DON'T MISS: Italian conceptual portrait photographer Sara Lando is coming to the US to teach in Atlanta (8/16) and Baltimore (8/23). Highly recommended.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Choosing Big Lights: AlienBees

The last installment of the Big Lights series is a look at AlienBees, a very popular line of studio strobes available in the US -- and recently, in Australia/NZ. But before I get into them, I will preface the post with this:

Early this fall when it came time for me to pull the trigger, I was having a very difficult time deciding between the Elinchrom Quadras and the Profoto Acute line. So I decided to go with a very comprehensive set of AlienBees.

Confused? Lemme explain…
__________


An Inexpensive Way to Learn

Having spent a significant amount of time deciding on which line of flashes I was going to marry, I realized that my main unknown was not so much the gear itself but rather my not knowing what kind of a big lights photographer I was.

My experience with the bigger flashes falls mostly in the neighborhood of nuking large areas -- gyms, large interiors, etc. And that is not the kind of thing I want to do, going forward.

I had grown much more comfy with my SB's than I was with my WL 600s, and that scared me. Not from a standpoint of inexperience but from that of not knowing exactly how to distribute what would amount to a big chunk of cash when buying lights.

So I decided I would date the AlienBees before deciding which flash system I wanted to marry. And who knows, if the AlienBees proved sufficient my wallet would come through the process largely unscathed.

And not knowing what I wanted, I bought ... everything.


Cheaper by the Dozen

By themselves, the lights and modifiers are inexpensive. But there are also quantity discounts to be had. Buy four flashes, as I did, and you get 20% off of every accessory you purchase at the same time. Which almost makes them free to test drive.

This is because, unlike your late-model digital camera which just lost $100 in value as you read this sentence, flashes hold their value very well. And new gear bought at a 20% discount will pretty much get you your money back on eBay whenever you are ready to sell. Which was my plan.

I bought three AB800s, an AB1600, stands, booms, strip boxes, a soft box, beauty dish, grids for the boxes and dish, tele reflectors -- pretty much everything that was for sale on the site, it seemed.

I did skip the remotes, as I am already full up on PocketWizards Plus II's. But when I was done I still had not managed to rack up a $3,000.00 total, as the 20% off added up to some pretty big savings.

And why not go crazy? My thinking was (and still is) that I could use them for months at almost no net cost. And if I liked them enough, I was done with my flash search.

It was a pretty heady day, getting the contents of a full studio delivered to the front porch by the UPS man. And over the last few months, I have learned a lot about AB's -- and about myself as a lighting photographer.


Likes, Dislikes

There is a lot to love about the ABs. At the top of the list, of course, is price.

You can get an AB800, with reflector, power cord and sync cord for $280.00. Which is about what it costs to see a movie in New York City. You can get the AB400 for $55 less, but that is a very small difference for one full f/stop. My advice is to skip it and go for the AB800.

This is ridiculous, silly cheap for a studio flash. So much so, in fact, that it has sort of blown the curve of what people think is an appropriate amount of money to spend on a big flash. Paul Buff sells direct only and manufactures by the boxcar load. He has created an entirely new business model in the industry.

Are they built like a Mercedes? No, they are not. But their service/repair policy is so generous that it does not really matter for many people. And they are sufficient for most uses, and that is what matters to their owners.

Buff also extends that "built good enough" ethic to his modifiers, with mixed results. Soft boxes, the dish, grids, and many other items I have found to be first rate and surprisingly heavy duty. The stands are serviceable, but are not what you would call confidence-inspiring. Also, his standard reflectors are ingeniously designed to accept a 7" grid without an accessory clip. But I would be happier if they were parabolic, rather than conic.

In short, the ABs allow you to jump in the pool for cheap. Try stuff -- heck, try it all -- and see what you end up using and/or liking. I especially like the Vagabond II, a $300 battery pack and pure sine wave inverter which will run (3) AC-powered AB800s on full power for 300 pops.

I bought two of them. I was like a shark in chummed waters -- I got that crazed look in my eyes that my wife gets when Ann Taylor has a 75% off sale at the mall.


What You Won't Hear

While I absolutely recommend experimenting in the shallow-priced AB waters, here is one thing you will not often hear said among AB owners:

"I just love the quality of the light..."

You hear that about Profoto, Elinchrom, Hensel, Broncolor, etc., But when AB/WL people start talking they usually come down to price and/or portability.

And you are not going to hear me rave about the gorgeous light quality either, because ABs do have a bit of quirkiness to them in that department. I can't quite put my finger on it or quantify it, other than to say that I am sometimes a little surprised by what I get from them.


So of course we did some testing. Here is a series, shot all of the way up and down the power range of a single AB800. They are not dead on, but neither are they grossly inconsistent. Maybe it's a UV thing? I really don't know.

And don't get me wrong -- I have been shooting assignments for months with these things with no complaints. And I still do not know if it is the lights themselves, or me not being fully used to them.

There are people (usually from expensive, prestigious photo schools) who turn up their noses and reject the AlienBees out of hand. That's ridiculous. They are the number one selling brand of studio flash, and for good reason. Similarly, there are people who are just as rabid in their support of the units.

I suspect that the truth lies in the middle somewhere. They are an amazing value, to be sure. But they are not the equivalent of a high-end Broncolor system, either.

And frankly, for the money I can live with a little quirkiness. I have some On Assignments coming up on which I used the AlienBees, so I will let you judge for yourself. It is a very subjective thing, light quality.


Want vs Need

What do I want? That's easy -- I want everything.

Which is pretty much what I bought. And exactly what I would not have been able to do with, say, Profoto. Not without knocking off a rich relative a commercial loan, anyway.

But what do I really need? That's a different story.

And that has been the most valuable part of my AlienBees experience -- learning what I need in a big light system as opposed to what I want.

Here's what I found out: Ninety percent of the time I shoot, I am going to be making a portrait and using two light sources. This is proving to be a transportable and predictable workflow from my speedlight shooting. Heck, it is probably because of my background working out of a waist pack that I have evolved that way.

Generally, it will be a restricted key and an on-axis fill of some kind -- ring, light off of a white wall behind me, umbrella behind the camera, whatever. Or maybe I will use ambient as a base and use one light as a key and other as a separator light. Usually as a rim light or a light on the background.

While sometimes I will use a third source, that is surprisingly rare. But having the third source gives you backup on the first two, which is very important. Any system you design should leave you without a single point of failure. Which is one reason I gravitate to monoblocs over pack-and-heads. And why six SB-800s in a small bag are more useful to me than one or two big monos.

Occasionally, I throw a lot of light sources at something. Just once in the last three months, shooting social media headshots for a local financial company, I used five sources. (But that was 3 AB800s, an AB ring flash and an SB800.) So maybe if I went with more expensive lights, I might have to miss out on an occasional job. Or just have to shoot differently. Or rent.

As an aside, the shot above was done using the three lights visible in the frame, and two more. The center light lit the background. The side lights lit each other. There was on-axis light from a ring. And an SB-800 on the ground shot a little up-light kicker to define the lights.

I may stay with the ABs, and I may not. But for less than the price of a single Profoto Magnum reflector, I have essentially been able to sort of "rent" a huge set of lights, stands and mods for months. That rental fee (net buying/reselling costs) was recouped many timed over on my first assignment with them. Which is why I am so pleased to have used them to discover how I want to light.


Learning from the Experience

Using what I learned from my drunken AlienBees gear orgy, I could now estimate with more confidence what I would need to buy should I decide to go with, say, Profoto.

I would want an AC pack, three lights (two regular heads, one ring) some pretty specific mods, and battery-powered packs to power at least two heads. And with the year-end specials Profoto is running, I am actually giving serious thought to pulling the trigger. If that seems strange, remember that I bought the ABs a while back, and that part of my reason in getting them was to evaluate both them and myself as a lighting photographer.

Here is the 40th Anniversary deal that is making me drool for Profotos: If you buy an Acute 600B (battery unit) or an AC-powered value kit, they throw in $1000.00 worth of accessories. Different countries have slightly different rules on the promo, so check if yo are interested.

This bonus appears to be stackable, too. So I could get two 600B packs, and an Acute 1200 value kit. For under $8k USD, that would give me two heads and the ability to run them on AC or battery power. My only single point of failure is the AC pack, and that is covered by the battery units.

And with the $3k USD in free accessories, I could get extra battery modules, a ring light head, a soft ring reflector (working with the Moon Unit has made that a must) grid reflectors and a Magnum reflector. I could get by with my ratty, 20-yr old White Lightning 7" grids that are pictured above. That is a setup I could live with for a long time. And I never would have been able to know that with any confidence without using a wide variety of AlienBees gear for several months.

Would I drop $8k for that? Absolutely.

And I am less concerned about the up-front price than I am about really knowing what gear I want to settle into. This is long-haul stuff -- a marriage. And I still have a month to decide before the special expires.

(Curse you, Profoto, for making the deal last up to the last minute of tax-spending season. That was evil. It's like a month-long test of fortitude, taunting me until New Year's Day.)


Back to the Bees

Do I regret jumping on the AlienBees? Not for a second. They have been very serviceable (not to say inspiring on all counts) and have provided some very valuable clarity for essentially no net cost should I decide to change horses. And I very well may stick with them for the long haul. I haven't decided yet.

If you have access to them (the AU/NZ distributorship is selling to surrounding Asian/Pacific countries, it appears) you can hardly go wrong as an entré into bigger lights. And given that they all have built-in slaves, they will definitely play nicely with your existing speedlights. (AB becomes main light, speedlights become fill/rim/background, etc.)


[UPDATE: The AU distributor of AlienBees confirmed that they are shipping to different countries, which will be good news for some of you who are outside the US.]


They are just so deliciously inexpensive. And with the (upcoming) "Einstein" versions, ABs get even more interesting as the light color issues are supposedly vastly improved. A lot of other improvements coming, too. I'll be keeping tabs on that.


Getting off of the Couch

Yeesh, I feel like I just went through a therapy session. And believe me when I say that is an honest a look as I can give you into my thought process on buying personal lights. And six months after I started, I am both well-equipped and yet strangely in limbo as to what I will do next.

So in some twisted way, I hope that this has been of at least some help. Hell, it probably just left some of you more confused. I am a little conflicted in that I now know enough to have prompted some questions I did not know to ask at the start of the process.

And I hope you AB/WL owners will sound off as to your experiences in the comments, good or bad. This is too important a decision to go on just one person's say so. Your opinions certainly will help others make better decisions.

Please share them with us.


__________

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85 Comments:

Blogger Jay Stanley said...

Do you know anything about the Zeus units?

Gotta love the bees!

November 30, 2009 12:13 AM  
Blogger Phat Baby Photographer said...

Out of curiosity, which modifiers did you end up using the most and why? Thanks for another great post and hopefully in a year or so they'll be a huge market of used AlienBees from me to buy from :)

November 30, 2009 12:19 AM  
Blogger Ryan S. said...

I went with the ABs too, and price and service reputation were the main selling points for me.

I'd also highly recommend PCB's "Parabolic Light Mods" as an inexpensive way to get a very large light source. I bought one of the 64"silver umbrellas with the front diffusion cover. $80 for an over 5ft round softbox? Sold. The light out of is focused, soft and has a really nice falloff. I wish I'd gone with the 86" version.

http://www.alienbees.com/plm.html

November 30, 2009 12:35 AM  
Blogger Mattski said...

David, I'd say your review will be incomplete without the inclusion of the forthcoming PCB Einstein units. The thought of high dollar functionality at typical PCB prices has me giggling like a kid on Christmas morning...

November 30, 2009 1:20 AM  
Blogger davidtg said...

After reading around the internet as I was getting into lighting, I jumped on the Alien Bees bandwagon without looking back. I picked up 2 800s and a 400, as well as a variety of modifiers.

Essentially I was doing exactly what David did, which is try a bit of everything to find out what you use.

I've personally really gravitated towards hard light for most circumstances, and very rarely, almost never, pull out an umbrella. I still make use of the softboxes for a variety of situations and have found them plenty well built.

The only stand they have that's worth a damn are their 13 footers. Don't even look at the others. The boom arm attachment is usable, but it scares the hell out of me every time. It's never malfunctioned, but it always feels like it's just teetering on the edge of something catastrophic. Might just be my paranoia.

I think I've used the ab400 a grand total of 3 times since I got it. It's next to worthless outdoors, and I plan on using their super awesome "buy up" program that David didn't mention. Essentially for the cost of the retail difference, plus 25 bucks, you can send in your b400 or b800 and get a higher output light.

The build quality is tougher than it looks. I've had mine fall onto medium-hard carpet from 4-5 feet more than once, and the worst that's happened is the filament in the modelling lamp broke. Everything else still works stellarly.

As to the white balance issues, I keep a grey card around my neck and custom white balance everything I shoot. It's one extra shutter actuation that saves a whole mess of making sure your shots are right in lightroom.

Long story short, I wouldn't be writing several paragraphs on the internet if I weren't super happy or super disappointed with them, and I'm definitely sitting at the super happy end.

David Getsfrid
studiodgphoto.com

November 30, 2009 1:30 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I started out with a Novatron Kit because I was inexperienced and liked the idea of everything all in once travel case. That original 400ws pack with 2 heads served me well for over 17 years. I then added more Novatron because I bought it from a fellow photographer cheap.

Then I bought my first Paul Buff White Lightening units. (2) WL 10K can units. I used them both in and out of the studio for 17 years, still have them. The power per buck ratio as well as Paul Buffs free for the first 5 years service sold me on WL. When I needed some real power I bought a WL Ultra 1200 and then later a Ultra 1800. I used them hard daily in the studio and on location. Once I tasted WL I always said that if I was starting from scratch I would use all WL monoblocks. I've repeatably recommended them and sang their praises since 1992. I can't say enough good about them for the average working photographer. That's been my experience. And FWIW I used for years and then sold my Novatrons at a price where I essentially used them for free for 15-17 years. I can't badmouth Novatron either. Dave

November 30, 2009 2:17 AM  
Blogger Vincent T said...

Heck yeah! I'm going to keep my eye on those Einstein units. They look very promising. 95-265vac input? I'll be all over that.

November 30, 2009 2:17 AM  
Blogger Balls said...

Thanks for a great write up.

My 2cents (as an AB owner), if you're on the fence about keeping these lights, then you should probably sell/return them.

My philosophy is that tools should be an absolute treasure to use, and make you look forward to using them. If they leave you with an on the fence feeling--that says a lot. Not necessarily about the AB themselves per-se, but the combination of AB's and your expectation.

November 30, 2009 3:51 AM  
Blogger Will said...

"While I absolutely recommend experimenting in the shallow-priced AB waters, here is one thing you will not often hear said among AB owners:

'I just love the quality of the light...'"

Generalizing much? I heard plenty of AB owners and users raving about the quality of light. It's a tool, and if you don't know how to utilize the tool properly, that's not the tool's fault.

November 30, 2009 7:29 AM  
Blogger Mari og Erik said...

I use AB*s for commercial work, and I've not had any significant problems so far. The quality of light is good enough, and slight color temp variations don't bother me (I correct "everything" in post anyway).

Problem is, I bought them from overseas. Just a month after I bought a full AB set-up, and was planning to buy every accessory, I got an e-mail informing me that AB would no lenger deal with European customers, but that they would 'try' to service already existed customers.

I was, and still am, absolutely gutted.

I could have gone with Hensel, or some other medium qualitiy brand, and only spent slightly more. I went with AB because I liked their ringlight, and was happy dealing with them.

You Americans don't havy anything to worry about, and on price/quality I'd recommend AB wholeheartedly.

If I was one of you AU/NZ guys, I'd stay far, far away from AB.


- Erik

*AB=AlienBees

November 30, 2009 7:31 AM  
Blogger e.e.nixon said...

Regarding colour shifts (real or perceived) over a light's power range:

* is any light immune to this?

* is the possibility of this happening not the reason you do a custom white balance any time you've changed the exposure or content thereof?

...edN

November 30, 2009 8:32 AM  
Blogger Mark Davidson said...

I started with ABs six years ago and I have very few regrets.
They are tough and they are reliable.
The weaknesses that have cropped up for me are these:
1. The set screw for the umbrella can strip out easily as the threads are pressed into the plastic. Umbrellas seem to hold fine without it though.
2. The sync socket is a mini jack rather than the full 1/4 RCA of the WL. It means I have to have two sets of sync cords for my PWs or use an adapter that greatly reduces reliability of the contact. My solution is to use the ABs with their optical slaves.

When I have needed repair I send in the unit and $50 and I get a new one back.

As to the quality of light, I see a very small variability in brightness but it is not really an issue.

I actually like them better than my Hensel unit that I got thinking big German flash would make me happy. Though well made and beautiful, they are very slow to recycle unlike the ABs.

November 30, 2009 9:05 AM  
Blogger Alex DiFiori said...

I shot ice hockey with AB800s and AB1600s for two years and never had an issue. Hockey rinks are, to state the obvious, cold. And photo gear generally doesn't like the cold. But the ABs never failed, or even complained for that matter. They just did their job until we were finished our 12 hour days.

As far as build quality and light quality are concerned, yeah, they aren't profotos, but does that really matter?

Quality of light is the photographer's job, not the light's.

The bottom line is that ABs work exceptionally well, have at least a 4 year lifespan, don't randomly explode, and will most likely always get the job done, albeit in a tacky logo fashion.

November 30, 2009 9:11 AM  
Blogger Farrell Kramer said...

I've been using a similar AB setup for a couple of years now and I'm happy I went that way. Presently I've got 4 B800s and an ABR800 with a bunch of modifiers and grids. (I use my own C-stands, though.)

It was an inexpensive way to get a nice studio lighting setup.

I do experience small color and exposure variations as you mentioned, which are really noticeable with things like headshots. However, they are so easily fixed in post that I've come to consider them trivial.

To me, the issue for more expensive lights is this: Is pushing a white balance or exposure slider in Lightroom enough of an inconvenience to warrant dropping many thousands of dollars on more expensive strobes with no additional functionality?

In the film days, yes. These things couldn't be so easily fixed later. But today, no way. Unless I hit the lottery...

November 30, 2009 9:18 AM  
Blogger nickphoto said...

Man, I picked up two AB800s and a Vagabond II pack last year and have had nothing but good experience. There are a few minor things I'd like to see, but I think a lot of them are being solved with the new EINSTEINs.

The accessories are awesome and I find myself sort of smiling with I make my purchases. I'm not sure why, maybe the way everything is set up in a sort of quirky way does it for me.

Good things!

November 30, 2009 9:35 AM  
Blogger Tom Wenger said...

Alien Bees drop test. Being a perfect knucklehead sometimes I managed to tip over an AB800 that was sitting on top of a fully extended 8 foot light stand onto concrete. Thankfully it fell on the reflector, but regardless, the impact dented up the reflector, bent the modeling light sideways, and shattered the strobe. Unbelievably the modeling light still lit, and upon ordering a new strobe the unit was good as new. I am fortunate that it fell on the reflector, as I am quite sure that if it fell onto the plastic side of the unit the story would have been quite different. But regardless, I was pretty happy with being back up and running for under $50.

November 30, 2009 9:39 AM  
Blogger John Classen said...

David,

Thank-you so much for your comprehensive, honest look at your process of purchasing monoblocs. I found it to be highly instructive.

I currently have 5 Travelites 750s which have served me well, but I am beginning to see and experience the limitations of these lights. Personally, I am seriously considering purchasing some Hensels, and if I can only rip my heart of the decision making process so that I am left with only my head to rule my pocket.

Thanks again for all you do.

John

November 30, 2009 9:52 AM  
Blogger JLykins said...

While I like the AlienBee's I decided to go with the White Lightnings instead. The main reason is the metal housing. I wanted a little extra piece of mind. I can't say enough good things about the WhiteLightnings though. I always custom white balance so light color isn't really an issue, and the modifiers are great. I have one of the Giant soft boxes, the vagabond II as well as strip lights, grids etc... Can't go wrong with the stuff that comes from Paul C.

November 30, 2009 10:03 AM  
Blogger Big Perm said...

First off thank you for the reviews, its almost comical how close your decision process is to my own.

I love my Alien Bees - 1 B1600 & 2 B800s - I have used this set up for years now as a part time commercial photographer, shooting product, fashion, and portraits. Its a solid set up and I was able to pay for everything with my first shoot. I like to keep my overhead low.

I usually use the Alien Bees for 80% of my shoots and rent the Profoto 7A (or 7B) set up for the big shoots, of course I am in love with the ProPhoto light, modifiers, and build and I could justify the price of the Acute set up, but its so much cheaper to rent for those 12 shoots a year that I need the really, really big guns.

I do wish that you could have tried out the new Einsteins as I am also looking to upgrade in this tax year / 40 anniversary Profoto sale. If they live up to the hype then I think that I will be upgrading all 3 lights to Einsteins. If not I am going to be disappointed that I missed out on the great deal that Profoto has going right now.

One big upgrade you can do with the Alien Bees is use Norman reflectors instead of the stock Alien Bees. Huge difference.

Maybe I will buy that Acute set up after all. DAMIT!

November 30, 2009 10:03 AM  
Blogger Nate said...

I've used the 400s for a while, in and outdoors. I'm very happy, though I'd like to upgrade to a higher output light like the 800 or 1600. I also use the lights with the PLM system from Paul Buff - very happy with it. I have the 5ft umbrella, silver, with the white diffuser. I used the PLM with one 400, I lit a group of 70 in the shade backlit by sun at high noon - not ideal situation, but worked just fine a few weeks ago. I love the vagabond II - worth every penny and the range of light modifiers is fantastic. It's no Mercedes of a set, but more like the old reliable standard Chevy truck. For the amount of money, you can't go wrong with an AB purchase. I'd like to use the lights a little more often - the last time I used the set left me placing two AB400s in either side of a Lastolite Hilite background/5x7softbox. I shot at 1/32 power and about 800iso on the 5DmarkII for a B&W portrait session with 15 families. Beautiful, consistent light as far as I'm concerned. (yes I know I'm talking about B&W, but still...)

November 30, 2009 10:24 AM  
Blogger Brett said...

I've been using 6 Alien Bees for the last 2 years and have nothing bad to say about them. I got them for the same reason David got his and that they were the best deal and had great reviews from customers.

I've used many of their modifiers including their grids and softboxes. Their Foldable Softboxes are great on location and are easy to collapse when not in use at the studio. They also work great with grids.

I would be interested to hear any opinions on "quality of light" with ABs vs. Profoto or any other studio lights.

Brett Ludeke
www.brettludeke.com

November 30, 2009 10:40 AM  
Blogger Hi, said...

Nice. I went through a similar process and ended up with a truckload of AB stuff as well. I agree the biggest value is learning what you are going to use regularly and what you really don't need. Thanks for the write-up as I'm just now considering if it would be worth it to switch to Elinchroom or Profoto for the long run, and reducing that pile of accessories that I'm not using...

November 30, 2009 11:32 AM  
Blogger Leigh McMullen said...

Can not wait for Einstein. I went with the cybersync / cybercommanders for exactly these lights.

November 30, 2009 11:36 AM  
Blogger Kurt Shoens said...

I've always wondered if "quality of light" for studio strobes is confined to the consistency of the color output.

I did a color consistency test of the White Lightning X1600s that I have. You can find it on the Strobist flickr group by searching for "white lightning lab."

I would be very interested in seeing color consistency results for other lighting systems to see what the extra money buys you in this regard. All you need is the flash, a gray card reference, and Photoshop.

If/when I get an Einstein, I'll repeat the test. That's assuming my wife doesn't read these comments.

November 30, 2009 11:58 AM  
Blogger bbguninteractive said...

I sold all my old Balcar p-4 units on e-bay & bought 5 WL 1600 units a Vagabond II & a AB ringlight. I couldn't be happier & I love the quality of light. My only issues is I wish I had just bought the WL 800's instead because I end up using the 1600 on the lowest power a lot.

November 30, 2009 12:23 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

A big selling point for me is that I can use the Radiopopper JrX units to remotely adjust the the power of the AB strobes from the JrX transmitter on top of my camera.

I also use the adjustable output feature with my DIY RPCubes/Nikon flashes.

This feature will be lost on the einsteins.

November 30, 2009 12:34 PM  
Blogger fotoSam said...

I would love to learn with the Bees but since im not in the US and they won't accept new customers i have to buy the Crome or pro stuf.... sad and expenive!!!!!

November 30, 2009 12:37 PM  
Blogger captaindash said...

To Will, a.k.a, Mr:
"Generalizing much? I heard plenty of AB owners and users raving about the quality of light. It's a tool, and if you don't know how to utilize the tool properly, that's not the tool's fault."

and to Alex DiFiori, a.k.a, Mr:
"Quality of light is the photographer's job, not the light's."

Both of those comments are like saying it's the photogs fault if they can't make their kit lens that only opens up to f5.6 (zoomed in) have the dof of an f2.8. If the equipment has physical limitations that you have to use post to get around, that's not the photogs fault. And Alex, you're saying you used these for 2 years and have never had the QOL problems experienced by DH? I fear you, and your ability to overcome the limits of physics. Post some untouched pics for us to see please.

November 30, 2009 12:59 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Anyone know if the Australian/NZ guys are shipping to Europe?

I live in Europe and dying to get my hands on some Alien Bees stuff.

November 30, 2009 1:19 PM  
Blogger arianabauer said...

I was gifted two AB800s and one ABR800 and a selection of modifiers.

The AB experience has enabled me to things I would never have been able to due to costs. Yes, I agree, they have their quirks, but I could not agree with DH more.

These lights are amazing, and so easy to work with. Have an upcoming shoot and need something? They ship ASAP and everything is reasonably priced.

I do not have the Vagabond yet, but will be getting one soon. I mostly shoot in my basement studio, which is pretty small.

I know there is way better stuff out there, but for me, the cost versus the quality are not justifiable just yet in my career.

Also, to let everyone know the durability of these units, The Picture People (yes, the kid photographers located in nearly every mall in the country) are run on Alien Bees. They are used all day, every day.

November 30, 2009 1:20 PM  
Blogger Alan Blakely said...

Big lights? Alien Bees are over-priced toys. Your money would be better spent on pro-quality gear. Cheap lights are never a bargain.

November 30, 2009 1:22 PM  
Blogger Freddy said...

Hi All!
I used to have a set of profotos 600r, and ended up selling them, cause I wanted to have use of the gear out on location, and the 600's proved to be be a bit bulky, and the portable power packs well out of what my wallet could fence.
With the money I got from the Profoto Kit, I invested in a AB 1600, lights modifiers, portable power, and a set of 3 Radio poppers, cause the cactus triggers were driving me nuts.
So, I guess, since I'm not shooting professionally, and my animation job can only float so much towards the photographer transition, the AB's are a great option, to get some experience and improve my portfolio on a budget.
here's some of the stuff i've done with my AB1600 and 2 canon flashes.
http://freddyoropeza.com/blog/

November 30, 2009 1:30 PM  
Blogger Merwen said...

The best light of the World (for the price) ;-)

November 30, 2009 1:47 PM  
Blogger David Finkel Photography said...

Dave:

My question is this - if the AB's have been so successful for you, why would you drop 2-3X the money on the ProFotos? What do you really gain (apart from your comment on the color accuracy, which like others, I've not had a problem with since I custom WB each time)?

FYI, I am another satisfied AB customer - 3 AB800s and 1AB1600 plus various mods. Used them for years - they work great and the company really stands behind their product. Don't know why someone might not think they are tough enough - the ABS plastic is very resilient. Recently had a customer kick a background light over and step on it. Once I straightened out the bent metal parts and replaced the broken flash tube it worked fine!

I've been reading about the Quadras and thinking about them, but only for event situations where I want to move fast and furious.

November 30, 2009 1:47 PM  
Blogger Eduardo said...

Regarding color shifts:

In most photo forums people exaggerate the problem of color consistency a whole lot, so as you said in your post sure they have some color issues at low power but when the solution is simple and cheap it is kinda crazy to hear people bashing PCB or other brands... the solution?: buy a whibal or a Color checker card, regardless of the brand of gear or how expensive it is you will need it in order to have a really neutral color rendition or a accurate to life color rendition (for those picky product shot clients).

Batch process (LR, ACR, etc.) and voila! :D

In the end different modifiers also affect the color of the light, as an example my softlighter is "warmer" than my photoflex softbox, there´s a difference between a silver umbrella and a white umbrella too, some modifiers (those really cheap found in ebay) produce fluorescence (magenta cast)so in less words each modifier also shifts a little (or a lot depending on the quality) the color of the light so it is a good idea to have at least a whibal to deal with this.

I´m glad you completed your studio now, you will be having lots of fun!!!

November 30, 2009 2:56 PM  
Blogger mattrothphoto said...

I'm kinda exclusive with the Alien Bees, mostly because that's what work bought us. And David hits the nail on the head in this post. They're great for trying to figure out what kind of a photographer you want to be and what kind of lights you like to use.

The heads and modifiers are great, but some of their stuff is CHEAP!!! I hate HATE their stands. They're bulky, flimsy and the tallest ones, last I checked, don't even fit in their carrying cases -- which are flimsy, too. the two bags at work, both have broken zippers.
I HIGHLY recommend the Bogen stackers. 13 feet each and less than $100 each.
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/512902-REG/Manfrotto_by_Bogen_Imaging_307BSET_307B_Maxi_Stacker_Light.html

Back to the Alien bees. They're fantastic for experimenting with. While David says they're not built like Mercede's they are kinda like tanks. I shoot a lot outside and the wind's claimed more than my fair share of bulbs and bent all my reflectors. HELL! one of them even got kicked by a horse! The bulbs broke, but the head still worked.

The more and more I shoot with strobes -- and our studio has a ton of modifiers -- I started realizing that shaping the light is as important as having the light. I'd be lost without my beauty dish.

And unlike David, I almost always use a minimum of three lights. My typical set up involves either two rim lights and a main or two mains and a rim, directly behind the head.

Right now, my main gripes with the Alien bees are very much what David is talking about. Color temperature is a bear to deal with in post processing. This photo was shot with, if I can remember correctly, 3 AB 1600's, 1 AB 800 and one WL 800. http://mattrothphoto.com/blog/2009/11/baltimore-dc-photographer/warren/

It looks fine, right. ...maybe a bit cartoonish. well, there was a lot of slider tweaks involved in the post production of this shot.
Compare them to these photos.
http://mattrothphoto.com/blog/2009/09/baltimore-dc-photographer/struggles-with-food/
The first and only time I've used Profoto gear. Post processing involved minimal tweaks. The contrast was already there. The skin color is right on, in the camera. It was amazing! I did so little after the fact. I was thrown for a loop.

I'll be honest though, this new Einstein set up looks really intriguing. One of the things I've learned about myself is that I really want the ability to stop action. at 250th of a second, on location, with any kind of daylight, it's just not happening.

November 30, 2009 3:32 PM  
Blogger clayton said...

My Alien Bees Drop Test: I've used them like mad for 5 years in every conceivable way and more than once have dropped/tipped one. The worst time a b800 was on a fully extended 13' heavy duty light stand with a large softbox (subjects were on a balcony). It fell backwards after I forgot to sandbag it and smashed the power cord clean into and through the case, crushing the electronics in the process. I sent it in and they replaced it for $50. Fantastic bang for the buck in my opinion.

David: did you know you can break out a single Vagabond 300 into two separate packs with just the purchase of a $40 extra battery from your local hardware store and an old small camera bag? The VB300 comes with two inverters that are both capable of powering a set of lights (ie the Vagabond 150). Think on-location and you need to get a light or two way far away, or run two sets independently. Buff's tech support turned me onto that years ago, saved me buying two Vagabonds.

November 30, 2009 4:03 PM  
Blogger ssutherland said...

David,

Thanks for the review. I also appreciated hearing about your thought process, but would have liked to hear more about the interesting things you've undoubtedly been doing with your AB flashes in the last 6 months.

I run a small corporate creative studio, and I made a similar decision to go with AB flashes at about the same time you did. I had a limited budget and a lot of things I wanted to try. In our case, one of the main things I wanted to try was not a Paul C. Buff product. Going with AB B1600 strobes helped me save enough money to buy the 74” Elinchrom Octa Bank I had my eye on.

With an adapter, the AB B1600 attaches well, and the unit is lightweight, so the Octa is easier to move around the studio. We also added a couple of RadioPoppers for remote control, and we have a huge and beautiful light source that I couldn't have afforded if I'd gone straight Elinchrom. No regrets. I don’t see any need to switch.

November 30, 2009 4:17 PM  
Blogger Ericson Calderon said...

If you decide to sell them please contact me!

Ericson26@gmail.com

November 30, 2009 4:30 PM  
Blogger David said...

I have used Bees for years... having tried Elinchrom and Broncolor along the way. Currently, all I own are the Bees.

They work. Every time.

What else could I ask for from a strobe? It is a tool and never once has a client cared what I used to capture an image. (They sure as hell care about the quality of my pictures, but how I get there is my business.) And Alien Bees have kept me in business for going on 20 years.

Remember, you don't judge a carpenter by his hammer. The camera, lens and lights are just tools to get us were we need to be.

November 30, 2009 4:40 PM  
Blogger Mind Spirit Camera said...

I've worked with AB's a few times, they are vastly inferior to even Novatrons, and everything else really. The light from AB screams amateur and I'm surprised to see it get so much support. The other stuff is expensive yes, and that's a real drawback - but quality matters.

November 30, 2009 5:12 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

I'd like to see a comparison w/ the Zeus pack/head system as well. It seems to be decently built and relatively light (compare it w/ profoto's battery pack w/ a vagabond).

Another nice thing about AB/WL gear is you can connect to Elinchrom modifiers w/ Kacey's ring and AB adapter, and I still think Elinchrom has the best modifiers for now...

November 30, 2009 5:20 PM  
Blogger t-jack said...

Hi!

I think you've made a great decision. For some time I was a bit confused about what lighting gear I'd like to buy, I thought about Bowens Esprit Geminni's with power packs (monoblocks) and those new, small-but-powerfull elinchromes. But now I found new Fomei Panther 600, that's a generator with batt and single 600Ws head, for about 1100USD (I'm not sure about the price in $, as I know it only in polish zlotys, as I'm from Poland). I've already ordered one of those, and it is amazingly good, I think I'll buy another one or two and wait with "bigger ones" a couple of years. Anyway, I found your "Chosing Big Lights" really helpful.

Cheers
Jack

November 30, 2009 5:49 PM  
Blogger Val Vechnyak said...

Do you mean this reflector you were missing.

http://www.alienbees.com/85hor.html

November 30, 2009 7:19 PM  
Blogger seenew said...

I bought my first Bees going on one year ago this month. I've been adding to my arsenal as soon as I find a weak spot. Right now I've got two B1600's, one B800, and the ABR800 ringflash (with the 30" Moon Unit of course!). Softboxes, umbrellas and grids round out the package nicely.

I've also got the Vagabond II which has been awesome to work with.

Oh, and in case you're on the fence about Radiopoppers-- Get the Studio Receivers! Never having to run back and forth from light to light adjusting ratios is amazing and I can't imagine ever going back.

I'd say aside from the obvious value, my favorite aspect of the Bees is the portability and ease of use. They're so small and compact you can easily carry two of them in a backpack (padded with a jacket!). And Paul C. Buff's collapsible softboxes are the envy of all my photog friends!

The one downside is the overuse of plastic parts, especially in the ringflash. I've had to order replacement parts already. That wouldn't be necessary if said parts were made of metal. But I guess that comes down to a cost issue.

Overall, GREAT lights and I recommend them to everyone who asks!

November 30, 2009 9:39 PM  
Blogger LippmanPhotography said...

Great discussion. I have been looking at ABs for some time, but for now have been sticking with my ultraportable 5 SB800s. I've also been looking at Elinchrom; I like the Skyport system better than PCBs CyberCommander (not necessarily for a good reason, as I haven't been able to see the Cybers in operation yet) and for my perception of better quality on the Elinchroms - but at a cost. Profoto is too rich for me right now for the amount I expect to use them!

Here's a concern re the ABs that I wonder if anyone has insight into. I was recently reading on another blog in which a poster raised the question of, to what extent is the AB product line dependent on PCB personally vs the surrounding corporation. THere is always a risk when you buy from a smaller company crucially dependent on a single individual. Is PCB now self-sustaining, or is PCB sufficiently key to the operation of the business as to be of concern?

November 30, 2009 10:47 PM  
Blogger Val Vechnyak said...

Any plans to review a Qflash? Please??? It would be VERY relevant to my line of work. Please?

November 30, 2009 11:13 PM  
Blogger Arthur McLean said...

After reading this great series of posts and thinking about my own situation, I believe now that lights are like camera bags - there's just not one perfect solution for everything and we're always looking for that silver bullet. Some of us settle on something that's most of what we need or want, and some of us keep chasing the next better thing. But we always feel like that itch isn't quite getting scratched. And sometimes, it really isn't.

It's great advice to think about the kind of photographer you're going to be with the bigger lights.

I think Buff once wrote that he designed the AB/WL lights to be 70 percent of what the big lights were and to please 70 percent of the photographers out there. He certainly seems to have hit his mark. A good object lesson in focusing on a single goal. The surprising thing is the passion for and against them. Frank Petronio once called them "plastic hillbilly lights." I almost spit out my drink when I read that.

As I struggle to figure just what I"m going to do about getting big lights into the field, I appreciate these posts. Maybe an AB and Vagabond are in my future. Either way, thanks for doing what you do.

December 01, 2009 12:13 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Arthur, great observation, as this is something that has crossed my mind in the past when thinking about getting some big lights. Back when PCB has his forums up and running, it at least sounded like he was very involved in what made his company tick. While I would hope nothing ever happens to him, how would that affect his company if something did? Would the company just sustain on it's current products but lack the drive to push into making newer products or keeping their level of customer service? I don't know - but it is something important to think about any time you buy from smaller companies.

About this whole quality of light thing that keeps getting turned into color temp? I know at least I've seen cases where the speed at which the strobes flash as well as the quality of the light modifiers can alter how good of a picture you can get. There could be cases where some modifiers just don't spread the light as gracefully with a nice drop off compared to others. Yup at least with AB there seems to be lots of 3rd party options to help with this - but gosh where to start?! Elinchrom, someone else?

On the color temp topic, I don't see how a grey card alone is going to help all that much if you have for example 3 lights all firing inconsistently because of power levels and so forth. Yup, if the tolerances are tight, then it's not much of an issue. But if some are more redish, others are more yellowish then that is a lot more work to take care of in ACR or Lightroom than just pushing the color temp slider one way or another. Ick, no fun. Maybe the Einstein product will make this a non issue with very consistent color at a variety of power settings?

As a personal observation that others may not agree with, I've been rather surprised at how critical AB owners/happy customers are about people who look at or purchase other solutions. Across this series of posts, the AB owners stick out the most with posts drilling questions about why on earth someone would look anywhere else, as if someone should feel stupid for choosing something else regardless of reason. I'd like to just think people have passion, but who'd have thought picking strobes would be akin to a religion!?

December 01, 2009 8:42 AM  
Blogger ButchM said...

I too jumped onto the Bees because of price with the intention of "upgrading" after a short time .... that was seven years ago .... yes, the AB's are not perfect there are better options from a quality standpoint, but the return on investment factor is a no-brainer ... I have no regrets and no plans on making a change anytime soon.

December 01, 2009 10:59 AM  
OpenID yo-sarrian said...

Hey, David... I've been using old Vivitar 283s and 285s for about a year now (thanks to you) and I only recently upgraded to an AB800. I absolutely love it, but I can see what makes pro-lights, well... professional. Since I'm in the process of building my lighting gear and I don't have much money, the AlienBee line just can't be beat. Like you said, it gets me in the pool and swimming around. My goals aren't particularly lofty though, and I figure I will be able to use them for years.

December 01, 2009 11:41 AM  
Blogger Ziv said...

A few folks may find this offensive, but ...
For the 97% of professional photographers that make their living shooting local/regional ads, family portraits, seniors, corporate headshots and the like, WL and ABs will be all they ever need to create great light and keep money in their pockets.

For that 2% that operate in the rarefied air of national ad campaigns, fashion and big league ad agencies, there is a certain expectation of the gear that is used. A D700 and White Lightnings are not going to meet expectations, real or perceived.

And then there is that 1% that will only come to the shoot sporting $45,000 digital backs, skinny jeans , a bad haircut and a 1st assistant of questionable gender.

Frankly, if you live in Ratfuck Falls, Ohio, New York will not be calling regardless of the gear that you own. Unless, of course, you are Dan Winters shooting film with WWII studio strobes.

December 01, 2009 12:42 PM  
Blogger Clayton Bozard said...

Thanks for all of your info. I've been looking at AB's lights and I've been banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what to get. This has been very helpful with the head banging. I've also been looking at the Profoto lights and Profoto was very successful at making me depressed. Now that I'm depressed and banged up...I wish I could afford profoto. For now I'm going to try out the Alien Bees.

December 01, 2009 1:07 PM  
Blogger Pathofparadox said...

Just wanna add another testimonial in favor of the ABs. I picked up two AB-400s with last year's tax returns and I haven't looked back. All told I got 2 stands, (one 10-foot, one 13-foot,) 2 of the large umbrellas, a set of the raido poppers, and WOW!!!

That said, if I were gonna do it again, I'd pass on the 10-foot stands, they're a little flimsy. Go with the large stands (or those from another company...) and pick up a snoot of some kind. I tried making one out of girl-scout cookie boxes... which looked like a 1950's laser, but nearly burned down my house due to heat issues.

But I'm also gonna be that guy...

I Love the light.

cheers!
-Steve

December 01, 2009 1:19 PM  
Blogger Keith Taylor Photography said...

I myself bought a couple of Alien Bees back in 2005 - and they have been worth every penny I spent on them. I used them daily on location for about a year and a half and left them locked up in my truck all the time when I wasn't using them -- through the heat of summer and cold of winter. Bumpy roads etc. They have never failed. But like David I usually only use one or two lights for my portraits - and always rent extra lights when I need them.

So my point is -- I would like to move up to nicer gear myself -- and in some ways feel that I should just because it appears to be more professional to say an art director on set. But the Alien Bee's have proved to be reliable and their customer service is great! So I think I may continue to use both AB/WL even if I can afford something like Profoto's in the future. I guess I just want my clients to be loyal to me - so I figure I should be loyal to my vendors when they treat me right.

Besides -- look at my work on my website. There is no way of knowing what kind of lights I used. Some of it was shot with the Alien Bees. Some of it with big Speedotron packs. Some of it with Vivitar 283's. Some of it is available light. It's the photographer that makes it happen - a light source is just that -- a light source. How you use it (or restrict it) is what is important.

I want people to hire me based on my work and not what I shoot with anyway.

Keith Taylor Photography

December 01, 2009 1:48 PM  
Blogger Trio Jeepy said...

From what I've read and a podcast interview with PCB, the company is entirely dependent on him - he's the chief designer and sole owner of the company, as well as apparently little leveraged. So I don't think there's any question that since the buck stops with him, the enterprise is highly dependent on him.

Given that he's 73, there are presumably succession issues and/or plans. Honestly, my first thought upon hearing the interview and some basic facts about the company was (as a former investment banker) that this would make a great buyout - lever up the company, and you could really make out.

However, the photographer in me acknowledged that if a private equity sponsor bought it (which in itself is a little iffy because it would be a pretty small deal), they'd probably jack up prices because they can, cut a significant part of the service component, and pare back some of the generosity, as well as source parts from less reliable suppliers. In short, squeeze money out of it by taking out what makes PCB special. That would be unfortunate. But not exactly unprecedented.

December 01, 2009 3:18 PM  
Blogger Jason Ryman Photography said...

I make a living with my Alien Bees... 1 AB800 & 3 AB1600s. I have a modded Vagabond II that uses two batteries that I carry in a backpack. The extra weight helps hold down stands in the ridiculous western Kansas wind. Recently, I purchased one of the giant white shoot-thru umbrellas- it's working great for formals at weddings. Best part about it, if I loose one of the ABs (theft, damage, etc) I'm only out a few hundred bucks!
~Jason Ryman
http://www.jasonryman.com/

December 01, 2009 3:37 PM  
Blogger Royce Bair said...

Paul Buff is a great inventor. His products are solid and fair in price.

December 01, 2009 4:00 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

I have two AB800s and one White Lightning X1600 but have the same problem with each of them. I find the 7 inch reflector to bend very easily and warps out of shape with very little pressure. I'd love to have a more robust reflector!!

December 01, 2009 10:05 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I'm really tempted by AlienBees given this review and the previous ring flash discussion...

I'll buy some as soon as they make a 220V ring flash :)

December 01, 2009 10:05 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

The AU/NZ partner will ship to Europe and beyond.

December 02, 2009 12:48 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Thanks for the reviews.

One question I have is what about White Lightnings? They seem to have a few more features than Alien Bees. In particular, the extra stop down in power. (Or did I read the specs wrong?) I've heard that the AB1600 is a little too powerful indoors but what you want if you're outside. It would be nice to have one strobe to do both.

Now if only Pocket Wizards would make a ControlTL that will control the power of Alien Bees...

December 02, 2009 1:59 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

"But their service/repair policy is so generous" - so long as you're in US territories. Paul C has stopped selling overseas, and even when he did, the cost was out of sensible proportion; the customer even had to pay return postage for a warantee return ... not cheap on a flash unit.

I'm looking at a Bowens Gemini 400/400 twin set. The Interfit lights are garbage; just had another one go down on me. I honestly don't think they're manufactured in the UK at all.

December 02, 2009 2:12 AM  
Blogger jlieder said...

Hey David...

I'm a long time reader of your blog and have learned a ton from your site. It is where I started to learn about using off camera flash about a year ago. I came across another site the other day that I thought I would pass along as it has tutorials that your readers would probably enjoy. I don't think you've done any posts on his work in the past.

Photographer is Joel Grimes (Incredible work).
http://www.joelgrimes.com

Blog Page with Tutorials
http://web.me.com/joelgrimes/Joel_Grimes_Photography/Welcome.html

He also does workshops though it looks like the only one scheduled right now is in Columbus, OH at the end of January.

Thanks for all the work you put into your blog. Great stuff!

-- Jeff

December 02, 2009 9:13 AM  
Blogger MasterOfGoingFaster said...

I approached my lighting in a different way than most. Knowing that technology would likely cause a change in my lighting gear, and wanting to make good financial decisions, I came up with this philosophy:
- buy good pro lights, but used
- avoid proprietary modifiers and parts where ever possible.

I ended up buying used Hensel monoblocks. I started with two, and liked them so much, I ended up with four. I do have Hensel reflectors and grids, and they fit all the current models as well. Awesome light, yet I paid not much more than PCB prices, since I purchased them used.

My modifiers have been Photoflex, and have worked well. They offer speed rings for different manufacturers flashes, so I could switch to Profoto or PCB just by buying new speed rings. My stands are all Manfroto, and my triggers are Pocket Wizards.

Frankly, I'd love to have a top-of-the-line Profoto kit, but the Hensel/Photoflex/Manfroto/Pocket Wizard combination has been outstanding. The only issues I've run into is too much power. Gels take care of that. I might modify one light with a smaller capacitor to lower the range when I want a larger aperture.

So I suggest that others consider a hybrid solution: Get third-party components and used flash heads, or PCB heads. That lets you get in at a good price, and upgrade as your cash flow justifies.

December 02, 2009 9:26 AM  
Blogger Dean Tomasula said...

I've been using Alien Bees for years. I have 3 B800s and a bunch of stand and accessories that I use on location (everything is light and portable). In the studio I use them to light my Lastolite Hilite and use Normans and Elinchrom.

Regarding Paul C. Buff's customer service, it's second to none. When I first got my AB setup, I took them on a location job. While I was tearing everything down after the shoot, the 13' light stand literally fell apart in my hands as I was closing it down. This was the first time I had ever used it and it fell into like three pieces (thankfully after I was done with it). I call Buff and they immediately sent a new one out and didn't even want the old one back.

I've been using them ever since with no problems. It's been about 7 years now.

December 02, 2009 12:02 PM  
Blogger Carlos said...

I would like to see a Bowens/Calument Travelite review, David.

December 02, 2009 6:05 PM  
Blogger John said...

I have 4x AB1600s and a pile of modifiers. While I may not be as experienced as some of the other photographers here, I have had absolutely ZERO problems. I love my Alien Bees, and would wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone - Patrick DesMarchelier or otherwise.

Using the proper tools will eliminate inconsistency in the color of the light, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find a scenario that an AB1600 would not be powerful enough to cover. If anything, it's almost too powerful.

Anyways, that's my two cents.

John Prentice
http://www.johnprentice.ca

December 03, 2009 2:56 AM  
Blogger Bogdan said...

I'll chime in my 2 Canadian cents as well.
I've been adamantly called to lay down the Bees as they are neither cool nor professional so they make you look bad when you put them up. This was someone I used to partner with and the owner of some pretty juicy pieces of kit of a brand that wil remain nameless.
Yet when all the dust settled all my brides would pick 90% of my stuff but only 10-20% of his... Turns out it's not the hammer after all.
I'm all for buying the best hardware you can afford that helps you get the job done. The ABs fall somewhere towards the bottom end of this statement. Do they have their problems? Yes they do (UL certification anyone ???) Do cheesy two-legged Alien Bees exist? God knows... Do they work? Reliably, every time I used them so far (and that' pretty far already).
The bottom line is: would I love to have my ex partner's kit?Absolutely !!! It's freakin' nice... Do I need it to make my clients happy? Ummm... no, I don't.
Cheers!

December 04, 2009 2:56 PM  
Blogger Joey B said...

I own Alien Bees heads, and I recently used my B800 w/ softbox plugged into to a Vagabond II on a fashion editorial location shoot. It worked great, was lightweight to transport (big plus!), and was very consistent in output/color. Any variations have been less than noticeable since I purchased them beginning of last year.

All in all I've been really happy with them, and will probably be purchasing another head soon.

December 04, 2009 3:35 PM  
Blogger CARL QUEDENFELD said...

David,
You referred to a Moon unit when talking about Profoto accessories. Could you explain as I could not find it on their website.
Carl Quedenfeld

December 07, 2009 11:35 AM  
Blogger CARL QUEDENFELD said...

David,
You referred to the Moon Unit when referring to Profoto accessories you may buy. I can not find it on the Profoto website can you explain this accessory or what accessories you are finding most helpful
Carl Quedenfeld

December 07, 2009 11:38 AM  
OpenID steveboylephoto said...

It'd be nice to see you evaluate Dyna-lite's, have been using them for years.

http://www.steveboylephoto.com

December 07, 2009 2:17 PM  
Blogger corylum said...

greetings all

been reading this thread. hehe. i use profoto for over 10 years but have recently testing the JTL 300ws mobilights. pretty consistent, light quality is nice. head/reflector and DC battery $350 or so. so its in the inaffordable range. why ? i wanted something that i could take out on location and not worry. they have been reliable. kit come w/little battery. on added cool thing, takes my profoto 7-inch grids, especially the 3-degree one. http://www.flickr.com/photos/corylum/3367289350/

December 08, 2009 1:57 PM  
Blogger D™ said...

Hi David,

Just wondering if you were going to do a review on the Quantum QFlash heads as well?

Cheers

December 13, 2009 7:51 PM  
Blogger Ken Mott said...

Why 3 800s and 1 1600?

And not 2 800s and 2 1600s?

Any specific reason for the 1600s?

December 17, 2009 2:20 PM  
Blogger jacobinorlando said...

I have two setups... 5 vivitar 285HVs in a baseball bat bag with foldable stands so i can pick up and go. Then i have two AB800s one AB1600 and ABR800 I use these for bigger shoots i can say i love both setups just depends on what the job calls for. in fact you can check out my latest shoot with my alien bees on this FREE video :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNQNcz6ugaw

December 19, 2009 7:10 AM  
Blogger JimmyJames said...

Profoto would be great but replacement parts will cost you an arm and a leg. Need a new bulb and it's like 300.00. AB bulb = 30.00 (from what i am told)

-Jj

December 19, 2009 8:07 PM  
Blogger Alex DiFiori said...

@ captaindash, there's a difference between lenses and lights, the main one being that they aren't doing the same thing.

When I talked about the alienbees light quality, I wasn't saying they're profoto quality. And controlling light IS the photographer's job. We position ourselves relative to the position of our subjects and the light illuminating them.

Quality of light isn't just the light's job. Out of the box, just plugged in and pointed at something, no light is going to look great.

December 24, 2009 3:01 PM  
Blogger Russ Heller said...

having already invested in a variety of Hensel gear, the main appeal of Alien Bees, for me, has been their cheap modifiers. Particularly the fold-open softboxes (an umbrella style which also appears in Norman SBs). the problem was getting them to fit my lights. after much work and testing and DIY aluminum disc filing, i finally discovered that the SP Systems speedring will fit the paul buff SoBos. this should allow almost anyone to take advantage.

January 09, 2010 6:13 PM  
Blogger mickeyjuice said...

Buyers from the AU distro should note that there is NOT the discount that the US buyers get unfortunately. There is a discount, but it seems to vary wildly. I put a few differnet accessories in, and decided it wasn't worth factoring in due to the mad variations.

January 19, 2010 6:33 AM  
Blogger Visit: www.isismarques.com said...

Who don't believe in AlienBee's quality SHOULD take a look at Emily Soto's work. She uses just one AB800 and make things like this:

http://emilysoto.deviantart.com/gallery/

I think talent+experience is the equipment number one. =)

August 28, 2011 11:29 PM  
Blogger cream of beats said...

What You Won't Hear "I just love the quality of the light..."
...Probably because its never been an issue.
"You don't have to get the best to get started, but you have to get started to be the best!"
With that said, AB's allow people to get started, and are good enough to never need anything else! I'm 100% sold on AB's...not because I own then, but because I'm totally satisfied with the product. Consistency is only an issue when I rapid fire, and I only do this by mistake. Quality of light? Don't most of us edit the images anyway? Also, I noticed the quality of light improved on all my images when I learned about white balancing and camera sensors. I don't understand how quality of light is an issue with strobes, but not with less expensive flashes. Do sunpaks have better quality of light vs nikon or canon? Don't many people mix flash and strobe? C'mon..really..I think its more of an elitist/status issue amongst photographers more than the real issue: can the lights help you to take great pics and earn money! Answer: YES! I have never met a client that said, "AB's are ok, but a set of $8000 elinchroms would have made this great image really fantastic!" Bottom line, if your making elinchrom money, elinchroms! Buy what you can afford. No one flips fries at Wendys...and drives a Bentley. :)

September 15, 2011 6:52 PM  
OpenID blogwerks said...

I went with AlienBees. Why? For about $150 more than the cost of a single Elinchrom 600RX, I walked away with:

2 B800 lights
2 heavy-duty stands
2 carrying bags
1 beauty dish
1 5-in-1 reflector kit
1 reflector mounting arm
1 medium softbox with grid and speedring
1 strip light with grid and speedring
1 set of grids for the lights

Pretty hard to argue with that. Good quality (based on reviews and anecdotal comments) and tremendous value.

Thanks for the detail discussion, David.

October 16, 2011 5:51 PM  
Blogger Sheena Gallegos said...

I don't know what to do and I was hoping some experienced strobist could help me... I just bought my first Alien Bees B400 and used it 2 or 3 times only to find it firing randomly during my sessions and consistently whenever I turn my camera off and on. I spoke to tech support at Alien Bees and they told me to call PocketWizard. I got new Pocket Wizards only to find it did not help. So Alien Bees exchanged my light and the new one came and guess what?!..... yep- same thing. I use a Canon 6D and PocketWizard PlusX. Any other help would be greatly appreciated.

August 15, 2014 7:47 PM  

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