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Category Archives: studio work

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 Last month, Hamburg based Briese Lichttechnik established Briese NY, its first U.S. division office.  I recently sat down with Gerd Bayer, who heads the office to talk about Briese, and to get an up close and personal look at some of their products.It doesn’t take a whole lot to figure out what makes the Briese light different – and that’s before you even plug it in.  You may see deflectors, pencil or stick type lamps and large parabolic reflectors among other companies’ products, but none put them together the way that Briese does.  The result is a unique way of distributing and controlling light.  Briese was the company at the forefront of the large, umbrella style parabolic movement.  With seven sizes available today, no one comes close to matching the range of focusable parabolics offered by Briese.  The other thing which makes the Briese Focus unique is that it is essentially an exoskeleton with a reflective surface underneath.  The beauty of this arrangement is that since the structure is on the exterior there are no ribs or spreader assembly compromising the interior.

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 Gerd already had a Focus77 set up when I arrived at the Briese NY office on West 27th Street.  As I watched him move the flash head utilizing the focus tube or wand from the flood to the spot position and back (near the outer edge of the umbrella inward and out) the change in the position of the light on a subject is very much like watching a Fresnel being opened up or closed down. 

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  The linear flash tube which the Briese Focus uses seems to produce a  directed, even and efficient light.  I’m going to address one thing right now as a user of the wonderful Elinchrom Deep Throat Octa which is a little larger  than the Focus77 because someone is bound to ask:  Inspite of being similarly shaped, the differences in the shape of the flash tubes, the interiors, as well as the ability to move the Briese flash tube, nets differences in  lighting patterns and characteristics.  With the addition of diffusion materials on both however and depending on where the Briese flash  is positioned, I believe the differences may be narrowed.   The Focus100, which was not available, and the Deep Octa are essentially the same size.

 The components of the Focus system excluding the power pack and a light stand include:  The Focus umbrella, the flash tube, shield and deflector: the focus tube/wand, the flash/lamp base, the mounting assembly, the set up assist/storage post, a breakdown ring and a transport bag.  Gerd cautioned me that one of the most important things to remember in handling the Focus is not to pull on the ribs.  He says that the most common repair he sees is exterior rib breakage, and usually because of someone trying to open or close the Focus improperly.  If you place the collapsed umbrella on its end, insert the set-up post into the ring opening and apply a little pressure, the Focus takes shape.  The breakdown process while different is just as simple:  You place the breakdown ring on top of the exterior rim of the Focus, insert the set up post, apply some pressure and the umbrella collapses. Perhaps because I am a bit of a “gadgeteer,” I did not find the set up/breakdown process at all intimidating, but I do think that I would  have felt differently if a Focus220 or 330 had been in front of me; where some things are concerned, size really does matter!  I can certainly understand how some people might find the set up/breakdown process different enough to be a little too involved or worrisome.

 The Briese Focus comes in one finish: hard  silver.  If you want to alter the characteristics of the resulting light, diffusion panels can be secured to the tips of the Focus.  A soft grid can also be attached to the tips for another level of spread control.  I pressed Gerd, as to what type of material is used on the interior surface of the Focus.  I had heard that it was Kevlar;  he smiled and indicated Briese does not disclose that, but went on to say that the material is special because the Focus range is also compatible with the Briese line of tungsten and HMI products and has to be able to withstand substantial heat.  All in all, I was impressed with how well made the Focus components are, and how seamlessly they fit together.

 The Focus77 was attached to an 800w/s multi-voltage, Briese Yellow Cube Pack.  The 800i weighs about 17 pounds and when the lid is on —  you guessed it — is a yellow cube with a carrying strap.  This obviously is a real departure from the typical black or grey box one usually sees in the studio.  The air cushioned sliders on the bottom of the pack are both a thoughtful and utilitarian touch.  The pack has outlets for 2 heads.  Interestingly while I wasn’t intimidated by the Focus77, the 800i was a different story.  There are a lot of pressure pads for flash and modeling light control.  I’m confident that if I spent time with the pack, that its operation would become second nature, but my initial reaction was “Oh my God!”

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With the Briese pack, the shortest flash duration is achieved at maximum power.  A four-stop range is the price one pays for the multi-voltage capability of the “i”series packs.  The “e” series packs which are designed for use in Europe and are 220-240v have a seven-stop range.  While the lack of familiarity with the pack controls can be overcome, for some photographers, the four-stop range of the ‘i” packs may be regarded as too limited.  Hopefully this power adjustment range issue will be addressed in future products and/or updates.  Given that the “i” series power adjustment range is not as robust as other premium brand generators, it was interesting to watch how making power and focus adjustments can work hand in hand in with respect to light output.  The Briese generators start at 400w/s and go up to 6400w/s.

 Among the new products which Briese has introduced is the “Focus Help” (FH,) a remote controlled unit which will tilt the Focus umbrella as well as move the focus tube in and out.  For users of the larger Focus models, the FH will allow precise adjustment and fine tuning of the lights after they have been positioned.  This device is clearly an assistant’s dream.  While the Focus may be the product that people most readily associate with the Briese name, Gerd made it clear that there are several other stellar modifiers including a line of strip boxes.  Like the Focus, the Strip is essentially an exoskeleton lined with reflective material.  There are no ribs or wands inside the reflective surface area.  The interior appears to be softer silver than that found in the Focus.  The Strip comes in a few different sizes and there are louver and  baffle options available to provide additional control.

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Briese products are available at a couple of studio here in New York for in-studio and location use:  Among them is Milk Studios.  I was told by one of the equipment gurus that “We [at Milk] like the product and the client demand is definitely there.”

 While I did not press Gerd about future product development, we did talk about growth.  He indicated that “Continuous lighting and HMI specifically is definitely a growth area.”  I was not surprised by his comment:  As motion and still applications continue to converge and offer visual continuity across formats, clients may be able to realize significant economies of scale in being able to handle both of these needs on one set, at the same time.  As of now his sense is that the Briese flash products are used more in New York for still work as opposed to Los Angeles, where the  use of Briese continuous light products is driven by motion work.

 Ken Allen of Monster Lighting, a professional film and video lighting house in Los Angeles has handled Briese products for approximately a year now, and says of the system, “It’s just a great product.”  Ken confirmed that the light weight of the Briese continuous lamp fixture is an advantage in using and placing them on sets.

 The one topic that I have held off mentioning until now is price.  There are a couple of reasons for this:  I wanted the focus of this entry to be on the Briese products which personally, I find intriguing.  The target audience for these products is not the casual shooter, or the guys going at it on Internet forums as to which brand of lighting is better or trying to define what constitutes “professional lighting.”  Let’s call it like it is:  The market for Briese products includes high end commercial applications and photographers who have the client base and budget to justify or warrant the expense.   They must feel that the Briese product will perform on the set as they demand and give the image the look they want and need.  In my opinion, products like the Profoto 8Air, the new Profoto Giants, the Broncolor Scoro packs and Paras are aimed at the same markets and photographers make similar decision about there use based on their  performance needs and desired look..  The only point here is that Briese is not alone in this regard.  Let’s also acknowledge that many photographers rent this type of  equipment when they need it, as opposed to buying it outright.  You don’t find the Briese product in the popular virtual or brick and mortor  stores, but they are found in a growing number of studios and specialty rental houses.  I also did not want the discussion of expense to drive this entry because many times discussions  on expense and value,  just as discussions about “quality of light,” tend to be both subjective and relative. 

But for those who are curious about the cost of ownership of the Briese kit that Gerd had set up in the office, here are some familiar products or services for which the price range, in U.S dollars, is comparable:  One (1) 2009 Toyota Yaris; or a brand new Phase One 645 camera with a P30+ back and 80mm lens kit; or six (6) 17 inch 2.8GHz Mac Book Pros; or two (2) Nikon D3x camera bodies; or one (1) Canon 5d MarkII and the seven (7) fastest L prime lenses from 14mm through 200mm; or a face lift and tummy tuck.

 For more information on Briese, their products, and availability,  or about Milk Studios and Monster Lighting, click on the embedded links in this entry.

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One of the more popular trends in photography today is the use of parabolic reflectors.  Now we are not talking about small metal reflectors but rather large and in several cases significantly larger umbrella shaped reflectors; at one end of the spectrum are the 5 to 10 foot tools like the Broncolor Paras, and the Profoto Giants, and at the other end the Mola Setti  and the  Elinchrom Deep Octa,  are examples that come to mind.  The quality of light that these shapers produce is truly wonderful, and is owed in part to a combination of their size, shape, depth, surface finish, and in some cases the ability to focus the light source.  With the exception of the Elinchrom, few of these light shapers are extremely portable, and none lend themselves for use with speedlights.

 

I have had a long standing love affair with these larger parabolics, as I like the directional properties of light they produce.  They play a prominent role in my photographic lighting.  I found myself looking for a smaller version that I could easily carry and have the option of using with speedlights.  Hensel must have seen me coming, because their 32 inch (80cm) Master White Parabolic Umbrella is just what I was looking for.

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Now I am not a big user of ‘traditional’ photographic umbrellas.  I have four of them:  Three came in lighting kits, and the fourth, a 60” silver model I purchased after using a 5 foot Profoto Giant, hoping I might get similar results for a fraction of the cost.  Not even close!  The distinctive deep profile of the Hensel was too hard to resist.  Vinnie at Foto Care, placed an order with Hensel USA and within a few days the umbrella which I have dubbed “Paralite” arrived.

 

The umbrella which is extremely well made comes in its own carry bag.  The setup and take down couldn’t be easier; if you have ever used an umbrella, photographic or rain, you know exactly what to do.  Get a light stand, the flash of your choice and you are ready to go.  The light from this umbrella is smooth as opposed to brilliant, which is no surprise as the interior is white.  Because of its shape, the angle of spread is narrower than a conventional umbrella of the same size.  The results are a directional but diffused light, with more defined shadow and contrast.  While you may be able adjust the position of some lights along the umbrella shaft, I would not characterize the Hensel as “focusable” in the same way that the Broncolor, Profoto, and Mola products are, as the shaft is relatively short.

 

For the portrait, wedding and/or location shooter looking to travel light, this umbrella is just different enough to be compelling.  It’s portable, easy to set up, and offers diffuse yet very efficient light.  If you are using a speedlight, consider using the widest setting for the best light distribution.  Hensel USA tells me that contrary to conflicting information on some retail sites,  the umbrella comes with a two year warranty. 

In my opinion,  the “Paralite” is a real winner.

Last fall, I got a taste of “rare air” at Photo Plus Expo in New York, courtesy of Profoto and their magnificent Pro-8 Air system.  I refer to it as “rare air” because its performance and price point put it in the stratosphere for many photographers and small studio owners.  While the blazing speed was impressive, the most interesting aspect of the Pro-8 Air system to me was the switch from the analogue controls of the Pro-7 series to digital and the wireless control capabilities that evolved as a result.  I left the show wondering if and when we might see “Air” in other Profoto products.

 

Last month, with the announcement of the D1 monolights, Profoto has made “Air” available to a broader audience. profoto d1 500 air It is also an indicator that the Pro Air system is becoming a standard wireless protocol for Profoto products.  As a user of Profoto battery packs and ComPacts, I was particularly interested in the D1 system as the specs seemed to address my issues with the current generation of monolights.

 

If you have ever worked with monolights on a boom or placed high up, you know that making manual adjustments to output can be difficult and time consuming.  The Profoto D1 Air system addresses this problem with the Air Remote which literally puts control of the lights in your hand or in the camera hot shoe.  No more raising and lowering light stands to fine tune the power or to adjust the modeling lamp.  While Profoto is not the first major lighting manufacturer to move in this direction, it is a welcome move nevertheless!

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My other issues with the current ComPact units are size and weight:  My ComPact 600 from the end of the unit to the tip of the glass cover measures a whopping 16 inches long.  The D1 is nearly 5 inches shorter, is lighter, and includes an integrated handle and reflector.  While the power may vary, the housing of the D1 units is the same, so if you are shooting with a 250 or a 1000 w/s unit, the physical dimensions of the units are identical, but weight will vary.  The D1s also offer a greater degree of lighting control than the ComPacts:  7 stops (500-7.8w/s) adjustable in whole stops or in 1/10 increments versus 5 stops (600-37.5 w/s) adjustable in 1/8 increments; shorter recycling times and for the international traveler, they are multi-voltage.

 

One of the biggest concerns I had with respect to the D1s design was the built-in reflector.  With a 77 degree spread, I worried that light quality/quantity would be compromised especially when using a beauty dish, one of the giant parabolic reflectors, or the magnum reflector.  The folks at Profoto must have anticipated this reaction because there is an optional dome-shaped glass cover available that should give the additional spread that many of us are use to.  Since I did not have access to the dome, I cannot comment on the spead differential.  I suspect that transport and handling concerns may have influenced the decision to go with a built-in reflector.

 

I found the D1 well-designed, well-built and extremely easy to use.  The controls are straightforward and intuitive.  Now the D1s come in several flavors: the big question if you are considering the 250 or 500 watt/sec units is whether “to Air or not to Air?” The 1000w/s unit only comes with Air.  Personally, I would have to have Air.  Much of a photographer’s work is about control, consistency, and efficiency; all benefits of the Pro Air system.  Users of the Pro-8s may find the D1s attractive as they are fully compatible and controllable with the same Air Remote and optional software.  The optional Air Sync makes it possible to trigger non air equipped packs and monolights.  Profoto also has indicated that an external battery will be available, possibly as early as this summer, as an option for the D1 system making it a potent tool for both studio and location work.

 

The D1s are not priced for the faint of heart.  If you have a limited lighting budget, at $1179 for a single 500 w/s Air unit, (the Air Remote must be purchased separately) or $2679 for the D1 500 Air Studio Kit (which includes:  two D1 500 Air units; a case; two light stands and umbrellas; and the Air Remote), the D1s may not be a viable option.  If, however, you like or use Profoto generators and the Profoto Light Shaping System, or use criteria other than or in addition to absolute cost to determine value, the D1 Air units may be a very attractive and versatile addition to your lighting arsenal.

 

 

While I believe the D1s have tremendous appeal on their own and in conjunction with the Pro-8 system, as well as with more products as the Pro Air “stable” expands, for many users of Profoto products like myself, with built in Pocket Wizards, there are some interesting considerations, none of which are product killers or insurmountable.  Unlike the Pro-8, there is no option for a built in Pocket Wizard with the D1s.  If I were to use a D1 500 Air  in conjunction with Pocket Wizard equipped Profoto products, I would use the Air Remote to adjust power, and plug a Pocket Wizard in to trigger the lights.  Another option, but in my case not a cost effective one, would be to purchase a couple of Air Syncs to trigger the non air equipped lights and generators.  And what about metering?  My Sekonic light meter works perfectly with the Pocket Wizard set up.  If I were opting to shoot only with the D1 Air units, I would  have to set the light meter to “cordless flash mode” and make sure the lights are triggered with the Air Remote within the 90 second timeframe.  These are not the most seamless solutions, but they are workable.   Profoto does not appear  to be resting on their laurels, so the options and considerations may change.

 

For more information on the Profoto D1s and other Profoto products, click.here.

 

Update:  After purchasing the D1 Airs in April, I discovered that it is possible to  mount the Air Remote to a PocketWizard Flextt5, and fire the D1Airs and my PocketWizard equipped packs  simultaneously!  Additionally, in this configuration, the Sekonic Meter with the PW module will also trigger the D1 Airs.  To read more about this, check out my May 5, 2009 entry.

 

 

 

I often look at equipment with an eye on whether it will allow me to accomplish a task more efficiently:  More efficiently for me usually translates to mean easier to carry and easier to set up, as most of my work is on location.  So it was with great interest, and I’ll admit a healthy dose of skepticism, that I went to the Calumet Photographic Store on West 22nd Street here in New York, to spend some quality time with their Portable On-Site Background System (PBS).  I say skepticism because I have tried collapsible 8′ muslin systems, as well as the more traditional crossbar type background support systems and have yet to find one that has impressed me enough for consistent use. In fact one of my more embarrassing photo shoot  related stories centers around the difficulty I had trying to get a collapsible background back in the bag.

 

When I arrived at Calumet, I was greeted by Ron Herard.  Ron handed me the bag which housed the Calumet system and we headed upstairs to their second floor gallery space.  While Calumet lists the kit as weighing 12 pounds, it did not feel that heavy.  When we got upstairs Ron asked me if I would time how long it takes him to get the system out of the bag and up for use.  One of his colleagues doubted it could be done in less than five minutes.  Well for the doubting Thomas, it took Ron a grand total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds.  I watched in absolute amazement:  An adjustable stand, a central cylinder in which you insert 4 flexible rods with round ends, 4 flexible extension rods, an 8×8 sheet of muslin which fits on the “arrow” tips of the extension rods, and you are good to go!  It is simple and intuitive.  It took me 3 minutes and 12 seconds to take the PBS out of the bag and erect it.  Not bad for a first timer!  I was able to dismantle the frame as quickly as I erected it.

Also surprising to me was the fact that the system does not require any additional clearance beyond 8 feet to erect.  Unlike the traditional cross bar support systems which require additional space on each side to accommodate the footprint of each stand, the Calumet PBS does not.  This is one elegant and efficient solution.  The muslin sheets have pockets on each corner which fit securely on the rod arrow heads.  The pockets are well reinforced.  Additionally the tautness of the fabric and frame interface, acts to stretch the fabric:  This resulted in a substantial number of wrinkles and creases in the folded sheet that was used either being reduced significantly or eliminated.  If you are getting a sense that I like this system, it is because I do. 

 

One of the downsides to this system is that you may not want to use this system against a window or with a light source  directly behind it as the stretched muslin is thin enough that the x frame may be seen.  Others may find the lack of availability of a floor apron as a drawback.  But all in all I found the system superior to the other alternatives I have tried and yet competitively priced.

I thanked Ron and Store Manager John Dessereau as I left, but not before placing an order for my very own.

For more information on the Calumet PBS, click on the blue highlighted text in this entry.