I'm pretty tired of all the BSes on Olympus abandoning 4/3rds, our current camera can no longer take any picture, blah blah blah. We know (or hope) that's just plain BS. Olympus cams and lenses have everything I'd ever need, and I haven't gotten into a situation where my gears can't possibly get the image (except for flash-less cave photography). In short, I can't be happier with 4/3rds gear. BUT, there is one part that Olympus really really let me down - the flash system.
Any OM user could instantaneously tell you how marvelous OM flashes were(are). Just look at the T32 with TTL control, the T10 twin flash, or the legendary T-28 Ringflash, and look at the option the other guys had at that time, you will understand. Current E-system flash, in a word, sucks. The FL-14 looks like the most useless flas ever produced - GN of 14, just a tad stronger than other Olympus DSLR camera built in, no full-control manual, no FP-TTL, no sync, it's not cheap, and not even cute! The ring flash does not support the new lenses, and ditto the twin flash. Even worse, recently Olyflyer made an assumption that Olympus already dropped high-end users since Feb 09. I really respect him and his ideas, as well as his brave move to jumpship to Nikon - few man could do it. The flash system is sort of a higher end thing, whereby you need at least a few for serious work. I find the new E-system flash really lacking.
I decided to do a little hack to add a sync port on my little FL-50R. The 50R, while having an optical slave, provides no sync port. How much trouble would it add for Olympus to add one to each flash? $5? They don't even sell a hot-shoe adapter. Anyways, here's the hack, in detail, step-by-step style:
Disclaimer: This tutorial is only for reference. Please proceed with your own risk. I will not be responsible for any loss of warranty, destruction of equipment, random electric zaps or incurable divorces that might be caused during the procedure.
Hardware requirements (and budget estimation):
- 1x olympus FL-50R or Fl-50: $0 - you should have one already, shouldn't you?
- 1x 1/8" monophone jack: $3.99 (for 3) at radio shack or from eBay
- 2x inch-long 24 gauge wire: 0$ (try to salvage some old cables)
- TORX T5 screwdriver: $5, or $0 if you already have one
- Soldering pencil and solder: $10 (environmentalist will hang me for saying this, but try your local Walmart)
- Electrical tape: $3 (again, Walmart)
- Pliers and helping hand ($15, but optional)
- Multimeter (optional)
- Green Drink (totally optional)
Total damage: Less than $25
Step I: detach the shoe mount component.
Remove the batteries. Turn your flash upside down and you will see four (4) screws on the bottom. Remove those screws and you can remove the foot-assembly, which is required for our hack.
The screws take TORX T5, which is honestly, a pain. They don't want your child to poke a phillips in there and twist around, I assume. Anyways, you need a T5, otherwise you will screw up the screws.
Step II: remove the cable.
To remove the foot, you press it up and pull backward. Don't worry too much on breaking anything, I literally bruteforced my way to remove it the first time but no solder was harmed.
From here you will see a 5-pin cable that connect the foot to the main body. As expected, because the foot has exactly 5 pins: 1 middle, 1 side, 3 datas (I suppose).
Just pull it off, besure to hold the plug, not the cables like I did! If it's too hard you can stick a small pin into the tiny slot below to detach it.
Step III: find the spot for the port.
I use a 1/8" monojack. This jack is quite universal by now, it is found in PW and Paul C Buff stuffs, very reliable - it takes some force to pull the cable off, unlike the PC port, which you can disconnect everything by a gentle breath. Also easy to find. Grab mine from eBay from this seller from China. Half a buck for a jack is not expensive at all, and 2 weeks of testing shows no problem - if there is one, I will just replace it, but I doubt I would ever have to. (BTW, I have no affiliation with this eBay guy - he's just the best option I can find online).This jack is confined, so unlike Radio Shack's, it will not touch the HV-connector inside the flash. Stereo Jack would work too, but for the price and space it takes, that's an overkill. And be sure to get a jack that has the tightening ring, because that's how we're gonna affix the jack to the shoe. Right, we're not gonna solder the jack to the shoe, just kinda hang it in there.
The ideal spot to put the jack, to me, is a little bit off to the side. Your jack might be different, so you might need to find another spot. There might be more space in the flash body, but wiring would be a pain.
Step IV: drill a hole in the foot.
Once you found the spot, you will need to drill a hole to get the jack in position. The 1/8" takes a 5/16 bit, but 1/4 bit would serve you just right. I don't have my trusty Bosch drill with me, so I use a cheapo knock-off Dremel-like rotary tool.
Drill into plastic takes some practice. First use a knife, or inkless ballpoint pen to scratch (ouch) the drilling spot.
Here is the foot with the mark
Then use the smallest bit you have and drill a pilot hole. Set the speed on the lowest setting, and keep a firm pressure. DO NOT keep the bit in longer than 5 seconds, as the plastic might start to melt down and get really nasty. If you use a dremel, do the chop and pull thing - while the bit is spinning (very fast) tap the foot with the bit for half a second and pull right back. Tricky but works well. A couple of taps will get you a clean, nice hole.
You might want to drill from the outside, as the residual could get really nasty inside and might scratch the PCB. And watch the bit so it won't cut the wires. Who knows what might happen. Just be careful.
Once we have the pilot hole, get your 5/16 or 1/4 bit and get a nice, clean hole.
Step V: test for fitness.
Put the jack back on, tighten the ring and see if the contacts touch anything. Often time it will not, if you carefully determine your drilling spot. A quick tip here is to get the hole as close to the foot's PCB as possible, as it might interfere with the contacts above.
STEP VI: wiring.
The PCB on the foot looks like this
The point is, to connect your 1/8 jack in such a way that, when you short the tip and the sleeve, you will also short the middle and the side pin. The side pin is connected to the BLACK wire, and the MIDDLE pin connect to the BROWN wire. This will trigger the flash.
Thus, get two pieces of one-inch long wire (I chop mine of a telephone cord - an inch shorter would not harm any one). 24 gauge would be awesome, and soft aluminum would be superawesome.
STEP VII: Soldering.
This part is also tricky and painful. The connectors are small, and the wires are even smaller. Electronic gurus would laugh at me, but here's how I solder it:
Clip your wire, then melt some solder on both ends of the wire.
Here is how it would look.
See the small silver balls at the tips? They're the solder that I add onto the tips of the wires.
Now, just melt the solder off on the connector. My tip is to clip the jack down, and hold the wire with a pair of pliers - for a wire this short, things get really hot. I didn't do it, because I have only 1 pair of pliers. Tough!
Once soldered your monojack should look like this
Cover the solder up with some electrical tape.
Now solder the wire to the PCB. Again, one to the Brown wire, and one to the Black wire. The black one is connected to a small piece of solder next to the brown one, and you can solder your wire to that spot like I did. But watch out for shorts, as its really close to the brown one.
As you can see, my soldering doesn’t suck too badly. Haven't touch the soldering gun for years since that Highschool-Robotic-Frenzy.
Plug your jack back through the hole, and tighten the ring.
Step VIIb (optional): if you have a multimeter (or Ohm meter), you can do some quick test on circuitry integrity (what fancy words). Check the middle pin vs the tip, and the side pin VS the sleeve. You could have switched those two, but just be sure to have two zero-ish readings.
I used a paper clip to reach the side pin - my cheapo MM's pin is way too big to touch it.
Step VIII: Put everything together
Close everything nice and tight, pop the battery in and do a quick test. Be sure the main connector is not pushed by the jack as you close it.
If it is, you need to drill the hole lower, or a new flash. Turn the flash to Manual (not Slave manual - it will double fire the flash). Plug a monophone cable in and short the sleeve and the tip, or plug it in your PW/cybersync/any radio slave accepting 1/8 jacks. It should work fine. Otherwise, see troubleshoot
Give the flash a few shakes to be sure bumping things around will not short or detach anything. You can now pops the TORX screws back on, completely void your warranty, and present yourself with some Green Drink!
My lame test-fire
This is why I love the look of an off-side port.. Gas Mask anybody?
My lame Green Drink test shot (I have a pair of 50Rs, connect to one cybersync via a $1 stereo splitter)
p/s + speculation: I haven't got a chance to open the whole flash up and take a look inside, but the thread on the side of the 50R is still a myth. I know it's for the macro flash bracket, but come-on, if it's only a tightening thread, why do they have to add a wire to the end? Grounding? Looking at the photos from this thread I didn't find anything particularly interesting, but I expect a radio module hidden somewhere on the board. Maybe they reserve the thread for a monopole HF antenna. A Radio control unit for all higher end flash could be a KILLING function in the next big 4/3rds - honestly, it could make many CLS-lunatics jump towards Oly in a snap.