7.04.2017

The photo gear downsizing continues. The video gear upsizing is temporarily paused.

Two Photogenic Powerlight 1250 DR's with one umbrella reflector and two speed rings.

I bought my first real studio strobe (electronic flash unit) back in 1979. It was a Novatron 120, pack and head system with one flash head and a box that generated about as much power as a brawny battery powered light that you'd put on top of your camera today. The box, with two connectors for flash heads, was gray metal and the flash head, with its 20 foot cord had a black plastic case and a polished reflector. Of course there was a flash tube and a 60 watt light bulb that served as a modeling light. 

For the first twenty years of my photographic career in the studio I used only power pack and head systems. After the Novatron I bought an 800 watt second Norman flash and two nice, metal heads that had built-in fans. I liked those so when I started to get busy I added more stuff from the Norman system. I eventually ended up with two of their PD2000, two thousand watt second packs and a collection of eight heavy metal flash heads. The PD800 also stuck around. At that point in my career we were shooting advertising projects nearly every day and sometimes for ten or twelve hours at a whack. Flashes had to be robust because when we were shooting still life with 8x10 cameras at f64 we might need to pop the flashes (in a dark room) a couple dozen times at full power to get enough cumulative light on the film. There was this thing called
"reciprocity failure" back then that we had to compensate for. We also ran up against another photo nemesis called, "bellows factor" and it took its toll on light output as well. The PD2000's weighed in at about 30 pounds apiece so they were the antithesis of portable but we still dragged them along to all our location shoots. How better to light big sets and still get f16 at ISO 64???

When I felt that I'd hit the "big time" (all things being relative....) I traded in my ancient and battered Normans for a svelte set of Profoto power packs and their companion flash heads.  The collection was a bit smaller; an 800 Acute and two 2000 Acutes. While the units were smaller, trendier, safer and lighter the quality of light, once ensconced deep in a modifier was.....the same. At least to my eye. 

When Profoto came out with monolights I thought a couple of them would make a great location kit. We ended up buying three of the ProCompact models that put out 300 watt seconds and were fan cooled. And we just beat the crap out of those lights for the better part of a decade, perhaps longer. They had more frequent flier miles on them than most traveling salespeople. They got packed in Pelican cases, dropped off luggage carousels, a few even got blown over in high winds but, after replacing smashed modeling lamps or smashed flash tubes the lights just kept pumping out flash. When I finally sold them inflation had lifted the prices of new units so high that I got close to my original purchase price for my old set long after they'd been depreciated to salvage status. 

That's when I started experimenting with everyone else's monolights. I've owned Alien Bees, Calumets, Bowens, Elinchrom and Photogenic units and most of them have been reliable and useful. But back in 2007 I was working on a book about Minimalist Lighting and started experimenting non-stop with little battery powered speed lights. Lots and lots of speed lights! ( Speed light = flash designed to sit in the hotshoe of a camera; usually with articulating head and an appetite for double "A" batteries). For a time the studio was inundated with the little suckers. Nikon mostly but also Metz and Vivitar. I triggered them with the Nikon CLS system or radio triggers or optical slaves. And what I found back then was that in most situations of the kind of commercial work we were handling were easily served by these inexpensive and lower powered units. Occasionally we still needed more raw power and the availability of modeling lights was nice but really, if you knew how to light everything worked well. 

So, now it's 2017 and I have a rolling case full of great speed lights. Most are Godox brand and nearly all use the big lithium batteries that have recently become vogue. The most mysterious of the newcomers is the Godox AD200 which looks like a black brick and has interchangeable flash heads. A flash for all occasions. I've worked diligently to get rid of all my older A/C powered studio flashes. Some have been given away to aspiring student photographers while some have been traded in for other photography gear. But I seem to have three left that just won't go away. One is an ancient Elinchrom 500 watt second unit that just won't die. It's had its capacitors replaced and now it's like a zombie flash. It goes on forever. I have two speed rings for it and one bigger reflector. 

I also have two Photogenic PowerLight 1250 DR's and two speed rings. I bought them because the person selling them was nearly giving them away; in fact, the Kata rolling case they came in was worth more than I paid for the set of lights + case. I didn't need them but it all seemed too good to pass up. Only now I'm getting tired of storing and caring for stuff I rarely use. So they need to find a new home as well. 

The sad thing is that monolights used to be popular on the used markets. You could turn them all day long because there was always someone new waiting to dip their toes in the water of studio photography. Now? Not so much. 

the venerable Elinchrom 500. And its reflector.


As we get further and further into the ever improving technology of camera sensors the need for tons of power from flashes seems to be ever diminishing. There are still people out there who are buying stuff like Phase One 100F cameras and shooting them at native ISOs well stopped down, and I'm sure they still need lights in the 500+ watt second range, but they are rare birds. 

There is very little that can't be done with either state of the art LED constant lights or inexpensive speed lights. My goal is to get rid of the three lights above and not replace them with anything new. They've served their purpose in the business but progress continues to be a wildly erratic, moving target. Portability seems more important than power today. That, and the ability to control a whole handful of lights from the camera position. Just like I wrote about in 2007. 

Now, on to video. I wrote that I am temporarily pausing my crazy acquisition of video oriented gear but there's no profound reason for the pause, other than that I am so well equipped right now I can't think of what I might add, other than a few incremental pieces of grip equipment. 

At one point I was researching new video cameras because I was aware that consumer type cameras lacking 10 bit capture and 4:2:2 color were at a disadvantage when the files needed lots of work/correction/effects/grading and that I should be prepared to deliver broadcast ready files, if possible. Imagine my surprise when I realized that my Panasonic fz2500 could deliver 4K, 10 bit, 4:2:2 files by simply adding an Atomos Ninja Flame video recorder/monitor to the mix! Weeks and weeks of testing have shown me that there is a quality difference that becomes obvious in a tough edit. And especially so when you need very clean subject edges for perfect green screen work. But not only does the Panny look much better, the Sonys all get a lift to 4:2:2 color, both in 4k and HD. In fact, the lower compression of the Pro Res files from the Atomos also makes inroads in the overall quality of the footage. So, no new cameras need apply. We've got four cameras that do great 4K now and that's enough for most people. 

I've been thrilled with my Aputure Lightstorm LED panels as well as the Aputure Amaran panels so we're pretty much set for as much lighting as a "one man movie maker" can effectively haul around. If we need any more it makes a lot more sense just to rent. 

The final frontier was microphones and we seem to have that hole plugged as well. I'm loving the Aputure Diety shotgun microphone but I also get great results from the Rode NTG 4+. We've got two sets of the standard Sennheiser transmitters and receivers as well as a bag full of lavaliere microphones so, with the exception of more cables I can't imagine what I'm missing. Perhaps just experience and that's tougher to buy....

Downsizing and maintaining for the moment. We'll see what gets launched in the Fall. For now? It's just too hot to buy new stuff. 

The surprising "workhorse" camera of our business. The fz2500.


7 comments:

David said...

After the acquisition of the fz2500, followed by the g85, I see 2 GH5 cameras in your future. Will be great to see the images and video you turn out of them.

Anonymous said...

Kirk

Some people are muttering that, in certain circumstances, 10bit 1080p 4-2-2 is preferable to 10bit 4k because it's smoother. Any thoughts on that?

Jay

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Jay, I'm of two minds about the 4K versus 1080p. On the one hand there is a lot of crispy detail in the 4K files and that can be aesthetically useful for industrial projects where you want to see lots of detail and hard edges. It's also great for adding realistic definition in hair, etc. But 1080p is still the standard for delivery, is still much, much quicker and easier to edit and I'm probably thinking that you'll get better color from current 1080p out of the same camera if the same overall throughput of information (mbs) is the same. If I were doing interviews I'm not sure I'd feel the need to shoot 4K. On the other hand being able to crop into a 4K file is nice. And convenient. And useful. Also I'd bet that the differences have more to do with the cameras and how the manufacturers handle the different codecs. I'm betting that the 4K out of an Alexa is pretty smooth...

Kirk Tuck said...

David, I'm not so keen on adding GH5s. In the best of all possible worlds I guess it would be nice to have a couple in the drawer but there are advantages to both the bigger and smaller sensors. For video I've really come to like the contrast of either shooting in one inch or shooting full frame with the A7Rii. As I've said before, I won't buy a GH5 until I see what the next iteration of Sonys looks like for video. I'd hate to switch and entire system again only to have Sony make a huge, paradigm shifting upgrade just a week or a month later. The Sony A7rii running into the Atomos generates a very, very nice video file.

Craig Yuill said...

Kirk, I should probably follow your lead. I have a fair number of items that I am probably never going to make any further use of, such as flood lamp holders with reflectors that form the only continuous-lighting system I was able to afford in the 1980s. I have a few lenses too that haven't seen any use in years, although I sometimes toy with the idea of bringing them out of retirement. I am not sure that these items have much intrinsic monetary value. A local high school runs photography courses. I thought I might donate some of these items to them. (Although a lot of the gear that they have is newer and nicer than what I own.) Any other thoughts on how one might pass on old gear that might be of greater use to others?

neopavlik said...

Yeah I'm seeing affordable Profoto (Compact/R) monolights and almost buying them just because I wanted them so long. I still have and use the Einsteins and White Lightning x3200 for studio-ish stuff and a Flashpoint Xplor 600 TTL HSS for most outdoors stuff.

You take a look at the Sound Devices Mix Pre 6 yet ? I think I'm going to buy that and maybe it can be your next gear lust.

Anonymous said...

I would imagine that most lighting companies will go out of business in the next few years.

Is anyone really buying Dynalite, Hensel, Speedotron, etc.?

Seems like it will be Paul C. Buff/Godox at the low end, Phottix in the middle, and Profoto on top.