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To High Speed Sync or Not to High Speed Sync? Maybe an ND Filter Is Best

There's a feature with flashes that if you're in the know, is a lifesaver. High speed sync is something that allows you to shoot beyond what's considered the maximum sync speed of your camera, and to shoot wide open with flash in bright light, it's often a necessity to balance the exposure.

Most cameras allow you to sync a flash at a somewhat slow shutter speed. For most cameras, that's around 1/200 or 1/250 of a second. This means that you can fire the flash with the maximum amount of power up to that shutter speed. But depending on the speedlight or flash unit you are using, it's sometimes possible to push the light beyond that shutter speed by "pulsing" the flash to work with the shutter curtain. However, this results in a loss of power.

For Francisco Joel Hernandez, of FJH Photography on YouTube, that's a price that's too high to pay. In examples shown in the video above, he argues that the power loss with flash is huge and that you often end up carrying around huge flashes and using them at much less power than they are rated for. As a better solution, he offers up ND filters as an option. That means by lowering the exposure at the lens instead of using shutter speed, you can keep that wide open aperture and also keep the shutter speed within the sync range as well. Win-win, right?

In my own experience, I'd say that it's a definite "sometimes." I've gone back and forth over the years between using ND filters and high speed sync on my flashes, and I can honestly say there's no right answer. Often, a complicating factor is the system I'm using. For instance, I would often use Cactus flash triggers to get cross-brand wireless flash compatibility between speedlights and camera bodies of different systems, such as Canon to Nikon. However, this often meant that high speed sync was off the table, and so, in these cases, an ND filter was really my only option.

Other, I'd find my camera's autofocus system to be a limiting factor. Hernandez, for example, lists a 6-stop ND filter for this wonderful photo on his Instagram page. I've tried to shoot moving kids with a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT and such a filter, and even a decent autofocus system like the one on my Canon 6D would just give up in a lot of conditions with that kind of loss of light. That said, it looks like Hernandez's models moved a bit slower than squirrelly children, and his Sony Alpha a7R III's autofocus system hit the mark.

What are your thoughts on high speed sync versus ND filters? Is one better than the other? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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45 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

Why buy a more powerful flash unit? The higher the output you dial in, the harder the unit will work, more power required and it slows down recycle time. Perhaps you want to use the unit both indoors and out and have flexibility of traditional sync speeds and HSS or Hypersync. I'm sure that there are more reasons but these are the first that came to mind.

Andrew Eaton's picture

A Leaf shutter lens is the answer :-)

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Solution is HS not HSS, but people just don't want to pay for HS strobes. The Godox brainwashing is ridiculous in my opinion, nothing wrong with Godox, but people just don't buy what they need anymore under the pretend of cheap.
I like this guy, I love his work, but there is absolutely NO WAY he has never heard of HyperSync. Too many sponsors to please and that's why I don't like his videos. Viewers don't actually get all the possible available solutions. Give it all or nothing.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

Hey Benoit, I'm all for discussion on lighting. I'm not sponsored by any light company btw. I just released a video this morning using all Profoto lights, I use Aputure sometimes, & next week I will be using a Nicefoto Neewer Vision4. I use and prefer Godox, but that's not to mean I'm an ambassador. I have heard of HyperSync as well as SuperSync & Hi-Sync. All those three methods are limiting in my opinion because they work best only at full power and, from my understanding, show a gradation of light at lower outputs.

Jan Holler's picture

My two Elinchrom ELB 400 work very well down to 1/2000s. Below that there is a drop-off, but it still works. I have never experienced a drop-off in light at lower powers, and besides, this goes against the objective of outshining a strong light source like the sun.
I agree with Benoit. You say you have "heard of HyperSync"? That's not enough when you post videos like this. Please watch this very good explanation of Bot HSS and Hi-Sync. Then you will understand:
https://www.elinchromus.com/articles/hsorhss.html

Francisco Hernandez's picture

While you might have not experienced a drop off in light at lower power outputs, the gradation is still there. According to Elinchrom;

"With Elinchrom’s optimized Hi-Sync technology the ELB 400 has very little gradation. Because of the larger flash output of the ELB 1200, the gradation is much more noticeable but it is also very easy to correct in post-processing. Also, depending at what power setting the strobe is set to and which shutter speed is used there will be varying amounts of gradation."

In the article you linked it also says:

"HS works best with slower flash durations so that the transmitter can sync up the timing. When used with flash units that have a faster flash duration it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to time where and how the slice of light is taken out of the flash curve."

Slower flash durations are at high outputs so yes, it works best using full power with the ELB 400. I prefer using lights that don't rely on me using full power. However, if I ever intended to freeze action and using full power on a strobe I can see how using something like the ELB 400 or ELB 1200 could be very helpful. Just not a fan or pack and head systems and their price point.

Jan Holler's picture

That is why there is a dedicated HS-head available. You do NOT have to work using full power. To freeze action, there is a dedicated head with a very low flash duration available. If I were you I would be thankful to get helpful replies. Instead you argue on a level that makes no sense regarding professional lightning.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

The author of the article actually sums up my feelings on this topic of HSS and HS:

"In the end, both HSS and HS technology have their place and can be very effective for a variety of scenarios."

While I prefer HSS and ND filters, you have your own preferences as well.

Jan Holler's picture

"While I prefer HSS and ND filters, you have your own preferences as well." You seem not to understand. Overpowering day light is better done with H-Sync. Please have a look at that video, which explains it fairly well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqqB_EllQfw

Francisco Hernandez's picture

I literally just got done watching that an hour ago. He even says in his video that he doesn't ever need to use HS, but did only for that one shot in the thumbnail. I know Rob and he's a friend of mine. He uses HSS and ND filters as well. He has a video where we shot together using ND filters in my town.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

HS is definitely not complicated to set up, I wish he would stop repeating it in the video or physically demonstrate how it's complicated if it is. Guaranty you he won't make a video on this with Broncolor ever. Press HS on the pack or mono, switch your rfs2.2 and you are done. Or, set 2 rfs2.2 to HS, one trans, one to receiver, yes they are transcievers, and you are ready. I looked into getting Godox for very busy locations but setting HS with Godox did look complicated and has a video of it's own apparently. And no there is no to extremely low and rare banding with Bron, but I'd be glad if someone shows me a video. Won't happen... I've done many personal tests and in fact I have done t.1 vs HS at 1/8000s and you'd be amazed as to how close the results are. There are no youtube professional "testers" videos on that either.
And by the way, it's not does he or I use HS, but does one has it available in their workflow when needed. Yes, you can go around it, a reflector can work, may be.

Jan Holler's picture

You never give up, do you? What a stupid opinionated rant. I will never look at anything of yours again, you impertinent know-it-all-and-better! And FStoppers is well advised to leave out such low level amateur BS.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

And that's a video coming from a Godox internet master! Which reminds me that yes I and many other users of over priced products do keep up with what is out there no matter the brand or price. No I don't have Godox, but it's like I did have used some models with all the research I do.

Jan Holler's picture

But this video didn't help either. He still hasn't understood what it's all about. He just skips over everything that proves him wrong. I give up and put this name on my personal blacklist. A waste of time.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

First, yes, you always have commercials, what ever it is, here in the middle. I skip, I'm okay with that because your videos are interesting, but I skip a lot of your videos because of the commercial part too.
Second, I really invite you to test HyperSync because it absolutely does not require full power and that HS is not pulse, but a true one strobe clean flash. This said, when set to HS, the brand I use raises the power up a tiny bit, but we are talking 5ws here. So yes I can do HS at 6ws if I ever needed.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

The ad reads help me commit time to making these videos so if that's not to your liking that's understandable, but hope you realize why they're there.

I apologize for misunderstanding that only full power is necessary for HS. I will still prefer to use and recommend using ND filters or HSS though. The price point of Elinchrom is higher and they also use a pack and head system when I prefer cordless. It's just a difference in preferences for me. If I somehow had no lighting on me other than Elinchrom I'm sure I'd be able to use it for great photos, but I prefer the more portable cordless options like the Godox AD300 Pro.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I certainly don't admire people who rely on clicks, so yes I understand but my rating is extremely low when that occurs.

Man, you have degraded my interest in your stuff very sharply with the second part of the reply. So Godox doesn't do packs? I don't know, that's what you suggest, not me. I actually was referring to Broncolor Siros L, but you have decided HS wasn't good for you so why should I keep up. Plus you always have assistants with you so cordless pack or mono don't seem to be a real factor.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

You seem intent to argue, when I'm just trying to give you my reasoning for what I use. Elinchrom is more expensive and I use Godox because it allows more people to use it and works very well. Godox does have pack and head lights, but you won't see me using those lights on location ever because, like I said before, I prefer cordless lights. The Broncolor siros L alone is about $2,600. Sure it's an excellent light. I just won't use it since I'm happy with the Godox lights I already have.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

No, you keep coming, so let's do 50/50 if you can ever be fair.
Are you making $ from your photography? I'm starting to actually wonder.
$2600 over 5 years is $44 per month. My gas alone will cost me more per month to just go to shoots. You don't pay your assistants? That cost too. The 2 Siros will probably last me 10 to 15 years so you can see it's not much for a business, but also some of my Broncolor is 25+years old and probably cost me a couple $/month at this point if I ever divided by the number of years used. In 15years, your followers will probably buy 3 to 5 bodies and a bunch of expensive lenses, but your work is your style and the light. That's where I see light being supper important and kind of find this article weird.
If you write an article debating on personal doubt over HSS, yes, you can disregard my suggestion but it really makes zero sense. I too have a few ND filters, but I never use them. So your problem with cost seem personal not professional but it's yours of course.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

I hope you can understand that my reasoning isn't only for myself. I specifically use affordable lighting so anyone who wants to create similar work, no matter how broke or rich they are, can also buy the same lighting. I have plenty of followers in India, Africa, and South America. The price of lights go way up just to ship a light there. So I don't use my lights for just myself, I use them so others can maybe be inspired and can get an affordable off camera flash themselves.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Like I said, I have no problem with Godox or what you do. If you did read the article, the last line ask a question, so it's not just about you here. I replied, your subsequent reply was erroneous and showed lack of knowledge, but I am on topic no matter where your videos are viewed around the world.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

Admittedly, I didn't even see the question at the end of the article. That's on me.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

No worries, we don't count points.

Jan Holler's picture

"That's where I see light being supper important and kind of find this article weird." That nails it. I do like to have quality content here and not arguing about cheap or expensive when it comes to quality of the light: the most important thing in photography.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

You can get quality light without spending more than $1,000. There's the Godox AD600 Pro. Or if you don't have the most money there's the Godox TT600.

Jan Holler's picture

What was the topic again? HSS less suited than H-Sync. Stay focused please.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I tried HS with Elinchrom and it was utterly crap and I don’t understand they even offer it. With ELB 500 kit they did all right, and the new One also, I suppose. Both offer HSS.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I don't use Elinchrome, but I understand their system may require a special flash tube for HS.
Also, I tried Flash Wizard's HS capable radios a long time ago, but I never had good results.
With Broncolor and the RFs2.2 transmitter, after setting it, there is virtually no issue ever. It will work with older lower end Broncolor as well including the battery powered 1200ws Mobil pack and I suspect any lower end pack and mono from any brand could work with just the cost of 2 rfs2.2

Jan Holler's picture

Interesting about the Broncolors. Yes, for HS EC has a long duration flash head available. It works very well. I guess Bjarne (above) used a normal head, which works until about 1/500s reasonably well.
I do not know about Broncolor. Their heads must all have rather a longer flash duration than a short, haven't they? Otherwise I would be interested how they accomplish HS. Any hint?

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Only thing I know is that you have to press HS on the Siros and obviously that changes a setting inside just like you have to use a different tube with Elinchrome but it's the same tube. I don't know that the tubes affect the duration with Bron, I think it's probably the way they designed their circuitry. But they have over 35 years of experience with short duration and probably 25 with color control.
With the Siros, I can shoot HS or up to 1/11000 for the 400ws 1/9000 for the 800ws. They do strobo (up to 50 flashes) ping pong and all. The app gives even more control like delay in tiny or large increments. While they can't compete with lower prices the flexibility is remarkable. That's hard to explain to people who have never been exposed to the models.

Jan Holler's picture

Thank you very much. I'll dig into it a bit. Not that I have a use for that much power, but I'd consider them any time if I had.

Yin Ze's picture

I find it ironic that this excellent video was sponsored by "Professional Photographers of America" when he is using "disposable" equipment as outlined in "Why Godox is disposable, a beginners guide for portrait lighting photography gear" video by tool of all trades J.G.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

No need to link that clickbait here.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

How do you come to this conclusion? Is the guy in the video wrong in anyway?

Francisco Hernandez's picture

It's clickbait. The guy in the video himself says so in the comments.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Yeah, I don't think so. Would any Godox owner agree with him? zero chance and that shows in the comments, but apparently all Godox people have watched the "bad" video. Before Godox, same crowd would have the same types of comments. So my question is why these people moved from the "pro" Paul C. Buff product to Godox? Simple, Godox is closer to the European brands they bashed (want). I think John Gress's video is very informative.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

It can be both informative and still be clickbait. He baited people to watching the video off his thumbnail and title. He himself agrees to this so I'm not sure why you don't. Again, you seem to just want to argue.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Shall I mail you a mirror?

Francisco Hernandez's picture

Not necessary. You're being very hostile with your comments. I'm just trying to explain my reasons for what I use.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Dude, are you okay? You've been nothing but combative and insulting of people in here, crying that they're being rude when they're simply replying to your supposed points.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I sure am okay. Did I write anything that's inaccurate?

Eric Mazzone's picture

You are straight up being abusive and refusing to actually LISTEN to what anyone else says. You are stuck on the fact that you think YOU reasons for something are the only valid reasons, and refuse to accept that others do stuff differently.

You have a future ahead of you, and that's being left alone by your children when you need care.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Your view. Good luck with your photography

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Btw, have even mentioned once the brand name I use, have I trashed Godox in any way or any other brand? Ain't you the abuser here?

Fernando Arellano's picture

The video it's self is very informative. I have a godox as 600 pro and just learned about the power loss not to long ago. Thanks for the confirmation and the brake down of why it happens