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I currently use a Nikon D1/D1H to take high speed objects, often at night. I have them sync with a strobe via a hotshoe (I think this is the setup anyway, but it works with the strobe!).

I am looking to upgrade the cameras as we are starting to experience issues.

Can anyone recommend a modern camera that would be able to meet these demands? I have had a look and it seems that for most cameras the flash sync speed would not be up to the standards needed for these use cases.

Some reading lead me to look at "auto fp high speed sync" or focal plane options. But they still seem to have relatively limited speeds. In and around 1/350th for the d7000 for example.

Thanks for any help!

Please post a comment if I can provide more information that would help you with your recommendations.

UPDATE This is a stationary camera that takes a photo of the same object moving at high speed throughout the day. The subject is quite close to the camera and with the current set up the strobe is more than adequate to light the subject perfectly.

I am not overly technical when it comes to camera, so the more you can dumb it down the better! :-)

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    If you're lighting with a strobe at night, why do you need a short shutter speed? – mattdm Mar 21 '16 at 12:33
  • "Often at night" does not mean "always at night", does it? – Michael C Mar 21 '16 at 20:50
  • @MichaelClark Correct. Often at night does not mean alwaya at night. – Neil_M Mar 21 '16 at 20:54
  • @mattdm The reason we need the short shutter speed, is that it is capturing a fast moving object, and below the 1/3200 speed there is a blur on the subject. – Neil_M Mar 21 '16 at 20:56
  • In the situations where you aren't photographing at night, do you have any control over the ambient light? How far away is your subject? – mattdm Mar 21 '16 at 21:25
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You misunderstand Auto FP, which starts just above the cameras maximum sync speed, and allows up to the maximum shutter speed the camera permits (1/8000 second on some models) if with a HSS flash unit. However beware, the HSS flash becomes continuous light for the duration, and maximum power level is reduced to about 20%, so range is limited.
See http://www.scantips.com/lights/flashbasics2b.html about HSS and Auto FP.

But HSS is NOT high speed flash, it merely removes the sync speed requirement. And to be able to do that, instead the HSS flash becomes continuous light, which cannot stop motion like a flash can. HSS flash properties are more like a brief desk lamp illumination, continuous light.

The way high speed flash photography is done is with a regular speedlight flash and mode, which is a very fast flash at normal shutter speeds. The slower sync speed limit is of no concern in dim ambient, when the much faster flash stops the motion. The speedlight can be much faster than any possible shutter speed. See http://www.scantips.com/speed.html

If you need more power than a speedlight, see the Paul C. Buff "Einstein" studio light.

  • "Often at night" does not mean "always at night", does it? – Michael C Mar 21 '16 at 20:50
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Such fast exposure times are achieved not with mechanical shutters, but with fast illumination, like a flash. Even a lot of flashes have a longer duration than 1/3200 s = 313 µs.

You only need the mechanical shutter to be fast enough so that the ambient light is largely irrelevant compared to the strobe. Since the ambient light is steady, the amount accumulated in the picture is directly proportional to the shutter time. However, when the strobe is shorter than the shutter time, then the shutter has no influence on the relative brightness of the strobe, since all of it is accumulated into the picture anyway.

Probably most any camera with a reasonable "X-sync" speed will work. This is maximum shutter speed at which the whole shutter is open at a time. At slower speeds, it dwells at full open longer. At faster speeds, it becomes a ever-smaller slit traveling across the frame. Modern cameras can do usually do X-sync at 1/200 to 1/400 range. The less bright your ambient illumination and the more bright the flash, the less you care how slow the X-sync speed is.

Again, 300 µs is fast for ordinary camera strobes. Xenon strobes are capable of going much fasters, as demonstrated by the famous pictures of Doc Edgerton. There is little use for really fast flash times for normal photography, so most flashes aren't specifically designed for less than a millisecond (1/1000 s) or so. One trick I've found to get shorter times with some flashes is to set them to "burst mode" or similar. This means they have to be able to produce multiple flashes for a burst of pictures from a single capacitor charge. This is usually done by decreasing the time per flash, thereby using less charge.

To summarize: Most cameras with reasonable X-sync speeds should work. Put your effort into finding a fast but bright flash.

  • If I understand what you are saying and some further reading around the topic. I may not need the sync speed above 1/250 because if I have a relatively dark shot and a fast and bright flash then I should be able to "freeze the motion"? Would you be able to recommend an external flash/strobe that would work with the Nikon range? Or even approximate specs that I could look for? Thank you very much. – Neil_M Mar 23 '16 at 17:02
  • Yes you have the right idea. I haven't used flash in a while, so I'm not up on what's out there currently. – Olin Lathrop Mar 23 '16 at 20:46
  • @Pocket_Pie. Regarding flash recommendations; with speedlights, the lower the output level (as a fraction of maximum power), the shorter the duration of the flash. Your post indicates the subject is close to the camera, which suggests that a low powered flash output (e.g. 1/4 power or less) might give you a good exposure. If so, most speedlights should be able to give you an effective flash duration of 1/2800 second or less. – HamishKL Mar 24 '16 at 4:18
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If the ambient light is still to bright with common sync speeds, one can look into leaf shutters. For example the Ricoh GR-1 can sync with an external manual flash down to 1/4000 s (tested). Such fast exposure times can actually cut off a part of the illumination by the flash, as the flash duration can be longer depending on the set output power.

Compared to HSS the above combination has several advantages:

  • power efficient (one flash vs. multiple flashes)
  • freezing by flash remains possible (also due to one flash)
  • manual flashes can be used, which are less expensive

Further cameras which use leaf shutters are the Sony RX1, Sigma DP Merill and the Fuji X100s. Take a look at the mentioned cameras or their descendants, to see if they fit your needs.

Be aware that if shot wide open leaf shutters have slower exposure times than when stopped down, as the distance the leafs have to travel increases (f/2.5 1/2500 s vs. f/5.6 1/400 s for the GR-1).

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