Flash-a-Palooza 2:  Setting Up a Studio Flash Using Carl Shipman Guides

User manuals are good for learning controls and basic functions, but using a camera effectively requires more information. Eventually, I discovered the Hove Foto Books and the Magic Lantern Guides, which helped me take better advantage of camera features. Along the way, I came across Carl Shipman’s guides, which covered multiple Minolta cameras in a single text. Since I was just getting into Minolta cameras, I bought four of Shipman’s guides covering the XD models up to the second generation of AF cameras, but I rarely, if ever, consulted them. They sat on the bookshelf for nearly four years with little use—until I decided to try using a flash.

Most people would try to use on-camera, program flash before trying off-camera wireless or manual. But no, I decided to try to shoot off-camera and wireless. None of the user manuals were helpful because the cameras I wanted to experiment with were digital (Maxxum 7D and Sony a100), and all of my flashes were from the mid-90s or earlier. Also, while searching online, I saw multiple warnings about old flashes having trigger voltages that might damage a digital camera. Since I had no idea what the trigger voltages were for the two flashes I wanted to use, the Minolta 4000AF and 5400HS, I gave up for a while. After a few weeks, I decided to track down trigger voltage info and found a site that gave trigger voltages for many flash models. The 4000AF was released in 1985 for the Maxxum 7000 and Maxxum 9000, and it has a trigger voltage of 3V. The trigger voltage for the 5400HS (1993) is less than 5V, so both were safe for digital cameras. Knowing these flashes were safe to use, I had to figure out how to attach them to the cameras.

First, I looked at the Strobist site, which is perfect for learning flash techniques, including setting up and using wireless flash. However, I thought seeing how much use I could get from the vintage flashes I owned would be more interesting. My studio space is 12×15 ft, so using cables would be as easy as wireless. The question then became, which cables? While researching technical info on the Maxxum 4000AF flash, I remembered the Shipman books and grabbed How to Select and Use Minolta Maxxum Cameras. It had all the info I needed.

The first problem was determining what was needed to get my 4000AF flash working off-camera with my Maxxum 7D. The “Electronic Flash” chapter is nearly 30 pages and explains everything about flash use. Basics such as flash duration, guide numbers, and techniques (fill, bounce, etc.) were covered in sufficient depth for me to decide my next steps.

Minolta changed hot shoe architectures after the Maxxum 7000/9000 era. Minolta had a standard ISO hot shoe up to and including the 7000/9000 era, so the 4000AF requires an adapter to work on later cameras. The 5400HS was released in 1993, so while it matches the 7D’s hot shoe architecture, it does not match the protocol specs for the 7D. The Maxxum 7 SLR and later Minolta/Sony cameras have different flash protocols. Thus, the 5400HS will fire on-camera on the 7D, but it will not work wirelessly and will not do TTL. At this point, I decided to go with the 5400HS for the initial experiments and created a cable shopping list by cross-checking info from the Shipman books with that from the Fotographie site.

My final purchases were:

  • cable connector (Minolta Cable EX)
  • flash shoe (Minolta OS-1100) so the 5400HS could attach to a pole
  • flash shoe (Minolta OS-1000) so the 4000AF could attach to a pole
  • flash cable for the 7D (Minolta OC-1100)
  • flash cable (Minolta OC-1000) for my 7000/9000  and earlier cameras
Maxxum 7D, AF 35-105mm

Finding all the items took some effort. One cable cost 29.00, which was more than I thought a 30-year-old cable should cost. However, most were inexpensive. I bought from at least four sellers and was fortunate that an eBay seller noticed I was watching her OS-1000 and dropped the price by almost 50%.

Having collected all the pieces, I set up the 5400HS and 7D as my trial configuration. Initially, I could not get the flash to retain the desired settings—1/32 power, manual. Then I realized I was reading a 5600HS user manual. Once I got the correct manual, I started firing away.

The next challenge was getting just the right amount of light. I was able to set the flash about four feet from the camera and about eight feet from the subject, forming a triangle with the subject at the apex. Then, by adjusting the camera aperture and shutter speed, I got the desired exposure. Using a digital camera allowed me to experiment easily.

I quickly learned that the 5400HS at full power was a very capable flash. At six feet, images were completely blown out. Since 1/32 is the lowest power level for the 5400HS, I decreased the flash intensity by moving the flash further from the subject. This flower/vase image was taken without anything to soften the light using an AF 35-105mm (90mm) lens and 1/90 shutter at 1/32 flash power. I got the desired exposure after 12-15 shots.

Now that I have a working flash set-up, I will focus on learning composition and flash techniques for still-life images. I’ll shoot with the digitals while I get the hang of manual flash settings, flash meters, apertures, and shutter speeds for hi-key and low-key images. The final step will be using film. The next post in this series will show my successes/failures with lessons learned using the 7D and Sony 100. This is going to be fun!


    1. Author

      Thanks for this info. I was not aware of the Sony support site.

      1. thank you for your writing i find them both informative and inspirational. i’m going down this path as well with minolta, learning a little as i go. still not there.

        1. Author

          Thanks for your comment. Glad you find the post useful.
          I have been intrigued by flash photography for a while. Having a few boxes of working flashes made me want even more to try it.

          I will continue reporting on my progress.

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