Skip navigation

As more and more H(d)SLR cameras hit the market, there will be a greater interest in and demand for continuous lighting solutions that can be used for both still and motion capture.  I decided that I wanted to look at some options available at different price points for AC and/or DC use.  I also decided to look only at off camera solutions.  I removed incandescent lights from consideration as I wanted high output, low wattages and minimal heat.  I established three thresholds for solutions:  Up to $100; up to $500; and up to $1500.  Rather than covering several lighting options in one post, I will write about the solutions separately between now and the middle of November. 

 I decided to explore an under $100 lighting solution first.  I was a bit skeptical as a people shooter that I would find anything I felt comfortable with in this price range.  After doing a fair amount of searching, I settled on a couple of $42USD, Adorama, Flashpoint brand umbrella-style soft boxes and cool fluorescent bulbs.  In fact, I added $30 to the budget and bought three “Kits.”

flash-pt1Basically a “Kit” consists of a 20 x27’ soft box built around a light bulb:  Take the bulb out, remove the cord, collapse the unit and you are ready to go.  Now let me “be perfectly frank;” for $42 you shouldn’t expect and don’t get premium brand construction or finish:  The plastic base plate assembly is not the most elegant solution in terms of opening for mounting to a stand and/or tightening it when mounted, and I found myself struggling a bit to get the baffle evenly attached to the box as well.  What you do get for $42 however, once you get the light attached to the stand and the baffle on snugly, is a light that works overtime and the comfort of knowing that if you damage the bulb or break the box, replacing either won’t set you back a king’s ransom.  And most importantly, you get a light which can be used for video or still work and does not generate the kind of heat that can make a set uncomfortable.  If there are drawbacks, the biggest is that the light is not dimmable.  One solution might be to buy a few bulbs of different wattages for flexibility or place additional diffusion material on the front.  Another drawback is that even with the baffle, there is a “hot spot” in the center of the box resulting from the bulb: You may see it in the catch-lights.  The biggest downside is that the 85 watt “spiral” bulb is huge!  If you buy these lights, feel free to discard the box the entire assembly ships in as the soft box, cord, baffle and adjustment lever come in a nice black canvas case, but you will want to keep the box and form the bulb comes in.  Drawbacks not withstanding, yes indeed, I love these lights!flash-pt-5

flash-pt-7 

According to Adorama, the 85 watt bulb included in the kit I purchased roughly puts out the equivalent of a 480 watt tungsten bulb.  My conclusion—it is indeed close to that.  Adorama also says the temperature of the bulb is 5500K.  That may indeed be the temperature of the bulb, but my unscientific eyeball test felt that the light in the silver box with baffle mounted was cooler than 5500k, so you may want to custom white balance for the best result.

The kit currently on the Adorama site comes with a 70 watt bulb and sells for $39.95. The only difference between the “Kits” I purchased for $42 and the one currently listed is the bulb.  The 70 watt bulb according to Adorama, puts out the equivalent of a 350 watt incandescent light.

I feel this is a wonderful product worthy of consideration for those seeking to light for motion and still work at a most compelling price.

© 2009 bkatkinson     © 2009 bk atkinson

^ Stills  captured during a video shoot using a single Flashpoint “umbrella-style” Soft Box Kit.

 I want to make a few general comments in closing: First, for those of you who own flash lighting equipment already, if you try using those modifiers with continuous lights, make sure they are properly ventilated and heat rated as a lot of light modifiers which are routinely used for flash applications are not made to be used with continuous lighting and particularly those that generate a lot of heat.  Going forward, if you are going to be shooting with flash and continuous lights and want to use the same modifiers, you may want to make sure that you buy modifiers that are appropriately rated.  The second point I want to make is that even though some lighting is considered “cool” the term cool may be relative:  Be careful handling fixtures and bulbs, especially immediately after turning them off.  If you are shooting with fixtures that require installation and removal of bulbs, store and transport them with care. 

Glossary:

H(d)SLR stands for “hybrid digital” or “high definition” single lens reflex cameras -you decide which.  This is what I call cameras such as the Canon 5dMarkII and 7D, the Nikon D90, and the D300s, and other DSLRs that are video capable.

Advertisements

single-standing-revWhile I have several light stands of different heights, the stands I most commonly use when traveling and on location are eight-foot stands.  The promise of less bulk has tremendous appeal to me and most location photographers, so with that in mind I ordered a pair of Manfrotto 306B Stacker Stands from the Calumet Photographic store in New York.  When I picked the stands up, I  responded positively to the narrow rectangular boxes which affirm  how streamline these stands are.  In fact, my response was so positive that the fact that the three-section Stacker Stands were taller closed than my “generic” brand four-section, eight-foot stands went unnoticed.  In my defense, I had been using a 13-foot stand for testing for several weeks, so that impacted my frame of reference.

The 306Bs are well made; I did not, however, find them substantially better or worse in build to my other stands.    What struck me when I set the stands up was that they were occupying more floor space than I recall my “generic” brand 8 foot stands requiring.  The footprint diameter of the 306Bs is 42.5 inches versus 36 inches for my generic brand eight-foot stands.   Closed, my generic stands were a relatively “compact” 26 inches versus 34.3 inches for the closed 306Bs.  So the Stacker Stands require more floor space, and in terms of packing, a longer bag than my generic eight-foot stands.  This is not surprising given that the 306Bs have 3 sections  versus my “generic” stands which have 4 sections.  Additionally, each 306B weighs nearly a half pound more than each of my generic eight-foot stands.  Now, one might expect me to conclude that there is no real advantage to the Manfrotto 306B stands in terms of closed lenght, weight and footprint when compared to my generic eight-foot stands.  It is not quite that cut and dry.  

For the traveling photographer concerned with bulk and containment and/or the location shooter, the Manfrotto 306Bs offer tremendous advantages.  They can be clipped together and the irregularity in shape and cumbersomeness of transporting conventionally configured light stands is substantially reduced or eliminated.  A shoulder strap can be attached to the collapsed stands offering a great hands free carrying option.  If storage space in the studio, home or even in the car trunk is a premium, you will definitely see an advantage with or benefit from having multiple Manfrotto Stacker Stands.  According to Bogen Imaging, which distributes Manfrotto products here in the USA, seven Stacker Stands requires the same space as four traditional light stands. 

 If you are buying a single stand, you may not see or appreciate the utility of the Stacker system; but if you need or intend to buy multiple stands, the 306Bs or the other Manfrotto Stacker Stands may be worthy of consideration.  The 306Bs can be purchased individually or in three stand “kits.”  All in all, I found the 306Bs an elegant and efficient solution to a concern or problem that many photographers face. Thumbs up to Manfrotto! 

standiingrevised-base=uprevised-base-comp

 .

hensel-kit-1If I were in the market for a 1200 w/s battery pack today, there is no doubt in my mind that the Hensel Porty Lithium 12 would be a top contender.  I reached this conclusion after having the opportunity to spend some time with the Porty Lithium 12 thanks to the folks at Hensel USA, and Fotocare in New York.  For the location photographer, there is much to like about the Porty Lithium 12:  It is one of the lightest 1200 w/s battery powered units weighing in at 13 lbs and that is with the battery on-board.  The unit has outlets for two heads which can be powered 1:1, 1:2 or 1:3.  There are seven f-stop power levels (a six f-stop range) which is adjustable in 1/10 increments or in full stops.  The Porty Lithium 12 is also among the fastest 1200 w/s battery generators with recycle at full power in 1.95 seconds, placing it a mere .15 seconds behind the heavier, more expensive Profoto B2.  With the Porty Lithium 12, Hensel has bested the performance or its own popular Porty Premium with respect to three aspects which are important to photographers:  Weight, size, and performance. 

 If you are considering the Porty Lithium 12, the one light kit seems to be the most attractive and “cost-effective” option.  In addition to the generator (which has a built-in Hensel Strobe Wizard radio receiver) and battery, the kit includes:  One Hensel EH-Pro Mini 1200P flash head; a fully detachable head cable; a 7” reflector; one light stand; the Porty Lithium Quick Charger; and a soft wheeled case.  The flash head has a 65 watt modeling lamp which puts out the equivalent of 120 watt incandescent bulb.  As with most battery generators, the lower powered modeling lamp will be useful under some circumstances and sub-optimal in others.  The kit comes with a Hensel Strobe Wizard Plus Transmitter which can be mounted on the camera to facilitate flash triggering, as well as being used to adjust flash output and modeling lamp intensity.  While the current MAP of the Porty Lithium 12 Kit is $4450USD, you should check with Hensel dealers for street pricing and availability, as availability may vary by dealer.  A complete list of dealers is available on the Hensel USA site.

 hensel-porty-l-12The Porty Lithium 12 is well made.  The fit, finish and extent of “environmental” sealing/protection is excellent.   The controls are as intuitive as it gets.  The squat profile of the unit and wood handle suggest it is substantial in weight, but when you pick it up don’t be surprised if you marvel, as I did, at how light the unit actually is.  I was also keenly aware at the lightness of the Pro Mini 1200P head.  Hensel officially list the weight of the head at 5.7 pounds, but that includes the 16 foot cord. The head alone weighs in the vicinity of three pounds.  Hensel wisely designed the unit with a detachable cord, which is of great assistance for packing and storage, and is a feature I would like to see more manufacturers adopt.  The head comes with a clear dome and a protector cap.  The light is clean and in my opinion on par with that of other premium brand products.  In my testing, the units recycled as fast as Hensel claims at full power.

 One of the most intriguing aspects of the Hensel Lithium 12 is the battery.  Hensel is the first lighting manufacturer, to my knowledge, to offer a lithium battery in a portable generator.  In order to understand the significance of the lithium battery, one only has to compare the battery of the Porty Lithium 12 and the older Porty Premium Plus:  At full power, Hensel estimates about 230 pops for the lithium battery vs. 250  pops for the Porty Premium Plus battery.  Let’s not split hairs over 20 pops and call them roughly equivalent.  hensel-battery1The Lithium 12 battery/cassette weights 2.5 pounds; the Porty Premium battery and drawer weighs nearly 9 pounds.  For the traveling photographer who is concerned about weight of gear, the weight differential, particularly if one needs to carry multiple batteries, is significant.  If the weight of the Lithium 12’s battery is the upside, the downside of the lithium technology is that the batteries are expensive:  A second lithium battery/cassette runs over $500 USD.  To be fair, the price of an extra Hensel lithium battery/cassette (2.5 lbs) is in the same range as a second battery and drawer (11.4lbs) for a Profoto B2.

The Hensel Porty Lithium 12 may become an even more versatile tool for photographers if the long-rumored AC adapter becomes available this Fall.  For some an AC/DC Porty Lithium 12 may become an all around lighting solution for their shooting needs.

 I should mention that Hensel also makes the Porty Lithium 6, which is a 600w/s unit.  Given the fact that there is only a $330 USD difference between the price of the Lithium 6 and Lithium 12 generators, I personally would be hard-pressed to consider the less powerful unit as the Lithium 12 offers more “pop” for the buck!  Hensel also offers a robust line of light shaping tools, many of which are attractively priced.

 In order to give photographers an opportunity to experience all that the Porty Lithium 12 offers, Hensel USA has been making several two light kits available for rental through their dealers across the country.  The Porty Lithium 12 Kit has been in New York at Fotocare, and in Los Angeles at Samy’s.  You can check the Hensel USA Website for the current location of the kits for rental or contact Sharon or Mark Gottula through the Website for additional information.

 

Note:  The images displayed are of the two head rental kit and may show and/or include items that are not a part of the one head kit available for purchase.

I got a lot of positive feed back on the July entry which focused on education and seminars opportunities, so I thought I would do it again this month.  My picks this month are a seminar and a studio space here in New York City and a conference in Los Angeles. 

 This month’s seminar pick is for the aspiring fashion shooter and is courtesy of B&H Event Space (420 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001)

Monday August 24, 

Joey Quintaro will be conducting a seminar entitled:  “The Fundamentals of Model Testing and Fashion Photography.”  The seminar will cover a broad spectrum of topics from searching for models, to building relationships with agencies.  The participants will also have an opportunity to do some shooting.  While you won’t walk away ready to take the fashion world by storm, you will come out of the seminar with a better understanding of the tremendous amount of work and coordination that model testing and fashion shooting requires.  I have known Joey for several years and in addition to being a nice guy, he is extremely knowledgeable and is an accomplished photographer.

For more information on the seminar, and other B&H events, visit the Event Space page on the B&H web-site.  I remind you as I did last month, even if an event is filled to capacity, there is a good chance you will be able to get in as there are usually some last minute cancellations and no-shows.

 My other (New York)  August pick is a small studio space.  Many times people are interested in getting their feet wet working in a studio setting or need a small studio space at a reasonable price.  Such a space is actually available courtesy of the Camera Club of New York.  Located at 336 West 37th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, CCNY, the 16” x 20 foot space is available for rental at some of the most attractive rates around.  You can bring your own lights if you choose, but the rental rate includes the use of one pull of either white, gray, or black seamless paper, and access to the Club’s lights, modifiers and stands.  So how attractive is attractive?  The current summer promotion which goes through Labor Day is $40 an hour with a two hour minimum, $125 for four hours and $200 for an 8-hour day!  For more information on the studio rental, as well as on the Camera Club of New York, its programs, activities, and membership, click on the hyperlinks embedded in the above text.

 I also wanted to mention for those who may be in Los Angeles August 29 and 30th the Image Mechanics Expo Collision Conference, which is being held at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood.  The “collision” referred to is in fact the convergence of still and motion capture.  For more information, on the schedule, registration, speakers and sponsors, click here.

convergence-motion-2-still

It’s been nearly a year since the first wave of “motion capture” enabled dslrs which I have been referring to hslrs or hdcds were announced. So after my eight months of using the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5D MarkII, I decided to revisit the concept of stills and motion. 

Needless to say the reaction to the convergence of still and motion capture was mixed and depending on whom you talk to or which Internet forum you read, remains mixed.  Some hardcore photographers expressed the sentiment that motion capture in a still camera is a gimmick.  Some videographers pointed out limitations that make hslrs suboptimal for capturing motion.  Some people adopted a wait and see attitude; yet others have embraced the possibilities with enthusiasm.  There are also those who were or are indifferent, as motion capture may be one more feature among many they will not use.  The discussions on the convergence of stills and motion  reminds me of the discussions several years back when Olympus first “lifted the mirror” facilitating live-view in a dslr or when the monotone capture option which was a feature on point-and-shoots, made its way to dslrs; or even further back to some of the passionate debate on digital capture versus. film.  There appears to be a direct correlation between time and acceptance or in some cases perhaps resignation.

Prior to the inclusion of motion capture in dslrs, photographers depended on the high frame-rate per second capability of their cameras to chronicle action. This eliminated many cameras from consideration for action shooters.  The inclusion of motion capabilities in still cameras opens up new possibilities for action shooters, and may make cameras, that otherwise would have not been considered for action shooting, contenders.

One thing is for certain:  Whether you are talking about the hslrs from Canon and Nikon, hdcds like the Panasonic Lumix GH1 or the Red DMSCs, a convergence of dual capture in a single package is not just coming, it is here.  I don’t really understand why the discussion for some comes down to one or the other.  Point-and-shoot cameras have had this capability for years and I don’t remember this ever being discussed in the same manner.  But then they were not capable of producing the quality of video we are seeing in the current crop of motion capable still cameras. 

My own stills/motion “ah ha” moment, came not because I woke up and realized there were three monitors on my desk, or because I found myself rotflmao courtesy of a YouTube video or watching a product promo on a manufacturer’s web-site, but rather while walking between locations in Central Park last August during a wedding shoot.  I wasn’t thinking about recording a blockbuster, only capturing a few moments of motion that were visually arresting.  I thought my clients would have appreciated such footage, and would have wanted to share it with their friends and family as they had been doing with their still images on Flickr for quite some time. The great irony here is that I usually do not shoot weddings.  That was about a week before the Nikon D90 announcement was made.  My only experience with motion capture up to that point had been relegated to my cell phone camera.

Since the arrival of the  Nikon D90 and the  Canon 5D MarkII, video camera accessory makers from Zacuto and Redrock Micro to independent image makers like Bruce Dorn have developed products to enhance the “still to  motion” capture experience.  There are a growing number of products targeting hslr users with items ranging from focus follow and sliders, to mounting rigs and screen enhancers, some reasonably priced and some extremely expensive.  The effort to produce accessories at every price point suggests that still and video convergence is a growing segment of the imaging industry and that there will be a demand for tools to exploit the combined capability by amateurs, enthusiasts, and working image makers.  The fact that many products have lengthy waiting lists or are back-ordered, suggests that the manufacturers simply cannot keep up with demand.  Perhaps, those embracing motion are not as vocal  on Internet forums as those who do not.  And perhaps the term “silent majority” is being re-defined.

The number of camera model specific sites which provide information on motion capture or celebrate the capability is growing and is both surprising and impressive.  Additionally, there are plenty of people posting samples and instructions on-line of their DYI accessories for motion capture.  You might argue about whether a still camera with motion can be used to record a box office hit, but clearly they are very capable for many of the Web-based multimedia and monitor/television-viewed applications that are growing in popularity and becoming a more important part of the entertainment and knowledge acquisition processes. 

The area that there has been surprisingly slow to respond to the convergence of motion and stills is lighting, and this remains one of the biggest areas of concern and challenge for photographers.  While the camera makers continue to provide either built in and/or supplemental flash solutions, none market a continuous lighting option as part of the available accessories.  Additionally some of the more popular names in flash photography continue to release new studio and location powered flash units, but have been silent with respect to continuous lighting products.  Between small flashes, small video light solutions, studio flashes and larger continuous lighting sources, the prospects of having four different brands and solutions is mind-numbing, and potentially expensive.

Perhaps no individual early on had a greater impact on getting dslr users to consider the potential of motion capabilities than Vincent Laforet.  Laforet’s self-produced and self-financed short “Reverie” which was shot with a Canon 5d MarkII and has become the centerpiece of the camera’s print marketing campaign, generated a tremendous amount of interest and activity.  In less than four weeks after Canon announced the camera and nearly two months before the camera hit the stores, Laforet and his blog became a “real-time experience” resource for many.  Over a 10 day period, between late September and early October 2008, “Reverie” was reported to have been viewed over 1.5 million times.

With recent firmware changes which have given users greater manual control over the 5D MarkII, along with stir caused by “Reverie,” I cannot help but wonder if Canon was even remotely aware of the possibilities that people would see for the motion enabled dslr beyond the “quick grab.”  I am sure this has caught the attention of the other camera manufacturers as well.  It is just a matter of time before HD motion capture becomes as common as auto focus in every dslr. 

One of the arguments that I hear often with respect to still vs. motion capture is that they are such different disciplines.  But in the stills arena, I could make the case that shooting weddings and shooting landscapes are different disciplines; or in the motion arena that shooting shorts and shooting full length features are also different disciplines.  There are some substantial differences in stills and motion work, and I don’t want to minimize them – sound, lighting and processing are three of the more obvious ones.  But in purely visual terms, I think that the response to how different they are, may be “it depends.”  It really does depend on one’s frame of reference.  A photographer who is used to shooting against gray paper or muslin backdrops with posed subjects, may find the transition from stills to motion a different experience from a photographer who works from story boards, on sets or in rooms and locations, where the environment is key and the lighting considerations and needs are different; and/or from the photographer who actively directs his or her subjects; or the photo-journalist.  It should be noted that photographers have been moving between stills and motion for quite some time.  Three photographers who come immediately to mind who made the transition are Stanley Kubrick, Gordon Parks and Herb Ritt. 

I asked New York based photographer Mike Kobal, who has embraced the motion capabilities of the first generation of hslrs/hdcds in a big way, to describe the differences he finds between capturing stills and motion.  Mike says that “Shooting stills is a subtractive process:  I choose the moment to press the button and hopefully capture the essence of what I want to say and what I saw; whereas shooting video is more of an additive process, anticipating the flow of things and editing to complete the story.”  Mike has been shooting with the Nikon d90 and Canon 5DMarkII, and recently began working with the Panasonic Lumix GH1. 

While some photographers may continue to debate still vs. motion or motion vs. still and often with great passion, there are three things that are not debatable: 

  1. We live in a multi-media age
  2. The Web continues to evolve and grow; and
  3. There is a there is a demand for content.

The people who are looking for content don’t care what camera is used:  They just want to see the end product.  You do not need a $50,000 camera or for that matter even a $1,000 camera to shoot content.  But hopefully better tools will lead to better visual quality.

Without getting emotional, let’s look at a few facts related to the U.S.A:

 

  • In April 2009, nearly 79% of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
  • The average online video viewer watched nearly 6.4 hours of video.
  • Over 107 million viewers watched 6.8 billion videos on YouTube.com which equates to almost 64 videos per viewer.
  • 49 million viewers watched 387 million videos on MySpace.com which equates to nearly 8 videos per viewer.
  • The duration of the average online video was 3.5 minutes.

Source: comScore Inc.

 The growth in the video trend is not just an American phenomenon:

  • The total number of videos viewed online in the U.K. in April 2009 grew to 4.7 billion videos, a 47%increase over the same period in 2008.
  • Google sites were the most popular U.K. online video property in April 2009.  2.4 billion Videos were viewed, which represents a 58% increase over the same period in 2008.
  • YouTube accounted for 99% of all videos viewed on the Google sites.

Source:  comScore Inc.

Sites such as Flickr (Yahoo), SmugMug, and Photobucket (Fox Interactive Media) that were built around the business of photo sharing offer video sharing options to their members:  Stills and motion, side by side.  Now at this point at least one reader is thinking that a lot of those 5 billion or so videos that were watched are mediocre; but then so are a lot of television shows and movies, not to mention many of the still images that end up on stock sites or are posted on the Web.  But there are also plenty of gems out there.  It is up to the viewers to choose the wheat or the chaff.

How we image makers define ourselves may have a lot to do with whether and how we embrace the convergence of stills and motion or motion and stills. Even though technology has marched on, we may be saddled with legacy baggage from the film days.  Call yourself a photographer and you may be confining yourself to one camp; call yourself a videographer and you may be confining yourself to a different camp.  Consider yourself something else like an image maker, or a “stil-mo-tographer,”  be open to trying and doing new things, and you may just find that it frees you from the perceived constraints of one discipline versus the other, gives you an advantage and/or opens up new avenues or perhaps keeps you competitive.

I just realized something:  As a child the one thing I never did was go to camp. 

 Glossary:

Hslrs – hybrid single lens reflex cameras

Hdcds – hybrid digital capture devices

DMSC – digital motion and still camera – the Red designation

Rotflmao – you can Google this one!

Note:  The hyperlinks that appear throughout this article and site have been included with the consent of the respective product and site owners.  Their company names and their respective products names are in many cases registered trademarks /service marks and are the property of the company.  I thank them for allowing us to link to their content.  This site has no affiliation with any product manufacturer or retailer and its owner receives no consideration, financial or otherwise, from any company or retailer.  The entries and images on this site are copyrighted and should not be reproduced with out permission.

Whether you want to learn about new products, learn how to use your existing equipment, explore some aspect of photography, or be inspired by the works of others, there are wonderful opportunities to do so this month and every month here in New York, and it won’t cost you a king’s ransom.  Two of the premier photo specialty retailers here in New York, Foto Care and  B&H Photo Video Pro-Audio, offer some incredible opportunities for photographers to build our skill sets and expand our knowledge base, through a series of manufacturer sponsored and store sponsored events, and inspirational lectures and discussions.  I wanted to share with you a few of my event picks for July, all of which are free.

 

Foto Care 

41 West 22nd Street  New York, NY  212-741-2990

July 13:           

12pm – 5pm:  Preview of the Leica S2. 

An up close and personal look at the 37mp, medium format dslr with a 30x45mm sensor.  Reservation Required

 

1pm:  The Shape of Light by Broncolor

The seminar covers using the Broncolor light shapers as well as techniques for using various modifiers including the Para umbrella, Mini Satellite, Lightbars, lightstick and ringflash C and P.  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

4:30pm – 5:30pm:  Rinze Van Brugg, photographer and graphic artist on imaging with the Leica M8.  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

July 14:

2pm:  Splash by Brian Bryns and Broncolor:

The seminar focuses on techniques for lighting and capturing liquids.  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

6pm:  Airborne:  An evening with Lois Greenfield  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

July 15:

 1pm:  Location lighting with Broncolor  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

 6pm:  No Guts, No Glory an evening with Sarah Silver  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

For a complete listing of seminars and events at Foto Care including details on “Hasselblad Week” which begins July 20,and/or to reserve your space click here , or call 212-741-2990

 

B&H – Event Space

420 9th Avenue (@34th Street  New York, NY  212-444-6615

 

July 9

1pm-5pm:  Lighting for Portraiture: a Special Extended Workshop presented by Westcott.  This is a 4 hour seminar that mixes theory and discussion on lighting options and control with practical application.

         

July 12:

7:30pm-9:30pm:  Manhattanenge.  Flickr personality Jennifer Diamond leads a group of photographers to capture images of  the twice yearly phenomena known as “Manhattanenge” where the setting sun is perfectly aligned with the Manhattan street grid.  The group will be meeting at 5th Ave and 34th Street between 7:30 and 7:45 pm.

July 26:

1pm-3pm:  Media Empowerment & the Developing World presented by Barefoot Workshops.  The bicoastal not for profit Barefoot Workshops offers short, intensive workshops around the world in narrative and documentary filmmaking.  Led by Chandler Griffin, this seminar sheds light on the media tools and formats that Barefoot uses to motivate people and bring about change in communities in need.

 

July 27:

2pm-5pm:  FACEBOOK VS. FACE TO FACE: Using Social Media and SEO to Drive More Business to your Door. presented by liveBooks.  J Sandifer and Lou Manna draw from their personal experiences with social media and viral marketing. Lou will discuss how he uses Facebook as his international business hub by promoting his work and driving traffic to his site. J, who has used social media and viral marketing to grow his photography business in Portland, ME, will cover the best social media available to photographers and how to utilize their benefits.

 

July 28:

11am-1pm and 3pm-5pmNikon Wireless Flash Hands-on Workshop with Shooting Stations.  Navigate the Nikon flash system with Nikon training specialist Paul Van Allen.  After an introduction to button, menus and functionalities, participants will have the opportunity to apply what they have learned at shooting stations.  There are two session

 

For a complete list of B&H Event Space events and seminars as well as for more information and on-line registration, visit the Event Space page on the B&H website.  Please note that even if the seminar or event is shown as being booked to capacity, there is a good chance you can still get a seat if you show up as there are often quite a few “no shows.”

 

In closing this entry, I do want to underscore one point:  If you register for a free event and something comes up which precludes you from participating, let the organizers know as soon as possible so that someone else may have the opportunity to fill that seat.

briese-focus77-image-2 

 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.

 briese-focus77-image1

 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. 

briese-focus77-image-3     briese-focus77-image4

  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!”

 briese-800i-top-view

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.

briese-strip briese-focus,-800i-pack-and-collapsed-strip

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.

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.

tripanel-web

 

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.

we're off to see the wizard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When LPA Design announced the new Pocket Wizard MiniTT1 transmitter and FlexTT5 transceiver earlier this year, there was a tremendous amount of buzz and excitement.  The makers of the best known and probably most widely used flash triggering devices, was coming to market with products capable of communicating Canon’s E-TTL-II and Nikon’s I-TTL protocols wirelessly via radio signals.  While Leap Devices with their Radio Poppers line and Quantum Industries with their Trio line brought radio TTL products to market before LPA, neither of these brands have the user base that PocketWizards has.  The good news was and is that users of Canon and Nikon flash systems now have 3 wireless radio system alternatives, all of which work differently, to the Nikon and Canon “line of sight” wireless solutions.

 

As reports surfaced over range limitations with respect to several Canon Speedlites including the flagship, 580EX II, and some initial operational incompatibility with the very popular 5D Mark II camera, some of the excitement gave way to disappointment.  Add to that product shortages at release, and the new generation of PocketWizard products was off to a less that auspicious start here in the USA.

 

To its credit, LPA Design was quick to acknowledge and address issues.  While the radio interference issues with certain Canon flashes will be addressed by a soon to be announced “supplemental” product, many of the performance related issues and bugs have been addressed via firmware updates.  They have also demonstrated the ability to enhance performance via firmware.  I have been impressed with the firmware updates which LPA has made, as well as by the customer service and technical assistance which both the MAC Group (the U.S distributor of PocketWizards) and LPA Design have rendered.

 

My interest in the new generation of PocketWizard products was fueled by several factors:

  • I wanted to carry a light weight lighting kit that would afford me reliable wireless triggering without having to rely on line of sight.
  • I liked the idea of having a small transmitter atop the camera as opposed to a flash acting as transmitter, or the MultiMax.
  • I wanted one wireless triggering system that could be used with my studio strobes, light meter and Speedlites.
  • I wanted E-TTL II functionality

 

The new PocketWizard products appeared to address all of my desires.  I was less concerned about being able to trigger an E-TTL II controlled flash 800 to 900 feet away as my outdoor shooting on the streets of New York City would preclude that anyway.  When I thought about it further, I decided that I needed some context as to how long 900 feet really is.  Thanks to Google, I now know that 900 feet is the length of the USS Intrepid, three times the length of a football field and a tad under 2/3 the height of the Empire State Building.

 

Now I have to admit, that I did feel a bit like Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow on the way to “OZ” as the journey down this wireless road was fraught with obstacles:  For starters, only one of the two Flex units I ordered came in.  While waiting for the second Flex to arrive I discovered that with the 580EX II/Flex combination mounted on my 1DS Mark III  there were extreme fluctuations in  shutter speed.  At this point I was questioning my heart, my brain and my courage and wondering could the “Wizard” deliver!  There was a little voice screaming “send the Flex back!”  Had it not been for the excellent technical support and assurances that the issues were noted and would be addressed, coupled with my longstanding experience and satisfaction with PocketWizard products, I probably would have sent it back.   My decision was made, I would press on.  So what’s a guy to do with one FlexTT5?  In my case it was read and re-read the manual, as there is a lot there to digest, and then learn how to integrate using my one Flex into my existing PocketWizard/MultiMax workflow. 

 

The MiniTT1 and the additional FlexTT5 arrived between the two firmware updates.  The Wicked Witch of the West clearly had put a hex on the Mini! With the Mini mounted to either of my cameras, any button I touched on the camera resulted in the triggering of the remote mounted flashes. A call to tech support resulted in a preliminary diagnosis of a contact problem with the Mini.  The next morning I took the Mini back to Foto Care where they exchanged it for another unit. No random firing with the new Mini.  There were noticeable performance improvements with the first firmware update, but with the second update, the Mini and Flex became a joy to use:  No more erratic behavior, reliable triggering and perfect execution of E-TTL II.  

Indoors I have shot with the both the 580EX II and 430EX II flashes mounted to the Flex units behind me, in two different rooms lighting a hallway, in dimly lit rooms at relatively slow shutter speeds and in sun dappled bright environments with fast shutter speeds and the units have fired without any issues.  Outdoors with either a Flex or the Mini on camera, I have gotten the 580EX II mounted on a Flex to fire at a distance of 80 feet away from the camera.  I stopped testing at 80 feet simply because I realized that this distance is substantially in excess of where I would typically place my flashes.  To put some context to it, 80 feet is a tad under a 1/3 of the length of a North -South block in Manhattan.  I do not want to minimize the concern that some have over range.  Based on venue, subject matter and location, as well as focal length of lens, there are those shooters for whom greater range latitude is critical.  There is information and suggestions for increasing the range of affected flashes when used in combination with the FlexTT5 on the Pocket Wizard site which may prove helpful.  For some photographers however, the necessity of having to take some of these  extra steps in order to get the performance they need, significantly reduces the attractiveness of the system.

 

Given the feedback of people getting more or less range with the same model of flash, there may be some credence to the anecdotal accounts that the degree of radio interference attributable to the 580 II may vary by production run.  It is not uncommon during the lifecycle of a product for components to be substituted based on changes in availability for example.  In most instances these changes are not apparent to end users as the overall performance as the manufacturer originally specified remains the same.  While production changes could be a possibility which helps to explain some of the range differentials 580EX II users are reporting, there is no evidence that indicates this is the case.  For those who have criticized Canon with respect to the radio frequency and shielding issue, it should be remembered that few to none of us would be having this discussion about radio frequency interference if we were talking about using the wireless protocol as designed by Canon for use with Canon products.

 

If there is anything that I’m not wild about with the Mini and the Flex it is the fact that the with the latest firmware update, in order to enjoy the new 5D Mark II functionalities, one needs to specify the camera model in the PocketWizard Utility.  This can be a problem for people like me who shoot with multiple Canon models.  Prior to the update I had the model selection set to auto and used the units with either camera.

 

The other area of concern has to do with changing the Mini and Flex settings in the field:  If you have a PocketWizard product such as a Multi-Max or one of the Plus models, you can at least use the learn process to change the channels on the Mini and the Flex should it be necessary.  Without a MultiMax or Plus, or access to the PocketWizard Utility, the only option you have if you need to change settings is a reset to the defaults.  For me this is less of an issue as I rarely am shooting in an area with other photographers, but for those shooting in venues with other photographers or who discover while on location the need to adjust the offset, disable Control TL, change to a channel other than the defaults or make other changes, this may indeed be an issue.

 

Now, I have decided to take a slow and deliberate approach in unlocking the full power of the new PocketWizards.  The first steps included getting my arms around E-TTL functionality as well as getting the new units to function in a more “traditional” PocketWizard role in the studio.  There is a lot of capability packed in these units and a lot of complexity with regards to the settings, and performance.  There are things that can be done with one flash that cannot be done with another, so it is imperative that you read the manual very carefully.  The truth is that there is more capability in these new PocketWizard products than I will probably ever need or use. 

 

My benchmark for evaluating the Mini and Flex was how they stacked up against the “line of sight” Canon system as I have used and would use it.  For my shooting and lighting needs and desires, the Mini and Flex work extremely well.  In real world usage, I have not experienced the same reliability issues and frustrations that I have had from time to time with the camera mounted St-e2 controlling flash activity and I have certainly not gotten the range  and versatility from the St-e2 as master that I am seeing with the Mini or Flex. 

 

While one would hope for a seamless and smooth product launch, the Mini and Flex introduction for use with Canon products was not; it is unfortunate because a lot of the focus as to what these tool can do has taken a back seat to what they can’t do at this time.  It is clear from talking with the folks at LPA that they are committed to addressing both current issues as well as those that may surface, and refining and enhancing performance. 

 

The newest generation of PocketWizards for me is a reminder that much of the technology that we purchase and use today, are works in progress.  Our computer software, printers and digital media devices are routinely updated though patches and firmware which fix bugs, address problems and enhance operations.  And this is how I have come to regard the new PocketWizards-“Functional Works in Progress” that will evolve as we use them and just keep getting better.

 

And as far as this trip to “see the Wizard” is concerned, it looks like the USB cable gets the coveted role of the ruby red slippers!

 

Note:  I have been told that an official update on the availability of the Nikon compatible products will be released soon. Check the news on the PocketWizard Site.

Update –  July 13:  PocketWizard has released a firmware update for the Mini and Flex.  For details,  follow the link below:  http://www.pocketwizard.com/news_events/news/firmware_v4.300_press_release/

wireless-1I have been intending to write about the new PocketWizard products for the past several weeks, but every time I’ve scheduled an outdoor shoot, we’ve been rained out. Hopefully the weather will cooperate this weekend and I will be able to finally shoot the project that has been thrice postponed and put the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5s through their paces as I normally would use them and share my experience. I’ll warn you now since I will be shooting on the streets of New York, that I won’t be going for distance records with respect to flash placement.

All has not been lost during this wet spell: LPA Design has been busy updating firmware which addresses issues and enhances the performance of the new PocketWizard products; and I added the Profoto D1 Air 500s to my lighting arsenal. The very favorable impression I had of the D1 Airs when the MAC Group made them available for my review in March continues.

Over the past week I was assessing my lighting equipment – Profoto packs with built in PocketWizards, a couple of MultiMax units, a MiniTT1, a couple of FlexTT5 units , a couple of current generation Canon Speedlites, the D1 Air 500 units and last but not least, a Sekonic 758 meter. I found myself trying to make sense of all this stuff and how I could get it all to work best together.

Since I like the low profile of the MiniTT1, it has become my PW apparatus of choice on top of the camera. I set configuration 1 in the PocketWizard utility to allow for Control TL and triggering my MultiMax units and Profoto packs on the Standard/Legacy Channels. For configuration 2, I disabled ControlTL, and set the receiving channel on the Flex units to match the receiving channel for MultiMax units and the Profoto packs.

I hooked up a couple of speedlites to the FlexTT5s put the Mini on the camera and ControlTL worked flawlessly–in the same room, down the hallway and two rooms away. I then hooked up my Profoto packs and in configuration 1, they fired along with the Canon Speedlites. This served as  confirmation that I had set the ControlTL and Standard/Legacy Channels up correctly.

I decided to add a single D1 Air 500 to the mix. I placed the Air Remote in the shoe of the camera mounted Mini, turned the Mini on, then the Air Remote and last the camera.  I took a shot. In configuration 1, with the Air Remote seated on the Mini, the D1 Air fired along with the Canon flashes and the Profoto packs.  I got adventurous and added the Sekonic 758 Light Meter to the equation. One of the perceived drawbacks of the Profoto Air System is the lack of wireless triggering compatibility with their products with Built-in PocketWizards as well as with the PW equipped Sekonic meters. I already knew from earlier experimentation that ControlTL had to be disabled and the Speedlites had to be in manual mode in order to be metered with the Sekonic. So I changed the Flex units setting to configuration 2, and left the Air Remote seated on the Mini on board the camera.  When I triggered the Sekonic meter,  everything fired except the D1 Air!  As I was getting ready to take the setup down, it occurred to me that since the Mini TT1 was a transmitter, it was not receiving the signal from the Sekonic, whereas the Flex units as transceivers were getting the signal. So I mounted the Air Remote on a Flex unit and triggered the Sekonic meter. Yes, the D1 Air fired with the other lights. I then removed the Mini from atop the camera, and placed the “Air Remote /FlexTT5” combo on camera and triggered the Sekonic: the D1 Air fired again. And this photographer became one very happy camper because I discovered that I can have  the  contol capability of the Profoto Air system and full PocketWizard triggering functionality right on the hot shoe of my camera.

Footnote: I was about to hook the Air Remote up to a MultiMax to check whether that combination would work with the Sekonic meter, when I realized that my two dogs who had been exceedingly well behaved during my testing session, were having a good time chewing up the miniplug connector cable!