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I'm the proud owner of a Canon A-1 film camera. It's really the love of my life. I love to shoot film, but while I'm thinking about shooting some studio work on film, I'm really confused about how I can use a modern speedlite with my film camera.

Of course it would be in manual mode, but is there any way to work with modern speedlites? It should just be able to receive the trigger from my A-1 to flash, according to the settings of the speedlite itself... Or isn't this possible and am I forced to use continuous light?

Anyone with some advice or experience? Thanks!

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Yes, no problem, a speedlight in Manual mode should easily work with the camera. Use flash Manual mode and set the power level accordingly for the scene and for your camera settings.

IMPORTANT: To use Manual flash mode, the camera has to be set to Manual mode too, and Auto ISO turned off. The Manual flash cannot respond to the camera automation changing aperture or ISO.

That's the complete answer but some additional comments...

Modern camera hot shoes have the one large center pin, and 3 or 4 smaller pins. The arrangement of the smaller pins vary with camera brand, and the signals on those pins are a foreign language to mismatched cameras.

HOWEVER, in manual flash mode, only the large center pin is used for the trigger, so the small pins simply don't matter. The small pins can simply be ignored in flash Manual mode.

Some few flashes have an Auto mode, where the flash itself meters the flash light reflected from the scene, and terminates the exposure when it is seen sufficient. It was an older system before TTL flash. That Auto mode will still work (using only the one large center pin as mentioned), but there is a complication that the flash has to be set for the right aperture and ISO that the camera exposure is using to match the camera exposure. Modern compatible cameras communicate this info via the small pins, but if the flash is not compatible, it won't understand. Still no problem if you simply use the flash menus to set this aperture and ISO info properly, set manually yourself.

This aperture and ISO info is of no concern (not used) if the flash is in Manual mode (instead of an Auto mode), where you simply set the correct flash power level yourself.

Without this communication, the speedlight might display some meaningless numbers for aperture and ISO, which will matter if in this Auto mode (using those numbers), but is completely unimportant if in flash Manual mode. All that matters in flash Manual mode is the power level that you set. The flash will simply use the Manual power level that you set.

  • How does one turn on auto ISO on the Canon A-1? – Michael C Jul 29 at 22:11
  • Good point for a film camera, but I was trying to speak generally for the varied readers, since digital is so popular today. – WayneF Jul 29 at 22:51
  • If you're going to do that, you should probably mention trigger voltages before someone reads your answer and fries a low tolerance digital camera with a high voltage flash. – Michael C Jul 30 at 0:40
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Why not buy a flash from the A-1 era on ebay? I have a pile of Minolta flashes from that era that still work. The Minoltas might work on your Canon, but it would be safer to buy a flash that was made for that camera.

Edit: If you want to use off-camera flashes, you can put a remote transmitter on the camera and connect the remote receivers to almost any flash, speedlight or studio. I use Yongnuo RF-602, there are many others available.

  • Because then I can't use several speedlites/studio lights with a remote control? – FreddyRibs Jul 30 at 18:48
  • Sorry, I didn't understand what you are attempting to do, see my edited answer. – Mattman944 Jul 30 at 21:02
  • Mind that the A-1 has no TTL integration with any flash ever. The Minolta flashes will work as dumb (or telecomputer) flashes with the A-1 though.... BTW, the Minolta X-700 does do TTL with the right flashes. – rackandboneman Aug 1 at 22:01
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The biggest obstacle with flash and the A1 is that its sync speed is pretty slow: 1/60s.

But a modern speedlight/trigger's sync voltage will definitely be safe (under 5V in most cases), and you should just be able to use them the same way you would on a Canon dSLR. This Flickr discussion thread mentions successfully using a 580EX II on an A1, aside from the sync issue. And if you had the 580EX II, you could use its Ext.M external-sensor function to automate power, similar to using an old autothyristor flash.

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