Macro using the Olympus FL-LM3 flash off camera

The little Olympus FL-LM3 flash gun is a work of genius. One of my favourite photographers, Robin Wong, has made an excellent YouTube video about this flash (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tj4oDtUlpsI&ab_channel=RobinWong). I will only repeat here a few of the reasons he gives for the flash being so clever because what I really want to do is to point out that with a suitable extension cord, it can be used off camera. I don’t know who it was at Olympus who thought of it but the addition of a fourth contact on the hot-shoe of Olympus cameras that could carry power to the flash was a brilliant idea. It enabled Olympus to move away from the pop-up flash found on many cameras and instead to provide a very small but versatile flash gun that could be mounted on the hot-shoe and because the flash is powered by the camera’s internal battery, the flash could be made very small. Some neat engineering allowed the flash head to be rotated and inclined just like those found on much larger units, enabling bounce flash and much greater control over illumination. Further, the little FL-M3 also works as a flash commander and can control off camera flashes by radio. With a Guide Number of only 9, it isn’t the most powerful flash but it is as versatile as any, and also the lightest and smallest TTL commander flash available – a lot smaller, and a lot lighter! Plus, it’s a real bargain – about £60 if you have to buy it as a separate piece of kit but it came free with my Olympus EM1 Mk2.

I spend most of my time in macro photography. I have a variety of speed-lights with various diy diffusers. Diffusers are essential to avoid specular highlights in images taken with a flash. I moved from Nikon to Micro 4/3rds in order to get a camera I could lug around all day in the field, lying down, squatting, and climbing over gates and fences. Until recently, I made a lot of use of a Yongnuo 560 IV flash gun (cheap!) with a really big 3D printed diffuser. I had to mount the flash on camera because I found it very difficult to take flash photos of the quality taken by for example, Robin Wong. Robin holds the camera in one hand and the flash plus diffuser, in the other. I find I need both hands on the camera not least of all because I like back button focus. Having the flash off-camera allows for greater versatility – dramatic lighting from one side etc. However, my hands just aren’t able to hold the camera and a big flash like the Yongnuo for any period of time. The alternative is to mount a flash on the camera and use both hands. Some people use the small pop-up flash found on other makes of camera and rig-up an inclined diffuser on the lens that scatters light onto subjects near the front of the objective. I thought about doing that with the FL-LM3. However, it occurred to me that if one could find a suitable cord that simply replicated the contacts of the camera on a remote shoe, it should be possible to use the FL-LM3 just like Robin does or, because it is so light, to make a mount to move it nearer to the end of the lens. I found a suitable cord, the JJC FC-03. This cord has all the contacts found on the camera and thus gives full TTL control over an off camera flash.

This is an experimental rig but it works well, providing nicely diffused light with a setup that is very light and all for the cost of the flash cord (about £20).

In the end, I decided to mount the flash on the lens using a simple 3D-printed articulated arm mounted on a clamp that fits onto the lens of hood of my Olympus 60mm macro lens. I made two identical clamps – the rear one holds the flash which I can set at any angle and at any position around the lens, and the second clamp holds a very simple 3D-printed diffuser. I plan to print a diffuser that clamps on to the flash itself but I haven’t got round to it yet. Meantime, I learnt from someone on DPReview that should you be in a restaurant that has butter in little white plastic containers with a tear off film on the top, the container is a push fit over the FL-LM3 flash head – a little diffuser for free! Eat the butter first!

Flash diffusers have become something of a diy industry and making your own is fun. I have found that a good way to test materials is to try shinging a bright torch through them. If you still get a bright spot, the diffusion is insufficient. If you get a nice even illumination larger than the field of view, you may be onto a good material. Fancy shapes can make sense but I have found that though a flat sheet may waste some light, they can work almost as well. Double diffusers work particularly well; one on the front of the flash and the other a little further forward.

Below are some pictures of the set-up I am currently experimenting with – to get something approaching acceptable ight I used two sheets of kitchen towel one on a ‘natural’ PLA sheet held on the clamp on the lens and the other just taped over the flash itself. I am thinking about how to add a 2nd flash because if I can find a way to do that, while it will not rival the £380 Olympus STF-8 dual macro flash set up, it will have cost me nothing because I already have some units I could use as the 2nd flash. I have also printed mounts to enable the flash to be used on my Loawa Super-Macro and my Nikon 105mm Micro lenses. I think having the flash near the end of the lens is really useful if you want to do ‘super-macro’ photography.

As ever, just click the photo to see an enlarged version….

A fly that posed obligingly on the end of an incense stick – cold weather is great for this kind of photo; the insects sit nice and still!
Just a couple of old rusty nails but the shadows aren’t too harsh which is what I was hoping for.
The fruiting bodies of some moss – again quite pleased with the lighting – mostly from the flash
A fern growing on the dark side of our house – nearly all the light is from the flash.

About petermobbs

A tinkerer and maker of 'things' who loves macrophotography and the natural world. Retired scientist and former Chair of Physiology, Dean of Preclinical Medicine and Dean of Life Sciences at UCL, now enjoying the beauty of the Gresigne in South West France
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6 Responses to Macro using the Olympus FL-LM3 flash off camera

  1. SherWoei says:

    Thanks for sharing the setup.

  2. Richard says:

    Super article Peter – can you advise where I might find a similar articulated arm setup I could buy to fit my Olympus 60mm Macro lens? The off camera cord was exactly the thing I was looking for, but now I need to mount it onto something like your setup – thanks.

  3. Matt Hirst says:

    Hi,

    Am totally new to macro and just remembered about the flash that came with my camera. It had been in the box since I bought the camera unused.

    Anyway I’ve just bought the 60mm macro lens, am now looking at options to use the flash, did you ever design a diffuser that clamps to the flash?

    Regards,

    Matt

    • petermobbs says:

      Hi, If you have a 3D printer, there are a couple of diffusers on Thingiverse. Otherwise, you can improvise with some thin packing foam in a broad U around the flash head haled in place with a rubber band. P

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