Flash Photography with the Nikon N6006

Dan Knight

In addition to the normal instruction manual, the N6006 ships with a separate instruction manual that covers flash photography. As with the Pm program mode, Nikon gave a lot of thought to flash photography.

Automatic Balanced Fill-Flash

Automatic Balanced Fill-Flash (ABFF) was intended to make fill flash photography as easy as possible. This applies to both the built-in flash and any hot shoe flash with the appropriate TTL contact. ABFF will choose a lens opening between f/2.8 and the minimum setting on the lens in use as follows:

ISO 25 50 100 200 400 800 f/4 f/4.8 f/5.6 f/6.7 f/8 f/9.5

Unfortunately, this unnecessarily restricts flash range, particularly with higher speed films. The popup flash has a guide number (GN) of 42 with ISO 100, giving a maximum range of 7.5'. Moving to 400 film doubles the GN, but the smaller lens opening limits flash photography with the built-in flash to 10.5'. Even jumping to 800 speed film adds less than 2' to the range of the N6006's tiny flash.

This makes a strong case for using a more powerful shoe-mount flash, since the extra power will help offset Nikon's poor choice of too-small lens openings with ABFF.

Another neat feature of ABFF is that it can dynamically choose a shutter speed based on the lens in use and lighting conditions. For lenses under 60mm, ABFF will select a speed between 1/125 and 1/F, where F is the focal length of the lens. For lenses longer than 60mm, it will always select a shutter speed between 1/60 and 1/125.

The biggest problem with ABFF is that it seems to be designed explicitly for use in bright light situations (fill flash), not in those situations where we are more likely to use flash (indoors, dim light, etc.). While ABFF may do a great job with fill flash, the ABFF setting is far from ideal for general flash photography and should be avoided. (I have the underexposed prints to prove it.)

ABFF requires lenses with a built-in CPU; manual focus lenses and any third-party lenses lacking the CPU should be used in aperture preferred mode.

Real World Flash Photography

Clever as ABFF seems, it pales in comparison to the program flash exposure I was used to on my Minolta X-700. That camera did its best to balance the flash with ambient light and used the kind of apertures that often created a very pleasing balance between the flash and existing light. It's one feature I'll be sure to look for in my next camera.

For traditional flash photography, you really should take the N6006 off program and go to aperture preferred (A) mode. If you're using the built-in flash, I suggest these as good starting points:

ISO 25 50 100 200 400 800 f/2.8 f/2.8 f/3.5 f/4 f/4.8 f/5.6 max. 7.5' 10.5' 12' 14.7' 17.5' 21'

These are approximate figures, but they should provide much better flash pictures than you'd get using ABFF. Again, shoe-mounted flashes can easily double these ranges.

Advanced Flash Techniques

The N6006 has a couple additional flash modes that can also improve your photography; for best results you might want to use both modes together.

Slow Sync

I'm sure you've seen a lot of flash pictures that are all flash and no available light. Since the camera usually picks a shutter speed of 1/60 to 1/125, flash will usually dominate in low light situations. Slow sync addresses that by selecting shutter speeds as long as 30 seconds - be sure you're paying attention to the shutter speed when shooting in slow sync mode!

The results with slow sync and TTL flash metering can be excellent. If you are shooting in slow sync mode, you may want to pick a wider lens opening to keep the shutter speed reasonable. It's either that, use a tripod, or hold yourself very steady.

Rear-Curtain Sync

When taking flash photos, the flash normally fires as soon as the shutter is open. That's not a problem when shooting at 1/60 or even 1/30, but it can lead to strange looking results if you have a moving subject and a shutter speed of 1/15 or lower. To address this, the N6006 supports rear-curtain flash sync, which means the camera fires the flash just before the shutter closes.

There's probably no reason in the world to use rear-curtain sync if you're not also using slow sync, but it can't hurt to leave your camera set to rear-curtain sync for general photography.

Exposure Compensation with Flash

ABFF always works to balance the flash with ambient light, so if you're using fill flash in fairly bright settings, you can probably rely on it to do a good job. But if you want to make sure the flash is more or less intense than ambient light, it's time to use exposure compensation with your flash.

Use the camera's normal exposure compensation if you want the whole picture lighter or darker. Once you've made that decision, decide whether you want the flash to overpower existing light or just fill some shadows. For the first, set the flash exposure compensation to +1 or +2; for the second, set it to -1 or -2.

Just how do you make all these settings? Read the manual, which is profusely illustrated.

Go to Nikon N6006/F601 page.

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