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Although I have been photographing for 3 years now, there are still areas I am fairly new to. I really love film photography, but I also like to use flashes for portraits and such.

Of course with my digital camera there is a lot of trial and error, and I can get along, and I've learned a lot from watching tutorials for that.

But what I like to know the best approach for using flash with an analog film camera.

Is a light meter the trick, or is TTL a good choice?

Currently I have a Nikon F100 and a Mamyia Pro TL, which both have TTL, as far as I know.

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I think it depends on whether you're shooting in a controlled environment (like a studio setup) or "in the wild". TTL flash, especially the old kind which reads light bouncing from the film rather than the modern version which uses a preflash, can be very fast and accurate — as actually can the older "auto thyristor"¹ models. But, it's also going to be unpredictable.

If you have a controlled environment where ambient lighting, subject distance, and your position aren't changing quickly, manual flash with metering is probably better — true on digital as well. This lets you balance the light between different sources (including multiple flashes, ideally).

You can use a stand-alone light meter, but another approach is to take test images with a digital camera and then replicate the settings on your film camera. (Obviously, keep the ISO on manual to match the film; set the shutter on both to the sync speed — then you just have the aperture to match, once you have flash power how you like it.) I know many portrait photographers in the film days used polaroids for this purpose (possibly swapping in a polariod film back for a medium format camera — now, digital can do the same thing for the modern film photographer with many advantages.


  1. Not actually a thyristor in many units but still usually called that by photographers
  • +1 for using a digital camera to check light levels (old entry level DSLR would be ideal). It's not "cheating" any more than using a lightmeter is and will save you a lot of money on film. – Matt Grum Feb 2 '15 at 16:16
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From my experience: (Disclaimer: I rate myself about a C+ Flash user).

If you can't get one of those flash units that read the aperture & film speed and tell you the distance (which are awesome, btw) then the next step down (for me) is the flash unit that has a little ring on it that tells you the distance (these are generally really, really old, but work). If you don't have that, then a cheat sheet or of course, app.

Personally, I don't like dealing with apps, and with film, the speed is set per roll, so I like to figure out a distance at my main aperture, and then mentally figure out the distance difference at +1/-1 stop from there.

This is a good article: http://www.scantips.com/lights/flashbasics1c.html

As or what's the "best", it's going to depend on you. I have two cameras which have either full auto or semi-automatic flash. One has a digital read out - the other has the dial I was talking about. They're good enough that I don't really bother w/ Flash on my other ones unless it's a must.

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