Enter your email here to subscribe

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Profoto Flash-To-Go

Until recently, there were limited choices for taking supplemental light on location. First there were hot lights, which aside from the obvious drawback of being hot, required longer exposures for greater depth of field. Then speed lights came along, a viable choice unless a lot of power is needed. One could always schlep an A/C powered strobe on location, with a generator if need be. Things got better when battery-pack powered studio strobes were introduced.  I used to own the Profoto Acute B 600R, reliable, with plenty of power. It had the advantage of a light weight head on the stand and the disadvantage of being tethered to a ten-pound battery pack which can make it somewhat ungainly in tight spaces and fed my propensity to trip over cords.

Enter the newest incarnation of portable studio power strobes, the 500 watt-second Profoto B1. Think of a speed light on steroids, this mono-light design with self-contained lithium battery on board, is simple to set up and move around, but be advised, this 7-pound head requires a substantial light stand.

Profoto's design team did a great job with ergonomics and the fit and finish is spectacular. With large hands I particularly appreciate the size of the positioning and light stand lock knobs. The controls on the back of the unit are also well spaced. The B1 also has the advantage of using most of Profoto's existing light modifiers, which is sweet if you are already invested in a Profoto system as I was. The system can be cable connected to your camera or with a Pocket Wizard set-up (both the transmitter and the receiver are needed) or as a slave. At two grand a pop, you would expect more - and you get it in the optional Profoto Air TTL control, the main reason for spending mega-bucks on a lithium battery powered strobe.  Right now the E-TTL control is available only for Canon, but a Nikon module will be available mid-September.

One enjoys total control of the B1 with the Air TTL module.  It sits on a gentle angle in the camera's flash shoe and offers up 8 channels in 3 groups for use with multiple heads, control of the modeling light, front and rear curtain sync and plus or minus 2 stop control in TTL mode or 9 stops in manual. What would I change about it? I would make the mount tilt-able so it could be read from various angles. I am sure that is doable

The B1 is sold both individually and as a two-head kit in a nifty back pack with some extra goodies; the 1-hr charger and a car charging cable. I considered it but I decided to go with the individual heads to have two chargers and two cases instead. The individual pack stores the head and has space for the charger and the TTL module and for my purposes, makes more sense than the backpack. 

The first time I turned on the B1 my eyes lit up along with the LCD control display on the back of the head. There are four buttons, ready, test/on-off, model and sync and the variable control knob. The bright LED model light can be used at full brightness or proportional to the light output. The battery is rated 220 pops per charge, use of the modeling light affects that of course, so I turn it off when I can to save juice. I did buy an extra battery and a 1-hr charger to use on location, just in case. 

Alright, enough of this tech and feature crap, how well does this fancy-shmancy TTL-E stuff work? I'm glad you asked, it's as simple as using an on-camera speed light. In high contrast situations I use the spot metering of the Canon 5DIII, in average contrast situations I use center-weight or evaluative settings. Camera +/- adjustments for flash exposure are available and I found that particularly useful for higher contrast lighting. Having individual control of power output for each head allows for quick changes in light ratios without leaving camera position. 

Shot with Canon EOS 5D III, Zeiss 135MM, 1/80 sec, F11 on TTL  ISO 200. 2:1 light ratio.

I have used the flash on manual with my Leica S2 tripping it with a small flash on the Leica  using the slave setting. While I didn't have TTL-E use, I could use the control module to manually set power output of each flash without walking over to the heads to adjust and check them, a nice touch.

Do I have any complaints? Well yeah. The manuals are a bit obtuse, not very intuitive and some of the features, like control of the modeling lights on different heads, were harder to figure out without going to other sources such as You Tube videos. There are no illustrations showing how to access the battery compartment on the E-TTL remote for example. One has to rotate the flash shoe mount locking flange to see the tab that removes the door. Yes, it is a minor annoyance, but a pain in the ass if you don't know this ahead of time. Profoto isn't the only culprit in this, Many companies could spend a bit more money for well-written manuals. 

I have been a fan of Profoto gear since I replaced my Speedotron systems 8 years ago. This  kit fills my style of working almost perfectly. I'm deducting a few points over the manuals, so I give it a 

Recommended 96 points

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Items for sale

Every now and then I sell some of my gear, it is always in pristine condition. This week I went through my equipment cabinet and pulled a few items. If you see something you would like to purchase send an email to dweckphoto@gmail.com.

Berlbach wood tripod leg set with centering column, reviewed 3/20/13 $249, shipped

Gura Gear Chobe expandable bag. This is a wonderful, versatile bag. click Chobe bag at B&H to see details. Price new is $329.00, I'm selling mine for $249.00


Manfrotto Lino Pro V messenger bag. This is a large bag, reviewed here 6/20/13. I've used this for my Leica S2 kit, but with a fourth large lens have outgrown it and need to get a rolling case for the kit. Taken out of the studio about 6 times, this bag is in great shape, almost as new. It's been discontinued but still sells for $299 at Optics Planet, buy mine for $149.00 shipped. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Using the Cheetah beauty dish with grid

Assignment: Shoot tight shots of craft coffees in a small shop, in a space way too small for standard studio lighting. The solution? Bring in the Cheetah CL-180 bare bulb flashes with light modifiers. I would estimate that I use rectangular or octa shape soft boxes for 90% of my work. This was a perfect opportunity to use the 12" beauty dish with the clip on grid. It's easy to set up, the beauty dish reflector slides into the Cheetah CL-180 and is secured with the locking knob. The grid then clips onto the lip of the reflector. 

The coffee shop has white walls, stainless steel sinks, marble counters and large picture winters, elements that conspire to throw unwanted spectral highlights onto the set if the light isn't well controlled. Barn doors and gobos are good for blocking light but they do not affect the beam. Grids define the beam of the light which means you can put the light exactly where you want it, ideal in this situation. 

In this first shot I positioned the beauty dish high, behind and slightly to the left of the set. I softened the shadows with a soft box on the second Cheetah light in the opposite position but lower.  

I was also shooting sandwiches in tight to better show the ingredients and the texture of the baguette. Here I brought the beauty dish/grid to a lower position and rotated the position around to the left a bit more. The narrow beam of the grid allows me to come in close and wrap the light around the sandwich. 

Grids come in a variety of forms and with different beam angles from a very narrow 5 to a somewhat softer 50 degrees. The density of the grid also affects its price, sometimes dramatically. 

Blazelle, on Flickr, has a slide show tutorial on making a grid for speed lights (click here to view ). It can probably be modified for larger applications.

Next week - a review of the Profoto B1 lithium battery strobes