Thursday, April 26, 2012

Farewell, Ziggy!

This past Sunday afternoon, on a portrait photo shoot, the unthinkable happened...Ziggy died. Who's Ziggy? My long-time associate, my partner in lighting, my trusted ally. My nine year old Sigma EF-500 DG Super Flash. Ziggy's tale is one of exploration, discovery, frustration, success, and a worldwide adventure. I bought Ziggy new in 2003, right after I "went digital" by buying a Canon 300D Digital Rebel. I had used Sigma speedlights before, and had been happy with their combination of features and price. At the time, Sigma's EF-500 DG Super model had full Canon E-TTL compatibility at about 1/4 the cost of comparable Canon speedlights, so I picked one up. When it arrived, I named it Ziggy (a play on "Sigma"). Yes, I name inanimate objects sometimes -- that's not weird, is it? :) That's Ziggy above, with a quick and dirty home-made diffuser on his head. Cute, huh?
Ziggy and I explored the new world of digital SLR photography together. Whenever I needed something lit, Ziggy got the call. He also went around the world with me on my business travels along with the Rebel, visiting England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Japan, China, and Australia. He never complained, he was always ready to work, and he never gave me any problems.

In 2005, I moved up to a Canon 20D model, and Ziggy came along. I started doing early studio photos (like the one above of my two kids) -- lit by a newly-purchased AlienBees B400, and Ziggy. Yes, sometimes I used him as a slave, but he didn't seem to mind. He happily let other strobes take the lead, as long as he got to play. We learned off-camera Strobist style lighting together. He was always ready and willing to try new things!
By 2006, Ziggy had already popped his flash tens of thousands of times, with never a problem. That year was when I turned full-time pro, and Ziggy started getting a lot more of a workout. He also got some new friends, another Sigma EF-500 DG Super ("Chip"), and a Vivitar 285HV ("Dale" -- I bought the two of them at the same time). While I suspect he felt a little jealous, he always played well with the others. Together we did weddings, outdoor portrait sessions, beach shoots, macro work (image below), product shots, and more. Tens of thousands more flashes. Batteries came and went, but Ziggy was a constant.
He took some rough knocks now and then...on a beach shoot, with Ziggy mounted on a light stand and shooting into an umbrella, the wind picked up and lifted the stand, the umbrella, and Ziggy at least 15 feet in the air, then sent them all sailing down the beach, landing hard right at the water's edge. When I got to him, I was afraid he was gone -- the flash ready light was no longer on, and the umbrella was a tangled mess of bent ribs and torn fabric. But Ziggy was tough...his battery cover had simply slipped a bit, and all it took to revive him was to pop it back in place. I shot the rest of the session without the ruined umbrella, but with Ziggy!
Sigma introduced new models as the years went by -- adding E-TTL II functionality, more power, faster recycle times, etc. I kept up and bought Ziggy new friends, until last week I had Ziggy, Chip, Dale, Henry (a Sigma EF-530 DG Super), and Bruce (Sigma's latest, the EF-610 DG Super model). Bruce's guide number of 200 made Ziggy's 125 seem somewhat dated, but that didn't make him any less useful. And amazingly, he still played well in wireless E-TTL mode with all the Sigma models, over 9 years of changes.
Then, after literally dozens of weddings, many hundreds of portrait sessions, endless hours of experimentation in the studio, and much more (well over 100,000 flashes), I took Ziggy with me last Sunday. It was an outdoor session, and Ziggy was acting as key light, on a stand through a 36" shoot-through umbrella. We had done 50 or so shots, and just moved to a new location, when the shot above -- Ziggy's last -- was taken. On the shot after this, I heard a "pop" from him, and a review of the image on the camera's LCD showed Ziggy hadn't fired. Checking him out, I saw a bit of a brownish "burn" mark on his fresnel lens...his power was still on, the flash ready light glowed, but alas...his flash tube had flashed its last. Ziggy went out with a bang, both literally (it was a loud "pop!") and with the last image he helped me with.
Now, I'm only being a little bit facetious. I really do name my equipment, and when you work with things for many years you get to know them, trust them, integrate them into your thinking and planning. I knew Ziggy's capabilities inside and out, I knew what power levels to set him at, at certain distances, without having to do guide-number calculations or do test shots. How can you not become fond of hard-working, long-lasting gear that you've used for years, and that has helped you make a living and produce some great shots?
I'll miss my little buddy Ziggy. I estimate I put about 150,000 flash pops on a flash head rated for 100,000 pops, and I did it in harsh conditions, with lots of travel and bumps and falls (and flights on umbrellas!), and it just worked. Considering I paid $230 brand new for Ziggy and got just short of nine years of heavy use out of him, I consider him one heck of a bargain. How many items that you purchase nowadays last longer than they're supposed to? It's pretty rare. Ziggy rode along my original Canon Rebel 300D, a Canon 20D, a Canon 5D, a Canon XTi, and my current Canon 5D Mk II and T2i DSLRs. He worked great with all of them.
I'll be replacing Ziggy with another new Sigma EF-610 DG Super Flash from Adorama (or with a Sigma EF-610 DG SUPER Flash from Amazon). The Sigma flashes have been great for me, never giving me any problems and standing up to hard work and a bit of unintentional abuse for many years now. I highly recommend them.
And if you happen to get one that goes along with you on your personal photographic journey, and you get a little attached to it, don't feel silly about giving it a name. It's not weird, I swear.


  1. Poor little Ziggy.

  2. Hi Paul,

    I am planning to buy one of the two lenses for my Pentax Kx, the Samyang 500mm f/8 mirror lens or the Opteka 650-1300mm High Definition Telephoto Zoom Lens.
    Pls advice if these have the correct mount for the Pentax Kx. If this does not fit into my camera, returning it from India will be difficult.
    I would like to know your views on which one to use without loosing the brightness and the crispness of the image.