Monday, May 18, 2009

The Big Guns

A while back I picked up a 1,000 W/s Photogenic 2500DR studio head and see a whole new light at the end of the tunnel (pun intended... lol). Here are a few of my observations.

I've always been a huge fan of the strobist ways. In fact, using battery powered speedlights is very much the answer to 80% of my needs, but there are the times that I just need to overpower the sun, and nothing has a better answer to that question than brute power. The wattage provided by a good speedlight like the SB-800 (one of the strongest speedlights on the market), at around 125 W/s, is incredible. To get that much light out of 4 AA batteries is astonishing, however, there are times when more is needed. One could, of course, keep adding more and more speedlights, but that would become very expensive, very fast. Where I would need approximately 8-10 SB-800s all bundled together to match the output of a single Photogenic 2500DR, the studio unit has a retail value of about $200 less than two Nikon SB-900 speedlights (the successor to the SB-800). One can pick up a 2500DR for around $725 from B&H plus shipping (which is where I got mine from).

This is where a single higher powered studio strobe wins out each and every time.

I chose the 2500DR for many reasons, one important one is because it can be dialed down lower than the Elinchrom or D-Lite 4 or Profoto Compact 600 (in fact, I can get the 2500DR down as low as 31 W/s which is about the same as a SB-800 speedlight on a bit more than 1/4 power), which is very important to me during those times that I want to mix and match the studio strobe with my speedlights. At the same time, the 2500DR also offers me more power than both the Elinchrom DLite-4 and Profoto Compact 600 units. It's like having your cake... and eating it too!

The 2500DR is not the consumer level of equipment like the Profoto Compact or the Elinchrom D-Lite series, it is an all out professional quality unit. I am constantly surprised that more people do not know who Photogenic are... they have been around for over 100 years and put out some incredible high quality stuff at their pro level line. The 2500DR comes from that pro line and delivers some incredible results!

So what does it mean to have all that power available to you? It means being able to easily overpower the sun during it's brightest times, more dramatic skies or darker backgrounds, being able to shoot in bright conditions that with an AA battery powered speedlight is all but useless in, and opening doors to situations that were before impossible to get to, using our (still well liked) speedlights.

Let me show you a little test that I just did in my backyard at 4:ooPM on a cloudless and very bright day. First, let's look at the setup. A single 2500DR head powered by an Alien Bee battery pack (at the slow setting) that is placed 12 feet from the wall of my home. Ambient light was 1/200th at F/11 shooting into the wall, but in the picture below, my angle was different and this picture was taken at 1/200th at F/9 (EXIF included in all pics).

So, what happens when I start shutting down the light and killing the effects of the very strong ambient light via camera settings? Let's crank the camera up to 1/250th and F/22 and see what we get:

That's pretty dark and obviously a well underexposed shot, and considering how bright it is, it's no surprise you still see a little something even at these ambient killing settings! Now, let's change nothing on the camera (leave it at F/22 and 1/250th), and crank up the studio head to it's maximum settings of 1,000 W/s and see what we get:

Wow, this is quite the change, and even with my D700's ISO at it's lowest possible setting (ISO L.01 or ISO 100) *and* the lens still closed down to it's smallest aperture of F/22, the shot is still overexposed by over at least 1.5 to 2 stops from a distance of 12 feet! If I was to try the same test with the Nikon SB-800, I doubt very much that it would fare anywhere as well as the near 10 times stronger studio head.

That power increase is what gives me the ability to shoot during times that most speedlight users can only dream of and that Alien Bee battery pack gives me the ability to pop off 250-275 full power flashes or 450 or more 1/2 power flashes on a single charge... more than enough for a nice mid-day shoot at the beach or some other very bright location!

However, a kilowatt/second of power is not the answer for all situations, and the 2500DR lets me dial it down up to 6 full stops, which is more than enough to play nice in combination with the speedlights when needed, but when the need for control is there, it delivers nicely on command.

Now, one thing that I have tried is seeing if there are any white balance issues or changes from low to high power, and there are none at all... at least none that are visible under close pixel peeping levels and that is something that the Alien Bee owners cannot say. As they lower power under 1/2 power, things start to go pink and by 1/4 power, it is visible to the naked eye... this is something that would make mixing and matching this studio head with speedlights a nightmare, and something that I now am very confident that I will never need to have a concern about with the Photogenic product.

I am extremely happy with my purchase... doubly so when I can start to mix and match that little trick that let's me use this flash at full power settings at shutter speeds anywhere from seconds to 1/8000th of a second in duration... can you say F/1.4 at 1/8000th on pretty much the brightest day anywhere? This strobe also has the ability to sync not just at full power like other strobes, but at *any* power setting and this is quite rare. For more info, you may visit this blog entry of mine about this aspect at THIS LINK

May 19, 2009 - Addendum

Today the UPS truck stopped in front of my house and dropped off a long box, apparently from Photogenic? I open it up and realize that I had forgotten about their promotion of a free 13-foot air cushioned stand upon the purchase of a 2500DR studio head! It's a 3 segment stand, black and very stable. You may chuckle, but I have not seen this feature on any of my other ones, but it is the only one of my 8 stands that has the feature of being able to lower or raise the center pole so that I have 4 points of contact with the ground, making it the best quality light stand in my collection and according to Photogenic, is a $109 value... very cool !!