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Tag Archives: Studio photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

dollars-and-sense-1With the availability of full frame dslrs from Canon, Nikon and Sony, there has been a lot of discussion, both on Internet forum boards and in print about camera pricing and in particular, the pricing of “professional” dslrs.  John Rettie in an article called  “The Pricing Controversy on High-End DSLRS” which is in the current copy of Rangefinder Magazine commented that in his opinion, only the “top of the line” (in marketing speak – professional designated models) of Canon and Nikon cameras are overpriced and shares his take on where he believes these cameras should be priced. 

 

It seems that a fair amount of disappointment with respect to the announced $8,000 price of the 24mp D3X, Nikons flagship camera was the result of Internet speculation and guesses, as well as Sony’s pricing of the A900, as opposed to any real indication from Nikon as to what the price would be.  I have never regarded the professional designated cameras from Nikon or Canon, even though objects of desire in photo publications and on Internet forums, as the sales volume leaders for either company relative to their consumer-oriented entry and mid range products.

 

Rettie’s article got me thinking:  “How much longer can companies charge a premium for their professional designated camera products?”  It took a while but I had an epiphany:  The answer is “as long as there are photographers who feel that the product will add value to their work flow and have the level of business to justify the expenditure.”  There will also be a home for these expensive dslrs in many of the same rental houses that have $30,000 digital backs and $15,000 lighting systems available.  And like the high end lighting products, the cache and halo of marquee dslrs often spills onto the less expensive, more mass consumer-oriented product lines.

 

As I consider the number of working photographers I know and/or am acquainted with, their specialties, clients, and billings vary tremendously.  I wondered whether their decision making practices as it relates to equipment varies in the same manner.

Dave Black is a world class sports photographer, and Nikon shooter.  Dave recently shared his rationale for buying the Nikon flagship in an article entitled “The Nikon D3x…Part 1” on his site.   Dave’s analysis led him to conclude, that the addition of the D3X will open up new opportunities for him.  Whether you agree with him or not, isn’t the point or an issue:  Dave has made his decision based on the analysis of his business and market evaluation.  This is a vastly different decision making process from the enthusiast who bases his or her purchase decision on the availability of discretionary income; or the person who lust for it but finds the price is too big a stretch for him or her, and expresses discontent.

 

Photographers who use the Canon 1DS series cameras have been making similar analyses for longer, as Canon has been offering a full frame professional designated model since 2002.  John Pinderhughes, a premier commercial and fine arts photographer,  and Canon Explorer of Light, shoots with a Canon 1DS Mark II and a 5D Mark II.  When I asked John why he is still shooting with the 1DS Mark II and not the more current 1DS Mark III, he said that he felt “no need to rush” to change bodies sixteen months ago when the Mark III was introduced.   He felt that he was still getting so much “amazing output” from the 1DS Mark II.  His stance runs counter to the prevailing but unsubstantiated belief that every time a new body is released the working photographer automatically upgrades.  As for his reason for shooting with a 5D Mark II:  John cites the size, weight and output as major factors.  When asked is the camera good enough for professional use, John’s response was “absolutely.”  He did however say that under some circumstances and shooting conditions, he would opt to use the more robust 1 series camera.  Additionally, he is considering adding a new 1 series camera to the fold “sometime in the not too distant future.”

 

Today, the high mp count is no longer limited to the top of the line.  Both Sony and Canon have twenty-something mp cameras for under $3,000.  So do they have all the bells and whistles of the Canon and Nikon flagships?  No, but for many shooters who need and/or want the resolution advantages, all the bells and whistles of the flagships may not be necessary. 

 

New York based photographer and studio owner Rod Goodman recently made the decision to replace his cropped sensor Canon camera with the 5D Mark II.  Goodman felt that a 21mp camera at under $2,700 was a business expense he could justify; the $8000 1DS Mark III was not.  As for Goodman’s reasons for shooting with the mid-level Canon consumer/prosumer cropped sensor models until recently; the driving factor in that decision was economics:  1) because he had opened a studio which was a major investment, 2) he primarily shoots head shots where the margins are smaller; and 3) the fact that his clients rarely need prints larger than 8×10.  Goodman is quick to admit that he drooled over full frame dslrs for some time, but points out that running a business is about knowing how to allocate resources.  His decision to stick with mid-level cameras and the “non-professional” designated 5D Mark II has not been a stumbling block in building his business.

 

Three working photographers, three different specialties and clients, and yet, all have made their camera equipment choices around their business needs, sometimes opting for the top of the line, sometimes not; sometimes opting for the new, and sometimes holding the line.

 

From a photographer’s vantage point and even that of product reviewers, it is dangerous to get into the camera company’s business model and workings.  While it might be interesting, I know that personally, I am better off not ruminating on what their production costs and the like should be as there are too many unknowns and it sets a dangerous precedent:  How long will it be before my customers or yours start telling us what the cost our product/services should be and how much profit we should be able to make? Or how long before readers tell publishing entities how much their magazines should sell for based on their analysis of ad sales, ink and printing costs and circulation?   As photographers, we are consumers of camera company products, not Wall Street analysts, not investors or shareholders. We run our business and the camera companies run theirs.  We should be making our decisions to spend our dollars based on good business sense.

 

I’d like to thank Dave Black, John Pinderhughes, and Rod Goodman for their willingness to be resources for this entry.

To learn more about Dave, John and Rod or view their work, or view referenced articles, scroll over or click on the blue highlighted text in the entry.