I will be using flash with a film camera for the first time. I've some experience with on and off camera flash with digital camera and film camera for landscape pictures. Now I do not know what are the things I should be careful of when using a flash with film camera.

Some details:

  1. Camera: Nikon F100
  2. Flash: Nikon SB-600
  3. Film: Portra 400 (Color), Neopan 400 (B&W)

What I am looking for are some tips and specific settings for using flash with a film camera. Also is matrix metering in F100 with TTL flash good enough for general purpose?


There are two things that I can think of to be aware of:

  1. The white balance of the film. Unlike digital raw shooting, it's not something you can easily correct after the fact and film is designed for specific lighting conditions. I should note that the porta 400 doesn't need correcting gels for electronic flash or daylight, but be sure that the color temperature of your flash is within that range.

  2. You need to plan your lighting more carefully. Digital lets us be a little sloppy, we can test out some angles, play with strengths, and then see the result quickly and so then adjust. Not so with film. While the metering in your camera is fine for shooting with ambient light, it's not so useful with flash and you're best to spend a little time working with the guide numbers and distances to ensure correct lighting otherwise you may find you've expended the roll and under or over exposed.

  3. Download the spec sheets for each film and read them. You can find the Porta 400 on Kodak's site and the Neopan 400 on the Fuji site. Of course, I've linked them anyways.

Okay, that was 3... :)

  • B&W or colour negative films are usually not designed for a specific colour temperature. In case of colour negative films, the white balance is corrected when making paper prints from the film and not when exposing the film. Using colour filters at exposure time to adjust the white balance is only required when using colour reversal film, since you have no further step in the processing chain to correct any deviations (unless you want to add a colour filter to your dia projector). – jarnbjo Jun 10 '12 at 13:07
  • @jarnbjo - I realize that about B&W, but didn't know about color neg. I would note that unless you're developing yourself, you might have some risk if the processing lab doesn't know how to color correct and, well, the spec sheet for the Porta 400 mentions exposure color correction. At any rate, my answer is more general, not everyone with a film camera is going to use those exact films and might still have the same question. – John Cavan Jun 10 '12 at 13:44
  • @jarnbjo, after couple of rolls of films, and using regular ttl, without any compensation underexposed the pictures. I was bouncing flash off walls. I suppose ttl, unlike ittl, doesn't have preflashes, that determines true flash power. It calculates flash power based on subject distance. So either i should have compensated for extra distance flash light travels while bouncing. – Vikas Jul 14 '12 at 15:58
  • @vikas: I've never had such problems with my F801 and a Metz 54 flash. If you search the net, you will however find several discussions on the SB-600 and underexposed images when bouncing. Not only with the F100, but also when used on newer DSLRs. Since the light path should be irrelevant when using TTL, I really don't have a good explanation on why this occurs, but perhaps you're able to find something yourself. – jarnbjo Jul 17 '12 at 12:43

First of all: There is no obvious difference between working with a flash when doing digital or analogue photography. Eventually, the same lights and shadows are recorded and stored on some kind of media, be it a memory card or the film emulsion.

Both of the films you are mentioning are relatively tolerant to over- and underexposure, so using TTL exposure metering is your best bet. I am not sure what John Cavan is referring to in his second point, where he claims that flash metering is not working very well. TTL flash metering has been around for more than 30 years and actually, it works as expected. If you are using a modern lens with distance indicator (AF-D or newer), the flash metering will also consider the focus distance when calculating the estimated flash energy, so I can't think of a single situation where you are better off calculating the flash settings manually instead of letting the automatisms do their job.

One final issue is of course that with a film camera, you have no way to immediately check the results. Using a single shoe mount flash, you are however pretty limited anyway in how to direct the light. When using studio flashes (one or more stand-alone flashes) in the pre-digital area, most photographers used Polaroid (instant) cameras to check the light conditions.

  • Welcome to Photo.SE. Nice 1st answer. – ysap Jun 10 '12 at 14:34
  • I'm referring to his mentioning off camera. It's also a rare event for me to have a flash in my hotshoe, i'm almost always off camera and so I don't find the TTL metering all that useful and so I prefer incident metering techniques. – John Cavan Jun 10 '12 at 14:51
  • For what it's worth I get very good and consistent metering with Pentax's P-TTL and off-camera (optical wireless) flash. – mattdm Jun 10 '12 at 15:15
  • @John Canvan: As long as the flash works with the camera's TTL metering, it doesn't matter if it is on or off the camera. The light reflected from the photographed objects is measured through the lens during the exposure and it is irrelevant from which direction the flash light is actually coming. – jarnbjo Jun 10 '12 at 22:26
  • @JohnCavan, so what is the answer. I'm at no position, at this point, to select from two different answers with equal upvotes :-). Should i use ttl or not? I'll be using flash on camera and bounce off wall and stuff. – Vikas Jun 15 '12 at 18:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.