Where Hot Shoe Flashes Dare Not Go ::

January 19, 2010 | Editorial Photography

There is a nagging question that haunts photographers…

“Do I have the right set of lights?”

This question is bugging me right now.  I do not have an answer for you just yet.  All this question has done for me in the past year is create more questions.

I’m going to get a bit nerdy on you here and take this post from looking at lighting systems to looking at camera systems.  I really don’t nerd out about gear on my blog but you need to be warned… Total nerdom after the jump.

“Do I have the right set of lights?”

Even the Grand Poobah of lighting, David Hobby, has been asking this question of himself lately.  He’s been testing Elinchrom, Profoto, and AlienBees systems.  David and I both are big believers in the power of small hot shoe flashes.  I have been able to build a career off the back of four AA batteries but there are situations you will find yourself in where those hot shoe flashes will leave you heading down that proverbial stream of excrement without a means of locomotion.  As a working photographer you have to figure it out and make the most of it but you spend a lot of time cursing and praying for more light.

How I work around the lack of having more powerful lights has been a mixture of booking location shoots closer to dusk, flying scrims, working in the shade, etc.  I can’t tell you how much the lack of power from lights effects how, where, and when I shoot.

A year and a bit ago I added an AlienBee B1600 flash with a vagabond battery pack.  That’s been a pretty good set up so far.  There are times I would like about one more stop of light from it but I figure it out and it works well. One issue I have with it though is the dang Vagabond alone is 18 pounds!  I’ll be traveling more this year and I would love to find a system that provides more light and less weight. Another issue I have with the AlienBee system is how slooooooooow that flash duration is.  Firing an AlienBee is like lighting flash powder.  They burn slow.  If I need to cover the entire frame of an image with light from the flash I usually lose 1/3 of a stop in shutter speed just to make up for the slow duration of the AlienBee.  It is the only light I’ve used where I have this issue.  Faster duration flashes do not give me the same issue.

If you are unfamiliar with how larger lights are rated let me break it down for you.  The power from a hot shoe flash is typically rated as a guide number.  This flash has a guide number of 130.  That one has a guide number of 95.  The higher the guide number supposedly the more light it can emit.  Guide numbers are a tricky way to really figure out how much light one flash can produce than another and at the end of the day you are really just comparing a Camry with an Accord.  More powerful lights are rated in “watt seconds”. Watt seconds tend to be a more honest way of rating the power of a flash.  Guide numbers can be fudged to meet marketing demands.  Watt seconds can be measured under a little more scrutiny.  To be honest, I don’t know my watt second from my guide number but I understand how it works in the field.

When you double flash power you gain a stop of light.  So let’s say a hot shoe flash is 100 watt seconds.  (That’s being pretty liberal with ratings too.)

If you find a flash rated at 400 w/s then you know that will give you two more stops of light than your typical hot shoe flash rated at 100 w/s.  100 doubled is 200, and 200 doubled is 400.  My public school education can handle that much.

So if you get f 5.6 out of a hot shoe flash at full power then you can expect to get f 11 out of a 400 w/s light.  (Please note that this is just a hypothetical scenario you might find yourself in.)

100 w/s = 5.6 200 w/s = 8 400 w/s = 11 800 w/s = 16 1,600 w/s = 22

Since there are a number of options out there rated at 1,100 w/s or 1,200 w/s then they would fall (in this example) in between  800 w/s and 1,600 w/s.  A 1,200 w/s light in the example above might mean you’ll get somewhere around f 16.5.  The AlienBee 1600 is rated at 640 w/s so that will get you in the range of f 11.5 in the example above.  AlienBees has this odd rating of “Effective watt seconds” and “actual watt seconds”.  That makes no sense to me and when you meter the things you’ll find that it makes no sense in exposure.  It’s like saying a car has 100 “actual” horsepower but when you drive it, it “feels” like it has 200 horsepower. At the end of the day, the thing has 100 horsepower.

More power means more weight, and more importantly, more money.  Below, I’ll list the lights I’m looking at.  I’m going to add a Nikon SB-900 in the list so you can see where it falls in the line up ratio of power/weight/price.  If your jaw drops to the floor when you start seeing prices for these systems get close to $3,000 I want you to consider this…

A Nikon SB-900 costs $460 and gives you, more or less (mostly less), 100 w/s of power.  Let’s look again at our hypothetical situation above.  At full power the best you can get out of that SB-900 is f 5.6 but you want to shoot at f 16 so that you can overpower ambient light.  Just picture this flash in a 50″ softbox that is five or six feet from your subjects.  As you double flash power you gain one stop of light.  From 5.6 to 16 you have to double your power 3 times.

1 SB-900 = 5.6 2 SB-900′s = 8 4 SB-900′s = 11 8 SB-900′s = 16

Eight SB-900′s cost how much?  $3,680.  That’s how much.

If you are asking why you can’t just increase ISO in order to increase aperture remember that as you increase sensitivity to your flash by raising ISO you also raise the sensitivity to ambient light and there you go… right past your sync speed.  You may ask about high speed sync.  Well, as cool as that is and all, I can tell you that you can not get f 16 from a 50″ softbox with a hot shoe flash and high speed sync and all the rest of the voodoo you do.  There are all sorts of tips and tricks and doodads that can squeak out a bit more sync but at the end of the day, if you can not natively sync at higher speeds then you. need. more. power.

You could also ask about neutral density filters.  ND filters cut the amount of ambient light but they also cut the amount of light from your flash.  If you are in a five stop range between flash and ambient and you need that to be a three stop range then ISO change or an ND filter situation isn’t going to change that lighting ratio for you.  You either need to increase shutter speed to cut ambient or introduce more flash.  If you are at the limits of sync then your next option is to increase light from the flash.

So, seeing as how eight SB-900′s are going to cost more than a decent used Honda, looking at a light that is $1,500 to $2,500 is a walk in the park.  But $1,500 to $2,500 of cash outlay is NOT a walk in the park.  I think the commitment level to buing into a system of lights is just under the commitment level of getting married.  Once you buy into a system you’re in it and you can plan on spending a lot more than $2,000′ish dollars for the life of your lighting kit with whatever rig you decide on.

Let’s look at the kits I’m considering…

Nikon SB-900 • 100 w/s • 1 lb • $460 (just here for comparison)

Elinchrom Quadra • 400 w/s • 4 lbs • $1,540

AB1600 w/ Vagabond • 640 w/s • 23 lbs • $659 (already own it)

Elinchrom Ranger w/head – 1,100 w/s • 19 lbs. • $1,755

Profoto Pro 7B w/ head • 1,200 w/s • 27 lbs • $5,100

Hensel Porty 12 w/head • 1,200 w/s • 16 lbs • $3,895

I’m not looking into Dynalite, Lumedyne, Speedotron, Norman, Photogenic, Broncolor, Comet, etc for a number of reasons.  Some are price. Some are scalability. Some are for no other reason than I don’t like how they look. Yeah, I can be that shallow.  All of these lighting systems have their strengths.  What I find interesting is how David and I have come to the same three companies to look at for bigger lights.  That’s not saying the other’s that I just listed suck. Far from it. My buddy Marc shoots with this 400 w/s Lumedyne kit and swears by it.  It just isn’t the kit for me.

Let’s look at this photo again…

Hanging on that light stand is the Elinchrom 1,100 w/s Ranger.  When you fire that thing off at full power it allows you to get this…

Side by side… Available light vs. Lit.

That is some ambient light killing strobe right there.  The kind of light you can walk into just about any situation and be in total control of the final image.  You can turn day into night with that kind of light.

That modifier is an AlienBees 86″ para. It’s massive. It needs a lot of light.  It also had to be rigged onto the stand with an Avenger D230 Super Clamp Grip Head because Elinchrom, for whatever reason, uses a 7mm umbrella shaft size on their lights.  Yes, yes, the Ranger has this doohickey thing-a-ma-jig on the big heads to accommodate larger shaft sizes but it’s a two person ordeal to mount any umbrella shaft larger than 7mm to those heads.  One person could do it easily provided they have three arms.  That’s almost a deal killer for me on Elinchrom lights but dang it all, they are amazing rigs.

So if that’s 1,100 w/s poppin’ off imagine how much 100 w/s would not even begin to be enough light to get me to where I want to be.  High speed TTL?  It would not result in the photo that the 1,100 w/s light gave me.

At 1,100 w/s we are talking about 19 lbs of gear.  Throw two of those into a Pelican case with chargers and all that and we are near 60 lbs of gear to throw into a belly of a plane or lug around on location.  60 pound extra baggage fees?  Don’t talk to me about that.  It sucks.

What about the 400 w/s Quadra?

It’s a good 1.5 stops less than it’s big brother, the Ranger 1,100, but at four pounds for the whole rig that would fit in my camera bag… Are you kidding me?  I rented one last weekend and I might just be in love.

I could take this review into all sorts of measurbating f-stops and meter tests and side by side reviews but let me just say this…

The Quadra system is a thing to behold.  It’s so small.  It’s tiny.

.

.

(Image courtesy B&H)

One of these kits with a batter and a head could fit in a shoulder bag.  You could throw four of these kits in a case and have 1,600 w/s of power for the same weight as one 640 w/s AlienBee head with a battery.  Four Quadra kits are going to run you $6,000 though.  Gads. At that point you might as well start looking at something like Mamiya’s new medium format system married up to one of their new leaf shutter lenses that can sync up to 1,600/th of a second.

Pfffftttt. Digital Medium Format. Who needs that?

You’d be surprised.

You thought this post was going to just be about lighting systems didn’t you?  So did I.

In my quest to start looking at new lights I began looking at medium format systems for the exact same reason editorial photographers the world over used medium format in the days of film.  So far in the digital revolution the cost of MF backs and systems were out of the range of many of us.  $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 for a medium format digital system when a $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 DSLR would do the job? The choice was simple.  Now that Mamyia has dipped below (just barely) the $10,000 mark for an out-of-the-box MF system then you need to take a look at what is going on in the MF world.

You know why medium format ruled the world in the film days? Final image quality is a great reason but dang it all… it was sync speed that really pushed MF past 35mm.  When you start looking at killing ambient light by a stop or two and you realize how much money and weight that takes  to do the job with light you start to wonder about the fact that all you really need is a faster sync speed to do the job.  A faster syncing shutter weighs A LOT less than more light… but it costs a lot. Well, more light costs a lot too.

250th/sec @ f 16 = 500th/sec @ f 11 = 800th/sec @ 6.3

Some will ask about new triggering technologies that allow you to hyper sync your camera’s sync speed.  You only catch a fraction of the light coming out of your flash so you can’t hyper sync at full power.  For every compromise there is a …. compromise.  Faster sync but less light you get capture.  Fast sync at FULL power… that’s something.

To be honest with you, this is a conundrum I have yet to figure out myself.  What if I could find a balance between a faster sync and less powerful lighting system?  I’m in love with 4 pounds of 400 w/s.  What would that look like married up to a faster sync speed?  That is where my next demo is going to go I think.

I’m going to drop something here as well.  I would love to get back into medium format.  It’s been more than eight years since I’ve shot that format in film and I’ve never shot it digitally.  I have three specific reasons why I want to move back to MF.

#3. – Image quality.

#2. – Sync speed.

#1. – _________

Can you guess what the number one reason is?  It ISN’T having a better camera on the job then the client / photographer down the street owns.  When I really put thought into this I have found it has nothing to do with lighting.

With a sub $10k medium format camera now on the market you better believe we are going to see a shift back to that format.  As soon as the sub $5k back hits the market then MF is going to be back where it was in dominance.

Or maybe the Scarlet is going to own the world.  Who knows?  All I know is a search for a new lighting system has not only left me with more questions about lighting systems but it now has me thinking about a different format of camera.

At the end of the day, it all doesn’t matter.  You do what you have to do with what you have.  That’s the long and short of it.  But at some point in your career you’ll find that the vision you have in your head requires a different set of tools and damn it all if those tools aren’t a bit more expensive and require a lot more thought.

More thoughts will be coming on this as I work my way through rentals and demos.  I just wanted to get the initial thoughts down first.  I apologize that this blog post doesn’t really have a ton of value or direction but I know some folks like to see the process as much as the result.  I’ll answer my #1 reason….

Medium format will slow… me… down…

Am I convinced the Quadra is the answer I am looking for?  Nope.  When you marry a girl you marry her family.  Same goes for lighting gear.  You buy into one light rig you are buying into the system.  There are are many things to consider going into it.  The next pack I’m renting is the Profoto.  Looking forward to that test.

More later.

Cheers, Zack




Discussion

  • Rich said on January 19, 2010

    The Profoto Acute2R isn’t a portable power system. The entry level battery generator in the Profoto line is the AcuteB 600R and only comes in a 600 w/s version. There are lots of great deals on used Profoto Pro 7 generators to be had these days.

  • zack said on January 19, 2010

    I always forget that Rich. Thanks for pointing that out. Links and so forth updated.

  • Thomas said on January 19, 2010

    Just a tiny remark from a physicist. I think when you talk about w/s you actually mean Ws.
    Ws is Watt times second and gives you the power integrated over the period of one second. It is an energy unit: 1 Ws = 1 Joule.

    Cheers,
    Thomas

  • Jef said on January 19, 2010

    Amazing … I was wondering this exact question today about how to get a faster sync speed out of my camera.

  • Bogdan said on January 19, 2010

    Awesome post .. will like to hear more of what you think about the light quality of all these different systems …

  • cherrie said on January 19, 2010

    I love these kind of posts with all the nerdy stuff… keep it up… you always get me thinking. Thanks

  • alv said on January 19, 2010

    I haje just discovered Lencarta.com flashes, from small units to pro units, and i liked them. Do you have any impression about? Thanks for your time and knowlenge and sharing.

  • Szabi (szabiakanich said on January 19, 2010

    Great post, Zack. It is all over the place, but I’m loving it. :) So much great info in there and lots of great questions too.

    The advantage or 8 SB-900s would be though that you could do more than just have one big light source. You can use that in many different set-ups, in a lot of flexible ways. So yeah, one big light is great, but a lot of smaller lights have their advantages too.

    Szabi

  • LluisGerard said on January 19, 2010

    Wow, I’m not Pro (for now)… I have two sb-600 and I’m using those with CLS (nikon system), these nikon flashes don’t have “PC Sync” and I don’t know what to do, ’cause I want to go for a “pocket wizard”. But at the same time, I don’t know if an “Alien Bee” will be a good choice.

    Well, I’m thinking about that these days, and right now you come with this post, I’m going crazy :)

  • POINT357 said on January 19, 2010

    Wawaweewa! Awesome. Stop apologising – I love posts like this. Looking forward to the rest of the series, and not just the lights. I’ve just learned almost everything I know about MF digital systems.
    I’ve been doing similar research here (UK) but I’m a way down the scale from you and on a BUDGET. The best prospect looks to be the Lencarta Safari. 600w/s battery pack £540, or £750 with a ringflash. 600 head £197. 2 heads on a pack split power 50/50. Bowens S-type fittings so plenty of accessories out there, although Lencarta do their own. Stepless power control. Output & colour temp consistency are good. Flash duration is 1/1200th (t.5). It’s all surprisingly light – about 6kg for pack and head. I metered a head in a large softbox at 10ft around f/16 (I could be erring on the side of caution there – it was a few months ago) That would have been ISO 200 though (D700). Would be a serious consideration even if we were spoiled for choice (ABs, Lumedyne…) the way you Americans are.
    Thanks for the meat. Keep it coming.

  • Sebastien Delahaye said on January 19, 2010

    Thx for the review, to me, ERQ is probably the best 4 on location shoot.
    BTW, Nice integration of the logo on the container

  • Robert said on January 19, 2010

    Nothing wrong with Medium Format, I prefer my Bronica ETRS to my Pentax ME Supers any day; although I still have yet to try syncing lights at 1/500th.

    Maybe you should just start shooting film again… :)

    Great info on the lighting, I’m researching lights like this for when I can afford to buy some, so your research is a great help. Keep up the good work dude!

  • Ed Z said on January 19, 2010

    That quadra is sweet isn’t it? :-)

    I’m picking up the 2-head kit at the end of the month – 400ws of portable power in a shoulderbag is way to sweet to pass up.

    BTW, did you know that the quadra pack can also drive any of the other elinchrom heads (including the ring light) with a small adapter cable? Just and additional plus for it…

    Oh, and I’ve been shooting with a Mamiya 6 (MF rangefinder) recently and yeah – the 1/500 sync with leaf-shutter lenses is fantastic. If Mamiya ever came out with a digital version of the 6, I think I’d sell my kidney for one…

  • Ed Nixon said on January 19, 2010

    Two points / questions:

    1. I’ve looked at the EL Quadra and I’m not super happy with the build quality of the light itself and I’ve heard there are issues with stability when its loaded (with the add-on adapter) with heavier modifiers.

    2. On the other hand, I’m told by the folks at Paul Buff that the new PLM re-design is going to be EL compatible. There’s SoftLighter as well which some people swear by. So you’re dealing with cousins and step-mothers to some extent when it comes to the family you’re marrying into.

    I wonder what the next iteration of Quadra is going to look like? Doesn’t help anyone with immediate needs, but there may be a delaying strategy…

    …edN

  • taurui said on January 19, 2010

    What about getting a Nikon D40 to sync, thanks to the electronic shutter, at ridiculously high speeds? Would probably be the cheapest and most portable solution ;)

  • Eric Doggett said on January 19, 2010

    Currently I am using a lot of Zeus gear. Plasticky? Yes. Slow flash duration? Absolutely. Cheap to get 2400 w/s? You bet.

    I’ve rented Profoto gear before when I’ve needed it. I’ve considered the 7b system as well, but am not sure if I will run into scenarios where I would miss the 2400 w/s. Flash duration varies within the Profoto line, as well. We picked certain gear before just based on that, as a specific shoot required it.

    The Zeus system is good for now, but once it breaks down I will upgrade to something else. I can guarantee you though that it *won’t* consist of 7 new 580 ex2s, because the ability to shoot at noon and control lighting is what I am pushing now as a distinction in how I shoot. It sucks to move that equipment around but I do it because, well, hardly anyone else in Austin is.

    Eric

  • Hunter said on January 19, 2010

    I am not going to touch the comments about MF, but I will comment on the lighting part.

    Like Zack, I started with speedlights, then an AB and vagabond, and now Elinchrom. I actually have the Quadra and big Ranger. I like them both. The light Quadra is great for my wedding clients. The Ranger is a back-up in case of failure and great for nuking the sun.

    That being said, I have some issues with the Quadra. The stock cables are not long enough. And ties that hold the port caps are weak. One of mine broke already. Lastly, no covers are available for the heads! WTF?

    That being said, I still love both. I would still recommend them. The light is awesome.

  • kent corley said on January 19, 2010

    Since heading out on my own, I’ve missed a few things… The sweet gear that better funded studios had is one, and the time to really ‘slow down’ and make the photo you want to make. It’s rarely (if ever) part of my MO these days. Sad, really.

    I have a full AB set, w/ Vagabond and am actually looking to head backwards into the speedlight world for portability. The funny thing is I find them more daunting than monoblocks.

    Thanks for the post Zack.

  • Don Giannatti said on January 19, 2010

    Professional photography calls for the tools to do it. I know I can drive my assistants crazy with all the gear I take, but when you need something you need it. Speedlights have their place, but the photograph should always be the result of the aesthetic of the photographer and rarely be the result of the gear.

    Great and very informative post, Zack.

  • Philip Jared said on January 19, 2010

    I think….i’ll get the onelight DVD. Ill start there and munch on that for awhile.

  • brett maxwell said on January 19, 2010

    The Mamiya DM22 you link says 1/125 sync in the specs…?

    I just wish Canon and/or Nikon would step up their sync speed on at least a few of their cameras. CCD or whatever. Also, ISO 25 shouldn’t be that hard to do and would help DOF.

  • zack said on January 19, 2010

    Mamiya has a series of leaf shutter lenses that allow you to sync at 800th. Combined with a few of their backs those can sync up to 1,600th!

  • Aaron Noble said on January 19, 2010

    Question why cant Canon and Nikon increase the sync speed I hope that is not a real stupid question. I also have a question about an image I have seen where some one said they used multiple flash exposure to create and image with what looks like ghosts of the subject moving in the image If I can send you a sample can you tell how it is done? Thanks looking forward to your results

  • zack said on January 19, 2010

    Aaron – There is a physical top speed that the shutter mechanism can be fully open to allow all of the light into the camera. Faster shutter speeds are actually slits that move past the sensor.

    Check out this video…

  • brett maxwell said on January 19, 2010

    Also, a Canon G11 with a Quadra can sync at 1/2000, absolutely crushing daylight, and would all fit in a shoulder bag.

    a point n shoot is definitely the opposite direction from MF, but is it even a consideration?

  • zack said on January 19, 2010

    Brett – I have a G10 and it would work in a pinch but the quality really is lacking. It would be difficult to show up on a full day job with a point and shoot.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Kenneth Theysen said on January 19, 2010

    Zack,

    Great post!!! Lots of good info. Lighting is not always funnest of all things because we are never happy with the ones we have. Coming from an island where no rental store exist (sucks!!), just got to work with what we have and read as much as we can from post like these to narrow things down to what we can afford. What ever price you post up there it is like double by the time we have it here.(sucks again!!!)

    Again thanks for this great post!

  • rob hammer said on January 19, 2010

    great post Zach. Elinchrom is going to make some money off this one!!

  • brent... said on January 19, 2010

    ZACK -

    great break down of the conundrum of lighting a lighting choice. my jump in was easier because i was given a couple speedo packs early on – they are not sexy – but extremely durable. on the MF front… i love the LEAF backs and the 645 format is comfortable ALTHOUGH it is a different beast than the D3. don’t under estimate how much slower shooting with the MF will be. not a bad thing at all if you have the time. i tend to consider the frame much more and shoot more intentionally with the MF (read fewer shoots). i tend to take both to a shoot and pic the system bases on the cadence of the work/AD. LOVE the way you broke down the variables involved in the decision look forward reading as you work through your test.

    THX – brent…

  • Otto Rascon said on January 19, 2010

    Great post Zack. I felt like a geeky kid at a candy store while reading your post.

    I was just talking to a buddy of mine that shoots Motorcycles for magazines last night and how medium format cameras are the way to go. All of that juicy detail and faster shutter speeds… mouth drooling… but crazy expensive.

    I look forward to what you end up purchasing. I hope you get a MF rig. Rock on and much love from Chicago!

  • Villy Sander Norås said on January 19, 2010

    I have many questions, but You have all the answers. Like this article. :)

    Regards (from Norway)
    Villy Sander Norås

  • David Sowers / DASO Photo said on January 19, 2010

    I like how you cropped that first image into a medium format frame, nice clue on where the article was going. Yeah I think everyone on here who is serious about being an editorial photographer needs to consider medium format. And if you haven’t shot one, go rent a medium format film camera and get a taste, you’ll never be the same. Thanks for the continuously great posts Zack, and you’re right some of us do like to see the process. Keep doing what you do.

  • Derek Tipton said on January 19, 2010

    Just ordered some ABs last week as I am also exploring more lights beyond hot shoe flashes… Thanks for the look into a seemingly overwhelming area of photography (and opportunity cost).

  • Rich said on January 19, 2010

    Medium format cameras can be found for next to nothing- only digital backs get pricey. There’s no reason not to shoot and scan some MF film every now and then as an alternative to a digital back and have the best of both worlds.

  • Daniel Sullivan said on January 19, 2010

    So why not just 6 SB-900′s? It’s like marrying a set of beautiful sextuplets and you already love their family!

  • zack said on January 19, 2010

    Daniel – First, mounting 6 to 8 hot shoe flashes on one light stand is a PITA. Then you have up to 32 batteries to change out or keep up with 8 battery packs. Then if you need to adjust the output of these flashes you have eight controls to deal with. You also have to deal with syncing them all together. In one way it makes sense but working day to day it would be a pain.

  • Kim S. said on January 19, 2010

    Ha. Funny. I just bought into a Hasselblad V system for those reasons. I now get 1/500th sync nice IQ and am just waiting for a sub 5K DB. Till then its film with a Nikon 8000 scanner. And of course my Nikon Dslr. Oh, plus the glass on the hassy is all Zeis. Cant beat it.

  • Kim S. said on January 19, 2010

    errr, Zeiss.

  • Freddy.O said on January 19, 2010

    Hey Zack!

    Thanks for taking the time to write this post, it seems like it probably took you a while. But I personally greatly appreciate it.
    I enjoy looking at all the cool pics you and many others creates, but the hook for me, for all this blogs, is the willingness of so many photographers and community to share information, and help others get their hands on info, that might be pretty hard to get, or confusing and hard to digest.
    Nice work.

  • matthias said on January 19, 2010

    hilarious.
    first time i laughed out loud while reading techie photo speak. i like your style, zack.

  • Oliver said on January 19, 2010

    I spent a day shooting with the quadra and it’s fantastic! You can get two packs and 3-4 heads and that will be enough for most situations. Since you’re a minimalist I’m sure this could be a good set-up for you. Btw, did you try it with your apollo softboxes?

    I always enjoy the nerdy gear-stuff so keep it coming!

    About the medium format: just make sure you keep the budget under control! I know it happened to you before so…just saying…success can be a moody bitch (excuse my french!). Don’t get in over you head.

    And from a marketing standpoint: people love the one-light cause you demonstrate how to get the most from affordable flashes. What good would a tutorial be, of none of your followers can afford the equipment….

    Why the hell can’t canon make a 5D Mark III that syncs at a 500th…

    Wish you all the best!

  • zack said on January 19, 2010

    Oliver – You are very wise and I thank you for your candor. These are all things I keep in mind as my business grows. I also know that from an educational viewpoint, moving into larger gear translates to fewer people. IF…. IF… I move in to this direction I will document the how and why but the minimalist in me will always be a core value.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Darrell Harris said on January 19, 2010

    Zack – many things to ponder! I went through this about 3-months ago and jumped in to the Elinchrom Quadra. I already had the Elinchrom RX 600 x2 and was taking those on location with an Explorer XT battery pack. The Elinchrom “A” head fire lighting quick and I all I needed to marry in to my other modifiers was there little adapter, which allows the tiny Quadra to handle the weight of larger modifiers. I can pack both batteries, a head, lenses and a few 580 EX II’s in back a pack and easily tote my gear down the long hiking trails and beaches in Marin County. I don’t have an assistant, so I figure if I’m lugging it, then I need to have enough energy to set it up when I get there! Then being able to control the power from camera with the Skyports in 1/10th increments saves some energy and time too. By the way – my wife says thanks for spinning my head around about the possibility of MF!!!! There goes the kids college tuition ;-) just sayin’

  • Frank T said on January 19, 2010

    Great post – love the articles that you and Hobby have been posting regarding non-speedlight lighting. Such great info and very well written. Identifying all the issues you have when looking at how you want to make things work for YOU (not “oh, this is the greatest _______ ever!” post) and how you want to make your light your own.

  • David Getsfrid said on January 19, 2010

    The way you write these things is absolutely astounding. You’re just able to break things that everyone seems to worry about down in a way that makes perfect sense.

    I too have been looking at even picking up one ranger kit, not so much for killing ambient up close (which I’ve found an AB1600 is plenty good at), but for killing it from a range. There are so many great shots I’ve envisioned and been unable to get just because I didn’t want to have to clone out a lightstand and light, and couldn’t move them out of frame without losing f/stop.

  • Rob B said on January 19, 2010

    Hey Zach,
    Great article. For years I have been studying using speedlights as a alternative to bigger lights in the field. For years, I have had mixed results. A few months back, I sprung for a Hensel Porty Premium (the older, bigger unit) and I am in LOVE with it. I chose Hensel solely for the reason that I use those units in my studio and already have all the light modifying gear for it.
    It is interesting that your quest has taken you to look at MF as well. I have been looking at MF options for some time now and am convinced I will move back to that format as the prices continue to drop!

  • ken said on January 19, 2010

    Pentax is releasing the 645D medium format camera (not just a back) next month…rumor is that body+lens is only $6500. Don’t just consider backs for MF… :-)

  • southx said on January 19, 2010

    Zack,
    Nikon D70s ($250 used!!) with a Quadra (or two). I can sync at 1/1250 using PW’s, more with a sync cord (and hot shoe adapter :( )
    400 w/s that lasts for 1/3000 sec (w/ A-heads) becomes 1600 W-S (PW trigger) as far as the sun’s concerned or 3200ws using a sync cord. Do you really need more than 6MP?

    Chew on that…

  • zack said on January 19, 2010

    Southx – I keep a D70 around just for such an application but… I need just a few more pixels for what I’m wanting to do. Just a few.

    Erik – Hahahahaha!

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Erik Dixon said on January 19, 2010

    MF system in an MF world….sounds like it could be Samuel L Jacksons camera of choice!

  • Phil said on January 19, 2010

    Were you shooting these at 250th?

  • Jim S. said on January 19, 2010

    Zack,

    Really enjoyed the post. These are things a lot of pros have to think about and wrestle with. We had a similar problem moving from Speedotrons. We ended up with Broncolor and haven’t regretted it. Buy quality and you can never blame your tools.

    I like following the way your logic progressed. We made the jump to Phase One a few years ago and I love working with MF again. The only thing I don’t like is the recycle time of the back. I can only shoot one image every 1.75 seconds or so. When that’s too long I reach for my 1ds.

  • Chris Bergstrom said on January 19, 2010

    Zack,

    I like the Ranger and almost bought it myself. In the end I went with the AB1600 and felt that if I wanted more power I could always add a second one later. I like the simplicity and quality of the Alien Bees and they’re coming out with a new 640 w/s Einstein from Mr. Buff. I hope they increase the power of the Einstein to 1200 w/s, which I’m almost certain they will do just that over time. I emailed B&H to ask them what they recommended and was specifically inquiring about the Elinchrom something erother and they said it could not run off of the vagabond and that I’d need to buy an entirely new battery pack. I quickly gave up on them and am now waiting for a 1200 w/s Buff/AB to come out. There are a lot of cool features with the new Einstein and now I’m geeking out on you too. hahaha, Ok, off my bottle of hand sanitizer, I can’t afford a soapbox so I I have a small travel sized bottle of sanitizer.

    Anyway, I think your thoughts and lusting for new gear are normal, we all go through that. If your gear cannot get you where you need to be, as in underexposing the sun at high noon, get the new gear if you really “need” it. I can’t justify the price when I can simply shoot 4 hours in either direaction to get me closer to what I want. Best of luck Zack and I look forward to seeing which way you go in the end…

  • Kirk Tuck said on January 19, 2010

    Zach, I have the Profoto 600b system and the Elinchrom Ranger RX system. With an “A” head the Elinchrom can give you a flash duration of 1/4800th of a second. That’s one thing to consider. The Profoto is half the weight and does 90% of what the Elinchrom does. It’s my everyday outside flash.

  • Hal said on January 19, 2010

    Thanks for sharing.

    Thrilled to see others interested in MF.

    Hoping your #1 is bigger chip. I miss the benefits of MF film when it comes to that image size and better DOF drop off.

  • Howard Haby said on January 19, 2010

    Zach, I know you think your post didn’t have much value, but it really does. I am only just getting into using flash/strobes, but (as with your DVD which really got me motivated and opened my eyes)I actually learned a lot from reading it. Awesome, it’s really great that you allow us inside your head sometimes. *sigh* the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know jack! Have to keep at it I guess.

  • Doug S. said on January 19, 2010

    Zack, you are one hell of an artist brother and you inspire me like no other. I was wondering if the Alien Bees 1600 could come anywhere close to pulling off the image you took with the 1100Ws Ranger? Also, am I correct that a lone Ranger, pun intended, is lighting the pics of the isolated female? It appears so but at only 400Ws that has to be clarified. Wow as always boss man. Thanks a million!

  • zack said on January 19, 2010

    Doug – An AB1600 would come close to what the Ranger was producing. The Ranger pumped out about 3/4 to a full stop more light than the 1600 in my testing with a meter. Yes, I did some measurbating but not much! :)

    The shots of Karla alone on the tree were shot with the Quadra. Bare head at full power.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Allison T Jones said on January 19, 2010

    I love my Profoto Acute B-600–it straddles the gulf between portability and power. Looking forward to seeing how you like it!

  • Bert Stephani said on January 20, 2010

    Hi Zack,

    I’m also a big fan of speedlights but I also found the need to get into bigger lights for a number of reasons. Power and recycling speed is one of those reasons but also the quality of light. I find that a studio head with a standard reflector puts out much prettier light than a bare speedlight.

    I got myself the Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS and have been very happy with it. But since a couple of weeks I’m using a Hensel Porty Lithium 12 and I find it even better than the Ranger. Power and recycling time are in the same range but the Porty is a lot smaller and lighter. It also has some other features that made me go with the Porty instead of the Ranger.

    I’ll be writing up a review on my blog soon, but if you’re in a rush, shoot me an email.

    grtz,
    Bert

  • Timothy Armes said on January 20, 2010

    Hi Zack,

    A great blog post. I went through the same process recently and choose to go with Profoto.

    I detailed my decision making process too:

    http://www.timothyarmes.com/blog/2009/05/choosing-a-battery-pack-flash-system/

    Tim

  • zack said on January 20, 2010

    Timothy – Your blog post is one of the best side by side comparisons I have seen and it articulates every single variable that I have been too lazy to write on my own blog. :) Well done.

    I gotta say, the Hensel is a really sexy option but it’s so expensive here in the states and the folks that do the marketing and sales here don’t seem to be on top of it. I think if they had a strong presence here they could make a run for it with those little porty units.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Heinz Schmidt said on January 20, 2010

    YO ZACK,

    Why don’t you get 10 Vivitar 285s (= 1000Ws) for $40 a piece. Sync speed isn’t great but they don’t weight much.

    You could get 30 of them for the same price and the Quadra system.

    That’ll show Joe McNally what a clustered flashgun system looks like hey, 30 x 285s behind a 10′x10′ softbox????

    Hahahahaha.

    Keep it up man, looove your posts!! Nerd rules!

    H.

  • robert donovan said on January 20, 2010

    Awesome post Zack. Very informative.

  • zack said on January 20, 2010

    Wow! Bert Stephani reads my blog! :) That’s more exciting to me than if Gwen Stefani was reading my blog!

    Howdy Bert! I’m a big fan of yours.
    :)

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Jon Uhler said on January 20, 2010

    LOL…how many man crushes you have Zack? David duChemin and now Bert….

    I have to admit, two great people to follow…;)

    Jon

  • Cliff said on January 20, 2010

    Zack, don’t discount the Acute 600B/R packs when looking at Profoto. You can get 2 for the price of the 7B (I actually bought my 2 from MPEX as demos for around $1700 each). They’re light (pack weighs 11 lbs with battery), you could have 2 600ws packs instead of 1 1200ws pack, and if you really want 1200ws going through one you can use a dual tube head. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/195050-REG/Profoto_900619_Acute_2_Twin_Bi_Tube.html#features
    I love mine, and for the record my standard umbrellas fit fine.

  • Luke said on January 20, 2010

    Nice graffiti ! ;)

  • Karl Baxter said on January 20, 2010

    While you are solving a problem you are generating a new ones with this approach, first problem you have is your computer power and the drive storage, you will need a fairly strong processor and hardware to process these files, also you will need more capacity in your external drives too.

    The second thing you have to consider is depth of field, this is a double edged sword, you will get less depth of field than in the equivalent of 35mm sized sensors, which is good if you want shallow DOF (no need of crazy fast lenses)but it also means that you will need quite a lot of punch in your lighting gear if you want a big DOF.

    The problem is thinking of everything around a piece of gear as a solution (hot shoe strobes) and it would be easier to understand the saying “horses for courses”, hot shoe strobes are super versatile but they aren´t the final solution to lighting gear, each of the different systems (hot shoe strobes, studio strobes, continuos lighting, the good ol´sun) have pros and cons but they cover the cons of each other together, the same with 35mm sized sensor cameras and medium format, etc. horses for coruses.

    Before you decide to jump to the big camera, have you checked the Hensel Porty Lithium 12? it is quite expensive BUT super small and light weight: the power pack with the battery inside is 13 pounds and the head is 2.9 pounds… I mean it is cheaper option than the mamiya (although I don´t have anything against medium format at all because I love it) Also if you want it can run in AC too and has user replaceable flash tube (the ranger rx head doesn´t has one).

    P.S. For those interested in the ranger RX: Now one thing to consider about the Ranger RX is the fact that the flash tube isn´t user replaceable so you better be sure to have some extra heads around.

    For those interested in the Quadra: the quadra is great but expensive (almost as expensive as the Ranger RX) and you have to buy an adapter to use elinchrom modifiers, and the tilt mechanism sucks for heavy modifiers (it sags down).

    Also normally if you need to travel and bringing your own equipment isn´t an option there´s always renting and you write it off to your client (this is a common and normal practice).

  • zack said on January 20, 2010

    Hey Karl,
    You are thinking correctly about the computer and storage needs. We have that completely covered though.

    I have looked at the Hensel rig. LOVE IT! Absolutely love it but dang it all… I’m afraid it is out of my range as budget is concerned.

    We rent when needed as it is now but after enough running back and forth across town (which costs money) we are looking to own the gear we need.

  • Cliff said on January 20, 2010

    Oh, and both setups fit in my ThinkTank Airport Security.

  • Oliver said on January 20, 2010

    Do you think the quadra could work with the apollo softboxes? the shaft beeing smaller and so on…could you please give us some feedback on the results??

    cheers!

  • Jef said on January 20, 2010

    There is a good discussion going on at Photo.Net (http://photo.net/portraits-and-fashion-photography-forum/00VYMQ) about this. I posed the question if this could be done with “low end” equipment. Nikon D50 and SB 600.

    To me, the real challenge would be to make something work with almost nothing as you did, Mr. Arias, at one time. One light, a simple body and knowledge. Shame we are talking about throwing money at stuff like this. I’m no artist, and produce only passable portraits, but it seems like it would be nice to do this with less.

  • Stefan said on January 20, 2010

    Thanks a bunch for this great post! I really appreciate that you share your thoughts and considerations instead of a techie results ;-)

    Your way of thinking feels quite familiar…. jumping back and forth, left and right (MF). That’s how creatives think like :-D

  • Kris said on January 20, 2010

  • Jeff Zimmerman said on January 20, 2010

    I have had the Ranger Quadra system for over 6 months now. I love it. Except for the fact that I just burned up the 3rd head. The RQ heads can not seem to handle shooting at full power. I hope they figure this out because it is a great system.

  • Calvin Hill said on January 20, 2010

    Love the post! Have you ever used Quantum Flashes like the XD5. It puts out 400 w/s. I don’t own one but I was just curious on your opinion. I know that David Ziser swears by them and have thinking of making that my next purchase. Anyways, lots of learning to do. Thanks.

  • Karl Baxter said on January 20, 2010

    Zack if you are about to invest in a medium format camera (10,000 dollars at minimum)you could buy at least 2 hensel rigs and a whole lot of modifiers and you would keep the size and the weight down. If you still favor hot shoe strobes consider Quantum flashes, they are up to 400 ws and the external battery, the unit and the fact that they are barebulb could be another option, expensive? sure thing but better than a top of the line hot shoe strobe in terms of output power and modifiers you can use with it (almost a perfect match for the PLM system too).

    Medium format is something you gonna love (and with your quality of work you are the right match for that kind of gear), however I would really recommend you to not balance your choice based on hot shoe strobes while versatile and light weight they aren´t a perfect system to carry on with (except quantum flashes).

    Gotcha on the rental dude :) .

  • Paul said on January 20, 2010

    Zack,

    thank you SO much for the before and after shots – they add to your words SO much. I can see what you are explained to us.
    Thanks again – there should be a lot for ‘before and afters’ with explanations of technique or theory, where possible. Cheers

  • Nina said on January 21, 2010

    Zack -

    One word. Amazing.

    This post has really helped answer numerous questions that have been percolating in my mind for some time. As Paul said, the before/afters really helped cement things.

    nina

  • Stefanos L said on January 21, 2010

    Excellent post. Really good read!

  • damien said on January 21, 2010

    I’m also curious about the Q-flashes. I think I remember seeing them used by Mr. WTJ? himself. That would be a great alternative, especially when doing weddings.

  • Les Doerfler said on January 21, 2010

    Roses are red
    and Violets can beckon
    Zack will heart you
    if you give him a few more watts per second.

  • zack said on January 23, 2010

    hahahahaha! Les, you are the man!

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Kevin said on January 21, 2010

    I don’t understand the medium format sync speed? On the body specs it says the max is 1/125th but you can up that with specific lenses? How can a lens affect the sync speed/change how the shutter works?

  • zack said on January 23, 2010

    Kevin – Some lenses have shutters built into them. They are called leaf shutters. They are smaller and faster and can open and fire a flash at a faster sync than a focal plane shutter.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Jeff Dietz said on January 21, 2010

    Zack
    I was at Calumet today for a ‘workshop’ on Capture one by Phase One. I asked them a lot of questions about their MF digitals as I have been wanting to get one for some time now, and just haven’t been able to pull the trigger.
    Here is what they told me with basically comparing the new Mamiya DM28 and the Mamiya with the Phase One P25+ back. The Phase one back will give you the 1600 sync that you are talking about in the blog post without the need for the VERY expensive lenses that you were talking about. I think those lenses range from about 1,800 to 4,500. The p25+ back setup will also give you ‘full frame’ and higher ISO capabilities (if needed). The mamiya 645 (which is what it essentially is, just branded with Phase One on it instead) w/ p25+ back w/ 80mm lens is just a touch more then the DM28. Factor in being able to use the regular mamiya lenses and it is a more affordable way to go.
    I have been looking a lot into the demo models and refurbished that they tend to sell and some times you can see them for as much as $5k less!
    Still it is hard to pull the trigger on a purchase that is about the same as a car and see where to your actual clients they are going to see the noticeable difference in image quality from say the mark 2.
    Since my birthday is Sunday, I had to have my friend that was with me, promise to sucker punch me if I went to buy the Mamiya MF system, as I could have easily have blamed it on a mid-life crisis purchase, and use the excuse that it was cheaper then the sports car :) .
    I have been looking into upgrading out of AB’s as well, and into the Elinchrom (as loving Drew Gardner’s work) or the ProFoto (after seeing Joey L’s demo of them). Who knows. I will definitely be checking back to see more of your tests!
    Jeff

  • Dustin Hatcher said on January 21, 2010

    Also, something to think about; MF lenses (specifically the Mamiya ones) seem to run in the $2000 – $6000 range per lens. So when you consider you’re buying a camera and digital back for $10k and then maybe 2-3 lenses you’re really spending closer to $15k – $20k. Food for thought?

  • Sean McCormack said on January 22, 2010

    Hi Zack,
    Having a lot of Elinchrom modifiers already, the decision to go with the Quadra kit was easy. I found the 2 head kit great, but ended up adding a 2nd pack (no battery) to the mix to have full independent control of each lamp.

    Hopefully as work allows, I’ll add a 3rd and probably be done with light purchases for a while.

    Karl is spot on about the tilting issue with the adaptor. There are fixes for it though. See here: http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showpost.php?p=8277988&postcount=294

    I simply could not justified going MF.

  • Dan Achatz said on January 22, 2010

    Zach great post.

    I just ordered a Vagabond II,and a new soft box yesterday. I noticed that Alien Bees is introducing a new strobe called Einstein 640″. Revolutionary Action Stopping up to 1/10,000 Flash Duration.

  • zack said on January 23, 2010

    Dan – Yep. I’m keeping my eye on those Einsteins. I just wish they would break the 1,000 w/s mark with them.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • dave said on January 23, 2010

    Zack-
    I am always looking for light weight and portability.
    Since you don’t like the weight of your Vegabond, I would suggest a DIY option that is less than half the weight. I followed this example:
    http://kemplemedia.com/blog/2009/01/06/diy-alien-bees-power-pack-%E2%80%94-lose-weight-on-location-for-%E2%80%9809-%E2%80%94-pt2/

    I can easily carry all my gear in a backpack on location with this home made power and an AB1600. It might be a nice in between solution. I love it. Dave

  • Javier I Sanchez said on January 23, 2010

    Zack,

    Why have you not brought the White Lightning X3200 units into your comparison? I would think between the extra stop you get from that and the extra 1/3 to 1+ stop you could get if you tested and tuned the new PocketWizard TT1. I’m referring to the Hypersync not the high-speed sync. Though you may want to talk to a rep and see if it will work on a Nikon body. Can’t imagine why not, except for the TTL feature.

    Also and probably of more interest to me, I’m curious how you are building a business case to justify the expense. To get an extra stop or two and a battery pack to utilize that where it matters most (on location), is a serious expense whether you attack the problem with lights or bodies. Surely a minimalist can still suffer from gearlust, but do you feel that you’re currently losing money or clients because you dont have these capabilities? Do you feel this would add value to your work and result in bigger, better or more jobs? i.e. Do you see an ROI on your bottom line? Would it make more sense to rent Profoto or other pro gear when the job requires it until it becomes justifiable to make the investment in your own? Would love to hear your thoughts on that. Regards,
    -Javier

  • Kevin said on January 23, 2010

    Amazing post! I’ve never thought about overpowering the sun in such a way. I bought into the Nikon CLS system and can do the high-speed / low power sync thing, but I can totally see the benefit of more Ws.

    Killer comparison shots of ambient vs. lit, by the way. Makes a very strong statement.

    I hope you can figure out your needs without going MF. I like your comment about how more gear = smaller audience. You and David DuChemin keep me grounded and focusing on vision & creativity, which I thank you for.

  • linda kuo said on January 24, 2010

    Excellent post! Though Im a complete minimalist as well, I appreciate the entire thought process because those are all variables in making a complete choice in the end. Plus, how i like to shoot is in line with your aesthetic. Furthermore, my “life” doesn’t have me available during low light times of day but available during the mid-day where overpowering ambient is an issue so I’m always looking for shade but often times want an open landscape for composition. Don’t think twice about making a post of this nature. It’s one of your best. I love and appreciate the constant stream of consciousness. I know your core values are unwavering : )

  • zack said on January 25, 2010

    Linda – You should have seen all the gear we had today. Your minimalist heart would have sunk! :) Good times though! We didn’t use half of it yet! :)

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Justin Van Leeuwen said on January 26, 2010

    This is huge for me – thank you – going to soak this up a bit more before making whatever plunge I decide on. I also dig how you’re dropping the watermark in your images; like a Bev Doolittle painting or something looking for it sometimes.

  • Heinz Schmidt said on January 27, 2010

    Hi Zack,

    I went out and bought $1,300 worth of mono flash head and battery pack today and it’s all your fault…

    All joking aside I took your advice to heart in this post and it would have cost me a lot more to get four 580 EXIIs in order to get F11.

    The UK is generally overcast most of the year so I don’t need eight of them cause there’s no bright sunshine to battle against and if there is I can get a second or event third 400W head for my Bowens pack which would take me up to and beyond F16.

    Thanks for the great technical post. You just cost me a bundle… and I’m loving it.

  • zack said on January 28, 2010

    Sorry to hear that… And… Congrats! :)

  • Huong said on January 29, 2010

    Thanks so much for this post. Though you wrote that you thought it didn’t have any value or direction, it had lots for me. Great images as well!

  • c.d.embrey said on February 3, 2010

    I have a Profoto AcuteB 600R and am really impressed with it ! Good stuff !

    I’m over 65 and have NO TROUBLE mounting an 86″ PCB PLM to the 600B head. lower end

    600 Joules is more than enough power if you use efficient modifiers like the Magnum or PCP PLMs. I rarely go as high as 300 Joules.

  • Kris said on February 4, 2010

    Looks like AB are soon to start making a 7mm shafted PLM umbrella:

    Hi Kristian, Thanks for your suggestions – we have actually made some improvements to the PLM system that includes a smaller 7 mm shaft to accommodate strobe lights with a smaller umbrella mount. We will not have the new version of the PLMs in for another two to three months at the earliest. You can read about the other improvements being made to the PLMs here http://www.paulcbuff.com/pcb2009/progress-report.html

  • Jason Alden said on February 11, 2010

    Great post,

    I’ve just bought some Elinchrom Quadras. I already had a set of Bowens 500′s. So far so good, when I’m shooting portraits I just leave a body and a lens at home and I can walk out the door with one quadra head in my normal Think Tank case.

    They have plenty enough power for me… But I am in the UK. The only suggestion I might make is to pick up a second control pack so both head’s can do 400 Ws (they are asymmetric), and that the leads are stupidly short as standard.

    I’ll be checking back here more often.

    Jason Alden

  • Jessica R. said on February 11, 2010

    what is the difference between the “a” and “s” heads? also…dumb question I am sure but can you fire the light with cybercyncs? or do you have to buy their specific trigger?

  • zack said on February 15, 2010

    The A head has a faster flash duration and costs a little more money. Or is it the S head? I can’t remember but one of them has faster flash durations and costs more.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Eben Yep said on February 16, 2010

    Double check the Elinchrom systems for overheating issues. I haven’t used them in bout 2 years or so, but I would have some overheating in softboxes etc. It might be because I was using Chimeras at the time. When they would overheat they would make this annoying beeping sound. I don’t know how well the Quadras heat dissipates though. For lack of money I have been using a set of Photogenic IIIb ($1200)bought in 2005 for like forever a total of 640w/s between 2 lights. They are decent but I wish I could afford some Profotos as you do get inconsistencies on the Photogenics. Only problem is I don’t have batteries for em yet.

  • Jack said on February 27, 2010

    For some time I use Fomei Panther (Pack’n'head, 600Ws), and it’s totally amazing ;) But it may be impossible to get those in western Europe or US, plus they are available for just a few months by now. Anyway, one of the best flashes ever made :)

  • Hank said on March 13, 2010

    Since you can now sync all the way up to 1/8000 with the current PocketWizards, doesn’t the need for a high power setup diminish? Could you just use speedlights to achieve similar shots?

  • Erik Schimmel said on March 28, 2010

    My #1 for MF is the viewfinder.
    I own and use both Rangers and a Quadra. I’m very pleased with these tools, they have never let me down.

  • Craig said on April 7, 2010

    You wrote: “You do what you have to do with what you have.”

    Thank you for including that line. It really released the pressure …

  • Jeff Kennedy said on April 10, 2010

    I’d love to get back to MF. Hopefully they hit that $5k barrier before too long. Also, in terms of lights remember Buff is coming out with the Einstein light that has a shorter flash duration than the AB’s.

  • Strobist.Si said on April 27, 2010

    Don’t know if you’re still reading the comments on this post, but I was eagerly waiting for the promised Profoto review for like 2 and a half months. I gave up on it eventually, did my own homework research on Elinchrom Ranger Quadra and Profoto AcuteB lines. They don’t sell AlienBees in Europe and Hensell was too heavyweight and Broncolor too expensive for me. So, finally I made my decision and went for the new Profoto AcuteB2 600 AirS with LiFe battery, AcuteB head, a Zoom Reflector and a white Softlight reflector. Still waiting for it though. ‘Cause the B2 is so new they had to put me on back order. However, I would still like to see your review of Profoto and I hope you will deliver as promised.

  • Eisen Job Alquiza said on June 14, 2010

    Hi Zack! Really enjoyed the workshop with creativeLive.

    One thing I’d like to offer and would be around or even under the $1k mark would be cameras with electronic shutters.

    The first digital camera I personally owned was a Sony Cybershot DSC-F717. This was during the pre-Rebel days when a dSLR was roughly $2,000+ and up. The F717, having no optical viewfinder, had no physical shutter as you always had a live view on the lcd. But with a hotshoe flash or studio light connected via a pc-sync adaptor I had flash sync up to 1/1000 sec!

    I just took a quick peek at the specs of the Canon PowerShot G11 and it’s indicating sync speeds of 1/2000.

    Now how do we get this with a full frame sensor with an optical viewfinder? Maybe a use a fixed half mirror?

  • Eisen Job Alquiza said on June 14, 2010

  • Scrubs said on July 2, 2010

    Been having the same thoughts and concerns, since I am also considering purchasing
    the Quadra unit and yearning for a faster sync speed.. Until then I’ll make use of ND filters
    and cranking up the flash power. I have a Hassleblad V system which I intend to buy a digital back for some day, but just doesent seem a cost effective solution at the moment.

  • Lutfi said on July 15, 2010

    hi zack! Did you know that canon 1D Mark1 have speed synchro up to 1/500s?
    even only capture at 4 Mbyte, i love very much. It’s extremely important to me since i use only 400 joule ranger quadra

  • Mark V said on August 24, 2010

    You know, with Phase/Mamiya producing camera/lens setups with 1/1600th sync speed and systems dipping into the 10k range I’m a bit shocked that 35mm hasn’t fought back. Canon’s 1DsIII and Nikon’s D3x are excellent systems with higher performance glass released each year. Why not produce a 35mm lens with a leaf shutter and firmware to accommodate. Sure the viewfinder blackout would be longer than usual but it shouldn’t be to bad. If they produced a 50mm and a 135mm they would cover a good bit of range there. Or perhaps this is a job for Sony. Their A900 is a great little camera, Zeiss is pumping out some glass for them, perhaps they could go after the studio shooter this way.

  • Vizcara said on September 8, 2010

    I loved the article because it already states the obvious for me as a commercial shooter already has known for years “I been doing this for 17 yrs” and used medium format and even those “Foreign power packs and separate heads made ugly by newbie fanboy strobist” That do not know better. I thank you for you have the following strength to give your opinion some weight and merit. Which I now can refer to others when they tell me they are buying 5x 400 underpowered hotshoe flashes because Camera manufactures make the myth of flash and ambient light such a great mystery all in order to sell them their latest “Auto” ETTL TTL Mumbo jumbo “INCONSISTANT” auto everything mode flashes extremely overly priced hotshoe flash units. I loved that you showed the “Side by side” shots of what you can and can not do with a underpowered hotshoe flash in daylight. The one good thing I have to say is that all this “Alien bee fanboy” and “Strobist” hotshoe flash newbie craze has done is this…. IT sure has made those older once highly prized very expensive powerpacked light systems very very cheap these days on ebay and craigslist. I saw the other day that a Speedatron 2400 black line power pack with 5 heads going for 800 bucks! I could not believe it that system ran 5,000 bucks new and unlike the joke of a kiddie lighting system like AB that have long flash duration “All to cut corners to make a buck” and the word game of trickery like “Effective Watts seconds” that they use those “real” commercial packs like the speedatron packs really punch out serious power and extremely short flash duration times. As well as very much be able to handle “Hard commercial use” and abuse and will last a long time. Unlike those kiddy plastic fanless ones that newbies line up for because they are playing “Follow the other newbie before them” instead of “Following experienced pro that is actually working or doing a living at it” Leading to the “Blind leading the blind”

    All that said I really like your stuff Zack as you pretty much come from the same age and times that I have. I bought my RB67 for the leaf shutter system not a Hassy just because of the reasons you described above as well as I lugged those heavy power packs around. But honestly things are 10 times better than they were merely 10 years ago. I think the gear I carry around is pretty dam light compared to the old days to get a job done. So I am far from complaining in that area. Short of backpacking in the rain forest and having to pack all my gear on my back I see no heavy reason to travel so so light. Its no big deal to carry all I need in 80 lbs of gear in a wheeled box about the size of a foot locker. The heavy stuff tends to be my “Mathews Grip Gear” of flags and scrims and the cstands now those things are monsters and I avoid packing more than I have too. After packing those heavy things I feel blessed when I pick up my powerpacks and heads as they weigh next to nothing compared to my grip gear.

    I mean people bitch about carrying batteries around or some lightweight light stands???? They would never had been able to hack the days of Carrying a case just to hold 4×5 film holders god forbid they had to “Change the camera back” and put a polaroid back on that big ugly medium format camera or 4×5 camera and then weight a whole 90 seconds to do a polaroid pull.. Let alone weight 4 hours to do a E-6 chrome snip test on a roll or sheet of chrome.. They would have never made it…. Oh and better yet load 4×5 film holders in complete darkness in the field with a changing bag.. Could we through in focusing upside down and composing your shot like that.. LoL. These new guys would have totally caved..

  • michael murphy said on November 8, 2011

    i know the post is a bit aged but for an update, i’ve read that the einsteins have a much shorter flash duration than the ABs.

    anyways, on the medium format topic….

    sure you can get the body for under 10Gs, hell, the mamiya 645 is under 6 but the digital backs will break the bank. jmo.

  • michael murphy said on November 21, 2011

    ok. you mentioned that an ND filter would not help with speedlights in this situation. David Hobby, in a recent interview on TWIT stated that the ND filter would work. Hmmmmm. In theory, it would make sense that they would not work. Could Strobist be wrong?




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