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Mention beauty dishes choices around a group of photographers– working or enthusiast– and invariably Mola Softlights will play a prominent role in the discussion.  One of the reasons that the Mola brand may be synonymous with beauty dishes is that they are the sole product the company manufactures.  Unlike most manufacturers who offer the “familiar” 16-22 inch product, Mola offers four sizes, from the 22” Demi to the 43.5” Mantti.  The unique stepped or undulated interior that is a signature of the Mola line makes their products easily identifiable.  Mola has expanded the current interior finish options beyond “white” to include silver finishes.  While there are lots of things to like about Mola products, one of the most attractive features is that Mola products can be adapted, via speed rings, to accommodate many different brands of strobes, and continuous lighting products.  If you change your lighting brand, and own a Mola product, all you have to do is change the mount. 

Mola founder Walter Melrose notes that each of the Mola offerings shapes the light in a unique way before it hits the subject, because they were each developed with a different use in mind.  “The 33.5 inch Euro was actually the first product we developed.  I designed it with versatility in mind:  It is a well-rounded, no pun intended reflector that can be used for beauty, fashion and product work; the Mantti on the other hand was designed to simulate window light.  The Demi is a smaller version of the Euro.”

Based on size and price and a well-established beauty dish market, I suspect that the 22” Demi is among, if not the most popular Mola product.  As a user of the Demi and the larger Setti, the Mola dishes have never disappointed.  While the interior of many beauty dishes including the Molas is characterized as being “white”, the interior finish of the Mola is a “softer white” than my Profoto beauty dish and the texture gives it a “pearl-like” appearance.  While the light wraps the subject in typical beauty dish style, I have always felt that the Mola stepped surface resulted in a larger surface area and increased the efficiency of the light.  The resulting light is slightly warmer, and in my opinion, it subtly enhances most skin tones.  I say “in my opinion,” because with lighting as with so many things there is always an element of subjectivity.  Some one is bound to be wondering how the Demi compares to the Profoto dish.  I really can’t tell you because other than both being classified as beauty dishes, a comparison would be apples to oranges.  The differences in size (22” verses  20”  or so in diameter) interior finish, and surface area are all going to impact optimal placement, amount of light and fall-off.

The 28” Setti is deeper than the Demi and more parabolic.  It produces a more focused light with greater contrast and more rapid fall-off.  While the Setti can be used close-in, in a similar manner as a traditional beauty dish, it is large enough to be used for full body applications.  If there is a downside to the larger Mola products, it is the fact that they do not collapse for transport.  You just have to be sure you factor that into your considerations when going on location.

Melrose also points out that while the silver finished dishes appear to be new, that Mola offered dishes with silver interior finishes 20 years ago. “The harder light was not as popular as the softer light, and we stopped offering the silver interior for a while.  We brought silver interiors back simply because the market asked for it.”  What sets the silver dishes apart from their white counterparts is a cooler light (color temperature wise) and a light with both greater directionality and contrast. 

So what’s new from Mola as we move into 2010?  Melrose says that they are now offering polycarbonate flex grids for the Demi and the Setti, which will give users another option for light control.  For the location photographer who uses, small flash heads from Lumedyne or Quantum, speedlights, and/or heads that do not generate a lot of heat as a result of modeling lights, an ABS version of the Demi is on the way.

As far as the Mola mystique is concerned, the products are analogous to the perfect storm:  that combination of shape, color, size, and interior finish that result in some amazing lighting.

For more information on the Mola line visit them on line by clicking here.

To see Mola products in use, visit their blog at: http://blog.mola-light.com/

Disclosure:  No consideration has been received in connection with this blog entry, nor has  any manufacturer and/or retailer offered any consideration. 

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This morning I got a chance to sit down with H.W. Briese, the founder of Briese Lichttechnik and Gerd Bayer who oversees their New York operation, Briese-NY.  As part of his stateside trip, Mr. Briese is here showcasing their full line of continuous light and flash products today-10/21, until 10pm and tomorrow-10/22, from 10am-6pm, at Jack Studios (601 West 26 street, NY, NY 10001- between 11th and 12th Aves.)  The studio is perfect for showcasing the line of focusable parabolics,  strip boxes , ballasts and packs that Briese is known for.  I must admit I was overwhelmed as I walked between the two rooms; it is rare that light modifiers themselves are as captivating to look at as their output. 

Among the new products Mr Briese is showcasing here in New York are the Focus 96 and 150 parabolics and the remote controlled, Focus Help which allows for changing and/or fine tuning the lamp position, without having to lower the Focus manually for adjustment and then reposition it.

Mr Briese describes the Briese lights as “efficient.”  He maintains that the special quality of the light is the result of its components; from the u shaped flash tube to the movable lamp to the shape of the modifiers themselves.  He also reinforced my belief that the key to understanding and unleashing the power of the Briese light is learning how to adjust the position of the light within the Focus as well as adjusting the power of the pack. For some photographers this may represent a paradigm shift, as many of us look at adjusting power as the sole means to control the light once in the modifier:  With the Briese system, the movement of the flash head within the modifier is fundamental and as important as adjusting the power.

Mr Briese also made me realize how versatile the Focus range can be:  you have a light source that can go from a spot to a flood and cover a lot of ground in-between.  Usually when people are talking about parabolics and particularly the larger ones, they talk of the brilliance and wrap of the light.  In moving the lamp within the Focus (the amount of movement you have varies according to the size of the Focus product you are using) you can indeed change the light characteristic and falloff.

 

Unlike many companies that specialize in either flash products or continuous lighting products, Briese does both.  According to Mr Briese, they have been manufacturing HMI products since 1985, and added tungsten to their product line a few years ago. With the bases covered from “3250k to 5500k to flash,” Briese feels that his company is well positioned to navigate and serve the converging stills and motion markets.

If you are in New York   and want to get a first hand look at Briese products, the event at Jack Studios is open to the public.

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One of the reasons I decided to undertake a series on lighting for still and motion at different price points is to underscore the fact that there are lighting solutions for every wallet and pocketbook.  While a lot of the outdoor footage which is being shot with HSLR/HDSLRs which include cameras such as the canon 5D markII  and the 7D and Nikons D90 and D300s, makes use of available/ambient light, indoor motion recording often requires a different approach.  While some of the products offered by the big names in professional lighting for stills and motion may cost more than many people can or are willing to spend, there are lots of options for those just getting their feet wet experimenting with the dual mediums as well as for the “seasoned” dual medium shooter.

 For the under $500 off-camera solution while high power, low heat production, and low wattage were still priorities, I also wanted a solution that had multiple power options.  I decided that I wanted to go with LEDs.  The bad news was that I could not find a solution in my favorite brick and mortar stores in the target price range.  The good news is that I found what I was looking for online!  My search led (no pun intended) me to, Nevada-based, Cool Lights USA.

The lighting unit of choice was their CL-LED600.  I choose the 5600k flood model with a 60 degree LED beam angle, over the spot (40 degree LED beam angle) and 3200k degree models.  I thought the 20 degree beam angle advantage that the flood had over the spot would produce a broader and more flexible light for my shooting needs. 

The Cool Lights Website indicates the LED600 has a lot going for it and after using it, I have to agree that it does.  The unit is approximately 10”x10”x3.25” and weighs about three pounds.  The unit is shipped with a set of barn doors mounted, which increases the weight to 6 lbs or so.  The LED600 is solid, well-made, well-finished, and offers a lot of lighting control:  There is a master switch and a dimmer as well as five bank switches which allow you to select and brighten or dim various bank combinations from zero to 100% of the fixture’s LEDs.  While the CL-LED600 ships with an AC cord, its rear panel has a 4 pin XLR outlet, which allows the unit to be run off a 12-18 volt battery.  As an alternative, you can purchase an optional battery adapter plate, either Anton Bauer or Sony “V” mount, and attach the appropriate battery directly to the rear of the unit.  Three power options: how cool!  This makes the CL-LED600 a versatile tool. 

According to Cool Lights’ Richard Andrewski, the CL-LED600 puts out the equivalent of a 650 watt incandescent light but uses around 50 Watts of power.  As you can see from the images below, the unit does indeed put out a lot of light.

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In addition to the AC cord and barn doors, the unit also ships with a shoulder bag, directions, and four filters for use in the built-in filter holder:  Two minus green filters of different strengths, a full CTO filter and a diffusion panel. 

For those looking for a lighting solution which offers a lot of power, tremendous control, and AC/DC flexibility, the CL-LED600 is definitely worthy of consideration.  For more information on the CL-LED600 visit:   http://www.coollights.biz/

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

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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.

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! 

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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.

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.

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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!”

 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/