A Bright New Day
Well, it didn’t feel like it this morning, but things are warming up which means it’s time for me to fumble my way back into photography. The long winter was mostly a complete hiatus, and as in the past couple springs, I promise to be rusty on the shutter release button. Fortunately, I have a new flash and flash setup to give me a clear path forward. I recently acquired the Meike MK-300 speedlight, a small, inexpensive flash that I am hoping will replace my SB-600 in my main kit. (Apologies in advance for the poor camera phone photos.)
The MK-300 in total size is basically the equivalent of the SB-600’s flash head; it also only takes two AA batteries as opposed to four for the SB-600, so I’m looking forward to a substantial weight reduction. It’s the kind of thing you notice when a shooting situation requires a one-handed shot. To complement the flash, and make for an overall more agile set up, I’ve finally gotten another friction arm. My last friction arm, which I used with the SB-600, worked out pretty well after an adjustment period, but it was a cheaper Fotodiox model and did not last very long.
I’m hoping the Kamerar stainless steel arm I bought will hold up better, especially with a smaller flash on it. Early indications are that it’s pretty solid; its weight seems comparable to the flash bracket that I was using up to now. The nice thing about the arm in comparison to the bracket, is that I can position the flash on either side of the lens, and virtually straight over the lens. In combination with a mini-ballhead, I can position the flash optimally in most any shooting situation. The downside is, I now have all this flexibility. Kidding! But not really; having a bunch of options is perhaps the blessed curse of our age. I will probably end up ignoring a lot of them and settle in at a couple positions without getting too fine. (And hopefully without getting too nuts!)
The other part of becoming smaller, more agile and more efficient, in this flash setup transformation would be the all-important diffuser. If you’ve seen my version of the Coke can diffuser, you know it’s a bit unwieldy. My initial thought was to go smaller and use a sort of dual diffuser set up following the design elements of some macro photographers I admire. One diffuser would attach directly to the flash head and be much smaller. This is what I came up with:
A very simple covering, made from a sheet of packing foam and Scotch tape, not shaped particularly purposefully, just keeping in mind to cover the front of the flash head (but not the LCD screen on top). The second part is what I will call the “visor” diffuser, which you can see below attached to the lens with the full rig put together:
The visor diffuser is made out of a foam sheet as well but there is also a second layer made from a dollar store (that’s a very inexpensive, discount store) food chopping or cutting sheet. Essentially a very thin but fairly rigid sheet of semi-opaque plastic. I cut two thin flaps at the base of the chopping sheet layer and connected them at the bottom to form a ring to slide over the end of the lens. I am becoming quite the diffuser savant, because without measuring much of anything, on my first attempt, the ring seems to fit perfectly snug. (A note on the trouble with this DIY “miracle” towards the end of this post.)
Okay, if you’ve made it this far, we’re finally here to see some results. Forewarning: these photos are largely unedited and the purpose is mainly to get an idea of the difference in light quality from the various diffuser set ups. Each subject set was taken with the same settings. The first subject was the fairly well-preserved remains of a neat little Phidippus audax jumping spider. (Those sheenless eyes are pretty sad sight, however). Let’s look at a shot taken with both the flash head and the visor diffuser attached:
The shot is a bit underexposed on the spider’s face which may have more to do with the flash head’s position, but we can see by the catch lights (or specular highlights) in the spider’s eyes that the diffusers have created a very soft, even light. Now, let’s see one with just the visor diffuser attached:
The visor-only shot is much brighter. Part of this may be due to the position of the subject relative to the flash, but mostly it’s one less layer of diffusing material. I’d say the essential quality of the light is about the same however.
Here’s another set of test shots featuring some transistors on a little circuit board:
Here I am pitting one diffuser against the other. The shot on the left, using only the visor diffuser, has a softer, more even light, compared to the shot on the right which only used the flash head diffuser. These shots plus the spider shots were taken all around 24mm on the reversed lense, which accounts for a fairly high magnification. I “zoomed out” to around 45mm for this next set to see the flash and diffusers in action in a different shooting circumstance.
Ignoring the underexposure, the difference really sticks out to me on the rounded “2Q2” transistor at the right of the shot: the flash head-only shot shows a somewhat harsh, though not very prominent glare; the combination results in almost no reflection or glare from the flash; and the diffuser-only shot produces a brighter but still very soft reflection or glare. The visor only shot is noticeably brighter.
Well, I liked the visor only results the best, and longstoryshort, that’s probably what I’ll stick with for a while. My concern is that the light may be a little too soft, a little too even, but I’d like to give it a whirl. I’ve been using the coke can diffuser for a while now, and the similarity between the quality of the light there and with this flash head only diffuser makes me think the distance between the flash and the diffuser is not big enough — and yet! I am curious to see what adding a second layer to the flash head diffuser might accomplish, because to have such a small diffuser would be kind of really, really awesome.
Which brings me to my main concern as of now with the visor: it’s rigid and it will be very close to live insects and spiders, and I don’t think they’re going to like it. I can tell you they do not care much for the coke can diffuser, but I can shoot with it and still have some breathing room. This visor really covers up the subject especially when I angle forward and down. A tweaking is in order, but I am a bit afraid to cut the body of my “DIY miracle” because, well, can I ever make one so perfectly snug-fitting again? Probably not, but as they say, something has to give. (And in this case, it’s likely my patience! Ba-dum-duh!)
As I mentioned earlier, I’m out of of practice and this process will help me get back into it. There’s also the additional reacclimation to using a friction arm again, which took me some time to get used to the first go around. By attaching it to the base of the camera I am giving up a flat edge which will make things a little more difficult along flat surfaces like the ground or walls. Also just managing my grip, that will take some time to get used to; even during the test shots I struggled to keep out of the arm’s way, and (being a lefty) I wasn’t able to use my often-tapped one-handed, left-handed grip. All in all though, I’m pretty excited to get out and get shooting. Hopefully we get a few nice days in the coming week or two and I can find some springtails and snow scorpionflies and put this rig through some field tests.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and visiting BugPhoto.net.
2 thoughts on “Meike MK-300 Speedlight and New Flash Diffuser: Initial Test (Jumping spider, etc.)”
If you want to stick with the flash head only, and that seems to make sense given the way the diffuser intrudes upon the subject, you might want to try experimenting with inexpensive (low thread count) white cotton cloth or gauze for your diffusion material. It would be easy enough to attach to the flash head with a rubber band, easy to adjust the density with additional layers, and they would certainly be easy to carry around.
Thanks for the suggestion; I hadn’t thought of using gauze before. I have tried paper towels, which I did not find a great benefit in using compared to the foam.