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Tag Archives: location lighting

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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I nearly started this entry with a few comments about the absence of some companies from the Expo this year and the scaled back presence of others.  I stopped because I realized that this is not the story I wanted to tell.  I will leave that to others:  The real story is about who is there and the products and events that made me pause to find out more.  I call them the “Floor Stoppers!”

 

My first “Floor Stopper” is courtesy of Sony and photographer Matthew Jordan-Smith.  Smith, who shoots with the A900, presented “Finding Your Inspiration.”  It is an informative, visually stunning, and inspiring discussion which addresses an issue that many photographers deal with at some point in the pursuit of our craft.  It is a presentation that should not  be missed!

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 The next floor stopper is courtesy of Hensel USA.  The AC Adapter for the Porty Lithium 6 and 12 packs has arrived.  The availability of the adapter makes the Hensel Lithium a one-stop studio and location tool.  Price TBA.porty-L-ac-1

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Another “Floor Stopper” is a new product from Cameron Products called the SteadePod.  The SteadePod attaches to the camera tripod socket  It is essentially a retractable steel cable that uses a locking mechanism and foot pad in concert with the tension created by holding the camera to stabilize it.  It will undoubtedly remind many of a tape measure.  It fits in a pocket or camera bag, and could be of value in situations where you need support, but cannot use a monopod or tripod.  It’s priced under $30.00steadepod

Massachusetts-based LensPro to go and its sister company, Studioshare.org are my next Floor Stoppers.  Lens pro to go rents Canon and Nikon cameras, lenses, flashes and other camera accessories and will ship them to you anywhere in the United States.  This is a wonderful service for people who are traveling or people who live in areas which are not served by rental houses.Studioshare.org is an on-line collaborative resource which allows members of the photographic community to connect for services, equipment and/or studio space.

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So those are a few of the products, events or services that caught my eye today.  I’ll admit, they are different from what I imagined would catch my eye this morning as I was getting myself organized to leave, but perhaps is a reflection of where we are; or heck, maybe it is an indication that I am less of a “gear-head” than I thought!

My Photo Plus Expo day 2 Floor Stoppers are hdslr related, so they have been posted in a new Blog dedicated to the ever increasing number of motion capable cameras.  Click here to visit H(d)SLRs in Motion!

coollights

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.

cool-lightsbw-copy cl-led600-as-main-flashpoint-camera--left-as-fill-2

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

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.

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.

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!

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

 

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

 

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

 profoto air remote

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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