Chroma Chrono is the world’s first programmable multi colour camera flash

Aug 16, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Chroma Chrono is the world’s first programmable multi colour camera flash

Aug 16, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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I’ve not quite decided yet whether the Chroma Chrono is genius or a gimmick. It’s an interesting idea, a programmable RGB camera flash capable of putting out, apparently, 16 million colours. But is it really all that useful or practical?

Possibly not surprisingly, the Chroma Chrono is currently being funded through Kickstarter. I can see it either becoming wildly successful, or it’ll be another one of those items you buy, use once, and then forget about in a drawer.

That’s not to say that the Chroma Chrono is a bad idea. There are potentially some pretty interesting uses for such a flash. I mean, we use gels with speedlights all the time. So, why not, right? Colour’s colour. But usually, we don’t need the kind of variety in our gels that the 8Bit colour spectrum offers. Unless we’re going for effects, it’s typically a CTO or a CTB, and taping one of those over a flash head isn’t a big deal.

For effects, it’s a different matter entirely. With effects gels, we see all kinds of crazy colours being used by photographers, and this is where the Chroma Chrono looks like it may fit. Especially when you consider this has a huge advantage over a gelled speedlight. Well, aside from not having to carry a stack of gels around with you.

Using a mobile app, you can key in specific colours, define the duration for which they’re on, and then set an interval for how long they’re off. This way, you can programme a sequence of colours, timed to perfection. Great for long exposure experiments. You’re not going to be able to swap out gels on a speedlight quite as efficiently.

The Chroma Chrono uses an LED as its light source. Like most recent LED flashes, it works on the principle of essentially overcharging the LED. Sending more current through it than it can normally accept. It can get away with this because it’s doing it for such a short amount of time. The components, in theory, are never on for long enough to do any real permanent damage.

But, just in case you do kill it, spare LEDs are available, and they’re user replaceable. As you can see in this prototype unit, the design is pretty simple. Batteries and LED are both easily replaceable when needed.

It is a very specific niche product, I think. I can’t see it being widely adopted, but that does not mean to say that this isn’t the way speedlight flash technology may go in the future. LEDs are getting more advanced on a daily basis. Their colour’s getting better, they’re more efficient, they can handle more power input and light output. So, one day, all speedlights might become super-efficient LEDs.

For now, though, they’re in their infancy. They have limited power and uses. But even if LEDs aren’t the future of flash, the idea of the Chroma Chrono is rather cool. I couldn’t see myself fitting it into my regular shoot workflow, but I can see it having very specific use cases that no other device can solve – unless you try to build your own from scratch.

It’s a bit like the MIOPS Splash, in that respect. It serves a function, and seemingly does it rather well. But it’s not something that most photographers are going to use regularly. It’ll go in a drawer and come out occasionally when you fancy having a play with it or a genuine need occurs. And you get the control and consistency that a microprocessor and a mobile app offer.

If you want to get a Chrono Chroma of your own, they’re currently available through Kickstarter for £120. There’s 5 left at that price, after which they’ll go up to £140. Shipping is expected in February 2019.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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7 responses to “Chroma Chrono is the world’s first programmable multi colour camera flash”

  1. Viggo Næss Avatar
    Viggo Næss

    Excellent idea, and no, a ctb and cto is not all one need, it’s all we had.

    To tune wb setting to ANY color would be fantastic. Hopefully in the future this is common among all monolights also??

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      I did not say CTO and CTB were all a photographer needed. I said we typically use a CTO or CTB. That does not mean that they are all we need or even use. And I’m talking about now, not in the past. :)

  2. rifki syahputra Avatar
    rifki syahputra

    this LED flash is still cheaper than LSD, with similar effect
    cool

  3. ext237 Avatar
    ext237

    Ok time to post a DIY on how to make one! :)

  4. Volker Bartheld Avatar
    Volker Bartheld

    Gimmick.

    Eventually, people will learn that there is a difference between a stack of gels in front of a full spectrum Xenon flash and a canned firefly adding the three (nearly monochromatic) RGB colors of a LED array. “CRI” is the keyword here and the big question arises, how you want to imitate a Lee 204 (aka “Full C.T. Orange”) filter with a device that emits relatively sharp peaks at 620, 520 and 450nm respectively.

    Just look at the transmission curve on Lee’s home page.

    George Davies – owner of the project – doesn’t even bother to mention the technical details of his device in terms of wavelenghts, light intensity output (guide number), etc. but I expect it to be pretty duff from the exposure times he mentions. So do yourself a favor, buy three Yongnuo YN560 (or the Godox V350F if you prefer), get a Lee Filters Designer Swatch Book for free, stick 106/120/139 gels on the strobes, problem solved. At a GN of 42 (36 for the Godox) @50mm you get a zoom reflector, wireless mode AND a bunch of actually usable CTO/CTBs for the exact same money.

    BTW: The variable color temp LED video lights balance cool white LEDs (non RGB but with high CRI phosphor instead) with warm white LEDs for a reason.

    Another sidenote: If I were to build a bluetooth LED flash for 150 bucks retail price, I’d rather had a look at Peter Mobbs’ “Experiments using LEDs as a flash gun for high speed photography” blog article, wait for Maurice Ribble’s Camera Axe flash (search Youtube for “TPB #98 – First Attempt at Optics on Led Flash”) and get 500ns exposure time as a bonus.

    2ct, YMMV.

    1. drzeller Avatar
      drzeller

      Volker, I don’t necessarily disagree on many of your points, but your example of getting a few Yongnuo’s and gels is not at all analogous to what this flash can do in terms of special effects. Apples and oranges, as they say.

      1. Volker Bartheld Avatar
        Volker Bartheld

        Agree.

        For this (modulating the aforementioned RGB-gelled Xenon flashes over time) to work, you would need some Arduino (i. e. the CameraAxe or something similar to the Photoduino) and basic programming skills to modify the firmware. Modern Xenon flashes typically offer 8 power levels (1/128, 1/64, 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1/1) and achieve that by limiting burn time. So I would assume, at least 8x8x8=512 discrete color levels are feasible but of course you won’t be able to fire 1/1 in rapid succession during a long term exposure because the flash needs to recycle.

        However the Chroma Chrono supposedly can’t do that either: At some point it will deplete the cap that keeps the charge for overdriving its LEDs.

        So, yes, this device has that feature (at a much lower guide number) in one small package but I still believe, three YNs could achieve a very similar result if connected to a moderately flexible flash controller. I’m quite confident because as part of a high speed photography workshop I successfully built a device (see http://bartheld.net/ag13/slide020.html, notice the Metz 48AF and the YN560 to the left and right of the petri dish) that works with just two flashes.

        So it might rather be comparing Granny Smith with Golden Delicious, whatever your favourite is. ;-)

        BTW: My main point of criticism with the Chroma Chrono is, that there are no specs whatsoever – at least not in the Kickstarter page available to me.