointment here. The peanut attaches to the shoe very securely. All three PC connections (two female, one male) are a step above what you usually get in a cheap unit. I don't foresee anything breaking in the future. And the hotshoe on the top is simply a tank. Overall, the whole thing is the most solid accessory I've seen. As you'd expect, it has some mass to it, but it's small enough that it doesn't really matter.

Funny thing actually -- the other day I found that the back of my Chinese optical slave had fallen off. Apparently it had gotten hot enough in the garage to make the adhesive fail and the back just popped off on its own -- luckily it wasn't structural and I snapped it back on easily.


Of course, what really counts is how an optical slave trigger works. And in that respect, I can't tell it apart from my Chinese optical slave other than the fact it works with a Nikon SB20. That's not necessarily a good thing.

Indoors, it works pretty well as long as there is a direct line of sight from another flash to the eye, or at least a line of sight from a bright reflection (like white paper) to the eye. The only time I've had trouble getting sync was when the trigger was in shadow, as you'd expect. Once you get things set up, the triggers work as their supposed to near 100% of the time.

Outside, though, it is a whole different story. In deep shade with the source flash on high, close, and directly illuminating the trigger you may have a chance. In the sun, or near sunlight, the Sonia unit will just not trigger. When I was shooting the bees I tried a lot of different approaches (including shading the sensor) and nothing worked. So with cheap triggers, the verdict is still OUTDOORS = BAD, INDOORS = GOOD.

I should also mention that there are reports of the Sonia slaves not working with the Canon 580 EX II. I believe I read something somewhere about a mod to the Chinese slaves to make them work on the 580 EX, but it isn't really possible on a Sonia since everything is encased in epoxy. Anyway, you've been warned.

Multiple Sync:

If the solid build of the hot shoe unit wasn't enough to motivate you to pay the extra few bucks for it, they've also added a multiple-sync capability with 'built-in diodes'. What this means is, if you attach the peanut slave to the male sync socket, you can attach a flash to a hot shoe and two other flashes to the female PC sockets on the sides with PC cables. And yes, everything will trigger at the same time!

It turns out I have PC cables for my Sunpak 383 and another hot shoe around the house (I had totally forgotten about them), so I verified multi-sync capability with all three flashes. Of course, I couldn't get a picture because my 20D refused to omit the preflash.

So, the image at left only shows two flashes going off. But I was seeing all three go when I fired my 20D.

I love the idea of using this little baby to triple the power of the flash (or cut the recovery time). Sadly, the best place to use that feature would be outdoors, where the trigger refuses to even go. But, I may try adapting a radio trigger to female PC-sync to make a super-powerful three-flash rig.

While multi-flash capability isn't really a killer app inside, I'd rather have the capability than not. And if I had a longer PC-sync cable, it'd let me add even more to a studio rig.


If you use SB-20s or might buys some in the future, you need to buy this optical trigger, period. Chinese triggers just don't cut it with those units.

If you don't use SB-20s, I still might recommend the Sonia triggers because of their superior build quality and multi-sync capability. I'm not sure I'd pay double for Sonia triggers, but a few bucks is definitely worth it.

If I get another flash, I'll likely pick up another Sonia trigger and/or another wireless trigger. Either way, I'm definitely not buying any more of the cheap Chinese triggers.

If you're curious, here are the current Sonia trigger listings on eBay. eBay seems to have the best prices for the triggers, but that could change -- make sure you look around!

Note: I recently posted an update about some problems I've been having with the trigger.

Microstock: Shutterstock Priorities

At Shutterstock, apparently new images have quite a boost in the search priorities which almost always results in immediate sales right after upload.

Of course, I haven't gotten any sales, since all my images have taken days to appear in the search index. Apparently I'm not the only one either according to this forum post.

While I don't mind too much if I don't get a bunch of sales right out of the gate, if the search system causes images to be buried soon after upload, that is a problem for me, especially if each sale only pays me 20 cents. I'm going to upload more this week to see if I can get the boost. If there's no boost or I don't make significant sales this week, I may stop uploading because it is not worth the time involved.

PS, my second batch of images took about 48 hours to be reviewed, which is in line with many other sites.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yes, More Bees

This is filler material since I haven't made much progress on any of my bigger posts (Sonia trigger review, $30 garage studio).

On a whim the other day I decided to go out to the garden and shoot a little with my macro lens (a 100mm FD with EOS/FD converter). Boy, the biggest problem with the thing is it doesn't automatically stop down when the shutter is released since the mechanical aperture release doesn't work on EOS. Well, it does, but there's a big difference between automatically hitting that lever and rotating the wheel on the converter. The end result is it is difficult to find focus on fast moving objects, let alone compose a frame well.

So, out of 90 shots, I got maybe six decent ones. Oddly enough, many of them looked very similar, like these last two. Click to see them larger...

I used strobes because I wanted to get as much depth of field as possible and avoid shutter speed blur and noise from high ISOs. Plus, I just wanted to play with my flashes :)

At first, I tried to use the sun as a third light (actually, at first I tried to use a strobe as a third light, but that's another story). My goal was to use the sun as fill but I quickly found having my key light be something other than the sun gave me very different results in the image than when I looked through the viewfinder. So, instead, I used the standard cross-lighting the sun approach but lined up my key light with the sun, so what I saw in the viewfinder approximated the final image and I was able to drop the ambient (sun) about four stops down so my 1/200sec sync speed didn't cause any blur at magnification. For whatever reason, my radio triggers were having trouble getting the 1/250sec sync speed; maybe I need new batteries.

Anyway, I know for some of you this is just a lot of mumbo-jumbo. Feel free to ignore it and just enjoy the shots of the bees.

For you technically oriented people, I ended up getting some pretty decent pictures of bees, definitely sharper than most of my other shots with a much better depth of field. For next time, I may try to restrict my light a bit more to darken the background. I think it could look REALLY cool if I get it right.

Of course, I won't even bother submitting these to microstock sites; I'm sure they've got tons of bee shots already!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Microstock: Registered for Shutterstock

I've decided I shouldn't wait any longer for the review-based microstock sites like Shutterstock. After all, worst case I'd have to wait a month to resubmit.

So I submitted a bird-heavy batch of 10 photos to Shutterstock tonight. We'll see how it goes!

First impressions:

  • Initial sign-up was easy.
  • Shutterstock's website is a bit primitive.
  • Shutterstock is very straightforward on their rules -- quite nice because many sites bury them.
  • Getting 7 of 10 photos is a little daunting but shouldn't be a problem. It helps to have a list of accepted photos at Dreamstime and Fotolia and a bit of sales history.
  • The submission system is pretty nice, although it forces you to keyword all images at the same time which is scary (what if I lose my connection!). Generally, though, it is easy to keyword and tag, and it even highlights possible misspellings for you.
  • From what I have heard, Shutterstock's subscription program gives you a lot of sales whenever you have a decent number of new photos submitted. But, at only 25c a sale, I'll need a lot to make any money.
  • Minimum payout is $75.
That's all for now. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday Update (two days later): Nine of my ten images were accepted first thing Monday morning, but a second batch of eight images is still awaiting review over a day later, so I suspect Shutterstock puts priority on new signups. Also, my original images haven't been indexed into the search yet (although if I search for my name they show up), so apparently indexing takes days rather than hours like many sites.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Microstock: Look Ma, I Made the Cover of TIME Magazine!

Ok, so let's say you shoot your kids on a white background for microstock and upload images to a few different microstock sites. Suppose the image above is included in your submissions.

Then, a few months down the road, you see this TIME magazine on a rack:

Your son, with t-shirt digitally removed and a needle placed menacingly near him, is essentially on every news stand in the world!

And what you'd get paid?


Well, ok, I doubt it happened exactly like this. TIME knows how important appropriate permissions are, so I guarantee they contacted owner of the baby shot (Sergei Chumakov) and negotiated appropriate terms. TIME knows it has to dot all the "i"s and cross all the "t"s -- otherwise they'll be sued nearly instantly. In this case, the credit for the photo was:


In fact, the iStock page doesn't have the extended license option, so I'm sure TIME approached Chumakov to provide suitable payment. What's a Time cover worth, anyway? (I'd guess at least a few thousand).

Although the Dreamstime version does have extended licenses available -- can you imagine how upset the photographer would be if TIME had (legally) increased the maximum copies and paid only $20-$30 for the primary source image for their cover?

This stuff has been on my mind lately because I'm currently trying to convince (or decide if I want to convince) my wife to let me use images of my kids for microstock. I still need to sit down with her and find out what her big concerns are so I can do the research and see if there are any protections against them. My kid making TIME wouldn't bother me that much but it would likely bother my wife a lot. (Attention TIME: a suitcase full of cash might smooth things over with her... If you like any images on this site, I'm sure we can come to an agreement for the full-size image, RAW file, or lock of hair!).

Anybody heard of any similar microstock horror stories (or microstock success stories)?

Anyway, thanks to Steve at Microstock Insider for the post that led to my discovery of this image.

Also, guess what I have to do today? Get my kids their flu shots!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Microstock: Fotolia, the Honeymoon is Over!

Of the latest batch of 11 images that I submitted to Fotolia, only 3 were accepted! Some rejections I understand or at least can deal with (Similar Photograph), most of them were the general umbrella term Technical Problems.

According to the e-mail, technical problems can be:

  • Blurry or out of focus
  • Over/Under exposure
  • Framing problem
  • Over or under saturated colors
  • Problems with contrast
  • Noise or Pixelation
  • Quality of routing
  • Interpolation problem
Really? You can't give me any more of a clue to which one?

In particular, the images in this post (click to see larger) are some of my favorites. I really like how the birds are engaged with the camera. The extreme depth of field is due to shooting nearly wide open from inside my parents' house outside to the bird feeder.

So now, I don't know if Fotolia (or that reviewer) just doesn't like extreme depth of field on wildlife shots or is concerned about noise (I shot at ISO 800 but did a pass of Noise Ninja in Bibble Pro), sharpness, loss of shadow detail, or some other random reason (quality of routing? what the heck is that?).

So I posted a message to the forums and anxiously await a reply. Hopefully someone in the know (i.e. a reviewer) can give me a real reason because other photographers speculating isn't quite good enough for me at this point. I'm also not against reducing the noise in each image a little more and resubmitting in the hopes that it was (a) a noise problem or (b) a cranky reviewer.

I'll get extra feedback once they get reviewed at Dreamstime, but that will probably be in a week (!).

If any of you experienced microstockers have an idea of why these images didn't meet technical standards (or why Fotolia reviewers are cranky) please leave a comment!

For now, consider yourself on notice, Fotolia. I can deal with rejections and even my current 45% acceptance rate. But if you complain about technical problems but don't tell me what they are so I can fix them or at least be aware of them... well, you're just wasting my time. And making me wait 48 hours to get the images reviewed was pretty uncool too -- the only reason I let Dreamstime get away with making me wait a week is because I love everything else about the site.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Microstock: Comments on Fotolia


This post has sat in my drafts long enough -- time to bang it out. Mostly, I'm just trying to outline my experiences with Fotolia and give a little bit of comparison with Dreamstime.

All my Fotolia related posts are here and my Dreamstime related posts are here.

The first big plus for Fotolia is speed of review. At Fotolia, review time is measured in hours, and at Dreamstime, it is measured in days (and honestly it feels like weeks). Typically Fotolia has my images reviewed within 8 business hours of when I submit them, although I submitted a batch this morning and they didn't get reviewed today (I expect them first thing tomorrow). BIG improvement!

One downside is the lack of an FTP upload... err, they have it, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to log in. And I'm a computer scientist! But, their flash uploader is very easy to use and fast, so no problem there.

Also, Fotolia initially rejected a few of my images (pretty much silently, actually). They require all images to be >= 4 MP unlike 3 MP at Dreamstime. Easily fixed by widening my crop slightly or in some cases just upsampling a little bit.

Keywording at Fotolia is a MUCH bigger hassle. For one thing, they accept multi-word keywords, which forced me to go back through all my images and re-keyword them (although I had to do it anyway because Bibble was lopping off parts of my longer lines). Along with that, it is just not a very convenient system, and once you submit an image for review, you can't change anything until it gets through review! Once you get used to the system it isn't as bad, but it still takes longer to finalize submissions.

The increased speed of review is a huge win though, since it really lets you keep a feeling of momentum. A day to wait isn't too bad... a week is horrendous.

Finally, there's lots of rumors flying around the web that Fotolia is overly picky compared to the other sites, and I've seen a little bit of that. I've had a few images rejected at Fotolia which I thought were definitely acceptable (and even sold one at Dreamstime!) but overall, it hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be.

Finally, one benefit of Fotolia is you can cash out at any time (with a $1 fee if under $50) instead of needing to wait until $100 at Dreamstime. Although, I tried checking it out at Fotolia and it gave me an error that I had less than $50... So maybe that's not as much of a benefit as I thought it was.

Overall, I like Fotolia -- not sure if I'd say I like it better than Dreamstime, although my portfolio on Fotolia is outselling my Dreamstime portfolio at a 3:2 ratio. I've sold three images at Fotolia... I'll let you do the math!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Some SB-20 Sync Problems

I set up a little studio in my garage (details forthcoming) and in doing so I learned a few more things about the SB-20 that I'd like to share. Namely, it is a little quirky when it comes to syncing, and I think I've finally figured out some of the problems.

The Multiple Trigger Problem:

First, I've known for a while that if an SB-20 gets triggered twice in a row (rapidly) it seems to dump all the capacitor charge into the tube on the second trigger. In other words, if you have it set to 1/4 power and hit the button twice very quickly, the first flash will be 1/4 power and the second will be whatever is left (3/4 power).

In practice, this is less of a problem than it sounds, because even when my 20D is at full speed (5 fps) it isn't fast enough to cause a problem. But I noticed the effect a lot when I had a crappy connection between the SB-20 and my eBay wireless trigger. To solve the problem I rewired the connection (clipping the end of the trigger and attaching a separate 1/8" plug) and it has been very reliable ever since.

In other words, don't worry about it, but understand that a poor connection or rapid cycle time can cause the SB-20 to become inconsistent.

The Chinese Optical Slave Problem:

This second problem is a bit more serious and I had to find alternate hardware to get around it.

Apparently, the cheap Chinese optical slave triggers (seen in the picture above) lock the SB-20 up after each fire. The slave will fire the SB-20 the first time, but then it won't respond. Removing the slave from the flash will reset it as will pushing the test button on the back of the SB-20. Actually, the first time you push the test button on the SB-20 there isn't a flash, but then afterward, since it has reset, it will flash each time you push it.

Once I figured this out, using all three lights (I only have two radio triggers) meant firing a single shot, manually pushing the test button on the SB-20, shooting again, etc. In other words, it very much interrupted my flow.

FYI, I verified the problem on both SB-20s yet my eBay trigger works fine with both of them. So it is definitely some sort of incompatibility between the SB-20 and this specific model of optical slave. Sadly, this unit (a boxy little guy with a hemispherical clear window and a PC connection) is the primary optical slave available at the low end of the market.

But, there's another slave out there made by Sonia, an Indian company. So I ordered one of them (including a hot-shoe mount with two extra PC connections) and I really hope it won't cause the same problems on my SB-20s. If it works, I'll probably get one or two more to have the option.

If you are interested, the current eBay listings for optical slaves are below. The sonia slaves have a clear epoxy package with some sort of color to them (from the circuit board inside). The Chinese slaves are the boxy ones. I'll review the Sonia slave once I receive it!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Auto Mode Review: Sunpak 383 vs Nikon SB-20

If you are poor like me and can't afford the newest (newer) flashes ($200+ for a 430EX) you have to make due with less expensive or older flashes. In my case, I went with the Sunpak Auto 383 Super (review) and multiple Nikon SB-20s (review). While I was able to save 50-70% of the price of a 430EX on each, I had to give up some features.

These older flashes do not support the newest flash balancing algorithms like E-TTL II (for Canon -- Nikon has an equivalent). E-TTL II is pretty neat because it meters the flash through the lens, exposing based on what the camera sees, and also takes into consideration the focal distance of the lens (full description here at Bob Atkins' site). Of course, neither my SB-20 nor my 383 supports TTL (through the lens metering) of any sort with my 20D. Instead, I must either balance the flashes using manual controls (awfully slow and fiddly) or use the auto mode.

The auto mode is an automatic metering mode based entirely on the flash. First, the user sets the flash to auto and the camera aperture to the value specified for the given auto mode (often, flashes have a few options for auto mode for different apertures). As the flash fires a photocell on the flash records how much light is reflected back from the subject, and when a predetermined amount of light is recorded, the flash is quenched (shut off). Essentially, this lets the user get automatic exposure without any communication between the flash and the camera.

Both the 383 and SB20 support auto mode. The 383 has a photocell just above the hot shoe (the green circle on the left of the image):
And the SB-20 has a photocell in the lower right of the large red window on the front of the flash:
Auto mode is very easy to implement because it is directly on the flash but has a few limitations because there is no camera-flash communication during the exposure. First, since the photocell can't see exactly what the camera sees through the lens, the results will be inaccurate for very wide or very telephoto lenses. Also, since the photocell is at a different level than the lens, it could be occluded by objects or not aimed at the same place when in close. Finally, since the photocell measures all the light coming in, you'll get a bad exposure if something bright is closer to the camera than your subject.

That said, if you just want to get some snapshots and don't want to worry about balancing the flash in manual mode, auto mode is very useful. Put another way, auto mode lets the flash automatically adjust for distance -- in manual mode, every time you move closer or farther away from the subject, you'd need to adjust the exposure. For kids, that kind of constant adjustment isn't possible!

When I got my Sunpak 383, I quickly realized the auto mode wasn't very good. I just couldn't seem to get a good exposure! After that, I kind of abandoned auto mode until the other day when I thought I'd try an SB-20 in auto mode and did a little comparison. Turns out my 383 just has a crappy auto mode (not sure if I can generalize it to all 383s though -- does anyone else have a 383 that works well?).

To start out, I tried my SB-20 in auto mode by switching the main switch to A, set the ISO 100 with the slider at left, and set the desired f-stop using the slider at right (F/8 in this case -- note the yellow indicator). This means I should be able to set my camera to F/8 and get good exposure no matter what my distance to the subject is. The back of the SB-20 looked like this:

So, I fired off the following shot of the stuff sitting on top of my television (all of these shots are pretty much straight from the camera):

SB-20 (auto f/8) @ 17mm, f/8

Chimping the result, I thought it looked a little hot, so I dialed it down one stop, and got:
SB-20 (auto f/8) @ 17mm, f/11

Then, stepping back and zooming in to test if the auto mode was working, I got:
SB-20 (auto f/8) @ 50mm, f/11

So, by the looks of it, the auto mode on the SB-20 works very well. And, in hindsight, I really didn't need to stop down below the SB-20's settings -- it was very close to good exposure and the stopped down version is a little too dark. Since I usually underexpose flash shots a little bit (you can always increase exposure from the RAW file, but if you blow whites out, you can't get that detail back), I'll probably stop down 1/3 of a stop compared to the flash setting, but it really seems like the SB-20's auto mode is right on.

Now, on to the Sunpak Auto 383 Super. Auto settings on the Sunpak are a bit more confusing. First, I set the left-hand slider switch to the red A setting and the top slider to ISO 100. In the F/stop window, f/5.6 shows up (actually, more like f/6.3) which is what I should set my camera to. Also, I set the bottom slider to full (A) -- my understanding is that the auto only works when the slider is set to full (disclosure: I faked the f/stop value because it was in shadow, but that's how it looks!).

Note that the 383 has three auto settings, but as far as I can tell, it is only a mechanical calculator. Going from red to yellow doubles the distance and opens up two stops (consistent with the inverse square law: doubling the distance should require four times as much light).

So, given these settings, I set my camera to f/6.3 and took a shot under the same conditions as above, and got:

SB-20 (auto f/6.3) @ 17mm, f/6.3

Obviously, way too bright and I completely lost all the highlights on the fan. So, after some playing, I settled on f/11 as a similar exposure to the SB-20 (yes, that's 1 2/3 stops down!):
SB-20 (auto f/6.3) @ 17mm, f/11

SB-20 (auto f/6.3) @ 50mm, f/11

So, obviously, the SB-383 works, but it needs to be stopped way down. Consistency (in this tiny test) seems to be good across images, but it disturbs me that the Sunpak runs about 2 stops too hot.

Another thing that worries me about the Sunpak's auto mode is the photocell is very, very narrow (less than a millimeter in diameter, about three millimeters deep). I wonder if it gets very good coverage of a wide angle lens. Even more problematic is the height of the photocell on the 383 -- with a hood on a lens (or even a relatively large lens) the cell will be occluded for at least part of the range. I feel like the SB-20 has a much better design.

My conclusions? I like the SB-20 auto mode a lot better, and it just reinforces that if you are on a really tight budget and need a flash, start with an SB-20! For just $30 you get a flash with zoom, bounce, manual mode, and auto modes. The only thing the Sunpak has that SB-20 doesn't is a rectangular head (useful for putting modifiers on it), a little more power (GN120 vs GN100), and a swivel head (so you can bounce of the ceiling in a portrait orientation. While each of those is significant, paying three times as much tempers the advantages. There's a reason I have three SB-20s and may buy up one or two more...

Anyway, if you'd like to get an SB-20, check eBay. Prices seem to be pretty stable at $30 (including shipping) but there are often even better deals if you look hard enough. Here's the current listings if you are curious:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Neutering a Nikon SB-20

As I've said many times, I think the Nikon SB-20 is the best used flash deal out there. How else can you get a reliable, powerful shoe-mount flash with manual and auto modes for $30?

In my SB-20 review I mentioned that I neutered my first SB20 to allow me to use it on my Canon camera. This post is a picture-heavy walk through of how I executed this (really easy) modification on my second flash. It doesn't damage the unit at all and allows you to safely mount it in any hotshoe without worries of malfunction or damage.

To start, here's my victim... ahem... my SB-20:

Note the four pins on the bottom of the foot (hotfoot?) shown in more detail here:
The center pin is the standard flash trigger which any hot shoe short to the base connection to cause the flash to fire. The outside pins are for TTL control and other fancy camera functions with acronyms. Since I have a Canon, and the SB-20 TTL only works with Nikon film cameras, those outside pins aren't needed and I'll be disabling them. If I left them in, the flash may malfunction or cause damage if mounted on a non-Nikon camera.

For the record, I don't know if any damage would result for sure (actually, I doubt it), but I like to play it safe with these things. The good news is the pins are easy to remove and replace, so it'd be easy to add the pins back if I sold it again.

Standard Disclaimer: Shoe-mount flashes contain high voltage capacitors which maintain their charge for a long period of time (possibly days). If you've used the flash in the past few days, dump the charge by triggering a full-manual flash and immediately turning off the unit before it recharges. That said, you should be nowhere near the capacitor for this mod and it is about as safe (and easy) as they get.

The first step is to remove the bottom plate by unscrewing the four attachment screws (visible in the picture above):
Use a small Phillips-head screwdriver for this task to avoid damaging the screws. Yes, I know I'm using a flat head screwdriver -- do as I say, not as I do.

Once done, the bottom plate should easily tilt off as shown:

Carefully pull the plate out to expose the wiring harness:

And gently disconnect the white connector (it is pretty tight, so you might need to wiggle it to get it to slide out):
Now, see those three screws in the image above on the circuit board? Unscrew them and set them aside. Note those screws are a little longer than the four that hold the base on -- don't get them confused!

Removing those three screws will allow the foot to pop off (don't try to pull the circuit board out -- the springs get in the way!) exposing the pins floating on springs:

Remove the three outside pins from their springs. The end of the pin fits into the spring by friction, so pull gently and give them a twist and they should come off pretty easily. The result is this:

Here's more detail, with the unmounted pins sitting to the side:

And really, that's it. All you need to do now is reassemble it in the reverse order. You'll want to stow the pins in a safe place. I just wrapped mine in a non-conducting package and jammed them in a space near the back circuit board (see white packaged near the bottom of the unit below):

When completed, the foot looks like this:

And the modified Nikon SB-20 works on any camera and in any hot shoe you'd like to use!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Microstock: First Dreamstime Sale!

I had my first sale at Dreamstime earlier this week -- the Stanford dish image above. It was the medium sized version too, meaning I got $1.36 for it!

Realistically, I'm really not making much money at this microstock thing. Even though I only have fifteen images up, two sales in a month isn't going to buy me anything other than a burger.

But, I've got a few plans before I give up on microstock, the primary plan is to actually shoot some images for microstock, instead of grabbing images from my portfolio.

BTW, the image above was one of those rejected at Fotolia.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Unfortunate Contraction

My wife and I caught up on America's Got Talent tonight and we were pretty surprised by the outcome.

Ok, we were really surprised.

The opera guy won it? And Queen Emily was fifth? Are there really that many people out there that like opera?

Nuttin' But Stringz was actually who we expected to win. (off topic: how'd they get a web site up already?) We were VERY surprised when they came in third. But even more surprised when we saw the following image flash by...

The wonders of a multi-piece sign, a live show, and a camera man who happened to be pointing the wrong way. Apparently if you lose the Nuttin' and cover up the 'ST' you get "But Rings"... Reminds me of a live Photoshop Disaster...

I have to assume I wasn't the only person that noticed it. Although my wife did say, "Only you would notice something like that." I haven't completely figured out what that means though...

(this post was brought to you by the magic of a MCE and the screen capture button)