Thursday, 5 August 2010

Panasonic Lumix DMW-FL360 flash unit

The FL360 flash unit from Panasonic is a medium sized flash gun. It is functionally similar to the Olympus FL-36 flash unit.


As the name indicates, it has a guide number of 36, which plants it firmly in the "medium flash" category. With the exception of wireless control, it has all the functions you would expect from a modern flash: Auto zoom, TTL, auto exposure mode, FP mode, tilt and swivel head, autofocus assist light. Sadly, the AF assist light does not operate on Micro Four Thirds cameras, only on Four Thirds DSLR cameras.

It takes two standard AA batteries, which is good, since it makes the flash less bulky. On the other hand, the recycle time is not the best, due to a small power reserve.

The time to recharge the flash supply fully is around 16 seconds with my batteries. This means that if you use the full flash capacity, you can only take one picture every 16 seconds. Usually, you will not use the full flash capacity every time, though. As long as you do not drain the flash power capacity, you can take flash images in rapid succession with this unit.

Zoom

When used on a compatible camera, e.g., a Four Thirds or Micro Four Thirds system camera, the head will autozoom when pointing straight ahead. This means that the flash will select one out of six discreet zoom steps, 12mm, 14mm, 17mm, 25mm, 35mm, 42mm, whichever one is the most suiting for the lens setting. It will select the largest zoom setting which is smaller than or equal to the lens focal length used.

Zooming can be also done manually, e.g., when using a non compatible camera, but also on a Micro Four Thirds camera. The flash head does not change physical form when zoomed, i.e., the zooming is done internally.

If you have a lens which is wider than 12mm, you can flip over a wide angle diffuser. This gives you 8mm flash light coverage.

Tilt and swivel


The head can be tilted a little bit downwards, suitable for closeup focus distances. Tilting downwards gives a warning symbol on the display. It can also be tilted 45°, 60°, 75° and 90° upwards, as you would expect.

The head can be swiveled 30°, 60°, 90°, 120°, 150° and 180° to the left, and 30°, 60° and 90° to the right. Tilt and swivel can be combined.

Tilting upwards or swiveling automatically zooms to 25mm when used on a compatible camera, regardless of the zoom setting on the lens. However, the zoom can still be operated manually during tilt and swivel, if you want to zoom to a different setting than 25mm.


TTL exposure mode

All modern system cameras are expected to offer TTL flash control these days. On film based cameras, this meant that the camera measured how much light bounced off the film, and gave instructions to the flash to shut down when the exposure was correct. This was done using a sensor in front of the film plane.

In modern cameras there is no film, but rather an image sensor. Micro Four Thirds cameras solve this is a slightly different way. Before the actual exposure, a small pre-flash is done. The pre-flash exposure is read by the image sensor, and used to decide how much flash to apply in the actual exposure.

There is a clear advantage with this solution: The camera can study the pre-flash exposure thoroughly before deciding upon the main exposure. In face detection mode, for example, it can take extra care that the faces are correctly exposed. Generally, it is my experience that TTL exposure mode gives very satisfying results.

On the other hand, the method also has a drawback. There is a pre-flash, which is a bit annoying for anyone being photographed. Also, the pre-flash means that the main exposure is slightly delayed. Not by much, but it could be enough for you to miss a crucial timing.

Auto exposure mode

If you have a non-compatible camera, the in-flash auto mode can still be used. In this mode, the flash will measure how much light is returning from the subject, and terminate the flash when the exposure is sufficient. For the flash to do this, you need to feed it information about the lens aperture, and camera ISO setting.

You can also use the auto mode on a compatible camera, in which case it will read the aperture and ISO information directly from the camera. However, TTL is usually preferable when using a compatible camera, since it usually gives more correct exposure. You may choose to use auto mode still, for example to avoid the small TTL pre-flash.

High speed sync mode

On a compatible camera, you can select the FP TTL mode on the flash. This enables you to select shutter speeds faster than 1/160 second on the camera, while using the flash.

When having other flash exposure modes activated, you cannot select any shutter speed faster than 1/160 second on the camera. (The 1/160 second flash sync speed applies to the camera models Panasonic Lumix G1, G2, GH1, GF1, and the Olympus E-PL1. The Olympus E-P2 has a flash sync speed of 1/180 second.)

In FP TTL mode, the flash gun fires a rapid series of flashes during the exposure. For this reason the maximum capacity (guide number) is lower during FP mode than during normal mode.

Conclusion

The Panasonic Lumix DMW-FL360 flash unit is pretty compact, easy and fun to use. It will give you a lot better flash images, compared with the built in flash on the camera. If you can bounce the flash light off a white ceiling, the exposure generally gets even better.

It's too bad that the autofocus assist light does not operate on M4/3 cameras. 16 seconds recycle time sounds pretty bad, however, keep in mind that you don't usually drain the capacity completely with one exposure. So mostly, you can take pictures in rapid succession using the flash unit.

Updated version



In late 2012, Panasonic released an updated version of the flash, the Panasonic Lumix FL360L. It replaces the AF assist light with a more useful continuous LED light for video recording. It also adds wireless flash control, usable with the Panasonic GH3 camera.



23 comments:

  1. One thing I love about your blog is that you've covered a lot of the topics I'm interested in, flash being one of them. The fact that we both have the same model of camera has given me the biggest advantage to pick up features you've reviewed which I'm not familiar with in the first place.

    As a newbie, I was once naively hoping that I could use the wireless TTL feature of the Radio Popper on my cameras, but I've given up that hope by now. However, off camera flash is still the very next thing I'd like to explore after I've become completely comfortable with my new camera.

    I feel so lucky that I've found your blog.

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  2. I have not tried to use wireless flash triggering, but I think you are right that wireless TTL is simply not possible with the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras.

    What I have done, is to get a third party TTL cable. Such a cable can be used for TTL flash control. Do a search on ebay for "panasonic ttl cable" to find these items.

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  3. Oh, thank you! I must have been looking on the wrong site (Amazon) and typing in the wrong key word, as I don't remember seeing that many relevant search results before.

    My 'research' in the flash area was sidetracked by the purchase of a new camera. I'll get back to it as soon as I feel that I'm getting a hang of my GH2.

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  4. Can this flash unit be mounted op th Lumix DMC FZ200 ?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that works fine. They use the same flash mounts, and the camera can use the TTL metering feature.

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  5. I just purchased this flash. When it is off the camera (GH3) and set to RC the LED continues to flash on and off every few seconds. What am I not setting correctly. I can't seem to get it to stop. When on the camera the LED works as it should, I set the LED Flash setting to M and it toggles on and off correctly.
    Any help would be appreciated
    Floyd

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry, I haven't used the new RC version of the flash, only the first version which does not feature RC.

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    2. Did you find a solution to the blinking AF Assist Lamp? I'm having the same exact problem with my GH3 and the 360L Flash.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this post.. i clicked so many pictures from this camera and it comes very clear and attractive and the quality of this camera is very good and have a high speed sync mode

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  7. It's similar to the Olympus fl-36....does this mean I can use it with a Olympus e-450 ??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. It was originally a Four Thirds flash. So it should go well with Four Thirds DSLR cameras, like the E-450.

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    2. Thank you for your quick response... Impressive blog btw.

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  8. Is these 360 / 360L flashes actually made by Olympus?

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    Replies
    1. Honestly, I don't know. It could very well be that there is a third party company which produces them, and puts on the Olympus or Panasonic badges.

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  9. Could I also ask about the flash sync speed which has suddenly imrpoved from 1/160 on my GH3 to 1/320 on the LX7 i.e. Is this because of an imrpoved shutter curtain or some other reasons?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the Lumix GX7 has completely newly designed shutter unit. This unit has a curtain which travels faster across the sensor, and that enables the faster flash sync.

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    2. I'm a little bit disappointet about the GH3 being the Premium model doesn't have 1/360 sync, 1/8000 shutter speed or something like focus peaking. It also seems unlikely that Panasonic will ever offer focus peaking with an updated firmware.

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  10. Will this updated model work fully with the Lumix G6? can't find the answer anywhere.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the FL360L is designed for Micro Four Thirds cameras, and works well with the G6.

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  11. Can I turn the led on to get a faster and better autofocus (on photo mode)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AF assist does not work on Micro Four Thirds cameras with these flashes.

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