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BIRDS AS ART ON-LINE Bulletin #50A July 16, 2002

Churchill Flash Disaster, Better Beamer Alert,
More Better Beamer Notes 

Churchill Flash Disaster


Overexposed Herring Gull, Churchill, Manitoba.  Caused by Better Beamer damage to flash.
After spending a few days in my home office after the Churchill and St. Augustine Alligator Farm IPTs, I began reviewing my slides from the 16 day Manitoba trip.  From the very first roll, I noticed that all images made with the flash were about two stops over-exposed, while the natural light exposures were fine.  As I recalled using both of my EOS 1v bodies, it seemed obvious that there was a problem with the Canon 550 EX flash. 
I had begun reviewing the images from the second week first.  Because of this, I felt really, really upset as I assumed that all of the flash images from the first 65 rolls would be lost as well.  (I tossed more than 30 boxes of slides on my first edit of the second week's images as most days on the second IPT had been cloudy.)
In considering the possible causes, I realized that I had been using flash (as main light at zero) to light the shaded side of backlit subjects when the sun was out.  As the Better Beamer concentrates the light from the sun just like the handheld magnifiers of our childhood days, I had--over time--burned several holes in the face of my flash; the beamer simply melted the plastic.  Then I recalled for the first time that I had recently damaged the sensor just below the flash head.  My understanding that it is the sensor that allows the flash to determine and set the correct exposure. 
At present, I am assuming that the damage to the sensor was the cause of the problem.  My new 550 EX Speedlight has arrived.  I tested it this weekend and will let you know the results when I get the film back.  The great news is that the flash images from the first week were just fine.  It is possible that I damaged the flash while photographing backlit Short-billed Dowitchers at the Boreal Forest Marsh along the road to Twin Lakes in Churchill. I still, however, have lots of film to review so I may be wrong about that.

 Before sending in my film from the Alligator farm, where, as fate would have it, it was for the most part cloudy and overcast, I realized that most of the film would probably be ruined as I was using the same setup as I had in Churchill.  I decided to front clip all 26 rolls and have Chelsea process the balances using their best judgment. (The first three frames or so are snipped from the roll and processed.  The technician evaluates the exposure of the clipped section and processes the balance of the roll using their best judgment.)    

I have used Chelsea Lab (212-229-2929—ask for Sheetal to receive the BIRDS AS ART discount) for more than a decade now for all of my processing and duplicating needs.  While they generally provide excellent service, they are not, however, either perfect or infallible.  In my recent 120-roll Churchill order I got one roll back that looked as if someone had walked on it, and there were several other scratched images (as well as one mis-mounted slide) among the 4,000+ slides.  This is not at all typical, but you will find that over time all labs will screw up occasionally (just like you and I).  If you do try Chelsea on my recommendation and have a bit of bad luck (or a huge processing disaster), please do not call, write, or e-mail me with the details.  Stuff happens, and I already know that.  If it happens to you, please express your dissatisfaction only to Sheetal, and if you are still unhappy, find a better lab!   

Better Beamer Alert 

As the above tale shows, Better Beamer users should take extreme care that they not inadvertently point their lens at the sun with the beamer in place, or worse yet, set their tripods down with the flash facing towards  the sun.  In addition, when working with backlit subjects in sunny conditions, I would strongly advise users to remove the Better Beamer or point the flash head straight up.  Failure to follow these precautions may result in damage to your electronic flash.

In addition, if you happen to point your long lens just right when the sun is out, the fresnel screen may  --depending on the angle of the sun's rays, focus them at a point on the lens barrel or hood (or on the back of your hand if it is resting on the lens barrel).  These concentrated rays may actually boil the material, be it metal or some sort of composite; if they strike your hand, you will feel as if your were stung by a bee.  It is, therefore, necessary to take great care when using the beamer when the sun is shining. 

Additional Better Beamer Notes 

For maximum output and a properly aimed setup, photographers need to take care when mounting their Better Beamers.  The side arms should be slipped into the elastic band far enough so that the slight bend in each arm is even with the front of the flash head.  I like to point the flash head towards the sky while mounting the beamer so that it is easy to make sure that the arms have been inserted correctly and to ensure that the fresnel screen lies flat (rather than bowed) and is parallel to the face of the flash head.  If the flash head is bowed, you will need to jury rig the side arms with the two pieces of sticky backed felt that come with the Better Beamers.  Folks with oddly shaped flash heads may need to purchase additional sticky backed felt and do additional jury-rigging to ensure that the fresnel screen lies flat.   

I love to use flash in rainy conditions to light up the water droplets on the birds.  When working in rainy or drizzly conditions it is best to occasionally wipe down the fresnel screen with absorbent cotton or a soft cloth as droplets on the fresnel cut down severely on the transmission of light.  Recently, I have begun carrying a small Totes umbrella in my vest when the weather threatens.  If it is rainy and still, I tape the shaft of the umbrella to the upright arm of the Wimberley head.  If it is windy and rainy, I simply rest the opened umbrella on my left shoulder.   

Old fresnel screens that become scratched or otherwise marred should be replaced because these imperfections do cut down on light transmission.  Replacement fresnel screens are available from BIRDS AS ART for $12.00 plus $1.00 shipping and handling = $13.00.  (Florida residents please add $.72 sales tax= $13.72)  Please make all checks out to “Arthur Morris” and mail to BIRDS AS ART, PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL  33855, or use credit cards on line only at  

If you have a fresnel screen that came in a translucent sleeve, you have the original older screen that increases flash output roughly 2 stops.  With these older screens, the flash head should be set at the longest zoom setting for maximum flash output.  (The auto zoom feature will do just that when you are using a telephoto lens.)  The newer model fresnel screens come in opaque blue sleeves.  They increase flash output roughly 2 2/3 stops. Extensive tests with the new screens reveal that the flash head should be set manually at either the 35 or 50mm zoom setting for maximum flash output.  If you would like to replace your older screen with the more powerful newer one, see the ordering INFO in the previous paragraph. 




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