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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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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!

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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.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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/

 

 

handheld-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether you are an enthusiast, emerging or working photographer, wherever you reside or are planning to shoot, it is prudent to find out what the regulations are with respect to photography and photographic equipment.  I can think of very few places where this is truer than in New York City.

 

I thought I would start with a quiz on taking photographs on the sidewalks of New York City.  Answer each question True, False or Depends:

 

1.     I am using a tripod/monopod on the street:  I do not need a permit.      

2.     I will be using an apple box as a prop: I do not need a permit.

3.     A permit gives me exclusive right to use the designated sidewalk.

4.     I am shooting with off camera strobes: I need a permit.

5.     I need a permit if I put my tripod on a dolly.

6.     I’m working with just a reflector and no flash:  I do not need a permit.

7.     I need insurance to get a permit.

8.     The Permit is free.

9.     I am planning on shooting in Central Park and will be using a couple of light stands and props:  I need permission from the Park management before I can get a permit.

10. All parks in New York City are subject to the same regulations with respect to permits and fees.

 

 

The answers:

1-True, 2-False, 3-False, 4-Depends, 5-True, 6-Depends, 7-True, 8-False (see update) , 9-True, 10-False

 

There is a very easy way to determine whether or not you need a permit to photograph on the streets of New York City:  If your camera equipment is handheld, you do not need a permit.  Tripods, monopods, and shoulder stabilizers like the Bushhawk 320 are all considered handheld.  Place anything down on the ground — an apple box, a prop such as a chair, a light stand with either a flash head or reflector attached, a battery pack, any wires, or mount your tripod to a dolly base, and you need a permit. If your light, power source and all wires, or reflector, are being held by an assistant as opposed to being placed on a stand, you do not need a permit as the equipment is considered handheld.  Even with a permit, the photographer does not have exclusive rights to use or block the sidewalk.  You must leave adequate space for people to use the sidewalk, as well as having ingress and egress to residences and businesses. 

 

The regulations for still photography on the streets of New York City fall under the purview of The Mayors Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting (MOFTB).  The Regulations as they relate to whether you need a permit or not are clearly meant to separate the casual shooter, enthusiast and tourist from working photographers.  The MOFTB production coordinators are knowledgeable, helpful and efficient with respect to answering questions, directing you to appropriate parties when permission is required prior to permitting, as well as processing permits.  It should be noted that if you need a permit for still photography, you actually will be filing out and submitting the Motion Picture-Television Permit form. The process and documentation required to be filed is outlined and available online.

 

Update:7/12/10 Effective July 11, 2010 there is a $300 fee for processing the aplication for a Permit. Read the most current information here

 

If you are not utilizing equipment which requires a permit, you may want to apply for what is called an Optional Permit.  While you need to know the date, time and specific location where you will be shooting, there is no insurance requirement.  An Optional Permit offers some evidence to property owners, security or law enforcement personnel, who may not be familiar with the subtleties and nuances of the regulations for photography on City owned property and question your right to photograph at a location, that you have the “right and permission” to use the sidewalk for your activities.

 

If there is one area where the permission and permitting process may appear difficult to navigate, it is where the Parks are concerned.  The handheld rule applies to most New York City Parks (including Central Park).  If you are using equipment that requires a permit, you must get permission from the Department of Parks and Recreation manager for that park or in the case of Central Park, the Film Office of the Central Park Conservancy, before applying for the permit through MOFTB.  There are, however, three public parks in Manhattan — Bryant Park, Battery Park City and the Hudson River Park— for which permission to shoot and permitting are administered through dedicated Conservancies, which results in very different application processes and cost, permit fees and regulations.  While the permitting process for these parks is aimed at photographers shooting for commercial use, if you are shooting for a non-commercial use and are planning on using any equipment (tripod included) in addition to your camera, it is best to check with the appropriate Conservancy in advance because their definition of “handheld” is much narrower than that used by MOFTB.  In checking with the Battery Park City Authority, for example, I was told that use of a tripod would require a permit. 

 

Many people do not realize that the park property extends to the adjacent sidewalks.  So in the case of Gramercy Park, for example, which is a privately owned park located on Manhattan’s Eastside between 20th and 21st Streets, while you can get a permit from MOFTB to shoot on the sidewalks across the street from the Park, the permit will explicitly exclude photographing on the sidewalk which runs around the Park because while it is open to pedestrian traffic, it is viewed as an extension of the Park property.

 

A lot of the process of shooting stills in New York or any city involves using common sense:

 

·        Whether you have a permit or not, you are expected to comply with any request that law enforcement officials may make.  So if you are asked to move…

·        If you have equipment, keep it as contained as possible. Have adequate assistance to help setup and dismantle your equipment.  Make sure your equipment is not left unattended and/or does not become a safety hazard.

·        Be respectful of people living and doing business in the location.

·        Be mindful of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and do not block the sidewalks, buildings or streets in a way which is disruptive.

·        Remember that you are expected to comply with all posted City regulations and rules-including parking and those governing park admissions.

 

Now go take some pictures!

 

Here are links to some additional resources that were not embedded in the above text:

 

Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting

Bryant Park

Battery Park City

Central Park Conservancy

Hudson River Park