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Photography - Ikelite TTL for Olympus 5050/5060 Cameras

Abstract: From January 17 thru the 21, 2004, I had the opportunity to test a prototype of Ikelite's new TTL system where the Olympus 5050 TTL control for the DS 125 or DS 50 comes through the hot shoe via a sync cord directly to the DS 125 or DS 50 strobe(s).

Sample Pictures
Click on image for larger image.

The results were outstanding. For the first time ever I got perfect lighting under almost every imaginable condition e.g. shooting under reefs, against the sand, against the sky, with cloudy skies, sunny skies, etc. without changing any camera settings during the dives! This TTL system really rocks!

  • New photographers should be able to get good shots without knowing a whole lot about what they are doing i.e. use a standard My Mode e.g. My Mode 1 for manual camera operation, point, and shoot.
     
  • Experienced photographers should be able to spend more time finding and composing subjects and get more keepers.

The only change I made in my normal settings was to set flash compensation to -0.7 to compensate for a slight tendency toward overexposed pictures.

This TTL system will be standard on the new Ikelite 5050 housing and new Ikelite 5060 housing. This feature is also be available as an upgrade to existing 5050 housings.

Note: The cost to upgrade a 5050 housing is $150. To this you need to add $100 for a single strobe sync cord #4103.51 or $160 for a dual strobe sync cord #4103.51.

Expectations: Properly lighted subjects in a wide variety of dive conditions in both wide angle and macro mode with no manual adjustment of strobe power settings and adjustment of camera settings limited to using two fixed My Mode settings, one for wide angle and one for super macro.

Hardware Setup: An Oly C-5050 in an Ikelite housing retrofitted with a prototype TTL circuit on the bulkhead and an INON wide angle lens with an INON dome. Dual DS 125 strobes with diffusers mounted. Both single and dual strobe Ikelite 5-conductor sync cords were used during the testing.

Ikelite TTL for Olympus 5050 Camera - Prototype

Note 1: The design shown above is a prototype. Production version circuit boards will be coated for protection against moisture and will be recessed into the back and covered with a plastic cover

Note 2: This design requires a sync cord connector thru the bulkhead and power from the strobe. Thus the design requires the use of an Ikelite 5050 or 5060 housing and the use of Ikelite DS 125 or DS 50 strobes.

Note 3: Special 5-conductor digital sync cords are required i.e. #4103.51 for single and #4103.52 for dual strobes. These cords will be required for all of the new TTL deciphered circuits like Olympus, Canon and Nikon, and are marked with a blue band. In addition to the blue band, the dual sync cords have one of the leads marked with a red band indicating that this strobe can be turned off if only one of the two strobes is to be used.

Camera Settings: For wide angle My Mode 1 e.g. ISO 64, f 5.0, 1/100 sec, and spot exposure metering with the camera set to external strobe only. For Macro My Mode 3 e.g. ISO 64, f 8.0, 1/80 sec., and spot exposure metering with the camera set to external strobe only.

Note: The only change I made to the settings I normally use was to change the camera strobe setting from slave to external and from Day 4 on, the flash compensation from 0.0 to  -0.7.

Dive Location:  Boynton Beach, Florida reefs from the boat the Splashdown. Fifty to sixty feet of water.

Sample Pictures: The pictures below (click on Day # Pictures) are included to give you an idea of the variety and quality of pictures taken.

Note 1: At a depth of 50 to 60 feet, most color seen in the pictures, other than blues and greens, is the result of the flash lighting.

Note 2: I did not include the super macro shots I took thru the wide angle lens with the dome because, while well lit, the subject matter was not that interesting.

Note 3: All pictures shown have been edited unless otherwise noted e.g. Day 6. Typically I rotate, crop, resize to 1024 x 768, remove back scatter and other artifacts, adjust the histogram, remove color cast, adjust brightness and contrast, final adjust saturation, and sharpen. It takes me 5 to 10 minutes per picture to do these steps.


Day 1 Pictures

TTL Setup: Left strobe triggered by an Ikelite 5-conductor sync cord #4103.51 and the right strobe triggered by a TTL slave set to the right for digital cameras with pre-flash.

Dive Conditions: Sixty feet of water with sixty-foot visibility and a sky that changed back and forth from cloudy to sunny.

Pictures Taken: I took a total of 169 pictures on two one-hour dives using only My Mode settings 1 and 3 described above. And I shot many different scenes including the sky only, the sand only, fish under reefs and fish framed against the bottom and against the sky.

Comments: In general, the pictures tended to be a little overexposed, particularly when the sun was out. And I had some technical problems. Specifically;

1. The left strobe, connected via the sync cord, worked faultlessly putting out just the right amount of light for each shot. The right strobe, connected by the TTL slave, dumped a lot of light and squealed, indicating a full dump. In wide angle at f 5.0 and 1/100 sec this amount of light was right on the edge of being too much, particularly when the sun came out.

2. The strobes had a hard time keeping up with the camera in sequential mode. The left strobe, connected via the sync cord, could keep up if the sun was out. But when it got cloudy the power loss on the 2nd and 3rd shots was apparent.

At days end I had few good pics but not as many as I had expected. I decided that on the following day I would use a dual sync cord to get the TTL slave out of the equation.


Day 2 Pictures

TTL Setup: An Ikelite 5-conductor dual sync cord #4103.52 connected directly to both strobes with the "red band" on the right strobe.

Note 1: The strobes fired perfectly using the dual sync cord instead of a single sync cord and a TTL slave to drive the right strobe. While a TTL slave should also work for the second strobe, I think this additional layer of circuitry can lead to more problems than it solves. Thus my recommendation is to use a dual sync cord when using two strobes.

Dive Conditions: Sixty feet of water with sixty-foot visibility and a sky that changed back and forth from cloudy to sunny.

Pictures Taken: I took a total of 169 pictures on two one-hour dives using only My Mode settings 1 and 3 described above. And I shot many different scenes including the sky only, the sand only, fish under reefs and fish framed against the bottom and against the sky.

Comments: Overall I am pleased with the pictures I got. However, the wide angle pictures still tended to be slightly overexposed. I could see the problem sometimes in the LCD but it didn't seem bad enough to cause me to change any of my settings. In retrospect I should probably have decreased the flash compensation.  But having never needed to adjust the flash compensation before I opted to keep on shooting at the fixed settings.

The super macro pictures, taken with a wide angle lens and dome, were exposed dead on, much better than I was ever able to do with manual power settings without taking a bunch of pics to get the settings right.

As to the operation of the rig itself, both strobes fired and each seemed to be putting out the proper amount of light.  Still I had problem with sequential shooting. Specifically;

The strobes had a hard time keeping up with the camera in sequential mode. While both strobes continued to fire on the 2nd and 3rd shots there was a noticeable drop off in the light on shots taken in the open and more so when the clouds came over.

My guess is that this has nothing to do with TTL but rather it is a result of shooting with wide angle and a dome and diffusers in dark situations that require more light than the strobes can put out. Supporting this thought, I think the reason I can make these shots with the strobes set manually at 1/2 power is that, most of my manual shots taken this way are of subjects coming toward me and what I am really getting is under lit 1st shots but better lit subsequent shots as the subject comes closer. In the case of TTL, too much light is probably being wasted trying to take the 1st, most distant shot.


Day 3 Pictures

TTL Setup: An Ikelite 5-conductor dual sync cord #4103.52 connected directly to both strobes with the "red band" on the right strobe.

Note: Day 3 was a repeat of Day 2 in almost every way as I wanted to confirm my findings re a tendency for the Olympus TTL to slightly overexpose the pictures.

Comments: As expected, I got the same results as in Day 2 i.e. just a little too much light. You can see the effects in the first divers face, in the Hogfish's gill plate, and in the white area on the Trumpet fish. In each of these cases the detail in these areas was blown out by too much light.


Day 4 Pictures

TTL Setup:  An Ikelite 5-conductor dual sync cord #4103.52 connected directly to both strobes with the "red band" on the right strobe.

Dive Conditions: The vis sucked. Thirty feet with lots of sand particles. And the sun came and went. But through it all I got great lighting and some good pics.

Comments: I used a flash compensation of -0.7 with all other settings the same as I used on the earlier days, basically, f 5.0 and 1/100 sec. And I got just what I wanted. Just a little less brightness. Also, with these settings the strobes kept up with sequential shooting which is a biggie for me as I use sequential shooting a lot.

Note 1: Based on the consistent tendency toward slightly overexposed pictures, I recommend setting the My Mode flash compensation to -0.7.

Note 2: I considered going from f 5.0 to f 5.6 instead of decreasing the flash compensation to -0.7. But I suspect that if if I did the Olympus TTL would just call for more power and I'd still be a little overexposed.


Day 6 Pictures

TTL Setup:  An Ikelite 5-conductor dual sync cord #4103.52 connected directly to both strobes with the "red band" on the right strobe.

Dive Conditions: Sixty feet of water with sixty-foot visibility and mostly sunny skies.

Comments: I used a flash compensation of -0.7 with all other settings the same as I used on the earlier days, basically, f 5.0 and 1/100 sec.

Note: These pictures are as taken, with the exception of being resized and saved at a JPG quality setting that kept the file sizes smaller than 100k. They are shown here to demonstrate the range of subjects that can be nicely lit with the Ikelite TTL for Olympus without changing any camera or strobe settings.

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