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Archive 2012 · Moving up to strobes, input wanted for fist kit!

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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Moving up to strobes, input wanted for fist kit!

So Ive finally decided to make the jump to strobes. Ive set myself a budget of around ~$3,600 and heres what Ive come up with. Values marked with * indicate items that will be bought off of FM's B&S and their average selling price, values marked with ** reflect PCB's 10% student discount:

2x Einstein E640 ($900)**
2x Vagabond Mini Lithium ($435)**
580EX II (already owned)

2x PW Flex TT5 w/ AC5 Soft Shield ($300, bought)*
PW AC3 ZoneController ($50, bought)*
2x PW PowerMC2 ($180)**

Mounting and Stands:
Avenger C Stand ($100)*
Avenger A420 Wheeled Stand (owned)
Avenger D600 Mini Boom (owned)
Avenger D200 + 20 Extension Grip Arm (owned)
2x Manfrotto Basic Lightstands (owned)
2x VML Bracket ($90)
2x Manfrotto Super Clamp ($50)

Modifiers and Accessories:
64" Soft Silver PLM w/ White Front Diffusion Fabric ($60)**
50 Westcott Apollo JS ($170, bought)
28 Mola Setti BD, white ($590)
24 Cheetah Qbox (owned)
20 degree grid for speedlights (owned)
Mola Opal Diffusion Glass + Stabilizing Ring ($120)
Kacey Adapter for Mola to PCB ($45)

Sekonic L-358 ($200, bought)*
Impact 5-in-1 42x72" Reflector ($95)
Flashpoint 42" Reflector silver/gold (owned)
B+W 77mm Kaesemann MRC Slim CPL ($140, bought)*
B+W 77mm 0.6 ND MRC ($90)

Currently Kit:
580EX II
2x SB-28
Yognuo RF-602s
Cheetah 24" Qbox
Cheetah 16" Silver BD (selling)
20 degree grid for speedlights
White shoot-through umbrella
2x Manfrotto Basic Lightstands
Avenger D200 + 20 Extension Grip Arm
Flashpoint 42" reflector silver/gold

Lights Justification:
When I first started planning an upgrade to strobes the first question I asked was, how can I make my life easier? One of the main ways to achieve this was upgrading to a triggering solution that supported remote control of both strobes and speedlights. Back in March a friend of mine gave me a really good deal on an X1600, A420 and D600. Having borrowed, and liked, that setup before I jumped on the deal and the JrXs were the obvious choice.

However, Radiopopper JrXs rarely come up for sale and when they do they werent appreciably cheaper than new. Flex TT5s, on the other hand, can be readily found for a substantial discount. I had always been intrigued by the ControlTL system, but had been put off by the high cost. On a whim I ran the numbers on the Flexs and was surprised that the differences were marginal:

E640 x 2 ($900)** + MC2 x 2 ($180)** + TT1 ($110)* = $1,190
X1600 x 2 ($630)* + AC9 x 2 ($100)* + TT5 x 2 ($300)* + TT1 ($110)* = $1,130
X1600 x 2 ($630)* + JrX Studio Kit ($170) + JrX Studio Receiver ($100) = $900

When I started researching them in greater depth the advantages for my style of shooting became increasingly apparent. Given my initial goal of remote power control this reduced my options down to two choices: The Einstein with the PowerMC2 and the Elinchrom RX with the PowerST4.

For how I plan to use hypersync the Einsteins are having your cake and eating it. At full power theyre relatively slow, with a t.5 duration of 1/2000th of a second. The Quadra S heads, in comparison, are 1/1150th with one and 1/2250th with two. The Quadra As are 1/2300th and 1/4310th respectively. The Einsteins have the advantage of the slower duration S heads at full power for use with hypersync, plus the action-stopping shorter duration of the A heads at conventional shutter speeds.

Given they are half the cost, the battery packs are half the weight and the constant color mode the Einsteins are a pretty clear win for me. There are significant advantages of the Elinchrom system, but none of those advantages will necessarily translate into better images for me.

Planned Trigger Uses:

There are several reasons behind wanting the ControlTL. First is the ability to change the light power from camera. Having two E640s as key/fill and a speedlight as a rim is about as complicated of a setup as I plan on using and being able to adjust all three individually from camera will be a huge convenience.

Second, I love using the 24 Qbox as a mobile one-light setup. The box folds down like a reflector and everything fits in a tiny carrying bag. Often times I enlist someone to hold the modifier, rather than use a light stand, but inexperienced hands typically fail to keep the modifier a constant distance from the subject. Full TTL should hopefully prevent the blown highlights when the softbox gets too close.

Third, the 5D2s pitiful sync time makes working outdoors a bit of a hassle. Gaining a 1/3rd stop or two of clean sync will make a big difference as Id rather push the shutter speed than run a denser ND. Rob Gailbraths tests show clean sync up until 1/250th of a second with a Dynalite 4080SP bi-tube head and a 5D2. I wasnt able to find the t0.5 time for the head, but its intended for sports shooters and advertises a fast flash duration. Even if I can only get a clean 1/200th, that will be still an improvement over the 1/160th I currently get.

Finally, I would be using hypersync as fill light at high shutter speeds. Granted you lose a couple stops and wont get even frame coverage, but this application will be metered off of ambient with the strobes as fill only. Being able to shoot 1/800th-1/1250th and still get some off camera fill would be great for shooting motocross.

Modifiers uses:

The 64 PLM will be used almost exclusively for groups and fill light since its incredible efficiency will make it a boon for outdoor fill. That being said I do not like the look of the PLM as a key light, so it will only be used in situations where light coverage and quantity takes precedence over light quality.

The 50 Westcott Apollo JS wasnt initially on my purchase list, but softboxes are my favorite modifier and the $170 sale price was way too good to pass up. Although designed for speedlights, the shallow profile of the Einstein allows it to easily fit inside. It sets up like an umbrella and the two main disadvantages, the flash being inaccessible and limited tilt angle, are addressed by the MC2 and mounting it on a boom arm. I love the featherability of softboxes and the look of a large box close to the subject so this will be my go-to light for indoor shooting.

The next logical step down from the 50 softbox would be a 28 softbox. This role will be occupied by the Mola Setti instead and I plan on using it for all location shoots involving one or two subjects. The increased resistance to wind and simplicity of the setup (nothing to assemble) is what sold me on the idea of a BD for location shooting. The extra size, which should make for better full body coverage, is what sold me on the Setti. Indoors, I feel that an un-socked BD can be a little unflattering, but for models its a stunning look.

Closing Thoughts:
Since my profession has taken me away from home for a while, and I dont have access to my gear, a lot of this is theory crafting. Any input from your personal experiences with such gear is appreciated. Even if I dont change my mind I spend a considerable amount of time researching options suggestedI spent two full days of research considering the Profoto D1s upon a recommendation. Let me know if Im missing something, if something wont work the way I think it will, if there are better options or even just to confirm some of my choices. Thanks for reading!

Edited on Sep 01, 2012 at 05:41 PM · View previous versions

Aug 19, 2012 at 02:56 PM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Moving up to strobes, input wanted for fist kit!

A couple of things to consider;
If you are not going to use the capability for ControlTL to combine the Einsteins with speedlites, the Cyber Commander is a much better way to control the Einsteins.

The PLM is a great modifier. I use the soft silver with and without diffusion panel for groups outdoors or in. The strong silver has a nice look, and with the diffusion panel is probably about the same or maybe a bit sharper than the PLM soft silver.

I used ControlTL from its inception until the 600EX-RTs came out. I did beta testing with the MC2 and it works well to control the Einstein. Because ControlTL is designed for Speedlite control it only has a 6 stop range. This means you have to decide whether you want the top or bottom 6 stops of the Einstein range and then set it in MC2 firmware.

The other problem, which I don't know if they fixed, is that when you turn the modeling light off to save battery power on the VML it comes back on after the Einstein is fired.

If you go to my website and click on the portraits portfolio, most of the images where shot with Einsteins and PLMs. (Some, including the first one, were shot with a bounced speedlite and window light.) The outdoor groups on the beach, on the bench at a country club and the gray haired couple were all shot with Einstein and PLM with diffusion panel. The head shots with white background where multiple Eisnteins, main in silver PLM with diffusion and PLM shoot through for fill.

Over all you have put together a nice kit. If you decide to get the ControlTL stuff I happen to have a TT1 and a TT5 left that I'm looking to sell

Aug 21, 2012 at 09:18 PM

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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Moving up to strobes, input wanted for fist kit!

Thanks for the input. I am pretty set on the controlTL--it was the inexpensiveness of the PowerMC2's that drew me to the Einstein.

They did fix the modeling light issue, sort of. You still cant shut off the modeling light once it comes on, but you can set the TT1/TT5 not to send modeling light commands to the strobe which keeps them off. But, there's still a glitch where hitting the DoF preview turns the light back on.

And yeah, I wish theyd release an AC4 or something that gave you +4/-4. But, until then, FEC on camera is additive with the AC3 and you can access the last two stops by dialing in -2 FEC. Ive heard that using FEC can be inconsistent, though.

I took a look at your portfolio and the group shots look great. That application is exactly why the PLM is on my short list of mods, beyond that I only really plan on using it as an occasional fill. Did you do the group shots with a single PLM?

Aug 22, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Roland W
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Moving up to strobes, input wanted for fist kit!

I am very happy with the TT1 on my camera for all uses except perhaps where I need to try to send to a flash that is at a long distance. I love the small size and simplicity, and think you should go that way. The battery life is fine, but you do need to remember to shut it off at the end of the day. Having a spare battery on hand completely solves battery availability issues, and you get many 100's of hours of typical use off each battery. Because the TT1 only transmits, it is basically in a low power mode almost all of the time, and just uses higher power for the very brief transmission when a shot is taken. It has no need to keep a sensitive receiver and decoding system on all the time like a TT5 does. ,

Aug 22, 2012 at 04:09 PM

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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Moving up to strobes, input wanted for fist kit!

Thanks for the input regarding the TT1/TT5. Initially I was sold on the TT1, but I had waffled on that idea and sent an offer on the TT5s just before your post. Spent a bunch of time considering it and heres what I came up with:

There is no appreciable range difference between the TT1/TT5. In fact, the TT1 seems to have a more even coverage range as the TT5 can have issues if the antenna isnt oriented properly.

The TT1 is good for 2,000-3,000 frames or ~100 hours (30-40 on Nikon). But, when they do die they reportedly die somewhat abruptly and may have issues before the battery life indicator shows a problem. I also read that their battery life suffered when used in conjunction with the AC3, but I was unable to correlate this statement to any more info.

I ended up going with two TT5s for two reasons: primarily, I got a response to my offer saying it was first-come-first-serve and it was a good deal. But, just as importantly, the TT5 allows me to work the batteries in my regular charge regimen. After a shoot all devices with batteries get unloaded and before a shoot freshly charged cells are loaded in. Even if the batteries last forever, I like having the peace of mind that all my devices are 100% charged. Weighed against the size advantages, I felt the streamlining of my existing charging process held more weight (the fact my current triggers are not AA's is one of my biggest annoyances with them).

Aug 24, 2012 at 12:20 PM

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