My personal preference in natural-looking photography is to search out beautiful lighting instead of trying to create it. It has a habit of surprising you with beautiful colors and glows and shading. Plus, it's cheaper and I'm stingy.
Lately, however, I have been trying to find a cheap and minimalist setup for doing better indoor lighting. I do not necessarily care to have a truly universal setup, so it is ok if there are limits, or I have to waste some time with a digital camera to meter the lighting.
As the first step of this (and since this blog has gotten me both kudos and hits, I feel better about spending my hard-earned money on stuff to help other folks take better pictures) I picked up a Sunpak digital flash.
My first observation is that all the diffusers and flashes pointed at the ceiling and light spheres and milky plastic bottles are nothing compared to a single off-camera light. Clearly, unless you are doing weddings and bat mitzvahs, get yourself set up for off-camera lighting and forget the rest.
My second observation is that the sunpak flash a tad cruddy. The slave sensor is barely sensitive enough to trigger under normal circumstances. When the slave sensor was working properly, I would barely have enough range to compose an intimate picture. Even though it is advertised as being digital, it doesn't work with my A95's preflash metering.
My initial take on the flash was more positive, but after a month in the camera bag, it's clear that Sunpak made the flash too cheaply. I didn't like the lack of slave sensor range, but I could have dealt with it in many situations. The preflash metering stuff would have probably just confused the A95. The sticking point is that the slave sensor rapidly stopped working altogether very quickly. I held my flash right up against the sunpak and hit the test button and the flash didn't fire.
I do not recommend you buy this as a result. The problem is, I could try sending it back to Sunpak, but since the slave flash was never sensitive, and everybody else who's had one also found it to be not very reliable, I'm figuring that it's probably a better option to buy a Pocket Peanut instead, which makes the Sunpak rather expensive manual control flash.
This series is a time-lagged chronological journey through my off-camera lighting. I write about stuff that happens months after it really happens so I can get it organized, to make sure that I don't writing a glowing review of something that turns out to be a piece of crap later on, and also so that I have time to digest what I just learned.
My goal with my off-camera setup is to be inexpensive (but not cheap) and portable and easy to deal with. It also has to work with my largely film-centric lifestyle.