Olympus makes a flash specifically for macro photography – the STF-8 Twin Macro Flash. If you are looking for a macro flash for Micro Four Thirds, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of other options.
However, you really don’t need a dedicated macro flash for photographing close up / macro subjects. I’ve successfully used 2 other methods for using a regular camera flash for macro photography: on camera flash using an over the lens diffuser and off camera flash using a light box diffuser. Check out my blog on using these flash techniques for macro photography.
So, is it worth it to buy the Olympus STF-8 Macro Flash instead of using a regular camera flash with a diffuser? In this blog, I will discuss the Pros and Cons of the STF-8 Macro Flash and considerations when considering whether to purchase the flash.
Pros of the STF-8 Twin Macro Flash
- Flexibility. With adjustable and removable flash heads, the STF-8 Macro Flash adjusts quickly and easily to different flash positions. This means you can quickly move the flash heads when changing from landscape to portrait compositions. It is also handy when trying to avoid bumping foliage that will cause your subject to move.
- Quickly Change Flash Settings. The STF-8 Macro Flash has 2 dials on the rear of the controller to easily change settings. The left dial changes the flash power in full stop increments and the right dial controls the brightness ratio between the two flashes allowing you to have one flash brighter than the other.
- Lightweight and Compact. The STF-8 only weights 283g / 9.98 ounces. The size and weight of the STF-8 keeps my Olympus macro kit light and compact for long macro photography hikes.
The combined weight of my macro kit including the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, 60mm macro, and STF-8 Macro Flash is 2.55 lbs / 1,156 grams.
- Weatherproof. The STF-8 Macro Flash is dust, splash, and freezeproof. It’s nice to have a macro flash that is weatherproofed like the rest of my Olympus macro kit.
- Built in diffusers. The built-in diffusers are very handy in softening the light from the flash and reducing spectral highlights. The flash does produce small spectral highlights on reflective subjects that can be edited in post processing.
- Long Battery Life and Flash Cycle Time. I’ve used the flash on long macro photography hikes up to 4 hours and have not had to change the AA batteries. The flash also has a fairly fast @4 second recycle time.
- TTL or Manual Flash. The flash can quickly be switched from TTL to manual flash using the left dial on the controller.
Cons of the STF 8 Twin Macro Flash
- Price. The biggest downside of the Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash is the price. $479 for a special purpose flash is a bit much to spend unless you plan on using it quite a bit.
- Set Up Time. If you completely dismantle the flash, it can take a little bit of time to set up.
To store the unit in the case, I like to keep the flash brackets attached to the 46mm lens ring* and remove the flash heads from the flash brackets. This allows for quicker set up of the flash. I set up the unit the night before a macro photo walk to reduce the set up time in the field.
- Flash Power is Only Adjustable in Full Stops with the Controller. You need to go into the menu and turn on RC Mode to adjust the power by 1/3 stop increments in the camera. However, I’ve been shooting with the STF-8 for quite a while and full stop settings have worked fine.
- Built in Diffusers. I’ve listed the built-in diffusers as both a Pro and a Con. While the built-in diffusers are quite small and handy, they won’t get the results that a large light box will get for softening the light and reducing spectral highlights.
Olympus STF-8 Flash Purchase Considerations
For me the decision to purchase the STF-8 flash came down to 2 main reasons.
- Flexibility and Ease of Use. With the Olympus STF-8 Macro Flash, I can quickly adjust the positioning of the flash units and the flash power can be quickly adjusted using the dials on the back of the controller. The flash units can also be quickly taken off the flash bracket if you want to hand hold them.
- Compactness and Weight. The STF-8 flash combined with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and 60mm macro is a light, compact kit. I can go on long macro photography hikes and carry the kit without any problems. The size of the STF-8 vs. a large diffuser lets you get in close to your subject without bumping the foliage and disturbing your subject.
Another important consideration is how much you plan on using flash for macro photography. If you only plan to photograph macro with a flash occasionally, a regular flash with an over the lens diffuser may work fine. I like to photograph macro subjects with a flash all summer long and occasionally in the fall and winter as well. Knowing that I would be using the flash a lot helped me to justify the cost.
If you are looking for really soft, diffused light with minimal spectral highlights, you may want to look into using a flash, large diffuser with a flash bracket. But this will result in a larger, bulkier macro kit.
Written by Martin Belan
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