Is Used Lighting Equipment a Good Value?
I am a complete novice when it comes to studio lighting. My experience so far has been limited to portable flash units like my Vivitar 283's. I would like to purchase an entry level light or two to begin my "education" in the art.
I like the idea of of saving money by purchasing used equipment, but I am not confident that it would be a good value. Not being familiar with the brands of lights, I have no idea how old the units are by looking at them, nor whether they were a decent light to begin with. I suppose my main concern is purchasing something that will fail in the short term and require expensive service.
Would you recommend shopping the used market, or purchasing something new like an Alien Bee's monolight? Have you had good experiences purchasing used lighting equipment?
And if I do purchase used, would it be better to do so from someone like KEH or Mid-west, or trying my chances on the auction site?
Thank you in advance for your advice.
There are some excellent deals in used lighting, but you want to be sure you're purchasing a good brand from someone who has used the equipment regularly.
KEH doesn't usually have a great selection of studio lighting. mpex.com is probably a better bet, but Calumet would be even better, in terms of having a good selection of used lighting in good repair.
If this is your first studio lighting purchase, it's good to buy in person from someone who can show you how to use the equipment safely. There is a LOT of power in a studio pack unit. Older units particularly have some real shock hazard, if you don't know the protocol. If you do know, however, you can find some good lights at a good price. I use Normans, which are very rugged and a great value and put out attractive light (though the heads are not as efficient as other brands), but I wouldn't recommend that someone purchase them without some basic safety instruction, for instance.
Just as when buying a camera, research the brand and features to see if it suits your purpose. Buying used is ok but watch out for hard ridden equipment by asking questions and get a return obligation if it doesn't work correctly.
Some people dump practically new equipment after deciding that the portrait business was not what it is cracked up to be. You'll see alot of this over at Photonet so watch the ads. I've not seen to many here, but watch anyways.
I owned some White Lightnings which I thought were great, and I've heard many positive things about them as a company, but there are quite a few more just as good. I prefer strobes over packs, but each to their own. Look for high and low ranges, real power output, ability to get the equipment repaired and the speed of turnaround and accessory cost. Most of all do your research first and read a bunch of threads.
I got a nearly mint-condition Multiblitz kit with two 400 watt heads including umbrella reflectors, all cables and stands for about 1/3 the price of a new kit.
If you are a complete novice, the best thing you could do is to work with a single 100 w light bulb in a medium photo reflector. That will be the fastest way to see what you're doing, and to learn the only two controls of light.
"One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"
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I have purchased nearly new speedotron equipment on ebay at very attractive prices. Speedotrons are very rugged and long lasting. However, I purchased more power then I needed (1604LV Brown line with M11 lights) and have to take extra effort to tone down the light. I love the system, but really need to finish out my garage as a studio. Unless you have a large studio don't buy a large power pack. The power packs deliver a lot of punch. I could have easily gotten by on a 400w pack. I have no experience with monolights but I suspect the same is true with them.
Thank you for all of the replies to my question.
Wayne, I think your suggestion that some people dump practically new equipment after experimenting is what fuels my hope in finding something useful and at a good price on the used market.
I am mostly curious and want to learn more about lighting. I don't think I need professional quality equipment, but I would like something reliable.
I appreciate your suggestion df, and I would tend to agree with you. I purchased some "clamp on" lights with spun reflectors at Home Depot to play with a few years ago. They do work - but the lack of light stands is a real limiting factor.
The problem of what to fix my clamp on lights to made me consider just buying some used light stands. But for not much more money, you can pick up a cheap incandescent set like a Smith Victor kit that comes with stands and umbrellas.
But then I always talk myself out of it because I think I could probably learn just as much with a single monolight for not much more money. And then I would have the start of a multi light kit. Also when I used to experiment with my clamp on lights - my "subjects" would complain that I was cooking them under a french fry light....
Decisions - decisions.
I thank you all for sharing your insights. That is one of the things I love the most about APUG, you learn something new every morning with that first cup of coffee!
You do not say if you want to shoot color or b+w. If color, strobe lights are probably the best idea, you can do an amazing amount with one strobe, a diffusor (soft box or umbrella) and plenty of white card to use as reflectors. If shooting LF, you can never have too much strobe power - 1500 joules is not excessive, below 500 I feel is not enough.
The cheapest lighting is the halogen lighting intended for use on construction sites. these lights generally have small reflectors but come with stands. The color temperature may not be all that accurate (doesn't matter for b+w) and used directly the lights produce harsh effects. Fire a couple of them through a cotton sheet, though, and you have a really great, large and cheap softbox. These lights generate a lot of heat, which can make small studios uncomfortable and can set diffusors on fire if these are placed too close to the lights.
In the era in which I learned studio photography, studios were equipped chiefly with focusing spotlights rated at 500 W or 1, 2 or even 5 kW. As the name suggests, these focused all the way from a narrow spot to a broad totally even flood and had slots on the front for diffusers, gels, barn doors, snoots and other attachments. Due to the in-built ventilation, these diffusers etc. did not burn up. I don't see these spotlights around any more, I fear most of them have been scrapped, which is a pity, because they were the most versatile and useful lighting tool I ever used.
Thank you for the idea of the construction light. It has it's own built in light stand!
I shoot 99% BW for my own purposes, but for the indoor lighting it will be mostly color. The "boss of me" works in dog rescue. One of my chores in life (a chore that I thoroughly enjoy BTW) is to photograph her rescue dogs. While I prefer the BW, most folks are more interested in color when looking through the catalog of dogs. I have some success shooting outdoors, but I have not had much luck trying to get my four legged friends to sit still in the best lighting conditions!
So I want to experiment with some cheap lighting to get a feel of whether it is something I might enjoy fooling with before I spend a lot of money on equipment. I don't want to be the guy who dumps brand new lighting equipment after a short disillusioned experiment.
As an aside, it will give me a motivator to dust off those Tetenal C41 chemicals and give them a try.
Fresnel spots are very much around in the cine, video, and theater worlds. I've seen a few hot light studios for still photography, but except for those who are really dedicated to Hollywood style lighting, the heat, power requirements, weight and bulk of hot lights and stands to support them are all reasons that strobes have taken over in still photography.
That said, it is possible to convert a fresnel spot to a strobe with a modeling light. I have a Norman FS-10, which is Norman's factory conversion of a 10" Bardwell and McAllister fresnel spot, and I've seen other custom conversions. It's one of my favorite lighting instruments, and if I had room for them, I'd get a few more. It can put out an enormous amount of light.