Contax Flash for 5 Pin

Mixing Ambient Light and Flash

Purpose: To clarify the confusion on certain Contax cameras of how the EC dial on the camera impacts the flash's output and to mention some pit falls of the flash to camera relationship.

Actual tests were made with both the Contax TLA 360 and the Metz 54 MZ-3 flash (using the SCA 3802 Adapter). The flash is set in TTL mode for all camera modes except Manual.

Ambient light is the normal background and scene light in a setting.

Fill Flash is the flash from the flash unit, which is used to remove shadows and give correct light to the primary subject in a scene, without impacting the ambient light in the background of a scene.

Example Photograph: Sunset shot, where you want the sunset in the background, and the subject (a person!) backlit with a colorful sky, but with fill flash to give the correct subject exposure. The normal method would be to take a meter reading of the sky or background, and dial your flash down about -1 compensation, to keep the flash from overwhelming the scene, but still illuminating the primary subject.

Using the Contax N1 or the Contax ND, there is a common misunderstanding that you can control the flash output by using the EC dial on the camera and NOT change the ambient meter reading!  You can not control the flash with the EC dial on the camera without impacting the ambient exposure (even by using the AEL lock). This information should also apply to the AX, RX and other 5 pin contax cameras.

In all modes you must use the flash ratio (EC dial) on the flash to force the flash output to be different than the camera's metering system.

First Consideration: If you are shooting in A(perature) Priority Mode, or in P(Program) Priority Mode, then having the flash turned on during the meter reading creates the situation of a fixed shutter speed of at least 1/60th of a second (which may not be slow enough to properly record the ambient light reading).  Depending on your camera make, the shutter speed will be automatically set according to the actual ambient light reading with the slowest sync speed set at 1/60th of a second! When you need a shutter speed slower than 1/60th of a second to record the ambient light in the scene do not use A or P mode if you are metering with the flash in the on position. You can see the camera set the shutter speed in the view finder to 1/60th up to 1/250th of a second depending on the light conditions. You can NOT override this forced setting in A or P mode.

Even if you lock into AEL, the shutter speed can not be changed. If you use the EC dial, the entire scene light ouput will be reduced (both flash and ambient) with the aperture changing.

Partial Work Around: You can meter with the flash off, and then set the AEL lock. Set your EC to 0. This will lock your exposure to the ambient light conditions and depending on the distance of your subject, the subject may or may not be exposed properly from the flash, depending on if the subject is close enough to the camera for a correct TTL reading. However; in reality, the subject is normally overexposed since outside shots usually have only the subject reflecting the light and there is just to much open background for a decent reflective TTL metering! However; if you are inside, this method will give you a pretty good exposure.

Tv  Mode: Using either Tv(Shutter Priority Mode) or M (manual Mode) you can turn the flash ON during metering. Once the metering is made, you can either use the AEL to lock the exposure or not. The advantage of the AEL exposure of course, is that during the shot, the basic ambient exposure does not change due to stray light hitting the meter if the subject is backlit. The good news, is that you can at least meter the ambient light during the photograph with the flash ON. Again, the EC dial changes both the flash and the ambient exposure during the shot for Tv Mode. The EC Dial does not work at all and is disabled using M (manual) mode.

M Mode: Unfortunately, TTL Mode does not work if the camera is in Manual Mode. You have to shoot with the flash in Auto Mode or Manual Mode. Manual mode on the camera is not an ideal mode for shooting for fill flash. However; in most circumstances, the results will still be satisfactory ... but perhaps not ideal.

The Bottom Line: First, you can not control the flash light output without increasing or decreasing the exposure for the ambient light reading by using the camera's EC dial in any mode. In Manual mode, the EC dial does not work and remember that in Manual mode you can not shoot in TTL mode.

The Solution: Change the flash output by using the flash output compensation dial on the flash!  For the Sunset type of shots, use the T(v) mode mode. Meter the background and hit AEL to lock the shot. If you are using Tv mode, then change the flashes compensation dial (flash ratio dial!). Do not change the camera's EC Dial. Don't use the camera's EC dial in manual mode! It won't work. Remember, as a general rule dial the EC dial (flash ratio dial) on the flash one to two stops down.

Changing the EC Dial for Flash Output on the Flash You need to (on the TLA 360) hit the select button. Use the up/down arrows to change the flash. As a general rule, going -1.0 is a good rule of thumb for fill flash. On the Metz 54-MZ-3, then hit the SEL button a number of times until you see EV OFF on the screen. Then use the right wheel to dial in the degree of compensation. If you are using a TLA 200 flash, then you can "trick" the system into specifying a wider angle lens then you have (i.e. specify 35 mm on the flash if you are using the 45 mm lens). This will in effect reduce the flash's output and will act as a fill flash.


Contax TLA 360 instruction manual

Contax N1 instruction manual

Contax ND instruction manual

Exposure test made with a Contax ND.

Return to Contax ND Review

Copyright 1998, 99, 00,01,02,03, 04 Outback Coyote Company, All Rights Reserved.

Updated 12/28/04

Return to Main Page