Studio Flash - how do I choose?

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by tkamiya, Jul 13, 2011.

  1. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I have been thinking about my lighting - in particular lack there of....

    Currently, all I have are SB900 (Nikon) and two Metz 45CT-3. I also have a set of small umbrellas and stands. What I like taking is environmental portraits.

    I am aware, Watts/Seconds and GN are totally different measurements and they don't really compare....

    I am currently looking at Alien Bees units. B400 is 160Ws, and B800 is 320Ws. How do these compare to what I have in terms of light output? Let's say I have SB900 pointed to my small umbrella and B400 pointed to the same umbrella. How's the output in comparison?

    I know we have portrait experts in here.... Are there any rule of thumb for environment portrait such as "don't bother with such a small unit!" or "you are way overkill...."

    Or - are there recommendable units rather than AlienBees? I know these are considered a lower end Volkswagen kind of units.

    I'd appreciate any input.
     
  2. heespharm

    heespharm Member

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    I think the quality of light is better from a strobe due to a bigger head... Also the b400 will be brighter and you get a modeling lamp... IMO I would buy no less than the b800 bc the b400 might leave u wanting more at times
     
  3. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    I have white lightning which is the same family and they've been good to me. These old white lightning 10,000 and 5,000 are more powerful and quicker recharging than an attached flash, and are wimps compared to the alien bees and related newer more powerful monolights. The whole guide number thing sorta gets thrown out with the bath water because it's intended to be an easy way to simply flash power calculations and it doesn't apply when you are using things that redistribute, rediffuse, block, and modify the light in as many ways as there are options for studio gear. Look how many umbrellas there are just for one; some are fully silvered, partly silvered, different sizes, transparent umbrellas, etc...

    You'll have lots of fun with the quicker recharge times; the modeling lights on mine dim slightly while recharging so I know when it's ready and it's about a second for full power. The modeling lamp is super nice (and a dslr is good to verify the lighting proportions)

    More power is good for a few reasons, and they don't apply to everyone.

    LF; if you want the depth of field for a multi-person photo, you might be shooting at f22 or 32 in 8x10 or 4x5. That needs lots o light.

    Group photos; you have to light a big area.

    Outdoors group photos; (like a large wedding party) You need something powerful to take out shadows sometimes if you can't put a group where the lighting is ideal. You can't get too close with your gear with a superwide lens because it'll make people on the ends look fat. So you have to back up and shoot with nearly the power of the sun. Passive reflectors are blinding.

    Fast recharge times. Theoretically, a b800 may recharge and be ready faster than a b400 since it is basically operating at half power. Spec sheets online would provide the details.

    Lighting sports venues is also a popular use for monolights. A set of 4 top of the line alienbees will nicely light a hockey rink or basketball court.
     
  4. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Wouldn't that incinerate a few players also?

    Thank you for your response! Can you give me an idea what would B400 be able to do? Say I have a couple standing under a tree. B400 aiming a 40" umbrella located 15 feet away as a key light. Fill is natural lighting. It's a full length portrait. Would that be sufficient?

    I have no reference as to how many WS can do what....
     
  5. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    My WL10000 would do that, so I suspect a b400 would do that quite sufficiently as well. They are probably comparable power. If the umbrella is a partly reflective umbrella; no problem. If it's a sheer umbrella, you might want the more powerful one. It's not much more $ for the b800.
     
  6. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    The modeling lights on these are regular 150watts incandescent lights. Is this a disadvantage compared to ones that use halogen type?
     
  7. Ottrdaemmerung

    Ottrdaemmerung Member

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    I've heard that hot shoe speedlights, like the Nikon SB900 are roughly equivalent to 100Ws. You could probably use a light meter with a flash mode to measure the relative f-stops of light coming to your subject from each light source, and simply use them in normal portrait lighting ratios, like 1:2, 1:3, etc.
     
  8. daleeman

    daleeman Subscriber

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    I have several of the B1600 flash units and having the ability to use them indoor and outdoor without always running at full power has contributed to their 5 year+ life. Always buy over the power level you will need.

    My favorite shoot with them was at a wedding, a pair of them in the choir loft at 80% power and a remote trigger. Groups up to 30 family members ASA 160 @ f9 was a "dependable" joy. While the ceremony was going I just turned off the transmitter. When the bride and groom walked out, I had practiced the iris changes as the A. B. Just kept firing as they walked out.

    The group shots were a dream afterwards too. My assistant placed our other two heads outside at a pond and a wishing well, so I just moved to the next location, as the helper set up the next site with the other pairs.

    Even pre lighting the dance floor with the bees was good. Two with gels and two were white light. The Bees are hard to beat and survive my drop prone hands too.

    Lee
     
  9. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Do you EVER find at 1/32th power (that B1600 goes to) you STILL had too much light? While you do wedding, I might do head shots. The light will be pretty close to the subject, say 4 to 10 feet.
     
  10. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Or - is this a case where trying to buy one to cover ALL situation itself is a bad idea??
     
  11. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    The incandescent 100-150w modeling lights are indeed useless even indoors unless maybe for tabletop work at extreme short working distance.

    The 250w halogens in my Normans and other more modern units are adaquate for portrait distances but outdoors...

    forget it.
     
  12. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    For comparison purposes, the largest hotshoe flashes are 100-150Ws. Most are closer to 80-100Ws. I can get about f/22 at 1m from my 5600HS(D) in a 60cm softbox; my friend's 580EX gets only f/16 at most. If you know what light level you get from your existing flashes with a particular modifier, assume 100Ws output and then you can compute what you'll get from a larger studio flash accordingly.

    Putting a 40" umbrella 15' away is pretty pointless as it will be such a tiny lightsource that you might as well have a point light. In other words, don't bother with the umbrella and its associated light wastage; flash the subject directly if you need to be at that range. The whole point of having big light modifiers is to make the source look big, so don't put them a long way from your subject unless you absolutely need very minimal light fall-off with respect to distance from the flash.

    1/32 on a B1600 is 20Ws, which is about 1/4 power on a hotshoe flash. Try for yourself - is that too much power? So much that stopping down one stop or moving the light 40% further away will be problematic? Probably not unless you're trying to balance against really dim ambient light, in which case just go back to using the hotshoe flashes! In the worst case, there's always an ND gel or bits of black cardboard.
     
  13. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I am now looking at Einstein E640. Adjustable 9 stops (2.5ws to 640ws) and has 250 watts halogen modeling light. That ought to cover everything....
     
  14. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    Yes, if a reception is in a tent outdoor, you can light up the roof of the tent well with a powerful flash and it will diffuse light all through the place! The big benefit of the off camera flash is you don't have to change aperture or flash power as you change camera-subject distance.
     
  15. daleeman

    daleeman Subscriber

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    Great question. The heads do actually go low enough, and I have gels and spun glass difusers. Umbrellas and soft boxes work well too.

    The idea of buying over the power you think you need is that running at 60 to 75% gives long life to the capacitors and flash tubes.

    Lee
     
  16. cmo

    cmo Member

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    I know people in Europe that imported AlienBees from the US because they could not afford the famous brands like Broncolor, Elinchrom, Hensel or Multiblitz. AlienBees are reportedly much better than all the cheap lighting sets made in China (available with dozens of different brand labels). Here they have a nickname that translates to "Chinese Firecrackers" because sooner or later they all die with a bang or a short-circuit fault.

    "Always buy over the power level you will need" is a very good recommendation. Sooner or later you will need more light.
     
  17. SafetyBob

    SafetyBob Member

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    I am not a lighting expert, but recently a guy who does sports photography (I saw him at a kiddie gymnastics photo shoot) had 2 Alien Bee 1600s. He had OK lighting but with those Bees, I had no doubt he was prepared to shoot in any sized gym there is. I spent a lot of time asking him about his Bees.....it is what I will get when I get around to it and stop buying cameras.......

    Bob E.
     
  18. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I am a huge fan of Dynalites, myself. They are affordable, and of quite good build quality. I also find their power packs very easy to use, and nice and small and light. I like their accessories, and they attach very solidly. I like them way better than Profotos in every way, actually, in the same way that I prefer driving a Ford truck to a Volvo wagon. It's not that they are better built or technically superior to Profotos...they just feel more sensible to me. I think Profotos are over-engineered in many ways.

    My boss has an Alien Bees mono head that I have used. I forgot the output. Maybe 1200 Ws or thereabout? It works fine, but it feels like a good healthy fart would blow it apart, and I don't like working with the attachments. They feel chintzy and not very solidly attached. I would say that they are definitely worth looking at, and they are a good option for many people, but maybe not the best choice unless you are easy on the equipment. In my hands, the Alien Bees stuff would not last long. I have a bad habit of breaking stuff by being rough/clumsy with it.

    In terms of the light itself, both are just as capable in capable hands. But I hate working with chintzy-feeling stuff. It is annoying to me. Dynalites are not "high-end," but they feel solid to me. I would opt for used Dynalites before new Alien Bees. YMMV.

    My preferred Dynalite setup is two 500's, rather than a single 1000. It allows more, and easier, fine tuning. And you don't need the fancy (read "more expensive") heads to handle the packs' power.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 4, 2011