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Flash Bulb Introduced - History

Flash Bulb Introduced - History


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The General Electric Company introduced the flash bulb for taking photos. This allowed for photographs to be taken in low light. The flash bulb replaced the powder flash.

A Brief History of the Camera Flash, From Explosive Powder to LED Lights

The first known photograph was captured in 1826 when light reacted with a particular type of asphalt known as Bitumen of Judea. Since that first natural light photo, photographers have introduced artificial flash lighting to photos through all kinds of different ways. In this post, we’re taking a look at a brief history of the camera flash — from its humble beginnings with explosive powder and burning metal up through the latest LED lights — to see how far it has come.

Flash Powder

If you have watched any movies depicting life in the nineteenth century, you may have witnessed a photographer holding a tray that suddenly produces a bright flash and a loud bang. In some slapstick comedies, a cloud of smoke might then dissipate showing the photographer standing with a blackened face. This technique utilized what we now call flash powder.

Flash powder is a composition of metallic fuel and an oxidizer such as chlorate. When the mixture is ignited, it burns extremely quickly producing a bright flash that can be captured on film. Before being used for photography, flash powder was commonly used in theatrical productions and within fireworks — a practice we continue to this very day.

Needing to ignite flash powder by hand was an extremely dangerous endeavor that could seriously injure the photographer and those in close proximity. As a result, a safer solution had to be devised that could ignite while reducing the chance one’s face might get burned. A bit of improved safety came from the flash-lamp that was designed in 1899.

Flash Lamps

Joshua Lionel Cowen, an inventor best known for his Lionel model railroads and toy trains, and photographer Paul Boyer introduced the flash lamp right before the turn of the twentieth century. The design had a trough that would hold flash powder to then be ignited via electricity from a dry cell battery.

A Victor flash lamp from 1909. Photo by Race Gentry

The flash lamp was typically connected to the shutter of camera boxes, allowing for the flash to be activated as the photographer snapped the photograph. The flash mechanism could be placed on a tripod away from the camera for activation. One could also connect multiple flash lamps to be ignited at the same time when in a series.

An alternative solution, developed by Bunsen and Roscoe, was to ignite a magnesium ribbon that reproduce a light temperature similar to daylight while burning. Photographers would cut the strip of metal dependent on the duration of their exposure then ignite it to illuminate their subjects. Despite Bunsen and Roscoe’s idea being around first, flash powder was more widely adopted by photographers looking for a bit of artificial light.

A Victor flash lamp advertisement. Photo by Jussi

While the flash lamp was able to make the practice of flash photography a bit safer, it was still very dangerous when compared to today’s standards. Photographers were still injured in the practice and, in some cases, died while attempting to prepare the powder for usage. Luckily, a new solution was just around the corner.

Flash Bulbs

A photographic flash bulb. Photo by Gotanero

In 1927, the first flash bulbs were produced by General Electric (some argue that they were initially made by the Vacublitz company in Germany). Instead of lighting magnesium powder in the open air, flash bulbs were closed lamps that contained a magnesium filament along with oxygen gas. Initial bulbs were designed out of glass, but they were later switched to plastic when it was discovered that the magnesium’s ignition could break the bulb.

Of course, flash bulbs were far from the perfect solution: the bulbs tended to be incredibly fragile and could only be used once. Also, the bulbs were typically too hot to handle after they were fired. Manufacturers did eventually replace the magnesium with brighter burning zirconium for a more powerful flash.

Some interesting quirks of flash bulbs include the fact that the time needed to reach full brightness and the maximum duration of the flash were both longer than the electronic flash units of today. As a result, cameras with flash synchronization capabilities typically fired the flash bulb before opening the shutter to expose the film.

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Flashcubes And Flipflash

As you might expect, constantly replacing flashes can become a bit annoying for the average photographer. As a result, Kodak introduced the Flashcube in the late 1960s. The flashcube contained four different flashbulbs for usage. Simply snap a photograph then rotate the cube to use the next flashbulb. Manufacturers quickly took note of this idea and began creating their own compact solutions.

The first non-Kodak solution was the General Electric Flipflash, which arranged eight to ten flashbulbs in two rows. A photographer could plug in the cartridge, fire four to five shots, then flip the unit over to access the other four to five bulbs. Other companies including Phillips, Polaroid, and Sylvania also released their own versions of the Flipflash while carefully navigating around General Electric’s product patents.

A Flipflash camera flash. Photo by Windell Oskay.

Electronic Flash

What the industry needed, however, was a flash that wouldn’t die after being fired once. Back in 1931, Electrical Engineering professor Harold Egerton began work on the first electronic flash tube. It took a good amount of improvement and decreased costs for the devices to finally become popular in the second half of the twentieth century.

Electronic flashes would come to use a capacitor to store power for later use. When an electronic flash is triggered, the capacitor releases its energy through a flashtube, which is filled with gas that produces an intensely bright light for a very short time. Excellent synchronization, along with the ability to change intensity on the fly, made electronic flashes the dominant solution while pushing flashbulbs into obsolescence.

Today, we use electronic flashes within studios and on-the-go to illuminate our subjects and scenes. Tubes within electronic flashes are typically filled with xenon gasses and have a relatively long lifespan before needing to be replaced with an entirely new unit.

With the advent of wireless technology, multiple flashes can also be placed off camera and synchronized without the necessity of a complicated setup. We also now have high-speed flashes that can discharge light in extremely short amounts of time.

LED Flashes

Unless you are carrying around a Nokia Lumia 1020, then your smartphone most likely does not contain a xenon flash. Current smartphones use LED flashes as a source of light when photographing in low light conditions.

LEDs are nowhere near as powerful as xenon flashes, but they are a lower voltage and minuscule — perfect for the pocket. Some companies (i.e. Apple and Nokia) have integrated dual color LED flashes into smartphones to help produce more natural skin tones.

And there you have it: a brief history of the camera flash, from early its origins until now!

Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Dan Eckert, flash powder photo by Conejo de


The History of the Light Bulb

More than 150 years ago, inventors began working on a bright idea that would have a dramatic impact on how we use energy in our homes and offices. This invention changed the way we design buildings, increased the length of the average workday and jumpstarted new businesses. It also led to new energy breakthroughs -- from power plants and electric transmission lines to home appliances and electric motors.

Like all great inventions, the light bulb can’t be credited to one inventor. It was a series of small improvements on the ideas of previous inventors that have led to the light bulbs we use in our homes today.

Incandescent Bulbs Light the Way

Long before Thomas Edison patented -- first in 1879 and then a year later in 1880 -- and began commercializing his incandescent light bulb, British inventors were demonstrating that electric light was possible with the arc lamp. In 1835, the first constant electric light was demonstrated, and for the next 40 years, scientists around the world worked on the incandescent lamp, tinkering with the filament (the part of the bulb that produces light when heated by an electrical current) and the bulb’s atmosphere (whether air is vacuumed out of the bulb or it is filled with an inert gas to prevent the filament from oxidizing and burning out). These early bulbs had extremely short lifespans, were too expensive to produce or used too much energy.

When Edison and his researchers at Menlo Park came onto the lighting scene, they focused on improving the filament -- first testing carbon, then platinum, before finally returning to a carbon filament. By October 1879, Edison’s team had produced a light bulb with a carbonized filament of uncoated cotton thread that could last for 14.5 hours. They continued to experiment with the filament until settling on one made from bamboo that gave Edison’s lamps a lifetime of up to 1,200 hours -- this filament became the standard for the Edison bulb for the next 10 years. Edison also made other improvements to the light bulb, including creating a better vacuum pump to fully remove the air from the bulb and developing the Edison screw (what is now the standard socket fittings for light bulbs).

(Historical footnote: One can’t talk about the history of the light bulb without mentioning William Sawyer and Albon Man, who received a U.S. patent for the incandescent lamp, and Joseph Swan, who patented his light bulb in England. There was debate on whether Edison’s light bulb patents infringed on these other inventors’ patents. Eventually Edison’s U.S. lighting company merged with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company -- the company making incandescent bulbs under the Sawyer-Man patent -- to form General Electric, and Edison’s English lighting company merged with Joseph Swan’s company to form Ediswan in England.)

What makes Edison’s contribution to electric lighting so extraordinary is that he didn’t stop with improving the bulb -- he developed a whole suite of inventions that made the use of light bulbs practical. Edison modeled his lighting technology on the existing gas lighting system. In 1882 with the Holborn Viaduct in London, he demonstrated that electricity could be distributed from a centrally located generator through a series of wires and tubes (also called conduits). Simultaneously, he focused on improving the generation of electricity, developing the first commercial power utility called the Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan. And to track how much electricity each customer was using, Edison developed the first electric meter.

While Edison was working on the whole lighting system, other inventors were continuing to make small advances, improving the filament manufacturing process and the efficiency of the bulb. The next big change in the incandescent bulb came with the invention of the tungsten filament by European inventors in 1904. These new tungsten filament bulbs lasted longer and had a brighter light compared to the carbon filament bulbs. In 1913, Irving Langmuir figured out that placing an inert gas like nitrogen inside the bulb doubled its efficiency. Scientists continued to make improvements over the next 40 years that reduced the cost and increased the efficiency of the incandescent bulb. But by the 1950s, researchers still had only figured out how to convert about 10 percent of the energy the incandescent bulb used into light and began to focus their energy on other lighting solutions.

Energy Shortages Lead to Fluorescent Breakthroughs

In the 19th century, two Germans -- glassblower Heinrich Geissler and physician Julius Plücker -- discovered that they could produce light by removing almost all of the air from a long glass tube and passing an electrical current through it, an invention that became known as the Geissler tube. A type of discharge lamp, these lights didn’t gain popularity until the early 20th century when researchers began looking for a way to improve lighting efficiency. Discharge lamps became the basis of many lighting technologies, including neon lights, low-pressure sodium lamps (the type used in outdoor lighting such as streetlamps) and fluorescent lights.

Both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla experimented with fluorescent lamps in the 1890s, but neither ever commercially produced them. Instead, it was Peter Cooper Hewitt’s breakthrough in the early 1900s that became one of the precursors to the fluorescent lamp. Hewitt created a blue-green light by passing an electric current through mercury vapor and incorporating a ballast (a device connected to the light bulb that regulates the flow of current through the tube). While the Cooper Hewitt lamps were more efficient than incandescent bulbs, they had few suitable uses because of the color of the light.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, European researchers were doing experiments with neon tubes coated with phosphors (a material that absorbs ultraviolet light and converts the invisible light into useful white light). These findings sparked fluorescent lamp research programs in the U.S., and by the mid and late 1930s, American lighting companies were demonstrating fluorescent lights to the U.S. Navy and at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. These lights lasted longer and were about three times more efficient than incandescent bulbs. The need for energy-efficient lighting American war plants led to the rapid adoption of fluorescents, and by 1951, more light in the U.S. was being produced by linear fluorescent lamps.

It was another energy shortage -- the 1973 oil crisis -- that caused lighting engineers to develop a fluorescent bulb that could be used in residential applications. In 1974, researchers at Sylvania started investigating how they could miniaturize the ballast and tuck it into the lamp. While they developed a patent for their bulb, they couldn’t find a way to produce it feasibly. Two years later in 1976, Edward Hammer at General Electric figured out how to bend the fluorescent tube into a spiral shape, creating the first compact fluorescent light (CFL). Like Sylvania, General Electric shelved this design because the new machinery needed to mass-produce these lights was too expensive.

Early CFLs hit the market in the mid-1980s at retail prices of $25-35, but prices could vary widely by region because of the different promotions carried out by utility companies. Consumers pointed to the high price as their number one obstacle in purchasing CFLs. There were other problems -- many CFLs of 1990 were big and bulky, they didn’t fit well into fixtures, and they had low light output and inconsistent performance. Since the 1990s, improvements in CFL performance, price, efficiency (they use about 75 percent less energy than incandescents) and lifetime (they last about 10 times longer) have made them a viable option for both renters and homeowners. Nearly 30 years after CFLs were first introduced on the market, an ENERGY STAR® CFL costs as little as $1.74 per bulb when purchased in a four-pack.

LEDs: The Future is Here

One of the fastest developing lighting technologies today is the light-emitting diode (or LED). A type of solid-state lighting, LEDs use a semiconductor to convert electricity into light, are often small in area (less than 1 square millimeter) and emit light in a specific direction, reducing the need for reflectors and diffusers that can trap light.

They are also the most efficient lights on the market. Also called luminous efficacy, a light bulb’s efficiency is a measure of emitted light (lumens) divided by power it draws (watts). A bulb that is 100 percent efficient at converting energy into light would have an efficacy of 683 lm/W. To put this in context, a 60- to 100-watt incandescent bulb has an efficacy of 15 lm/W, an equivalent CFL has an efficacy of 73 lm/W, and current LED-based replacement bulbs on the market range from 70-120 lm/W with an average efficacy of 85 lm/W.

In 1962 while working for General Electric, Nick Holonyak, Jr., invented the first visible-spectrum LED in the form of red diodes. Pale yellow and green diodes were invented next. As companies continued to improve red diodes and their manufacturing, they began appeari


Flash Bulb Introduced - History

The history of flash photography has been researched and reported many times within the literature. In the following paragraphs can be read various accounts, not all of which agree precisely with each other, though the overall story remains much the same.

Practical Photography magazine, in their November 1960 issue, gave a full account of flash photography from the earliest days and continued it up to late 1960. The article was written by Jeremy Lumley.
To read the whole Practical Photography article, download it as a pdf file here .

The first few paragraphs of the Practical Photography article read as follows:
" How it all started: The small sleek flashbulb you purchase for 8d. (8 old pence in 1960 = 3.3p) does not seem to have much connection with the 1850s, though that in fact is when it really started. In 1851, Fox Talbot, sometimes known as the father of photography, first photographed a moving object by using an electric spark. His method was more of academic interest than practical use, but it was the true beginning of flash photography. Unfortunately, his interest lapsed, and no more was thought of artificial light photography until 1859 when R.Bunsen discovered that magnesium wire, and later magnesium ribbon, burned with an intense white light and reduced the lengthy exposures to a reasonable amount for indoor work. In 1865 Traill Taylor first used magnesium flash powder to obtain instantaneous exposures without any other light source.
The first flash bulb: Development was slow after this and it was not until 1898 and 1899 when Riesling, a German, and Smith, an Englishman, discovered the possibilities of burning a mixture of magnesium and aluminium in a glass bulb. A further development of this, and the immediate forefather of today's bulbs, was made by J.Ostermeier in 1929 who coiled up aluminium wire, then aluminium foil in an oxygen-filled bulb. Immediately after this, in 1930, Philips produced their first flashbulb, which used a magnesium and aluminium mixture in a gas-filled bulb, using carbon disulphide and nitrogen monoxide as the gas. Directly descended from this was the original Photoflux bulb first produced in 1934."

Another historical account of flash photography was contained within the Editor's Viewpoint column of the October 1958 issue of Modern Camera Magazine (MCM) . This magazine also contained an article entitled 'The Fundamentals of Flash'. Both were by the same author, Percy W Harris, FIBP, Hon.FRPS, FPSA.

"Flashlight photography began almost a hundred years ago (written in 1958) . In 1859 William Crookes (later Sir William Crookes) employed the brilliant light obtained by burning magnesium to take photographs, and in 1865 Traill Taylor, whose name is perpetuated in the Royal Photographic Society's Traill Taylor Memorial Lectures, made a rapidly-burning flashlight powder from magnesium, potassium chlorate, sulphur and antimony sulphide. E. A. Kenyon followed in 1883 with experiments employing mixtures of magnesium powder with pure potassium chlorate, and took portraits by this means. The resultant smoke, however, caused so much trouble that he gave it up.

Because the early powders were very dangerous, considerable popularity was obtained for special flashlamps in which pure powdered magnesium was blown through a spirit flame which gave plenty of light (and smoke!) but was free from the risk of explosion. Later, other workers produced better powder formulations which were safer than the early compounds. These could be placed in a little pile and ignited either by a slow burning fuse or a taper. Still later, clockwork devices, which were used by spinning a steel wheel against the "flint" of a cigarette lighter, set off the powder at the right moment when the trigger was pressed.

But the trouble with all flash powder was that it remained intrinsically dangerous. Its use could cause nasty burns if the powder was accidentally ignited, and the result of the flash powder burning so rapidly was to produce a cloud of white smoke which drifted upwards to the ceiling and a few minutes later descended again, depositing a fine white powder on everybody. Knowing the nuisance the descending white powder would cause, professional photographers at banquets took good care to pack up and get well away before the problem was noticed. In fact, so much trouble was caused, and so many cases of ignited curtains occurred, that flashlight photography was frequently forbidden.

A big step forward came with the introduction of a device known as the 'Sashalight' ( around 1930 , see below). This looked much like an electric light bulb, inside which was a crumpled sheet of metal foil, enclosed in an atmosphere of oxygen. In the position where the filament of a conventional light bulb would be, there was a small fuse. When the bulb was connected to an ordinary torch battery, the fuse ignited and set fire to the foil, which burnt rapidly and very brilliantly. A lot of these early bulbs gave trouble and sometimes exploded, but these difficulties were soon overcome.

A further improvement, with a big increase in reliability and constancy of light output, came with the introduction of a mass of very fine wire as the ignition material in place of the finely shredded foil. In a few cases, a special paste was moulded to the fuse, something like the head of a large match. This burnt just as quickly and brilliantly as the foil or wire. The 'pre-flash' pressure of oxygen in these bulbs was very low since, if it were ordinary atmospheric pressure, the heat generated would bring about such an expansive pressure increase that the bulb would inevitably burst. The 'pre-flash' pressure was therefore kept quite low, although there was still adequate oxygen to provide complete ignition. Occasionally faulty or cracked bulbs might burst if air had entered and raised the internal 'pre-flash' pressure, but the user was safeguarded by manufacturers coating their bulbs with a sort of elastic varnish which prevented fragments of glass envelope being scattered, even if it burst. Flashguns were eventually equipped with transparent guards as further protection.

When flashbulbs were first used it was necessary for the user to open the camera shutter, manually trigger the firing of the flash bulb, and then close the shutter again, all as rapidly as possible. This technique was known as 'open flash'.

Press photographers took to flash bulbs like ducks to water. The fire risk was negligible, there was no smoke and they were no longer prevented from taking flash photographs at banquets and other internal functions where for some time flash powder had been banned. It soon became evident, however, that the procedure of opening the shutter, firing the flash bulb, and closing the shutter again was very awkward as, in many cases, it involved two people, one to handle the camera and the other to fire the flash.

An ingenious press man in New York ( possibly this is a reference to Samuel Mendelsohn who patented a range of Speedguns sold from 1932-1951 ) made a little attachment for his camera, consisting of the magnet from an electric bell, and one or two other oddments so arranged that when a button was pressed the current from the battery flowed through the windings of the electromagnet and drew down an armature at the same time that it fired the flash bulbs the moving armature was arranged that it depressed the shutter release. In this way the necessity for a second person was obviated one touch of the button would operate both the shutter and ignite the flash bulb. The name of a 'synchroniser' was soon given to this device and, before long, a number of them with sundry improvements appeared on the market. They were not very satisfactory at first, for two reasons. Up to that time the flash bulb manufacturers had not taken any particular trouble to standardise the firing time of their bulbs i.e.the interval between switching on the igniting current, and the maximum light emission being obtained, varied. The second point was that, if switching on the current took place at the same moment as the shutter release was depressed, the shutter would operate virtually instantaneously, but there would be a delay, maybe as long as l/50th second, before the bulb ignited and reached iuts maximum light emission. The ideal conditions required that the shutter should open just as the bulb started to burn, so that the peak light of the bulb would occur at the middle of the shutter-opening time. When this was realised, the manufacturers of the synchronisers introduced a slight delaying mechanism, so that when the gun release was pressed the current was immediately switched on, but the shutter was not operated until a small fraction of a second later, this fact being adjusted to suit the delay in the bulb. Later, the firing delay of the bulb became standardised, with bulbs being classified under the headings of F, M, S and FP. The "time to peak" of the F type was not exceeding 12msecs the M type 20msecs the S type 30msecs and the FP type having a delay from 30 to 40msecs. The special feature of FP bulbs is that they give a long flash of fairly level intensity throughout the 'slit' travel of a focal plane shutter.

The early synchronised flashguns usually had the delay mechanism inbuilt, e.g. by a train of gears or by the rotation of a fairly heavy flywheel, and the delay was adjustable. On some press cameras a solenoid was fitted, similar to the earlier improvised synchronisers, so that the actual mechanical movement of the shutter release was performed electrically. One of the best and most reliable synchronised flashguns produced in the UK was the Burvin in 1934 , which was designed by Colonel W. M. Burden, R.E., a skilled engineer who was also a keen amateur photographer, together with Lancelot Vining the well-known press photographer. This collaboration of the engineer and the experienced press man was an admirable one, for Vining knew all of the "snags" of the existing American flashguns, and particularly those of the solenoid type. The action of the Burvin was mechanical throughout and the delay was accurately adjustable. However, such external (to the camera shutter) synchronisers became unnecessary as shutters appeared ( 1940-1950 and subsequently) with built-in flash synchronisation."

Using an electrical discharge as a flash light pre-dates the above use of flash powder, Brian Coe, in his book entitled "Cameras" (printed in 1980), includes the following information:
" The first flash photograph was taken by (William Henry) Fox Talbot on 14th June, 1851 . Talbot attached a newspaper (claimed, but without proof, to have been The Times) to a disc, which could be rotated rapidly. In a darkened room he then used a spark from a set of charged Leyden jars to illuminate the rapidly moving disc, which was set in front of the uncovered lens of a camera containing an albumen plate. The flash probably lasted little more than 1/100,000 second, but the image on the plate was perfectly sharp. Talbot said of the experiment, "It is in our power to obtain pictures of all moving objects, no matter in how rapid motion they may be, provided we have the means of sufficiently illuminating them with a sudden electric flash." It was not until the 1930s and the development of high-speed, electronic flash, apparatus that Talbot's prophecy was completely fulfilled."

My thanks to Doug McKee for sending me this extract that deals not only with the earliest recorded use of artificial flashlight to enable a photograph to be taken, but also introduces the modern technology of electronic flash equipment, which eliminated the use of flashbulbs.

Percy Harris, in Modern Camera Magazine for October 1958 , expressed the above information in the following paragraphs:
" Electronic Flash has both advantages and disadvantages but, on balance, the advantages have it. It differs from the consumable bulb flash in important aspects. Instead of creating light by burning up in an atmosphere containing oxygen, a consumable material (each bulb being used therefore only once), it produces a brilliant incandescent by discharging a current for a brief instant through a rarified gas, usually xenon. The gas glows every time the discharge is made through it but it is not consumed, so that many thousands of flashes are obtainable from a single tube, which helps to offset the much higher cost of the initial apparatus.

Although electronic flash has come into prominence only during the last two or three years (mid-1950s) , Fox Talbot took out a patent as long ago as 1851, covering the use of an electric spark for instantaneous photography, and he gave a remarkable demonstration by producing a perfectly sharp image of a whirling disc on which had been pasted a sheet of newspaper. In the developed film every letter was pin sharp! Nothing, however, came of this interesting scientific experiment because, at the time, his light sensitive material was exceedingly slow, and no real progress was made until Professor Harold E. Edgerton, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published the result of his investigational work in 1928 . Instead of using an electric spark, which has a comparatively small light output, Edgerton found that by charging up large capacitors to a high voltage, and then suddenly discharging the energy through such gases as xenon a very brilliant luminescence was obtained. One of the important characteristics of this form of flash tube was that it was virtually a perfect insulator up to a certain high voltage, but when this voltage was exceeded it became almost a perfect conductor, so that the whole energy stored in the capacitors was discharged in what might be a few millionths of a second. The actual time of discharge was dependent upon the electrical characteristics of the circuit, but here we had an entirely new weapon in photographic research, it being possible with the high speed emulsions (then) available to "freeze" movements which occurred in so short a time that, previously, they had never been either observed by the human eye or even photographed. Edgerton's work, together with that of his associates, aroused tremendous interest everywhere, and some very remarkable pictures were produced.

Much development of electronic flash technology occurred during World War 2 , when its short duration enabled sharp pictures to be taken of fast moving objects.
In a 1958 article in MCM magazine, entitled "Portraiture By Electronic Flash" by Donald S. Herbert, F.I.B.P F.R.P.S., he introduced his topic by saying:
"During the early part of the last war (WW2) I was very much involved in a large number of experiments in research into the action of ships' propellers under water. The behaviour of the propellers was studied from high-speed pictures taken under many varied conditions. Initially the photographs were taken by means of a hefty electric spark which was made by packing high (and dangerous) voltages into large condensers, producing a bright and instantaneous spark when the condensers were discharged. We were very glad to end this method when we managed to get hold of a xenon gas-filled tube which was my first introduction to electronic flash as we know it today. I immediately realized that this light source had tremendous possibilities for professional use. I still have some of the photographs I took with this first tube to astound my colleagues i.e. people and things which were at the moment of exposure moving very rapidly. The very short duration of the flash had stopped all movement."

Subsequent to WW2 , electronic flash equipment became available commercially, though at first it was so large and heavy its use was confined to the photographic studio. By 1950 semi-portable electronic flash units had become available and the size of such equipment diminished throughout the decade, but mostly still needing a hefty shoulder slung separate battery pack.

Camera World magazine, for May 1956 , suggested the typical cost for a small electronic flash (flash factor around 50 with a 100ASA 'post-1960' film speed) might be £10-£15 (the equivalent of around £350 to £500 in 2014 by comparison of typical wages). But the magazine emphasised the long term economy compared to using flash bulbs by predicting the probability of getting over 25,000 flashes from the original flash tube. The accompanying power source was thought likely to be either two 90volt 'portable radio set' type batteries, or eight 30volt 'deaf-aid hearing set' types. Such batteries were suggested might (in total) cost between £1 and £1.25p, but could provide up to 500 flashes.

The same Camera World article went on to say "There is also the possibility of using an electronic flash powered by accumulators (rechargeable lead-acid batteries). In this case, a vibrator driven by the accumulators interrupts the current, so that a transformer can be used to give the high voltage needed to make the tube flash. But the disadvantage is that the accumulators have to be recharged from time to time and need careful attention all the time. And since the vibrator is a moving part, it may wear out - you can hear it buzzing away merrily when the flash unit is switched on. The professional who needs the extra power which can be obtained by using this kind of circuit is prepared to deal with accumulator recharging and the possible vibrator troubles. He also doesn't mind the extra cost, if he wants these special advantages. If he requires much more power, he uses an electronic flash set which draws its power from the electric light mains" .

Below are text and examples of electronic flashguns, taken from Amateur Photographer magazine, 8th December 1954.

The application of transistors into electronic flashguns by 1960 enabled highly portable, lightweight, low powered and moderately priced units to be designed, such that by the 1970s electronic flash had largely displaced the use of consumable flash bulbs.

A reply to a reader's question in PhotoGuide Magazine for December 1961, suggested the following formula for estimating the likely flash Guide Number for an electronic unit with a flash power output in Joules.
Guide Number = 1.25 x Square Root of (Joules x film speed in ASA or ISO). So, for a film speed of 125ASA (ISO) and a electronic flas output power of 30 Joules, the approximate Guide Number would be 1.25 x 61.2 = 76.

Around 1964 , the Voiglander Vitrona 35mm camera (scroll down to the bottom of this page) became the first to have built-in electronic flash. By 1980 such a facility had become commonplace and is now (post-2000) universally included within the design of compact digital cameras. Magnesium Ribbon

The earliest flash photography used magnesium ribbon or powder, ignited on a tray, to provide a brief flash of bright light, for about 1/10th of a second. The technique was not without its obvious dangers and it also released a lot of smoke, smell and a fall-out of white ash.

Flash pictures had to be taken by mounting the camera on a tripod, opening the shutter, igniting the ribbon or powder, and then reclosing the shutter. The advert (left) was taken from Amateur Photographer magazine for 30th November 1949, showing how the technique, albeit using flash powder (see below), was still in use up to the 1950s.

The Amateur Photographer & Cinematographer magazine for November 27th 1935 contains an interesting article (p508 'Topics of the Week') entitled " Magnesium Ribbon, Age 72 Years" (implying 1863 but also see the MCM article, above) . The AP article reads:

"Now that so many photographers can take portraits at night by the aid of artificial light, thanks mainly to improved sensitive materials and electric lighting, a correspondent recalls the fact that one day this week is the seventy-second anniversary of the introduction of magnesium ribbon or wire. In 1863 the manufacture of magnesium was commenced in Manchester, and during the last week of November of that year, at a Manchester scientific society, Professor H.E.Roscoe exhibited the light emitted by burning a piece of magnesium ribbon or wire 1mm in diameter and 10ft long.

Mr.A.Brothers, who was at the meeting, secured a piece of the wire and a few days later reported some experiments he had made with it, chief of which was the copying of an engraving by the light given out by the wire. At that time the price of the wire was half-a-crown (i.e. 2s.6d 12.5new pence) per foot, and only small quantities were obtainable. 'To-day' (1935) it is from 1s. 9d. to 2s. per ounce. Early in 1864 , three photographers working together managed to get a good negative in the Blue John Mine in Derbyshire by the light from magnesium, and in May of the same year it was used to make a portrait of Dr.Faraday at the Royal Institution in London . Since these historical initial efforts, magnesium in the form of wire or powder has been widely used by photographers.


Magnesium ribbon, as sold by Johnsons of Hendon until at least the mid-1960s. It was sold as a 1ounce (1oz) coil, price 2s/9d (14p). The price stayed remarkably constant, from the early 1950s through to 1965. The coil of ribbon was about 12m long, with the ribbon itself being 3mm wide and 0.4mm thick.


Two holders for magnesium ribbon. Although re-fillable with care, its likely they were sold complete with ribbon and intended to be discarded when empty.
The 'Pistol Flashmeter' had ribbon of similar size to that sold by Johnsons, but the 'Flashmeter' ribbon was slightly narrower, maybe 2.5mm.
The holders were held in the hand, a length of ribbon withdrawn and then ignited by a match or lighter. Only the exposed ribbon burnt (with a brilliant white 'actinic' light), so it was 'safe' to hand hold.
The manufacturer's instructions are shown below .

Alongside is a Kodak (Kingsway, London, WC2) version of a magnesium ribbon holder.

This image was sent to me by Paul Kay. He says the item was "picked up at a car boot for a pittance".

The Shire book "Photographic Accessories 1890-1970", by Robert White, suggests (p22) ribbon holders generally date from around 1910 to 1940. A code number on the Kodak instruction leaflet reads C.P.157.20.2.30 (possibly 1930 ??)

Alongside is further information from David Pederson. A Johnson & Sons advertisement for their flash powder which appeared in the 1925 book "The N.P Handbook: No. 4
Flashlight For the Amateur Photographer 1925 By John J. Curtis" Made and printed in Great britain by The Garden City Press Ltd. price 1 shilling.

A 1/- (1 shilling =1s) box of flash powder enabled "several exposures". The price of 1/- means 5p in modern UK decimal currency, equivalent to about £3 in 2020.

David Pederson also says "In Chapter XIII, Commercial Flashlight Photography, encouraging photographers to go "Pro". This caught my eye -
"One enterprising Coal Company has a series of photographs showing their men at work underground".

As David comments, this must have been in a particularly safe mine, no doubt referring to the possibility of explosive methane in coal mines that the flash powder could have ignited.

Kevin MacDonnell, in Photography magazine for January 1981, describes using flash powder ". an explosive mixture of magnesium powder, potassium chlorate and antimony sulphide, which scared me stiff no matter how often I used it." He continued "Supplied in two bottles, the technique was to first of all pour some of the magnesium powder from its container onto a folded sheet of paper. You then replaced the cork tightly in the bottle and put it well to one side. Next you poured some of the 'igniting compound', consisting of the other two chemicals, out of their bottle onto the magnesium lying on the paper and again replaced the cork tightly. The two powders were then shaken together gently. Now came the exciting part ! You had a flashgun complete with a metal tray with a handle and some form of ignition. The one I used had a hammer like that of a shotgun which, when released, fell on a huge explosive cap, while another worked like an old wheel lock pistol, a spring driven steel wheel revolving against a flint. You cocked the flashgun, poured the contents of the folded paper onto the tray, held the gun above your head, uncapped the lens, uttered a short but devout prayer and pulled the trigger. If all went well a sheet of white flame was produced, varying in height from 6" to a foot (12" = 300mm), depending upon the amount of powder. If you were unlucky, however, one of two things could happen. In damp or humid weather, of if the bottles had not been tightly corked, the powder could 'cake' and then, instead of a flash, you got a genuine explosion like that of a small hand grenade which, if you had been generous with the amount of powder, could blow off your fingers! Alternatively, when you pressed the trigger nothing at all happened and the natural reaction was to lower the gun and look into the tray. The action would disturb the powder and it could go off as you looked at it. Everyone had some horrifying story to tell about flash powder."

Paul Godfrey has sent me an extract about flash powder from an ancient edition of "The ILFORD Manual of Photography", numbered the 310,000th copy (a number which suggests it was published around the mid-1920s). The extract can be read here.

ALSO , an extract from a Kodak Magazine dated November 1926 (being a complimentary copy from Wallace Heaton) that has an article about flash photograph. Paul scanned this article from a magazine owned by Jim Fisk.

Thanks to Brian Rees, I now have experience of using flash powder. Brian donated the 4oz tin of Johnson(s of Hendon) No.2 FlashPowder shown alongside.

Jon Pippard, son of 'Pip' Pippard, has told me (March 2016) that the huge explosion at the end of the 1966 WW1 fighter pilot film ‘Blue Max’, was several tens of pounds of Johnson’s flash powder. 'Pip' was very concerned when he heard that the studio had ordered such a large amount. Its believed the Powder was delivered in several small brown paper bags which were carried by separate vehicles and assembled on site.

The original instructions for using the No.2 FlashPowder can be viewed here. An experiment to see if the powder would still produce a FL ASH is described here.

Paul Godfrey describes his experiences with a Johnsons flash powder 'flashlamp' (identical to the Magney Powder Flashgun shown at the top of this page) and some 'do-it-yourself' flashpowder here. Johnson's Flashpowder adverts, scanned by Paul from 1930s AP magazines can be viewed here.


As supplied, the smaller can & the 'touch paper' were both packed inside the large tin.

With reference to the picture above, right, the smaller tin contained a white powder and the large tin contained a dark grey/purple powder. Strips of white 'touch-paper' were contained in the small brown envelope.

Despite its claimed non-deliquescent properties, over the 40+years since the mixture was manufactured the grey powder (especially) had caked into a firm mass but could still be crumbled into fine particles.

Johnsons supplied two types of flash powder. The No.1 was called Professional and gave a flash of very high actinic value with a minimum of smoke and dust, a combination claimed to make it more suitable for use in banquets and theatrical parties and for large groups and interiors. It was sold in 1oz, 4oz and 8oz bottles, priced 3s.9d (19p), 9s (45p) and 14s.3d (71p) respectively.

The No.2 was recommended for amateur use, and in all circumstances where the smoke produced would not be judged unacceptable e.g. outdoors using a small charge of Flashpowder to augment daylight or inside factories. This flash powder was supplied in 1oz, 4oz (see above) and 8oz tins, priced 3s (15p), 7s.6d (38p) and 13s.6d (68p) respectively.

Another version of the above 1oz (28.4gm) size of Johnsons of Hendon No.2 Flash Powder , but packaged differently from above (again, donated by Brian Rees).

Instead of a small tin inside the outer tin, this packaging has the white powder (to be mixed with the grey powder in the main tin) in a small plastic capped glass bottle. The lid of the glass bottle was apparently secured for transit by sticky tape (as can be seen in the picture - left). The 'touch paper' and the instruction leaflet are missing from this example.

The glass bottle must have been less robust than a small tin, so perhaps the use of a small tin, inserted inside the outer tin (as above), was a later (improved) packaging compared to the arrangement shown left.

A small box (7.5x4.5x2.5cm) of flashpowder, as sold by Johnson & Sons, Manufacturing Chemists , from 23, Cross Street, Finsbury, London, E.C their address pre-1927 .

The instructions read:
"Add the contents of the smaller tube to the powder in the larger tube. Shake thoroughly. Use on a tin lid. Place the mixture in a heap or a 'train' on the tin lid. Place a piece of the Touch Paper vertically in it and light the top. For an ordinary portrait use 10grains (0.65gram). For small groups use 30-40grains".

To the left is a 1oz (28.4gm) version of the Johnson & Sons No.2 flashpowder (this example donated by Brian Rees).

Although the company name is still Johnson & Sons, the address is now the more familiar "Hendon, London, N.W.4", so this example post-dates the packaging immediately above, but pre-dates the other packagings shown further above. I suspect it dates to the mid-1940s. Instructions on the tin read:
"Add the white powder to the gey in the tin. Replace the lid and shake until the powders are thoroughly mixed. The powder is now ready for use as a Flash Powder , but must not be used in any enclosed receptacle.
For Portraits , use about 10grains (0.65gramme)
For Small Groups , use about 20grains (1.3gramme)
For Large Groups , use about 90grains (5.8gramme).

In the example shown left, the only powder is grey in colour and is all contained within the glass, cork stoppered, container shown alongside the tin. The glass container fits neatly within the tin, protected by a corrugated cardboard liner. There doesn't seem to be room in the tin for a separate container of white powder, but that must have been the case, since on the glass container there are instructions reading:
"Add the contents of the smaller tube to this powder & shake thoroughly. The flash powder is then ready for use, but must be kept well corked."
From this, it seems likely that the two powders, in the example here, have already been mixed together by the original user.

10grms of "Agfa" Flashlight powder .

The cardboard tube shown to the immediate left contained the two tins (to the left of the cardboard tube), one with a screw cap (the lower one) and the other (with the blue label) with a push-on lid, plus the red packet of 'Salpeterpapier' (i.e. touch paper).

Inside the screw capped tin is grey powder, looking very much the same as the Johnsons flash powder.
Agfa, however, made claims for its superiority here in:
THE "AGFA"-BOOK OF Photographic Formulae, Edited by GEORGE L. BARROWS Published by BERLIN ANILINE WORKS :
"Agfa"-Blitzlicht is a scientific combination of chemicals of a different composition than the usual Magnesium and Potassium Chlorate mixture and possess the follow-
ing undisputed advantages:

1. Minimum smoke development.
2. Maximum amount of light.
3. The most rapid flash.
4. Silent discharge.
5. No danger of explosion.
6. Convenient packing.
7. Economy in use.

Inside the blue labelled tin (see picture to the far right) is a roll of corrugated cardboard, protecting a small glass bottle, closed by a cork bung, plus a small metal scoop, which the instructions on the screw capped bottle suggest has a capacity of ½grm when it holds a level scoop full.

Instructions on this blue label tin say (in less than good English !):
"Mix the contents of the small bottle, enclosed herein, with the Magnesium, by shaking well and keep the mixture well closed, especially while exposing. If the contents of the small bottle are no more dry as a powder, do not mix but return to us the glass to get a fesh one."
Made in Germany

Quantities to use, as shown on the label around the main cardboard packaging tube, are:
For portraits, about ¼grm
Small groups, about 1grm
Large groups, about 2-3grms
Very large groups, about 4-6grms.

1 level measure spoonful equals ½gramme.

Flash Powder
The use of flash powder, based upon magnesium, continued in use to (at least) the mid-1950s, because early flash bulbs (c1930 and onwards) were prohibitively expensive for many amateurs.
David Pederson, living in Minnesota, has a book from 1897 that describes the use of flash photography at that time.
Written by James Inglis (see his picture), his book "Artistic Lighting" has a Chapter 11 entitled "By Flash Light", which describes the use and dangers of flash photography as they were for the photographer and the 'sitter' in 1897.
Chapter 11 can be down loaded as a pdf here, or by clicking on the image of James Inglis.

Johnsons apparently sold flash powder until the mid-1960s, evidenced by the tin (above) carrying instructions which refer to Johnsons' Solufin developer, which itself wasn't marketed until the autumn of 1964. However, adverts for flash powder are scarce after the mid-1950s.

Directions
"When all the arrangements for taking the photograph have been made, place the required amount of powder in a heap on a tin lid well away from any inflammable material. Arrange a piece of Touch Paper vertically in the heap and ignite this paper at the top.
Do not allow the powder to remain exposed too long, as it has a tendency to become damp and unfit to use."

Instructions and pictures sent by Gavin Ritchie for using The "Kodak" Amateur Flashlight Outfit .

The pages below have been scanned from a booklet entiteld "Picture-Making with the Nos. 2 and 2A Brownies". The No 2 Brownie was produced from 1901 to 1935 and the No 2A Brownie from 1907 to 1933. The booklet has a printer's reference K,W,200226 which probably means it was printed in February 1926.

The horizontal tray that held the flash powder was supplied packed within the outer tube. It had to be withdrawn from that tube and then push-fit attached onto the top of the outer tube, so that the outer tube became a handle with which to hold the complete flashlight. As well as the tray, the outfit included (packed within the outer tube) a glass phial with a stopper at each end. This phial contained, and kept separate, two powders. These two powders had to be mixed together before use. Thereafter, a small quantity was placed in the tray. The total mixed powder quantity was sufficient for 20 to 25 exposures. A glass phial of the powders could be purchased separately, to restock the outfit (which is believed to be the source of the second phial in two of the pictures below).

Although not obvious in the pictures, there is a small slot with a tin 'barb' at one end of the tray, designed to impale or wedge a burning matchstick or other lighted taper. To cause the flash, you tilted the tray forward, causing the powder to be ignited by the flaming match (see the scanned diagram below).

I understand from Brian Wilkinson (PCCGB Member) that the modern form of Flash Bulb was patented in 1925 by Dr Paul Vierkotter in Germany, though flash bulbs using magnesium ribbon date back to around 1900. Wikipedia says "The flash-lamp was invented by Joshua Cohen (a.k.a. Joshua Lionel Cowen of the Lionel toy train fame) in 1899. It was granted U.S. patent number 636,492."

Amateur Photographer magazine for 10th September 1930 contains a report (page 244) on the ' Sashalite ' flashbulb:

"According to the 'Morning Post', flashpowder is likely to be superseded for photographic purposes. The British rights in a new invention have been acquired by Mr. Alexander Stewart, a professional photographer carrying on business under the name of Sasha- hence the word coined for the lamp - ' Sashalite '.
This lamp is an oxygen-filled bulb in which aluminium foil is burned, ignition being accomplished by a 4-volt battery. No details are given as to whether bulbs will be available for charges of different capacity, but it is clear that no single charge of foil would be suitable for all conditions and circumstances.
It is claimed that the light, although powerful, is soft and diffused, less trying to the eyes than flashpowder, and that there is neither noise nor smoke when the charge is fired. As has been claimed, it will now be possible to take photographs in circumstances where the use of powder is out of the question-for example, in coal mines and operating theatres.
The 'Morning Post' published some exclusive photographs, taken with the 'Sashalite' of the engine-room and other compartments of a submarine. These were not only interesting as unusual subjects, but they indicated a high technical standard. The manufacture of the lamps has already commenced, and professional and commercial photographers particularly will await further information with considerable interest."

"Judging from the information given, the 'Sashalite' is strongly reminiscent of a lamp invented about 1900 by Mr.Smith of the Platinotype Co. An improved form, specially adapted for studio portraiture, was fully illustrated and described in the issue of "Photography" for March 7th, 1901, page 180, as follows:
"Inside a globe was an arrangement for carrying twelve strips of magnesium ribbon, each isolated so that it could be burnt without affecting the other strips. Oxygen was passed into the globe, and the ribbon was burnt by making electric contact which caused a fine wire to become white hot so that it ignited a small piece of touch-paper in contact with the ribbon. A single length of ribbon was sufficient for an ordinary portrait.
When all the strips of ribbon had been used it was an easy matter to recharge the globe. Provision was made for taking up, by means of a rubber bag, the products of combustion, and for refilling the globe with oxygen. The whole thing was highly effective for its purpose, but was not comparable with the compact equipment of the modern Press photographer. The "Sashalite" is therefore likely to become very popular for difficult subjects."

See also images relating to Sashalite here (from Charlie Kamerman) including (2nd image down), an instruction leaflet from the packaging of a 'Baby' Sashalite bulb (supplied by Brian Rees). To save this instruction leaflet as a pdf, click here .

Michael Langford in his book "The Story of Photography" agrees with the date of 1925 for the arrival of 'modern' flashbulbs, though Brian Coe and Paul Gates in their excellent book "The Snapshot Photograph - The rise of Popular Photography, 1888-1939" (ISBN 004069 14 1) tells us that the flashbulb was a development of the 1930s (probably referring to a time when flash bulbs became mass produced and entered general usage).

Flash bulbs were relatively expensive for the first two or more decades of their mass availability. It wasn't until the introduction of small capless bulbs in 1955 that their cost became acceptable to most ordinary amateurs. Hence the continued use of flash powder into the 1950s.

In the 'Readers Write' section of Amateur Photographer magazine for 2nd February 1966, a Mr.D.S.Smith admonishes a Mr.M.Russell for complaining that flash costs were still high in 1966 at 9d (4p) per bulb. Mr Smith writes:
" FLASH COSTS: YOU NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD .
Mr.M.Russell of Oxford complains about the cost of flashbulbs at 9d each. I beg to differ from him.
I started as an amateur in 1946, soon became interested in flash photography, and was pleased to obtain some Sashalite bulbs at 2s (10p) each. Remember, this was 20 years ago when a £1 was worth a £1, not 12s 6d (62.5p) or whatever it is now. These bulbs were the size of a l00w household lamp, and could not be used at faster than 1/25 sec as their time to peak was not consistent, the burning time being about 1/25 sec, give or take a few milliseconds!
I then graduated through Philips PF14s at, I believe, 1s.1d each (5.5p), PF25s at 1s.6d or 1s.9d (8p), PF24s at 2s each (10p) for focal plane use on my pre-war Leica purchased for £89.10s (£89 50p) in 1949 and Speed Midgets at 1s.3d (6p).
In 1951 I took the plunge and bought my first electronic flash. It weighed 171b (7.7kg), cost more than £60 and gave no more light than an A.G.1 Today's amateur never had it so good with all the moderate priced equipment available, with specifications never dreamt of at the price in my early days. If Mr. Russell still thinks flashbulbs are expensive, he should stop grousing and get one of the very moderately priced electronics (weight just a few ounces)." London, N.1. D.S.SMITH.

A Kobold advertisement in the February 1959 edition of PhotoGuide Magazine, claimed that in 1958

10,000,000 flash bulbs were used in Britain and 800,000,000 in the USA.

Various metals were used to provide the 'flash' in flash bulbs. According to "Artificial Light and Photography" by Riek and Verbeek (Philips Technical Library), the light output from various metals, expressed in lumens per milligram, are:
Zirconium = 441 Magnesium = 700 Aluminium = 750 Aluminium with 8% Magnesium = 850. (Ref: AP magazine, Readers Ask, 16th May 1962).

The image alongside (right) shows the flash tray detached from the main tube (which forms the holding handle). The tray is pushed onto the top of the main tube and is held in place by the two curved metal 'tongues' which have some small flexibility. These 'tongues' hold it firmly in place. After use, the tray can be pulled off the main tube and then reinserted lengthwise inside the main tube for storage.

By the late 1930s manufacturers began to incorporate flash synchronisation into their cameras. Brian Coe & Paul Gates suggest " the first mass produced camera with this facility being the Falcon Press Flash in 1939. Other early flash cameras were the Agfa Shur-Flash and the Kodak Six-20 Flash Brownie box camera, both of 1940." Brian Wilkinson adds the Kine Exakta of 1936 to this list.

Post-WW2, over the next 10 years, it became the 'norm' for cameras to be equipped with flash synchronised shutters and the retro-fitting of such a facility to non-synchronised shutters was also available e.g. Wallace Heaton charged £4 in October 1952 and this cost had fallen to 'only' £2.18s (£2.90p) 'for most shutters' by December 1954. Alternatively, it was possible to fit an attachment to the cable release socket which fired the shutter and the flashgun together.

However, the (subsequently universal) 3mm (1/8") coaxial plug didn't become the UK standard means of attaching a flashgun until perhaps the mid-1950s. Even then, simple box cameras continued to use proprietary plug fittings into the early 1960s. The German camera industry standardised on the 3mm coaxial plug rather earlier, no doubt influenced by the Zeiss organisation with its shares in both Gauthier & Compur shutters. The BJPA for 1953 describes a new range of Gauthier shutters, the 'Vario', 'Pronto', 'Prontor-S' and 'Prontor SV', all fitted with a 3mm coaxial flash synchronisation socket. The Synchro-Compur shutter of 1951 also featured this synchronisation connector.

A very full set of flash lead converters was being advertised by Wallace Heaton even in the early 1960s. Their 1961-62 'Blue Book' lists the following converters to make your flashgun equipped with a 'standard' 3mm coaxial connector, fit the following cameras:
Semflex 9/3d (46p) Exakta 2-pin 5/9d (29p) Praktica 5/9d Kodak A.S.A bayonet (presumably the American Standard) 3/9d (19p) Argus 5/9d Old Prontor - 3.8mm 3/9d Ensign bayonet 3/10d (19p) Leica M3 5/9d.

The A.S.A bayonet was (?) as illustrated left, fitted to a Kodak Dakon shutter on a Six-20 Folding Brownie, made in Gt.Britain between 1948 and 1954.

An attachment could convert a 3mm coaxial socket to receive a flashgun with an A.S.A bayonet plug, 5/9d. The illustration alongside, taken from Wallace Heaton's Blue Book, shows (LHS) the plug on the end of an A.S.A lead and (RHS) a converter to enable a shutter with a 3mm coaxial to use a an A.S.A flashgun.

Flashgun leads were also available to wire into a flashgun circuit and so change its shutter fitting. Leads to convert to:
Rollei 9/6d (47.5p) W.H. Compur type 5/- (25p) Reid 18/- (90p) Kodak A.S.A bayonet 6/- (30p) Agilux 6/6d (32.5p) Ilford Craftsman 5/4d (27p) Alpa 13/- (65p) Duolux 5/3d (26p).

The Ilford booklet advertising "Photographic Materials & Accessories" (around 1955) from which the advert below is taken, illustrates and describes three flashguns capable of attaching to a synchronised shutter, the Envoy 'Minor', the Envoy 'Major' and the Envoy 'Zing'. "The type of camera connection lead required i.e. Compur, B.S.S. (a 2-pin female to fit the Ilford Envoy) or Ilford (2-pin male, to fit the Ilford Advocate and Craftsman) , should be stated when ordering."

The Standard fitting on an Envoy Flash Gun lead was the female Envoy 2-pin (as picture, above).

The BJPA 1955 review (pages 228-229) of the Envoy Major and Envoy Minor flashguns read:
ENVOY MAJOR AND MINOR FLASHGUNS (Photo Developments Ltd., Leonard Road, Birmingham, 19. Marketed by Ilford Ltd., Ilford, London)

These two flashguns are of exactly similar outward appearance, the difference between them being simply that the Major is of the battery-capacitor type and the Minor is a straight-forward battery-powered gun.

The body of the guns is a reasonably compact and rectangular black plastic moulding carrying the 5in. reflector on its front face. The size of the body is 3½ x 2¾ x 1.375in, and in the case of the Minor gun this just comfortably holds the 4½volt flat torch battery. The reflector is removable and is held in place on the front of the battery casing by a bayonet fitting. The guns are designed to accept only flashbulbs with an ASCC cap, and no bulb ejector is fitted.

The camera bracket is a light-alloy strip which has turned over edges as stiffening, and three camera-fixing screw positions are provided, the farthest from the battery casing giving a separation of 3¾in. A 9in. connecting lead is fitted, and this is supplied with either a 3mm co-axial connector or a B.S.S. 2pin socket . In the case of the Minor gun sent for review, the lead is not secured to the battery casing except at the point at which it makes contact by being clamped under a brass strip. In view of the light gauge of the conductor it would seem preferable to have a more secure clamp for the connecting cable, since as it stands a very light pull is liable to pull the connecting lead away from its anchorage.

An open-flash button is provided on the top of the battery casing, and the Minor may be converted into the Major gun by the addition of a capacitor unit which costs 11s. 3d. The price of the Minor gun is 15s. 0d. plus 4s. 11d. purchase tax. and the Major costs £1 1s. 0d. plus 6s. 10d. purchase tax.

The Envoy 'Zing' flashgun advert specifies "A battery is not supplied, and flash leads are extra."

There are also two flashguns for 'Open Flash' photography, where the shutter is opened on B(ulb), the flash is fired and then the shutter is closed. This facilitated flash photography for those with a camera that didn't have a flash synchronised shutter.

Ilford also distributed three electronic flashguns, manufactured by Clive Courtenay & Co. Ltd of Horsham Road, Dorking, Surry. They are the 'Cub' at £15.15s.6d, batteries extra (£15.78p), the 'Litepak' at £21.6s.4d without batteries (£21.32p) and the 'Courier' Mark II, priced from £30.9s (£30.45p) to £41.19s.9d (£41.99p).

By the second half of the 1950s it seems even British flashgun manufacturers conceded that the German DIN 3mm coaxial PC lead was standard and units with other connectors disappeared.

An Ilford Junior flash gun , box and instruction leaflet (picture by David Muggleton).
It is an 'open' flashgun, meaning it doesn't have an electrical lead enabling it to be plugged into automatic flash synchronisation contacts on a camera shutter. In use, the camera shutter would be opened using the Bulb or Time setting, the flash fired and the shutter closed again. The camera would have been on a tripod or resting on a rigid surface. The subject would have needed to keep still, though in a dimly lit room the film would have been mainly exposed only by the short duration of the flash, so minor movement would have been 'frozen'.

It comprises a black plastic battery case, a white reflector and a diffusing cover (missing) and cost 6s/6d (33p). The battery would have been pressed through a hole in the base. When the terminals on the battery and bulb touched together, the bulb fired. It used bulbs having ASCC bayonet caps and required a GEC BA 6115 Photoflash Cell battery, price 9d (4p). The original instructions, dating from late 1956 (date code M56) can be read as a pdf file here.


By the late 1950s, even low cost cameras were manufactured with facility for automatic flash synchronisation, so that the 'open flash' technique (see above) was no longer required. The Prontor-Compur (PC) DIN flash plug and shutter socket connection had become standard. All the folllowing Ilford flashguns have a PC connector, though the flashgun for the Sportina (see below) also permits synchronisation via the camera's 'hot-shoe', which was the next stage of simplifying synchronsation by building the electrical contacts directly into the accessory shoe (by 1963)- thus avoiding the need for a connecting lead. The Ilfoflash, principally designed for the Ilfomatic camera range, only has the 'hot shoe' contact.

Ilford brought out two flashguns contemporary with their Sportsman & Sporti camera range. The Sportslite instructions suggest March 1959 (coincident with the Style 2 Sportsman) - my thanks to Peter Williams for this date information. Both flashguns are included in Amateur Photographer's 'Lighting & Flash Guide' October 1960, which suggest they were contemporary the advert (left) is dated 5th October 1960.

Simon Cooper has e-mailed to tell me his Sportilux instruction leaflet has 'A61' as a footnote, indicating it wasn't printed until January 1961. But this might simply be that the original leaflet got reprinted.

A new version of the Sportilux was announced in April 1961 (Ref: Cameras & Equipment magazine, April 14th 1961) fitted with a 3.5" reflector. By turning the reflector in a clockwise direction, both the capacitor and battery chambers become accessible for inspection. Complete with a plastic zip case, it cost £1.2s.6d (£1.13p).

Both take 'capless' bulbs, as introduced in 1955 e.g the Philips P.F.1 (8d each =3p) and the blue (for daylight balanced colour slide film) P.F.1B (9d each =4p).

The Ilford Sportilux was perhaps intended to compliment the simpler Sporti camera range. It has a non-folding reflector, but nontheless has a compact shape. With its simpler construction it was of lower cost than the Sportslite, £1.2s.6d =£1.13p including a zip-fastened case. It takes a 22.5v B122 battery. For calculating the exposure, the instructions direct the user to 'the handy exposure guide printed on the flashgun carton'.

To insert the 22.5v B122 battery the Sportilux reflector is twisted slightly anti-clockwise so that it can be removed from the central bulb holder. The battery plus & minus contacts must then be orientated to match + / - marks moulded into the plastic beneath the capacitor. The flash connector plug is a PC (Prontor Compur) which was standard by 1960.

The Sportslite has an unusual folding reflector which extends out of the central 'stem' when the surround to the bulb socket is rotated. The mechanism is constructed on similar principles to a lens iris diaphragm.

In October 1960 it cost £1.18s.10d = £1.94p in a zipped case (excluding the battery). This flashgun runs off a 22.5v B122 battery (see below). It has 'push-button bulb ejection' and is "supplied with 10 inches of cable with co-axial plug." A useful flash exposure guide is moulded into the cream plastic body.

The Sportslite was reviewed in the BJPA for 1960 (pages167-168).
SPORTSLITE FLASHGUN (Ilford Limited, Ilford, Essex)
Incorporating a very original design of fan reflector, this is a most attractive little battery/capacitor unit for capless bulbs. The case is made from cream plastic, and measures only 3½x1¾x7/8in with an integrally moulded 2½in diameter frontal extension to take the reflector. Total weight is 2½oz.

The back of the casing clips in and gives immediate access to the battery (22½volt B122 type) and capacitor (100 mfd)-both units merely being slipped between strong spring terminals permanently marked for polarity. A 9in lead with integral co-axial plug, a moulded plastic accessory foot and a push-button bulb ejector complete the casing equipment. A table showing aperture settings at various distances for PF1 and PF5 bulbs used with Ilford FP3, HP3 and Colour F films is moulded on the back of the lid.

Coming to the reflector, this is best described by comparing it with the iris diaphragm of a lens, with the action from the centre instead of from the perimeter. It is made up from eight crescent-shaped stainless steel leaves and an inner disc bearing two projections. A few degrees clockwise turn of the disc by means of the projections opens the reflector up to a 3¾in diameter cup of about ¾in depth the reverse action closes it. It would be difficult to imagine a neater or quicker action than this, and in its closed position the reflector is well protected by the plastic disc already mentioned.
Price of the Sportslite flashgun (in 1959), complete with plastic zip pouch, is £1 3s 3d plus 6s 6d purchase tax (£1.64p).

The reflector hinges upwards for use. There is a moulded accessory shoe for fitting the flashgun to a camera and a standard 3mm DIN coaxial flash synchronisation lead.

The second picture shows the Ilfolite with the lower front cover removed, showing the smaller (than the B122) B154 15volt battery and the capacitor circuit which had become a standard feature of most all flashguns by this date. It ensured more certain firing of the flashbulb.

It's probable that before 1953 the Prontor and Compur had different flash connectors, as flash leads for these two shutters in 1951 adverts are listed separately (see below). Perhaps the earlier Gauthier (Prontor) version was as on this pre-1950 Agfa Jsolette (Isolette) - the camera predates the fitting of an accessory shoe. Although at first glance it looks to be a normal 3mm coaxial, in fact it is slightly shorter and is of larger diameter near the base. A standard 3mm flash lead will not fit.
By 1953 Zeiss had standardised on the 3mm coaxial connector and this became known as the 'PC' flash connector, standing for Prontor-Compur. Here is one on a Prontor SVS shutter fitted to a Zeiss Nettar with f4.5 Novar lens.
Until the mid-1950s British built flashguns (especially) were made with the flash lead interchangeable, or at least specifiable on purchase. In Amateur Photographer magazine for March 7th 1951 issue there is a Bennett advertisement for flash leads Selfix flash lead 7s/6d (37.5p), Compur flash lead 7s/6d, Robot flash lead 12s/6d (62.5p) and Prontor flash lead 12s/6d (postage 6d extra 2.5p). The Ilford Advocate camera was sold complete with a flash lead fitted with the appropriate 2pin male plug (to fit the 2-pin female socket on the camera itself).
In AP for January 31st 1951 an Agilux flashgun featured in a Sands Hunter advert is described as having a 2-pin flash connector lead. Adapters for other shutter synchronisation connectors are listed separately for an Epsilon shutter 7s/2d (36p), for a Prontor shutter 9s/2d (46p) and a Compur shutter 9s/2d. Its probable that the adapter for an Epsilon shutter is the same as was meant by a Selfix flash lead in the Bennet advert (above) as Ensign Selfix cameras used Epsilon shutters.
Subsequent to the Sportslite and Sportilux, Ilford marketed two flashguns called the Ilfolite and the Ilfolux . The Ilfolite was introduced in December 1963 (the instruction leaflet has J63, meaning 10th month of 1963, printed on its last page - my thanks to David Muggleton for this information), while the Ilfolux instructions have a last page footnote A64, suggesting that the Ilfolux was introduced by the start of spring 1964 (my thanks to Peter Williams for this information). Both took a B154 (15v) battery which is smaller (see below) than the previous B122 (22.5v) and its likely that Ilford took advantage of the availability of the smaller B154 battery to redesign their Sportslite and Sportilux flashguns and make them physically more compact.

The Ilfolite was of small size with a fold down 2" x 2" dimpled reflector, that gave it compact dimensions when not in use. It took both PF and AG bulbs and cost 24s/6d=£1.23p in Nov.1967 believed to increase to 35s.9d=£1.79p during the next 2years. The rear of the flashgun has an exposure calculator based upon the Guide No. principle.

The Ilfolux was a compact capacitor circuit flashgun and included a built-in test lamp. It had a rotary exposure calculator on the rear, calibrated in ASA and DIN film speeds.

The 'iris' type reflector, which opens out by a small twist of the central disc surrounding the bulb fitting, is reminiscent of the Sportslite. It opens to 3.75" (95mm) diameter. When closed, the reflector is 2.6" (66mm) diameter.

The overall size of the folded unit is 3.5"x2.6"x1.3", fitting into a plastic 'zip up' case. It was priced at £1.17s.6d. (£1.88). My thanks to Peter Williams for information on the Ilfolux.

The Ilfolux was no longer available by Nov.1967.

Left:
The Ilfolux box and instruction leaflet. On the end flap of the box it reads 'Made in Western Germany'.

Right:
Ilfolux with its reflector closed, ready for packing away into its plastic zip-up case.


Inside the Ilfolux after the rear clip-on cover (see right) has been prised off.

The battery is a 15Volt Ever Ready type B154 (see below). The capacitor is rated at 150µF.

At the top of the enclosure, above the flashbulb socket, is a test lamp, being an ordinary torch type screw fitting bulb rated at 3.8Volt, 0.07Amp. A small white sprung press button, to the right of the bulb in the picture, closes the test circuit. A 2,000ohm resistor limits the current flow through the flash bulb during charging of the capacitor but enables the test bulb to glow visibly through the small green plastic 'dome' on top of the enclosure. When the camera shutter is fired, the full 15Volt potential is available via the capacitor to fire the flash bulb.

Right is shown the flash exposure calculator on the rear of the Ilfolux. By setting the arrow to point to the film speed e.g. 100ASA, the correct aperture can be read off for a range of distances e.g f8 at 3m. The same Guide No. (approx. 24 in metres with 100ASA film) is applied to AG1, PF1 and PFB bulbs.


Rear clip-on cover with exposure calculator.

The Ilfolux has an adapter, see extreme right, which converts the PF capless fitting (introduced in 1955, above left, also see below) to the newer AG fitting (announced in 1959, above right, also see text article below)


AG1 miniature capless flashbulbs , enabling even more compact flashguns.

"Cameras & Equipment" magazine carried a page long article in their January 6th 1961 edition, entitled "America's Wonder Bulb - The AG1". It read:

After years of tantalising announcements by the manufacturers, American photographers are now rapidly changing over to the new 'jelly bean' flashbulb, the AGl. Almost half the size of the smallest bulbs used in this country (i.e. the UK), being the capless No.1 and PF1, the AGl gives practically the same effective light output.
The AGl is the first capless bulb to be produced in America. However for the time being it will not completely replace the pinless base M2 bulb which has been the "standard" for several years and which gives a practically identical light output. The reason for this is that the AGl requires a much smaller reflector than either the M2, or our own PF1 and No.1, and so in order to utilise the light output effectively, a 2" or 3" polished reflector is recommended. By using the standard 4" or 5" reflector recommended for PF1, No.1, or M2 bulbs, the effective light output drops by about a stop. Therefore most AGl converters available in the States include not just a base adaptor, but also a new reflector.
Compact and Baseless
Several reasons contributed to the decision by manufacturers to introduce the AGl in competition with the well established M2 bulbs. Compact size was only one of the reasons. Just as important was the fact that the bulb is baseless. Baseless bulbs are cheaper to produce since the cost of the metal base, and the extra step needed to attach it to the bulb, is eliminated.
Because the bulbs are so small, design engineers realised that it would be possible to make magazine loading, repeater flashguns. Here they had a real sales gimmick, for the ability to run through a magazine of flashbulbs at the rate of a shot a second could not be equalled by most electronic flashunits. And of course, with the small bulb size, a flashgun and bulbs takes up less space than the smallest electronic flashes on the market.
Flashgun manufacturers co-operated in designing single shot flashguns that were smaller, more compact and efficient than had ever been known before. Many types of repeater flashguns were also produced, most no larger than the one-shot units designed for M2 bulbs.
For many years the AGl was just something photographers had been hearing about - but were never seen. Introduction of the bulbs on the market had been delayed by manufacturing problems caused by squeezing so much power into such a small space. The bulbs use zirconium wire, as do our PFl's, but the small size necessitates using very high oxygen pressure inside the bulb-about double the pressure that had formerly been considered "standard."
As a result, early production bulbs were exploding during use at a rate considered intolerable. They were taken off the market as production technicians sought for ways to beat the problem. They succeeded and now the AGl's are pouring out of the factories and are becoming an increasing proportion of the 750,000,000 flashbulbs sold in America every year.
AGl's are being imported into the UK in limited quantities and sell for 1s each. Since this is 4d more than PF1 or No.1, it is unlikely that the imported bulbs will achieve much popularity, except among photographers requiring the "rapid fire" feature.
But at the same time there are very strong rumours that several of the largest electrical firms in this country are gearing up to manufacture AGl bulbs, and that in about a year British made bulbs will be on sale at about 6d.

By January 27th 1961, Cameras & Equipment announced:
"More News of the AG1"
AG-1 flashbulbs are to be imported into the UK under the name Mazdaflash and distributed by Photo-Science Ltd 165, Wandsworth Bridge Road, Fulham, London, S.W.6.
The bulbs will retail at 10s (50p) per dozen, with the blue bulbs (AG-1/B) at 11s (55p) per dozen.

The AG1 design of bulb is believed to have been first announced in 1959, though the article above suggests they were not readily available in the UK until early 1961 . Their size is some 12mm diameter x 34mm long. The AG1B (blue) produced 5500 lumen seconds of light Guide Number of 110 in feet, 33 in metres, for ISO 100 film @ 1/30sec. This was largely superceded by the AG3B (as the pack illustrated) which gave out 7500 lumens seconds, the same as a blue PF1B and the same as the original clear AG1.

" Silent1 ", writing on this webpage, suggests that AG stood for "All Glass" -- as opposed to prior bulbs that had metal bases. He says "Eliminating both the base and the multiple manufacturing steps to attach it, electrically and mechanically, to the glass envelope, cut the cost of these bulbs substantially compared to the larger M series. There was larger version of the AG-1, called the AG-3 , which had about the same light output as an M3 capped bulb, but the AG-1 was always the baseless (capless) standard, since by the time the AG-1 appeared, most photographers were using film fast enough that they didn't need the greater light output of the larger bulbs".

Now, in February 2021, Bill Rudersdorf (in Houston, Texas) says "As a budding chemist, I remember that the AG-3 flashbulbs had a rarely mentioned feature. They had a short production life, soon to be replaced by flashcubes for the amateur market and strobes (electronic flashguns) for the more advanced photographers. The novelty of AG-3 bulbs was that the final metal they used – for the ultimate micro flashbulb – was not magnesium, nor zirconium, but hafnium . Also, the bulbs used a heavier glass envelope and higher pressure oxygen. But hafnium was the main innovation in trying to squeeze the last bit of light from that tiny bulb! See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafnium.

When Ilford introduced the Sportina Rapid camera range in 1965 they introduced a complimentary styled flashgun especially for this camera.

PF1 capless bulbs - clear colour as originally advised for monochrome & colour negative, PF1B blue (as shown here) for daylight balanced reversal colour film. Eventually, the PF1B became 'universal'.
This capless design of bulb was introduced by Philips in 1955 (though with a press announcement in October 1954

see Photoguide magazine). Their size is 16.5mm diameter x 46mm long (may have been somewhat larger when first announced Atlas Lightiong give these as the reduced dimensions of their True-flash brand in May 1961), giving 7500 lumens seconds of light. Their suggested Guide Number was 130 in feet, 40 in metres, for ISO 100 film @ 1/30sec (in practice, the G.No depends upon the size & directional effect of the reflector, plus the shutter speed & its synchronisation, X or M, so the suggested figure is likely a maximum). Although really standing for PhotoFlux, Philips referred to 'PF' in their adverts as also meaning 'Perfection in Flash'.


The batteries used in these flashguns B122 of 22.5volt and B154 of 15volt.
The B122 is still available as an Energizer 412 from The Small Battery Company or from Vintage Cameras Ltd.
The B154 is still available as an alkaline equivalent, type A220.

By the time of the October 1969 AP 'Lighting & Flash Guide', none of the above flashguns are listed. Ilford are only promoting the miniature Ilfoflash to compliment their Ilfomatic cameras, or those Ilfomatics without in-built flash facility, namely the Ilfomatic Compact and Universal 50. It was made in Macau (a Portugese colony at the time of the Ilfoflash manufacture, west of Hong Kong, but returned to Chinese rule in Dec 1999).

The Ilfoflash is barely 60mm tall, including its attachment 'shoe' which has a centre electrical contact (hot shoe). The Ilfoflash width is some 40mm and its depth some 25mm. It takes AG type miniature flashbulbs.

The battery is a 15v Ever Ready B154 or similar and fires bulbs via a capacitor circuit. The battery is accessible by prising off the front reflector.

It cost 17s.9d (89p) in 1969 (or 13s.9d=69p in Nov.1967). The box in the photographs (left) is marked 16s.4d (81.5p).

On the rear of the gun is a simple flash exposure calculator for AG1B bulbs. The black disc above the calculator table is the bulb eject button.

Flash Equipment from Johnsons of Hendon Ltd

Johnsons, both under their own brand and as distributors, sold many flash outfits throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

During the early 1950s these were a mixture of 'Open Flash' systems for firing flash bulbs by people possessing only simple, non flash synchronised, cameras, together with more sophisticated, and ever more compact, capacitor flash bulb firing outfits for use with synchronised shutters.

The advertisement alongside, maybe 1952, shows what was possibly the earliest of the Johnson capacitor flash guns. Like the 'Open Flash' systems above, this early capacitor unit seems to have been based upon a conventional flashlight torch body.

This design seems to have been refined during the next 12months into the Johnson Capacitor Flashgun Model 0, becoming much more the compact shape that became the standard 'look' for all such designs (see below). Peter Davies has been good enough to provide me with a pdf of the instructions for this early, compact format, bulb flashgun, named, in December 1953, the Model 0. Click here, on on the image, to down load these.

By the mid-1950s the first electronic flash systems appeared alongside the bulb flash units. Over the next decade, bulb flash was largely superceded by electronic flash, as electronic flash units became cheaper, smaller and lighter.

Johnsons of Hendon claimed (1965) that the world's first camera with a built-in electronic flashgun was Voigtländer's Vitrona. I believe the camera first appeared in 1964. Similar to the contemporary Vito C, the addition of the electronic flashgun more than doubled the Vito C's price of £20.18s (£20.90p) with f2.8 Lanthar lens.

The electronic flash tube and reflector were housed in the top of the camera and the 'flash ready' light was visible in the viewfinder as well as on top of the camera. The 'quickly detachable' pistol grip housed the batteries and capacitor. The Guide Number was 60 with 50ASA colour film. The user had only to set the camera-subject distance and the correct aperture was set automatically. The lens was a Lanthar f2.8 50mm in a Prontor 250 shutter.


Summary [ edit | edit source ]

The flashbulb memory theory was introduced was Browns and Kulik. Flashbulb memory are higly detailed snapshots of the moment and circumstances in which surprising and consequential (or emotionally arousing) news was heard. Flasbulb memories have six different features that people remember: who told you the news, what you were doing when you heard the news, where you were, how you felt when you heard the news, other's emotional impact, and what happened afterwards.Flashbulb memories are believed to be highly resistant to forgetting. However, despite the fact that flashbulb memories suggest a picture-like snapshot of an event, flashbulb memories, in actuality, are only somewhat indiscriminate and are far from complete as real cameras.

Through Brown's and Kulik experiment, we see how their theory of flashbulb memory is supported. martin lurther king

Aim: [ edit | edit source ]

To see if their flashbulb memory theory was valid.

Method: [ edit | edit source ]

Brown and Kulik interviewed individuals about Martin Luther King's, and president John F Kennedy murder asking them the six features metioned above.

Results: [ edit | edit source ]

All participants answered all questions asked with no hesitation/confidence.


Flash

Flash, or flashgun, is a word for a device used in still photography for giving a strong bright light onto a photographed scene for just the moment of exposure.

Since the mid-19th century methods to burn magnesium were used as a means to shorten exposure times by giving very bright light onto a photographed scene. When the relative fast dry film plates became common in the 1880s these methods became common too, and firms like Kodak sold flashlamps which ignited a mixture of magnesium powder and potassium chlorate with a gas flame, a spirit flame or an electric wire. A flash exposure must have been an exciting event, almost like a little firework. Agfa offered a combination of a tray for the flash powder with a gas lighter pistol. Constructions like these may be the reason for the still actual term "flashgun".

The handling of the flash powder was dangerous. In 1927 General Electric had introduced electric flash bulbs. Since 1930 other companies joined the flash bulb industry, for example Philips with its Photoflux lamps. The bulbs gave light by burning a mesh of thinnest crumpled aluminium wires and foils in an instant, ignited by the power of a simple battery. The bulbs could be used only once, and at first they were too expensive for most amateurs. But professional press cameras with big reflector around the top of the attached flash bulb holder became a common sight. "Bulb" mode of shutters became a synonym for flash bulb mode until the shutter makers could present shutters with flash-synchronized instant mode.

During WWII electronic flashes giving light from electronic gas-discharge tubes were developed. In amateur photography electronic flashguns became common in the 1960s, when electronic switches, the small light transistors and thyristors, made these devices small and affordable. But in spite of that development a whole generation of popular cameras, the cassette film cameras for type No. 126 Kodapak film and type No. 110 pocket film, got new multi-bulb flash systems, disposable plastic cubes with four bulbs, or disposable flip-flashes with more bulbs in one piece. Magicubes and flip-flashes had little reflectors around each bulb, making further reflectors superfluous. In the 1970s sales of cubes and flip-flashes were a main part in sales of expendable photographic goods.

Modern cameras have inbuilt flash units, either near the viewfinder, or as flip-up or pop-up units.

bulb flash on Kodak camera external electronic flash


Let There Be… Flash!

photo info

Shot indoors, in the illumination of flash powder, this is one of many of Jacob’s photographs that documented life and culture in New York, in the late 1800s. Photograph/Jacob Riis

The flash has evolved from being a blinding, explosive powder that had to be ignited by hand, to a powerful, controlled beam of electrical light. Ravi Ved explores its interesting history.

This article was originally published in October 2009.

Jacob Riis (1849-1914), Danish American reporter and photographer, had this to say about his antics with flash photography— “What they saw was three or four figures in the gloom, a ghostly tripod,…the blinding flash, and then they heard the patter of retreating footsteps, and the mysterious visitors were gone before they could collect their thoughts and try to find out what it was all about…” Riis was one of the first Americans to use flash powder for artificial illumination, which consisted of magnesium powder ignited on a frying pan. Twice he set fire to the places he visited, once he set fire to his own clothes, and on one occasion, he almost blinded himself.

In the early days, natural light was all that was available for photographers to shoot.

The Beginning
In the early days, natural light was all that was available to photographers. Artificial light in photography was first used by a man named L. Ibbetson. He made use of oxyhydrogen light (or ‘limelight’) for the first time in 1859. Later in the 1880s, flash powder was introduced, which was an extremely powerful source of illumination even by today’s standards. By varying the amount of flash powder in grams, the distance covered could also be varied. However, it had two major drawbacks—it generated clouds of nasty smelling smoke and was highly explosive and dangerous in nature.

The earliest known flash bulb (in 1883) consisted of a two-pint stoppered bottle of oxygen, which had white paper stuck on one side to act as a reflector. To set the flash off, a spiral of ten or so inches of magnesium on a wire skewer was pre-lighted and plunged into the oxygen. However, this was rather cumbersome and was never used for practical photography. Eventually, with the introduction of flashbulbs, these problems were resolved.

The Evolution
General Electric and Hauser Company manufactured the first flashbulb in 1929, under the tag of Sashalite and Vacublitz respectively. It was a large and enclosed aluminium foil within an oxygen atmosphere. The downside of this flashbulb was that, it would sometimes burst when fired, throwing extremely hot gas on the subject. Flashbulbs can hardly be seen today, mainly because of the expense of changing the bulb after every shot. They were used until the 1980s.

Breakthroughs
The discovery of flash synchronisation made the use of flashes more effective than ever before. It triggered the flash simultaneously with the camera’s shutter. In 1935, the Exakta, the first camera with flash synchronisation was launched.
The ring flash that was invented in 1952 was originally used for dental photography. Its main feature was to provide illumination with a few shadows. Today, ring flashes are very popular in fashion and portrait photography.

Another breakthrough was the introduction of flashcubes by General Electric and Kodak. It was a cube-shaped flash with four electrically fired flashbulbs and a reflector inside.

In 1972, Braun and Metz introduced a hand-held flashgun featuring thyristor and reduced battery consumption. The thyristor makes use of a control device, an automated circuit switch that allows the flashgun to cut‑off power to its flash tube on reaching the correct exposure.

Today’s Tools
Today, we make use of electronic xenon flash lamps. An electronic flash contains a tube filled with xenon gas, which discharges high voltage electricity to generate an electric arc that emits a short flash of light. A number of major breakthroughs in the timeline of flash photography allowed it to reach this point. Thanks to modern technology, shooting with a flash today has become a lot simpler and safer.

First Strobe Flash
In 1887, Ottomar Anschutz came up with the concept of a photographic stroboscope, where the main capacitor sparked an electrical charge, which produced light in the flash lamp. Later in 1893, Monsieur Chauffour introduced the flashbulb, which functions by sealing a magnesium wire inside a jar with oxygen. However, developments on the stroboscope did not cease. In 1935, Etienne Oehmichen, an engineer with Peugeot, developed another stroboscope which could capture images at 1100 fps.

Technological Evolution in Flashes

Flash Powder: Year: 1880 This was an explosive mixture of magnesium powder, potassium chlorate and antimony sulphide. The procedure needed placing magnesium powder on a folded sheet of paper. The igniting compound and the other two chemicals were then poured on the powder. Strobes: Year: 1887 Ottomar Anschutz built the first photographic stroboscope namely electrotachyscope. It was used to get a sequence of flash projected images. It could shoot 24 images in succession. The illumination was provided by a spiral Geissler tube which was a forerunner to stroboscope photography. Flashbulb: Year: 1893 Frenchman Chauffour designed the first photoflash bulb by igniting magnesium in a globe of pressurised oxygen. In 1930 General Electric launched the first commercially available flashbulb, the Sashalite. It made use of an aluminium foil in a pure oxygen surrounding.
Xenon: Flash Year: 1930s Even to this day, Xenon flashes are commonly used in a technique of high speed or stop motion photography. It was pioneered by Harold Edgerton in the 1930’s. The flash lamp is a sealed tube made of Quartz with a mixture of other gases and a large proportion of Xenon. Flash Synchronisation: Year: 1935 Flash Sync means that a flash head is fired at the moment when the shutter is at its peak opening. Falcon Press Flash was the first massively produced camera with this feature. It was produced in the year 1939. The first camera with flash sync was the Exakta (1935). Auto Thyristor: Year: 1972 This flash has an automatic light sensor and an auto circuit switch which allows to cut-off power on reaching the correct exposure. The unit automatically shuts off the flashtube on determining correct exposure. They allow high voltage electricity to pass creating light.

Headlights as Standard Equipment

Prest-O-Lite acetylene lights were offered by a number of manufacturers as standard equipment in 1904. And Peerless made electrical headlamps standard in 1908. In 1912, the innovative Cadillac division of General Motors integrated their vehicle's Delco electrical ignition and lighting system.

This created the first modern-style automotive electrical system. In 1940, the modern sealed beam headlight technology found its way into the automotive industry. For 17 years the government mandated the 7-inch size of the lamp and stifled innovation for this time period. In 1957 the law changed to allow different size and shape lights as long as they illuminated the road properly. Headlight technology was now on the path of improving and innovating once again.


Electronic flashlights

Nikon introduced its electronic flashes as

Speedlights

Nikon F + GN-Nikkor 2.8/45 mm. + SB-1

Nikon introduced in February 1969 its first and very sophisticated and powerful electronic flash. Powered by a NC-battery this handle-mount flash weights in at 1.1 kilo! It can be used with lenses with a focal length of 35 mm. and longer on nearly all Nikon SLR cameras - fitted via the right connector. Various accessories are available, like an AC-adapter (Nikon SA-1) for use in a studio and various battery packs SD-2, SD-3 & SN-1). Its guide number is 125 (in feet) or 38 (in meters) at ISO 125. Via the SE-2 cord up to three flashes can be fired. Fitted with a SF-1 ready light mounted on a Nikon F SLR flash ready light is provided. Via the SC-4 cord ready light on several Nikon F2 models is provided. See also at SR-1 (below).

This electronic flash was introduced - together with the SB-3 - in December 1972. It has a power saving thyristor system and can be mounted on a Nikon F2 hot shoe and activates the ready light in the F2 prism. Powered by 4 AA-batteries the flash has a guide number of 80 (feet) or 25 (meters) at ISO 100. It has a built-in ´silicon-controlled rectifier´ (SCR), which measures the right amount of flash light.

This flash is basically the same flash as the SB-2, but fitted with a standard ISO foot for the use on a standard hot shoe, like those of the Nikkormat´s and later cameras. Normally both the SB-2 and SB-3 can be used with lenses with a focal length of 35 mm and longer, but fitted with the SW-1 wide-angle adapter 28mm.-lenses can be used. The SF-1 ready light and SC-4 cord (see above) are accepted by both flashes as well.

Introduced in March 1974 this flash is Nikon´s first compact flash. It has a standard ISO foot for the use on many cameras with a standard hot shoe, but it can work on e.g. Nikon F2 via the AS-1 adapter. It has a built-in PC cord for cameras that don´t have a hot shoe. Guide number (GN) is 52/16 (feet/meters) at ISO 100. This flash operates with just one single aperture setting.

This very sophisticated handle-mount electronic (thyristor) flash was introduced in September 1975. It has variable power control. One can select full power operation (GN 105/32), at 1/4 power or at MD = motor drive setting, which equals 1/8 power (GN 36/11). At MD the flash can fire up to nearly 4 fps at a burst of up to 40 frames! This flash that can be fitted with various sensors and battery packs, covers 28mm lenses and longer. With an optional SU-1 sensor automatic operation is possible.

This cute flash light was introduced in September 2011 with the Nikon 1 (One) series digital EVIL cameras. It has a Guide Number of 8.5 at ISO 100 in meters so the effective range is 0.6 - 2 meters. The flash head can rotate 180° to the right and 180° to the left, vertically 90°. The flash i-TTL compatible.

In February 1976 this very specialized repeating (or stroboscope) flash, delivering up to 40 (!) flashes per second, was presented. It can be used at various power settings (full - 1/32) starting at a powerful GN 147/45. Via various AC- and DC-units and battery packs as well as different flash shoes it can be used on many cameras.

This compact flash - presented in June 1977 - will fit Nikon F and F2 cameras, or Nikon F3 (via AS-3) or any other camera with a hot shoe (via AS-2). GN = 82/25. This flash covers lenses from 35 mm and longer, but with the SW-2 adapter also 28mm.-lenses. The SB-7 can be used with the SA-2 AC-adapter.

Hereafter many small flash lights have the same body (see SB-8E), like the SB-7, SB-8, SB-10, SB-12, SB-15 and SB-17.

At the end of October 2012 Nikon introduced this flashlight for the Nikon 1-series. It has a GN of 18 (ISO100 + meters), has a tilted head up to 120° and uses AAA-batteries.

This flash is identical to the SB-7. It has a standard foot for nearly all Nikkormats and later Nikon SLR´s. It may fit a Nikon F and F2 via an AS-1 adapter, a Nikon F3 via an AS-4 or AS-7. The SW-2 adapter can be used as well. Powered by 4 AA-batteries.

Nikon used a similar design for various compact flashlights (SB-2,-3,-7/E, -8/E, -10, -12, -15, -17 and -27).

In June 1977 Nikon introduced this mini flash usable on nearly all cameras (SLR and compacts) with a standard hot shoe. GN = 46/14. It is powered by 2 AA-batteries.

Presented in April 1978 this flash has the same design and specifications as the SB-8. It was designed for the use on the Nikon FE. Fitted with the SW-2 it covers lenses from 28mm and longer.

This very powerful, though complex handle-mount flash was introduced in March 1980. It works - even TTL with the SU-2 sensor - on several cameras via several cords, adapters and battery packs. GN = 118/36. Many photographers didn´t like this flash due to its weight (900 gram) and its harsh light. The SU-2 sensor can be used individually as well: on the SB-14, as a slave unit and - via SC-13 cord - on any ISO shoe, although not TTL.

Pictured above the SB-11 + SC-12 cord + SD-8 High Performance Battery Pack mounted on a Nikon F3 + MD-4 + MK-1 + Nikkor 1.2/55mm. A very nice reporters set, but using 22 AA-batteries (!) (8= MD-4 6= SD-8 8= SB-11) and weighing in at nearly 4 kilo!

This compact flash, introduced in March 1980, only works TTL on all Nikon F3 models. Its foot fits on a F3 rewind crank only! GN 82/25. When the flash is mounted on a Nikon F3 it automatically sets the shutter speed to 1/80 sec. and the flash ready light in the standard or HP-viewfinder. Exposure can be compensated by the use of the exposure compensation dial on the Nikon F3. With the SC-14 cord the flash can be used off the camera, while maintaining TTL. The AS-6 adapter allows the use of this flash (without the TTL feature) on any camera with an ISO shoe.

Nikon engineers or marketers were probably afraid of using the with mysticism surrounded number 13, so the next model is:

This handle-mount flash was presented in December 1981. GN = 105/32. It covers 35mm-lenses, with the SW-5 adapter even lenses with a focal length of 24 mm. It comes with a SU-3 sensor and can be used on many cameras via various adapters. TTL on a Nikon F3 via SC-12 and on many ISO shoe cameras via SC-23.

This little box is the basic design of the SB-2, SB-3, SB-7, SB-8, SB-10, SB-12, SB-15 (shown above) and SB-17. They do not necessarily share the same specifications nor shoes nor connectors, but they look the same. With the SB-16 Nikon introduced the upright flash body.

The SB-15, introduced in April 1982, works in TTL mode with nearly all Nikon SLR fitted with a ISO shoe. GN = 82/25. The SW-6 adapter allows the use of lenses with a focal length of 28 mm. It is powered by 4 AA-batteries. Used on automatic cameras the shutter speed is selected automatically. Finally this flash has a motor drive setting as well.

SB-16A - SB-16B

In April 1983 Nikon introduced this nice flash, that fits many cameras by just changing the lower module. The SB-16 + AS-8 module (= SB-16A) will work TTL with the Nikon F3. Fitted with the AS-9 module (SB-16B) it can be used on many cameras with a ISO shoe. The SB-16 has a manual zoom head, ranging from 28 - 85 mm. fitted with a SW-7 adapter even down to 24 mm. GN = 105/32 (28mm.) - 138/42 (85mm.).

Above left Nikon SB-16B, right Nikon SB-16A

Above module AS-9 for cameras with an ISO shoe (= connector) and the AS-8 for Nikon F3 cameras only.

The ´brother´ of the SB-15, introduced in June 1983, with the same specifications will fit the Nikon F3 only.

This tiny flash was not sold separately, but mainly in a set with the Nikon FG, since October 1983. It works automatically with the FG but also with other automatic Nikon SLR´s, like the Nikon FA and Nikon FE/2. GN = 66/20.

Even a bit smaller is this compact flash, introduced in March 1984 for the use with the Nikon FG and Nikon EM. It has features identical to the SB-18.

In April 1986 Nikon introduced its first auto focus flash unit, together with the first Nikon AF-SLR 501/2020. The SB-20 has a rotating screen around the flash tube that changes the angle of light to cover 28 mm to 85 mm lenses. GN = 72/22 (28mm) - 118/36 (85mm). It is packed with features, like ´standby´, TTL, ´bounce´ and many more. Together with a great variety of adapters it will work on many cameras. The AF illuminator emits a red beam of light to help the camera to focus in dark situations. This illuminator only works on auto focus cameras when the auto focus selector switch is set to ´S´. It will not work if set on ´C´.

SB-21A - SB-21B

This macro speedlight, introduced in October 1986, consists of two flash tubes and focusing bulbs that attach to the front element of a lens (filter thread 52mm and 62 mm). Fitted with the AS-12 controller unit (above right) it will work in TTL with a Nikon F3. When fitted with the AS-14 (Number 13 isn´t used here either !!) it will work on any camera with an ISO flash shoe (above left). This macro flash can be powered by 4 AA-batteries or by the LD-2 battery pack of the Medical-Nikkor Unit. GN = 39/12. When using the AF-Micro-Nikkor 2.8/60mm the UR-3 adapter ring that fits the lens barrel (not the filter thread!) is required. Via various adapters and cords other flashes can be used on many cameras. If a Nikon F4 with its DW-20 or DW-21 is used a SC-24 cord is needed.

SB-22 - SB-22s

The SB-22 - introduced in April 1987 - is an auto focus flash, using 4 AA-batteries, that delivers GN = 82/25. It has an auto focus illuminator and a built-in wide-angle diffuser (see photo), but no zoom flash head. In August 1998 (11 years later!) the SB-22s with a slightly higher GN was presented. Apart from the TTL features this flash works with the multi-sensor flash programs of the modern SLR´s, like the Nikon F5, F100, F90X and F70.

Again a very compact but powerful auto focus flash, introduced in March 1988. GN = 66/20. Very well usable in M-mode with modern D-SLR or Coolpix cameras with a flash hot shoe. This flash light is one of the very rare flash lights that does not give a flash ready signal in the viewfinder of any camera!.

Introduced in June 1988 together with the Nikon F-801 / N8008, Nikon astonished the world of photography with this sophisticated flash. It is packed with features, like matrix balanced flash, center-weighted fill flash, TTL, stroboscopic flash, auto focus illuminator at full darkness, zoom reflector (automatic when a CPU-lens is used) and a massive GN = 164/50. All features are possible when fitted to a Nikon F-801 or Nikon F4. Before using the SB-24 inside the battery compartment a small sliding switch can be used to set the distance scale in feet or meters! Many adapters, cords and battery packs are enabling the use of this flash in various situations, combinations on many cameras (even digital SLR´s). Many books have been written on this very popular flash.

The SB-25 - presented in October 1992 - is seen as the successor of the SB-24. It has all features of the SB-24, but many extras like fully automatic fill flash (3D multi-sensor balanced etc.), standard TTL flash, FP high-speed sync flash, rear-curtain sync flash, red-eye reduction and repeating flash. The automated zoom head has a manual override as in the SB-24 + a pull-out diffuser for the use of a 20mm. wide-angle lens. Above the diffuser a white card can be pulled out for bouncing flashes. If you buy this flash buy one of the books or manuals that have been written, too! It is impossible to give all features here.

In October 1994 Nikon introduced this upgraded version of the SB-25. The two main additional features are the 18mm pull-out diffuser and the (world´s first!) sync-adjustable photo slave flash system. Please buy one of the books, covering all features of this sophisticated flash. Competitors are still speechless about it.

This little flash, introduced in September 1995, looks a bit like the SB-15/17, but has much more to offer. It has an automatic zoom head (24-70mm), TTL, AF-illuminator, red-eye reduction, rear-curtain sync and a built-in diffuser card. GN = 112/34 (50mm) - 82/25 (24mm).

SB-28 - SB-28DX

This successor of the SB-26 was introduced in November 1997. GN = 164/50. It has nearly all SB-26 features, except rear-curtain sync and wireless remote capability. In September 1999 the DX-version was introduced. This flash has a built-in sensor to measure the reflected light in the various programs. When a modern flash is fitted on a camera, using a film, the bounced flash light will reflect on the film plane when the shutter is open. On basis of this reflected light the flash and camera computer are determining the flash sync and intensity. A digital sensor in a digital reflex camera doesn´t reflect properly flash light that´s why a DX-flash should be used as these flashes do have an extra flash intensity measuring sensor.

SB-29 - SB-29s

This look-alike of the SB-21 was introduced in September 1999. The SB-29s, featuring additional manual settings, was introduced in June 2002. Both models have two flash tubes, an AF-illuminator, built-in diffuser and adapters to fit at lenses with a filter thread of 52mm, 62mm and 72mm. GN = 38/11.

This mini-flash was introduced in April 2002. Although it has a GN = 52/16, it features built-in infrared filter, wide-angle adapter, macro-setting and a wireless TTL slave unit! This flash doesn´t work with Nikon´s i-TTL program.

In August 2001 Nikon introduced this little flash for the use on Coolpix and digital reflex cameras with a built-in flash. If fitted on a camera with built-in flash its flash can be fired simultaneously or the white diffuser can be folded over the flash of the camera. It features various flash programs, like 3D-fill flash and has a built-in diffuser for the use of 14 mm lenses and a wireless slave unit.

This powerful flash (GN = 120/38), specially made for digital photography was introduced in June 2002. It is packed with various flash programs and has a wireless TTL slave unit. If needed 4 SB-80DX flashes can be used in TTL mode simultaneously without cables or cords.

SB-140 infrared

In December 1985 Nikon introduced this upgraded version of the SB-14. The SB-140 is for ultraviolet, visible and infrared photography. It works TTL (visible light only) with a Nikon F3 via a SC-12 cord or with other cameras via the SC-23 cord. Over the flash head three special filters can be placed: the SW-5V for visible light at 400-100nm, the SW-5UV for UV light at 300-400 nm and the SW-5IR for infrared light at 750-1100 nm. GN = 32/10 (SW-5V), 22/7 (SW-5IR) and 16/5 (SW-5UV). The SB-140 is powered by the SD-7 battery pack.

This surprisingly small and easy to use flash light was introduced early August 2013. It can be used by all FX and DX digital reflex cameras as well as those Coolpix cameras that support i-TTL. Its guide number is 18m/59ft (ISO 100) and its weight is less than 100 gram. The flash can be rotated vertically 120° and has almost no buttons and screens on its back (see photo). The FV (flash volume) lock function, with which flash volume is determined based on monitor flashes and saved so that composition may be changed while maintaining the flash value, is not supported by the Nikon D5200, D5100, D5000, D3200, D3100, D3000, D60, or D40-series cameras among COOLPIX cameras, only supported by the COOLPIX A. The flash uses AAA-batteries.

This cute little flash light (less than 130 gr.), introduced together with the Nikon D-40 in November 2006, will fit most modern cameras. It has a GN of 30 and will cover an angle of an 18 mm. lens. The little flash head can be lifted up to 90 degrees. This speedlight uses 2 x AA batteries.

Note: SB-400 cannot be used with cameras not compatible with Nikon Creative Lighting System.SB-400 is not compatible with Advanced Wireless Lighting.

Mid-September 2014 Nikon introduced a compact flashgun, usable on all digital reflex cameras except the Nikon D1-series and Nikon D100. The flash can be used on the Nikon F6 and those Coolpix cameras that are compatible with CLS and i-TTL flash programs, too. The flash head tilts 90° and rotates horizontally 180°. Guide number is 24 at ISO 100 in meters. The flash 'eats' 2 x alkaline or rechargeable Ni-MH AA-size batteries. Its weight is 275 gram.

This in June 2004 presented flash is made for all digital and analog cameras. It has many features, like i-TTL, wireless slave function, zoom reflector and many more. Many interesting books are available for this sophisticated flash, that was introduced as part of Nikon´s Creative Lighting System.

Mid September 2010 Nikon introduced - as part of Nikon's Creative Lighting System - this sophisticated flashlight. It has wireless flash control, i-TTL, built-in slave unit, a head which can be bounced 90° up and 7° plus a 360° rotation.

This successor of the SB-80 was introduced in November 2003. GN = 120/38 at 35mm. It has all SB-80 features plus an automatic white-balance-setting when used on the Nikon D2 and D3 series and an improved i-TTL management. The zoom head has a range of 24 - 105 mm. For extra power a SD-800 battery pack can be attached to the side of the flash.

Note: In most Nikon camera manuals the Nikon SB-800 is hushed up for whatever reason! The SB-700 and e.g. the SB-900 are mentioned but not the SB-800 !!

As the successor of the SB-800 this unique flash was introduced in July 2008. It has nearly all features of the SB-800 + certain novelties. This flash is the world´s first flash that can accept software upgrades when mounted on a Nikon D3 or Nikon D700 camera! The zoom head can cover the focal length of lenses from 17 up to 200 mm.! Its sensor can work together with the new CAM3500 sensors in the latest digital reflex cameras. GN = 157/48 (at ISO 200). This modern flash, powered by 4 AA-batteries, has an i-TTL slave function, making it possible to work with several flashes at the same time.

In November 2008 Nikon issued a firmware upgrade (5.02) for both Macintosh and Windows. Ask your dealer or contact your local Nikon representation. When buying a second hand flashlight check the firmware!

Late November 2011 Nikon introduced this successor of the SB-900. It has a guide number of 112/34 (at ISO 100) and a refined user interface via a new MENU button. It also features three illumination patterns (standard, even and center-weighted), automatic detection of hard color filters attached to the front of the flash head and automatic detection of FX- or DX-format. The zoom-head covers focal lengths of lenses offering 17-200 mm. (14 mm with wide-panel) in FX-format and 12-200mm. (10 mm. with wide-panel) in DX-format. Other features are identical to those offered by the SB-900.


Flashbulb Technical Data

Whereas for electronic flash (strobe lite), the guide number depends only on the film speed, for flashbulbs a guide number is stated for a certain film speed, shutter speed, and film sensitivity (B&W or color).

The reason that shutter speed enters the equation is that a flashbulb flashes over a relatively long period of time, and shutter speeds of faster than 1/30s cut off some of the light from the bulb.

Reflectors

The 7" reflectors are generally used for screw-base (also called Mazda base) bulbs, such as the Sylvania Press 40, GE #11, and larger bulbs. The 5" reflectors are generally used for the "midget" bayonet bulbs, which are actually just slightly smaller than an egg. Examples are GE #5, Sylvania Press 25. The 3" reflectors are for the even smaller bulbs.

There are various adapters for using the smaller bulbs in the larger reflectors, giving less light, but over a broader area, and with less hot spotting. The beam angle of the 7" reflector is 120°. The Graflite 5" reflector has a sliding neck adjustment. At the position marked "normal," the beam angle is 60°.


Watch the video: #31 very large disposable flash bulbs at 1200fps (November 2022).

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