In April of 2016 I along with many other folks contributed to the Indigogo program for Coolbox listed as the “World’s Smartest Toolbox.” I was made aware of the campaign by my photo partner. She said “Mark, check this out! So much of what they plan to build into this thing meets our needs!” So of course I plunked down my 199.00 plus 50 bucks in shipping and supported their campaign. Their original delivery date was scheduled for July 2016, a mere three months from my payment…not bad. Fast forward several months, then several years and nada, no Coolbox. But they kept communicating which was much better than the Kickstarter fiasco I invested in for a Kraftwerks bullshit device that never appeared.
Today, January 15 2018 I received my Coolbox and am thrilled with the product. I know it’s built for many different purposes, but for a working photographer who does studio shoots in a number of locations, this thing ticks so many boxes. I have used two canvas tool bags to carry my grip equipment which includes Super Clamps, DIY truss clamps, gaff tape, extension cords, you name it. I also take along a portable Bluetooth speaker to keep things lively during sessions, having the talent tap into the speaker with their favorite tunes on their cell phones. I shoot tethered to an iPad and as such take a stand specifically to hold the iPad so my clients can view the images in real time. Extension cords for smoke machines along with power reels so I have plenty of outlets. Then USB charging ports to power my phone, recharge my iPads, etc. Well guess what? Damn near ALL OF THOSE things are built into the Coolbox!
So the only bit of bad news? As of this post, January 15 2018 I see on their website that the Coolbox is backordered. Bummer. But if you feel it will fit your needs, GET ONE. As time goes on I’ll be updating this post to report if I’m still in love….
If you never have to travel and transport your strobes via airlines, no need to read further. Because I travel for about 45% of my work via airline I am constantly placing my strobes and modifiers into checked luggage. All of that gear is subject to brutal, errr, TSA inspection. They open my luggage around 95% of the time to ‘see’ what’s in those mysterious cases. I use a SKB 2SKB-4814W Deluxe ATA Golf Travel Case to transport my Parabolix, Elinchrom, etc modifiers. For my strobes I carry them in a Pelican 1560 Case With Padded Dividers. I remove the batteries from the strobes along with the bulbs. I remove the batteries to prevent having a TSA agent accidentally turn on one of the units. In the past I didn’t remove the bulbs, but on one trip I discovered the agent (who conveniently neglected to leave an agent ID tag in the case) had broken a bulb. I always pack an additional strobe just as a back up, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Since that time I always remove the bulbs and carry them in my camera carry on bag. I searched long and hard for cases that would safely hold the bulbs. The only case I could find were for the AD200 bulbs and made by Cheetahstand. Alas Edward no longer carries any of the Godox line of strobes, or any of the bulbs or the protectors. Glad I got a bunch before he discontinued carrying them. But fret not, you can make your own out of some PVC pipe.
So here is my solution for AD600 bulbs:
AD200 bulb protector
Even though Cheetahstand doesn’t offer these any longer, you can easily make one out of some PVC tubing with end caps. I don’t know what diameter, but you can measure the bulb and determine that for yourself.
A few years back I purchased a SMDV S70 28” softbox when I was using speed lights with modifiers. I was impressed at the quality of the light, but even more so with how it opened and closed with ease! Later Adorama started selling their own version of the softbox under the GlowPop brand. They use the very same mechanism as SMDV for opening and closing the unit. I bought one of the GlowPops for quick run and gun shooting and liked the light weight both units provided. I changed both of those modifiers from the speed light bracket to Bowens brackets since I no longer used speed lights.
I recently wanted a more robust modifier that would set up quickly and have a better attachment system than the SMDV or the Glow Pop. Both of those hold the speed light or Bowens bracket onto the speedring with VERY SMALL SCREWS and on both the GlowPop and SMDV units I own, they have stripped out. We’re talking Phillips screws so small you must use a jeweler’s screwdriver to remove or install them. That’s small!
I’m also in the process of ‘paring down’ the number of modifiers I’ve collected over the years. My personal rule of thumb is if a modifier like my Zeppelin 47” with its heavy mounting bracket can be replaced by something within 10% of its size I’ll do it! You see I use focusing arms for many of my modifiers so I seldom use the diffusion panels that come with the modifiers. After doing some research I found that SMDV sells an A110 softbox that measures 44”, close enough! Plus it’s much lighter and a great shape for ‘parabolic’ focusing using a focusing rod. And their signature opening and closing mechanism makes it even sweeter to replace the Zep.
The largest GlowPop made is 38” and still uses those tiny damn screws to hold the bracket onto the speedring. The SMDV makes a 44” which fits within my personal parameters when I’m considering replacing another modifier for various reasons, in this case my 47” Zep.
So here are some of my initial tests using my trusty buddy “Bob” to ascertain the light qualities/spread/focusing capabilities of the modifier. If you are not familiar with focusing arm modifiers I suggest you search the web. This post is simply about my own findings with the SMDV 110. As I use this on real client sessions I will be updating this post. If at some point I opt to use the SMDV 110 with its included diffusion panels I will post those images as well.
So remember this is ONE LIGHT, ONE MODIFIER and simply angling the modifier to the left or right or focusing or flooding the light produces dramatically different looks. It’s just ONE of the reasons I love focusing arm modifiers. And the SMDV 110 is perfect for my needs. Well made, well designed and the quality of light it produces makes it a great choice for me. Oh and the weight and ease of assembly is just icing on the cake!
UPDATE January 5 2018
This month I have several sessions where I will use the focusing arm with my Elinchrom 69″ Rotalux Octabox. Elinchrom sells their Elinchrom 75″ Indirect Litemotiv Octa Softbox which is an inverted modifier. But unlike using a focusing arm the strobe is confined to a set distance from the modifier. Oh and not to mention it’s about $1100.00 USD more expensive than my 69’r!
UPDATE December 31, 2017
Over the past two weeks I have been giving my new virtual friend Ulysses my experience using focusing rod modifiers. We’ve gone back and forth over FB Messenger as I answered some of his questions and concerns. It was during this time I realized that some people may not have any idea how a focusing arm paired with a parabolic or other modifier would benefit them. So instead of answering another email I decided to post this (My last post of 2017 btw) to benefit anyone who may have questions about focusing arm modifiers, their benefits and downsides. But are put off by their prices.
I found what I view as one of the most informative lessons on some of the benefits of a focusing rod on a YouTube channel. Karl Taylor and Urs Recher, two pro fashion shooters do an excellent job explaining the benefits of focusing arm modifiers. You can view that video here.
If you begin to watch the video and think or say to yourself “Oh sure if I had the money to buy a $7,000 Broncolor Para 222 Mark I could do anything!” STOP READING NOW and go about your usual business.
I’ve posted elsewhere why I have switched to focusing arms modifiers and this post is about how you can do it with relatively simple ease. And just as important for a fraction of the cost of Broncolor, Briese or Parabolix. Of course the shape of the modifier you use will have a bearing on your results, but unlike people alleging you ‘have to have’ a pure parabolic shape I disagree based on my own actual usage. I love my Parabolix 35D, my Cononmark 120cm and my Westcott Zeppelins which I use with a focusing arm.
The best thing to do is to buy a Parabolix focusing arm from their site. They use a standard Profoto attachment to mount their modifiers to the focusing arm. The arm is excellent and well made. To the arm you simply purchase a Haoge Profoto to Bowens Mount Speedring Ring Adapter.
Viola! You now have a focusing arm that will work with any Bowens modifier! And you don’t have to go through the crazy fabrications like I did when I built my first one. (I just like doing that kinda stuff tho….)
Prior to figuring out that method I fabricated all kinds of things! My other solution was to purchase a Cheetahstand Chop Stick and modify it to accept a Bowens modifier. It took some doing and it works well. Someone mentioned that Edward at Cheetahstand stated that his Chop Stick will work with most Bowens mount modifiers and that’s true….to a point.
For travel it’s a toss up. My DIY Cheetahstand Chop Stick with mount weighs a total of 4 pounds 13 ounces including the rod. The Parabolix weighs 3 pounds 15 ounces. For space the Chop Stick comes apart thereby having the ability to save space when packing. Not so with the Parabolix arm. Weight or space? It’s up to your needs. The Bird Cages which hold the lights are not included in these weights, but I have described their weight above.
So there you have it. This will be my last post about how to develop your own focusing rod. I have sessions to cover and don’t really have the motivation to talk more about this subject. I post this in case you want to do it as well.
As I was growing up my father was always in the garage tinkering. During his lifetime he was a professional auto mechanic who was in a partnership in a Mobil Gas station. I’d work there in the summertime when full service was the norm. Later he became a civil engineer. He and I shared lots of good times in our home garage building things which were usually motors or crazy inventions. One of the aspects of life he taught me early on was “Boy there are people who will bitch that someone hasn’t invented or built this or that. Or they’ll bitch about how something is designed. Basically they’ll bitch about anything instead of trying to figure out how to fix it or inventing something themselves. Don’t listen to those assholes, if you need something that ain’t around, figure out how to build it and build it. I’m not raising no bitch, so just remember that!”
To this day I’m not sure if I never wanted to be ‘a bitch’ or I just plain enjoy figuring out how to do things. It’s one of the main reasons I HAVE TO HAVE a garage. Not to store shit people never use, but to fabricate things. I find it relaxing. And I must admit that my former racing motorcycle which is now the world’s most expensive towel rack does sit in my “Man Cave.” I just can’t bring myself to sell “Ashley.”
Anyway I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that I adore focusing arm modifiers. I won’t go into all of the reasons, but one of the most frustrating things is every single manufacturer of focusing arm modifiers makes it so that their arm only works with their modifiers. Broncolor, Parabolix, Briese, Cheetahstand, Westcott, you name it, they can’t be used with other modifiers. I did find out that the Parabolix line of focusing arms will work with any Profoto mount. Their focusing arm uses the same attachment as Profoto so if one purchases a Parabolix focusing arm it will fit any modifier that uses a Profoto mount.
But many of my modifiers are now Bowens mounts. It’s my preferred modifier mount since I exclusively use Flashpoint/Godox strobes/heads now. As I examined Cheetahstand’s Chop Stick I discovered that I could modify his focusing arm so that it will allow me to attach ANY Bowens mount modifier to the focusing arm! It took quite a bit of modification and a bit of cussing, but now I have a focusing arm that will accept any Bowens modifier INCLUDING HARD MODIFIERS. What? WTF you may be thinking, hard modifiers Mark? Well I’m gonna try them and will report back later. Why not?!
I’m sure some people will ask questions like “Will it support the full weight of X or Y strobe?” What about if the modifier is not a true parabola?” To the first question, I’m not sure and I don’t really care because I’m not a manufacturer of this for retail. I made it to solve a problem. I plan to always use the remote head for the AD600. As for the second question, who cares?
It’s no secret that I have enthusiastically adopted the use of focusing rod light modifiers. I’ve found them so versatile and the light quality they produce to my taste and my clients satisfaction. Sure there are times I love super soft light, but for me soft light, or the constant use of soft light is well….. boring. Indirect light like when using an umbrella produces some of the best contrast, detail of any modifiers I’ve used. the problem is umbrellas have their own issues one of them in controlling spill.
When I first was made aware of the Broncolor Para line of focusing rod modifiers I was captivated. It took quite some time for me to find a rental house that would not only rent the Para 88 octa, but the focusing rod as well. Once I tried one, I was sold. But the price was too cost prohibitive for my client base. At the time $4900.00 USD for one modifier was too pricey. So I made my own focusing rod which I wrote about here. I love the light it produces and the flexibility it gives me.
Since those days I purchased a Parabolix 35D, a CononMark 120cm focusing rod modifier and a Cheetahstand Chop Stick which I use with my Zeppelin line of modifiers. What has always frustrated me is I could never find anyone who produced a focusing rod that would accept ANY Bowens modifier. Each of the manufacturers I mentioned before including Cheetahstand all use proprietary mounting solutions for their focusing arms. 16 rods, or 8 rods, holes a certain size, you name it every manufacturer only fits their own line.
Prior to using focusing arm modifiers, my favorite modifier were my two Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octas. The quality of lights they produce is delicious. Yet because of the Elinchrom speedring design I could never figure out a way to mount a focusing arm to those octas…until now.
I searched for a bracket that is used for speedlights which can be directly mounted to a swiveling Bowens adapter and found this one on eBay. The next issue was finding a male Bowens adapter that would fit onto the mounting bracket. After much measuring I determined that the Adorama or SMDV Bowens ring would fit perfectly. There is quite a bit of modification that needs to happen and perhaps at some point I will outline those steps. But for now anyone with motivation can buy those two items (which were the toughest parts to figure out btw) and make your own. And NO I will NOT be making/selling these brackets, so please don’t ask.
The one other issue many trolls will like to talk about is if this or that modifier is TRULY PARABOLIC in shape. While those folks are flapping their pie holes along with their constant need to be right, I simply look at how any modifier PERFORMS to my own as well as my client’s satisfaction to determine if it’s right for my taste. I love the flexibility of choice and having a bracket that will allow me to use any Bowens mount modifier with a focusing arm gives me freedom to choose. I’m even going to try hard modifiers with a focusing arm!!!! Who knows I may find out it works great…or not. But at least I have the option.
Hard modifiers. They’re so misunderstood! Most photographers seem to always be chasing soft light, the softer the better. I understand that too, but in my world there is sometimes a need for hard modifiers. On location in high wind, nothing is better to combat the potential disaster of turning your light stand, modifier and strobe into an orbiting satellite than a hard modifier.
Yet there are many other uses for hard modifiers. Yes they CAN throw beautiful soft light. And in those instances where you need to throw and control light a long distance they’re wonderful. I recently had an assignment where I had to light 90 musicians on stage to make the scene appear like a Rembrandt painting which meant making the light even across the stage. It would have been impossible without the use of hard modifiers or Fresnel lenses.
But the point of this post is to advise you that the SHAPE of a hard modifier can easily be confused with how the light pattern will perform. Most of use ‘think’ that a long cone shaped modifier will throw light in a long narrow pattern focusing light in the same shape as the modifier. Back in the day when I was talking to Paul Buff about his long throw reflector he said “Mark, the long throw’s center concentration of light is NOT as intense as my 22” beauty dish. But it does throw the light further.” I thought to myself “Uh sure Paul, you must not know what you’re talking about…” Hahahahaha who was I to doubt the INVENTER of his brilliant products. So I tested them side by side and guess what? He was fucking right of course and I was shocked….at my ignorance.
Adorama sent me some of their modifiers so I decided to test them side by side with others I own to see the light patterns they produce. Having been schooled by Paul I was better educated to ‘theorize’ how each of the modifier’s patterns would perform.
All were shot using a Flashpoint xPLOR600 set at full 1:1 power. The distance to the seamless was 35 feet. Camera was set at 1/125th, f22, ISO 100. This test was performed just before a client’s session so it’s not about the power capabilities of the modifiers, but their light patterns.
As you can see by the light patterns above and the shape of each modifier below, light patterns don’t always follow the shape of the modifiers. Right now my favorites are the Glow 70 Degree Magnum, the PCB Omni and Retro Laser for throwing concentrated beams of light over distance. The Glow 45 and Bowens long throw extend light with a much softer/less concentrated pattern of light.
So here is how I’ve used hard modifiers for different applications:
My point of this posting is to demonstrate the light patterns and possible usage of hard modifiers in your took kit. For the right application I find them an invaluable tool. In the future I will be updating this post with actual shots using the Glow line of hard modifiers.
UPDATE December 9 2017
I just returned from a two day studio session using the Flashpoint R2 Pro C on my Pentax 645Z. The unit performed well and I discovered that when using the transmitter with another non Canon (C) camera the Standby feature does not function as it does on the camera it’s designed for. I have the R2Pro set to Stby in the menu and when mounted to my Canon when I half press the shutter the R2 comes back to life. Not so with my Pentax. I must physically press any button on the R2 unit to revive the transmitter. Other than that (no TTL or HSS) it works well.
UPDATE November 15 2017
I recently had the opportunity to use the Flashpoint R2ProC during a commercial session. The short story is it worked flawlessly. My issue with the XT32C sometimes misfiring when standing right next to my key light did not occur at all. I have the unit set to 0-30m distance in the Custom Functions. The most significant feature I can highlight at this point is being able to view most if not all of my strobe settings at once. It’s wonderful. I did run into one issue that is totally user error when attempting to use the ALL button to change all of my light settings…
I had left A-E lights active but for this session I was only using two lights. I became frustrated when trying to adjust all of the lights at once since the unit seemed to only allow a 2 stop range down or up. What I realized when I got home is that by having more than the number of strobes I was using active on the screen, the unit will only go up or down based on the lowest or highest setting of a group.
Let’s say group D which you’re not using is set at 1/64th. If you scroll power down and have your units set to 1/128th as the lowest setting all of your adjustments down are limited to just one stop. So the answer when using the unit is ONLY KEEP ACTIVE those light groups you’re actually using. I tried to find this in the user guide but it is not listed. Now you know.
I have assembled some of my initial impressions and comments about this transmitter. It will be a few weeks until I can actually use the transmitter in sessions. But that won’t be before I run it through some of my own usability tests. I must admit that I was hoping Godox would develop a transmitter like this. I want to say straight off that in life there isn’t a single thing that is perfect for everyone. I laughed out loud when I read one person was concerned about the angle of the R2 Pro which they felt is ‘too angled’ and forced them to tilt their camera ‘too much’ to see the display. Another person complained about the R2/X1 controller having no tilt and hitting him in the forehead when he looked through the viewfinder. All things can be improved including human attitudes. The important thing is if a piece of equipment is right for YOU. And of course every manufacturer can and should improve their products, and the R2 Pro is living proof of that concept!
For many years I enjoyed the use of the PCB’s CyberCommander with his Einstein line of strobes. Sure the CyberCommanders involved a bit of a learning curve, was not the most elegant interface…BUT it was so well designed from a function/operational standpoint those aforementioned issues seemed petty. I loved being able to view the power settings of all of my strobes in one look. The range of the CyberCommander was excellent and the variety of controls I had at my fingertips made my job so much easier and more importantly was my ability to focus on the talent, not the lights.
One of the things I noticed right off about the R2 Pro was the battery level indicator. (BTW neither the R2/X1 or the XT32 have battery level indicators) I had just put fresh rechargeable Enloop AAs into the unit and in a matter of seconds it went from 3 bars to 2. Strange…so I changed to a new pair and it was the same. I then got out two fresh Duracell Alkalines and guess what? Three bars stayed. Since I had not yet read the manual and figured I needed to put batteries into the unit to follow along I began to search for the answer in the user manual. Page 09 states:
“AA alkaline batteries are recommended…..Low Battery Indicator When the battery power is weak, less than 2.5v…replace them to assure a strong wireless signal and reliable flash triggering.”
Well there you have it. Alkalines are 1.5v and rechargeables are 1.2v. So right off the bat 2.4v is BELOW the 2.5v they recommend if batteries need replacement. This is certainly not a deal breaker even though I use rechargeable batteries for all of my gear. I will research if anyone makes 1.5v rechargeable batteries. And I will have to find out through testing if 2.4v affects the transmitter’s ability to consistently fire my strobes. If not, then it’s back to using alkaline batteries in this unit. It’s also very interesting that the battery indicator does NOT come on immediately when you boot up the unit. There’s about a two second delay before it appears. I surmise that the unit is ACTUALLY testing the battery level before displaying the remaining voltage…..interesting.
I should also state that I am NOT a speedlight user. I may use one now and again, but my work does not lend itself to speedlights. My work involves the use of strobes so I won’t be testing/writing much if anything about the unit’s compatibility with speed lights. Sorry. I’m not a review site, but like to post what I observe to help other shooters who may or may not operate with the gear I talk about. While I’m on that subject I realize that this unit has TCM, TTL Converted to Manual. Never had that, seldom if EVER use TTL. I’m the old school light meter kinda OG and with digital hell I don’t really need to use my light meter all the time. I can get pretty close because I do this so much and adjust my lights/aperture/ISO/Speed after looking at the shot and Histogram. So I will get around to ‘testing’ the TCM at some point and report my findings. It seems like a cool feature though…
Initial operational observations
HSS and Second Curtain Sync
The R2 Pro requires you to select HSS, Second Curtain Sync or nothing. Unlike the R2/X1 and the XT32 which automatically switch to HSS above Canon’s sync speed, you must enable HSS on the unit or the camera will not go above the sync speed, at least on the 1DX. With the X1/R2 when the shutter is set at 1/30th or slower the camera automatically goes into SCS. The XT32 does not and you must set SCS in the camera’s flash menu when using the XT32. On the R2 Pro C you must set SCS on the transmitter or the flash will remain in first curtain sync. Unless I plan to use SCS I found that leaving the controller in HSS allows it to function in both HSS or normal sync.
In the Group view you must press the MOD button which lights all of the group’s modeling lights. Only then can you turn OFF individual modeling lights for multiple strobes. If you do not turn on all modeling lights in the group view then selecting a specific group with the physical buttons on the left side of the controller does not show the MOD choice on the menu. Sounds confusing I know, but once you get a unit you will see. I prefer the ability to decide which strobe’s modeling light is on or off and the unit has that ability.
Like the modeling light I prefer to control individual units beeping, but it appears it’s an all or nothing choice with the R2 Pro. Certainly not a deal breaker! The nice thing is this unit has a Menu button which easily accesses the former “Cf” function area. That’s where you can enable or disable the sound along with other functions.
Individual Group On/Off function
There are often times when I want to turn an individual strobe on or off and this can easily be done with the R2 Pro. You simply go from the Group view to an individual Group and toggle through the choices of M, TTL or Off using the physical Mode key. Easy!
This is in the Menu area and it’s welcomed. There have been a number of times when I was using my XT32 that I’d get misfires while standing right next to my keylight! It was not all the time, but sporadically and at random times. Now in the Menu area is a DIST choice of 1-100m or 0-30m. In studio and on location I tend to shoot within the 30m distance so it’s nice to have that choice. I’ll be testing to see if I get any misfires when close to strobes. I’ve never had an issue with either my X1/R2 or XT32 at long distances.
Good god I love having an ALL button that is physical so I can easily turn all of my lights up or down keeping ratios I’ve set before the same. I’ll use this feature all of the time.
Something I’ll miss….
On the XT32 when you change Channels in the upper right hand corner is a little diagram of how the old school dip switches correspond to your channel selection. I know most of you don’t use those old dip switches anymore. But for me when I use my Pentax 645Z and the old FT-16 USB receivers to get HSS with xPLOR/Godox strobes I am often changing channels. It’s pretty idiot proof for me to just look at the diagram and switch those little dip switches. Oh well… I’ll just carry my XT32 as a backup anyway.
These are just my initial impressions of the long awaited R2 Pro! And the topics I’ve outline above are the features that are important to me and my work. I have yet to test the unit other than to see how HSS/SCS work and they perform just fine with both the xPLOR/eVOLV line of strobes. I’ll be posting more as I have the time to test the units and finally in commercial work. So stay tuned.
UPDATE November 11 2017
Still practicing and boy to get cinematic film ain’t easy. But hey if it was everyone could do it! It sure is fun to learn though. Using ND filters really helps.
It’s also nice to know that the Mavic can take RAW stills in the form of the DNG format. Granted not as high res as my MF camera, but still good! What I did learn though is when I set my shutter speed at a low number, usually around 1/125th or lower when I take stills that have motion I get motion blur. Makes perfect sense, I’m just not accustomed to switching from film to stills. Learnings…..
Yep, it was time. Time to try something new, to feel uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone. Film, stills, creativity from a new perspective. How does anyone expect to grow simply by being ‘safe?’ FAA certification is on tap. Using light and motion….
For about 38 years I was a ‘suit.’ A pure corporate guy whose career started at the bottom and worked its way to COO of a Fortune 100 company. But now having been a small business owner running a full time commercial photography firm I can safely say that even if I had the chance, I’d never go back. I say that I photograph just to meet people and it’s true. My camera is just a convenient excuse to meet and befriend other artists.
One of my clients is a symphony in Dallas, TX. And over the years I have become friends with many of the musicians in the orchestra along with people in Marketing, Development and many other departments. Just recently I was tasked by the VP of Marketing to create an image of 90 of the musicians in the lighting style of the Dutch Masters paintings.
While doing so the two co concertmasters, Alex and Nathan began fooling around during a toast by intertwining their glasses and arms like newlyweds! Of course the whole orchestra HOWLED with laughter and no photographer would pass up that decisive moment to capture it on film. Ah the blackmail leverage I now possess!
Then during the creation of another part of the marketing collateral I was asked to do a portrait of several of the senior members of the orchestra.
But during that time two of the video team from Genius House Media were there filming their version of James Cordin’s “Carpool Karaoke” by having Alex, Nathan, Erin, Lydia and Kara ride through Dallas playing their instruments. So often there’s friction between photographers and videographers, but in the case of Adam and Darren from Genius House, they feel more like just collaborative creatives. I so enjoy working along side them when our work intersects I just had to create a photo of them goofing around.
My whole point to this post is this; what good is life without the camaraderie and companionship of other creatives? Like I said, my camera is simply an excuse.
One of my clients had a concept for their upcoming publicity campaign. He wanted the shots to all resemble the Dutch Master’s style of lighting. Not too difficult EXCEPT it involved 90 musicians with their instruments along with props that include table settings, flowers, wine…you get the picture, no pun intended.
Even though I’ve shot there many times from both the house and from the backstage vom it was always done under normal house/stage lighting. He felt that the Center’s lighting designer could recreate the lighting needed for the shot. When he sent me a photo of the lighting I thought “Oh gosh that’s not going to work well. I know his stage lighting person did his best, but he doesn’t really have the right instruments to obtain the light they’re looking for.”
And photos never come with a back story. So if the light is not right no one is ever going to think “Gosh Mark must have been dealing with someone else’s lighting, that’s why the shot looks that way…” LOL yeah right it’s up to me to make sure the light looks right! After all it’s my shot!
So I decided to take four xPLOR600s, rent stands locally and fly the modifiers in checked baggage I felt I would need to do the job. Since I’d have to side light all of the musicians and keep the lights out of frame I knew I would need two modifiers that would evenly spread light, one that could throw light a long distance with pinpoint accuracy and one that would throw light a long distance, yet provide an even spread of light.
The two PCB Omni reflectors would do the job for an even light spread for the musicians closest to the strobes. One Bowens 12.5″ High Performance Reflector with Parabolic Design would throw the light over the Omnis and not bleed more light where I didn’t want it. And finally the PCB Retro Laser (sadly no longer available…) which can be focused, would throw light the furthest distance from where the strobes were placed applying light on the musicians on the right hand side of the stage with pinpoint accuracy. (Stage left/House right in stage terms) Be aware that with the exception of the Bowens reflector I have modified all PCB modifiers to Bowens mounts.
I had 45 minutes to set up the lights, determine which elevation and distance was the best and balance the lights. My partner and I communicated via cell phones/Bluetooth headsets so she could do the fine placement adjustments as I took test shots before the talent was led onto the stage. The Marketing VP was communicating with his stage manager to tell her if people needed to move slightly to avoid being in another person’s shadow or the shadow of a prop.
I was using a Medium Format Camera for this shot which was placed about 250 feet from the stage. I controlled the xPLOR600s using an XT-32C controller mounted on my Pentax 645Z. I had zero issues with transmission from the controller to any of the strobes. I was shooting tethered and the client was sitting next to me as I shot to review the images in real time. Their new CEO was also next to me and I asked her to press the shutter so she could say ‘she took the cover shot’ LOL!!!!
Using battery powered xPLOR600s was a pure godsend. The power they produced overpowered the stage lighting as I knew they would. The ability to move the lights around without concern for a power plug is epic! And even though I used the lights all day they never even came close to running out of power. But my camera went through two….
Most people don’t realize just how powerful strobes are compared to constant light. The Marketing VP commented that he could not believe I was overpowering their 5000 watt stage lights. LOL, a simple method to help him understand was to divide 5000 by 125, my shutter speed which yields 40 watt seconds of light. I was shooting the strobes at 1/8th to ¼ power which is much more bright than the stage lighting.
UPDATE December 21 2017
I conducted a dance session using both the Quick Strip Box and Lantern. Below is one of the images I created using just the Lantern with my DIY skirt to control spill.
UPDATE December 9 2017
I recently used a Quick Strip box combined with other modifiers for a studio session. The unit is both quick to set up and provides an excellent quality of light.
UPDATE October 20 2017
My client has incorporated some of my publicity imagery into their marketing campaign.
I HATE putting together softboxes, always have. And the worst are strip boxes! Wrestling with those damn rods drives me crazy. So when I heard about Edward’s “Quick” softboxes I thought “Oh sure, just another cheap gimmick from someone….” And boy was I wrong! When I received two of his Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick StripBoxes I was blown away at the design of how they go together. By literally pushing down on a central collar the box is all done! And using Velcro to attach the inner baffle is genius rather than those silly little baby snaps! I leave two of the Velcro tabs attached to the inner baffle and simply fold up the strip box once I’m done. It’s as easy as an umbrella. Oh and the quality of light it produces is excellent. And unlike so many other manufacturers he supplies a quality grid with his units. What’s not to like?
Then there’s his Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern. I have always used an overhead light for almost all of my dance/portrait imagery. But I was never quite pleased using a strip box, a Fresnel or an umbrella. I often have limited ceiling space so the modifiers I was formerly using made my space too low for dancer’s jumping or they didn’t produce the quality of light I desired. When I first received the lantern I loved the way it assembled and the quality of light it produces. I believe his intent when producing this modifier is to allow even light to be thrown out across a room. It’s great for that, but I wanted to be able to control the light from spilling when that’s the effect I was after. After researching what film people use for overhead lights I found the Chimera Pancake Lantern Softbox with Skirt. So my solution was to cut an old PCB umbrella and make it into the ‘skirt’ for my strobe lantern. I control how the spill flows using old fashion wooden clothespins to roll up the side of the skirt I want to be exposed. It works great! He produced his own video which shows how the lantern is assembled.
For my most recent dance sessions my clients wanted to shoot against black seamless. Black seamless is much less forgiving than shooting against other colors. Separating the talent from the background means how one uses light will determine how much separation occurs. So for this session, an overhead and rim lights were absolutely necessary in addition to a key light. The form of dancers is the most important so losing any parts of their body due to poor, insufficient or uneven lighting would be completely unacceptable by me or my client.
I’m happy with the quality of light produced by his modifiers. The assembly design of these two products is excellent. Edward produces fine products and I never hesitate to use them when they are the right tool for the right job.
UPDATE November 8 2017
My client has used several of the publicity imagery in and around the greater Seattle area on billboards and bus banners.
My partner Tracy Martin completed and the client has released the film she created for their upcoming fall production of Holiday Inn. The film is a behind the scenes look into the making of the production which includes my publicity photo shoot for the show. This film will be shown nationwide through Fathom Entertainment in movie theaters. In the film you will catch short glimpses of the gear I used which includes xPLOR600, eVOLV200s, Parabolix 35D, Cheetahstand’s Quick Lantern among other items.
UPDATE October 12 2017
In my review of Cheetahstand’s Quick Stripbox and Lantern I have shown my lighting setups for a different dance troupe. You can view that post here.
I was recently hired to do an annual studio dance session by one of my long time clients. I’m posting this to show how I use xPLOR, eVOLV, Cheetahstand, CononMark, etc lights and modifiers in a session. This was an all-day session lasting approximately 6.5 hours of nonstop shooting. I had charged both the Xplor and eVOLV lights to full the day before. I never even ran close to running out of battery power on any of the strobes. All of the strobes showed half full at the end of the day. My Canon 1DXII showed 25% battery life left at the end of the day to give you some reference. I was using the WFT-E6A wireless transmitting dongle on my camera to wirelessly tether my rig to my iPad so the client could view the images as they happened. Using the transmitter uses more battery life than without.
There seems to be quite a bit of ‘talk’ that certain brands of modifiers/lights/etc. must be used in order to ‘be a pro.’ Nonsense. How one uses gear, how one engages with the talent and how one uses their imagination are the most important part of imagery to my clients. So I post this in hopes that it will help other shooters who are interested in multi light set ups, but not hung up on brand names or scientific theories about what makes a true parabola or other talking points. When people ask me what is the one thing I would have for gear over everything else, I always say your imagination. Years ago I was blessed to be able to spend time with Annie Leibovitz and I asked her “How do I shoot more like you?” Her response? “Don’t shoot like me Mark, shoot like you. It’s the only way to develop your own style.”
Some of my final images.
UPDATE September 29 2017
In response to a question left below this post I am updating it to show how the eVOLV 200s fit nicely onto the AD-B2 Twin Head Bracket with the Skins attached. I’ve also included how I pack my Pelican 1510 Case With Padded Dividers (one of many I own!) to travel when using one xPLOR600 and three eVOLV 200s. BTW this size of Pelican is carry on legal for domestic travel in the US.
Like all things there are items that make tons of sense to some people and seem frivolous to others. It’s that way with everything. During my on course motorcycle road racing days I laughed when others would have fancy rear sets, carbon fiber this and that added to their race bikes. I found more functional items better. Like all things, to each his own. Such is the case with the Flashpoint Silicone Skins for eVOLV 200s. I laughed when I read on a blog “A fool is easily parted from his money” in the discussions about the skins.
I must admit that when I first was made aware of the skins I thought to myself “Uh those seem a bit silly, but they sure are colorful!” And then I wondered if the cutouts were accurate. I had a terrible experience with LPA, better known as Pocket Wizard when they released their FlexTTL line of triggers for the Canon 580 line of speed lights. The range was poor and their answer was a cluster fuck of comedy. First they sent us a ‘sock’ that we were to wrap around the speed lights to increase the range. This was until they produced a hard shell ‘case’ for the 580s to ‘shield’ the receivers from the errant RF signals produced by the flash unit. But when they produced the hard cover you could not fit an external battery connector into the speed light. Worse yet they then manufactured a workaround plug and CHARGED YOU FOR ONE. That customer service fiasco put the nail in the coffin for me and I’ve never even looked at LPA gear since. For me customer service is as important as the gear.
So the first skin I got was an orange one. I was very pleased to find that it fit the eVOLV perfectly. All cutouts are accurate and the fit is, well like a glove. I love the material since it adds grip to the unit. You see I’m a grip tape addict. I’ve put grip tape on EVERY SINGLE strobe I’ve ever owned. I had to send two Einsteins in for repair and Lori their stellar customer service person sent me a note asking if I had stock in 3M because of the amount of grip tape I had on my Steins! In the heat of setting up and striking, myself, my assistants, my partner are all furiously working. Dropping a light BEFORE the shoot would be horrible. Most lights are a bit slippery so grip tape is a godsend. It may look ugly, but my clients could care less how much I tape my gear. (My Fuji X100T has more grip tape than I care to admit)
The second and unforeseen benefit of the colors is being able to tell what group I’ve set each light to. I can certainly see that this would mean very little to those who use one or two lights. But I seldom if ever use less that four lights during a session….and my memory sucks. I currently use Kids’ ABC Flash cards hung from my light stands to identify which light is in which group. But when I’m using the eVOLVs now I have a Post It on my controller that says “Orange A, White B, Blue C….etc.”
Will they protect the units if they’re dropped? Donno….maybe? I’ve only ever dropped one strobe, an Einstein from waist height onto concrete. Bulb broke, modeling light broke. Had an xPLOR600 fall over on location. Fell onto dirt from about 7 feet up, impact was on the modifier, a PCB Omni reflector. Reflector took a nice beating, but nothing happened to the strobe.
A third benefit I also did not anticipate is not having to use homemade fiber or rubber washers on my grip gear now. Because the skins are silicone they grip really well when tightened down onto a small surface like an umbrella swivel. Never thought of that, but it’s great. Do I like them? Yeah I do and I didn’t think I would. But then again, to each his/her own!
These are my initial impressions of the Adorama’s FP Studio 400. SERIOUSLY, $119.95 for this studio strobe? Seriously? When I was starting out 14 years ago I was excited to buy the PCB Einsteins at the ‘pre release’ price of $429.00. Sure it has 640ws of power, great t:1 performance and customer service second to none in the industry. But back then I was just starting out and counting pennies or maxing out my credit cards was the order of the day. I had a day job as a suit, but two kids to put through college. Plus I needed to purchase his plug in Cybersync receivers to control the Steins remotely.
So when I received the FP Studio 400 I didn’t have very high expectations. First off it’s a corded strobe and I’ve moved almost completely to cordless self-powered units. Because I almost always shoot with multiple strobes, on booms, in high positions, on location, blah blah blah so the freedom of being cordless is what I want most often. BUT in studio I do miss a bright modeling light whenever I’m using my gobo modifier with steel gobos. Those suck up light like no body’s business and an LED modeling light does very little to show me if the gobo is in focus or where the pattern is landing.
The unit is made out of plastic with the LED panel and controls at the back. Although I prefer to have the readout and controls on the side, it really makes little difference since everything you want to know is on a R2/X1 readout on the transmitter. The one thing I was very interested in determining is if the Bowens mount fit all of my modifiers. It does and in a tight manner. As a matter of fact one of my favorite modifiers, my Fresnel head fits onto the unit very well. I was a bit concerned that the length of the modeling light would not allow me to use the Fresnel head in its widest focus which is pushed all the way in. It does so without an issue. And my gobo modifier is very happy when I use this strobe since the modeling light works well.
Does it perform HSS? Yep it sure does! Tested using an R2 transmitter on my Canon 1DXII it worked all the way up to 1/8000th without any banding. No TTL, but I’m not a TTL guy anyway. I still cannot get over that this strobe costs what I would spend if I bought lunch at 5 bucks five days a week for a month and a few cups of coffee on the weekend! So for anyone who is starting out shooting in studio or people who need an ‘extra’ strobe, this is the one I would choose. The value/cost/features of the light is incredible!
So this weekend I will be able to test this light’s stopping performance during a dance session. Stay tuned…
UPDATE October 2 2017
I have written a post about a dance session I conducted that uses these items. You can view that post here.
I recently created a dance session using a wide range of the Godox strobe system:
- Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS (4)
- Flashpoint Portable 600ws Extension FlashHead (3)
- Flashpoint eVOLV 200 (3)
- Flashpoint Zoom R2 Manual Flash (1)
- Flashpoint eVOLV Dual Power Twin Head (1)
- Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head (1)
My goal was to create the illusion of a stage, a grand hall using light, shadow and atmosphere. This was the very first time I used every single Godox light I have including a speed light. What is wonderful is how seamlessly all of the lights integrate into a system. I could not be happier with this line of strobes.
All shot with a Canon 1DXII, EF24-70 II. Most images shot at 1/500th at various f stops, ISO 100. I have quite a few reviews of the gear I sighted above. The purpose of this post is to simply show how I use the gear rather than update each review. I find actual usage much more helpful for me and hope this helps you as well.
About 50% of my work takes me out of state for client work. I believe many people view that as ‘cool’ and in many ways it is. BUT hauling gear to and fro on airlines is NOT so COOL. Because of the number of miles I travel each year I have top status on several airlines which is a godsend. I’m allowed 3 bags free as is my partner so between us we can haul 6 fifty pound bags without being charged. And thank goodness! This does not include gear we rent on site either!
Won’t be able to share any of the images from this shoot for about two months…NDAs….
The other day I got a little bitty reflector for my Flashpoint eVOLV 200s called the eVOLV 200 Mini Reflector. I thought to myself “How cute, I wonder what I’d use this for?” You see I have TONS of small reflectors that must have come with other stuff I’ve purchased over time. I seldom use any of the mini ones, but have tried to figure out how to use them ‘in some way.’ I recently did a test of the new AD-B2 mounts for my eVOLV 200s and discovered that they produce more light than the S Brackets I’ve been using. Most likely it’s due to light not escaping through the back of the bracket and the more reflective surface of the AD-B2 over the S Bracket. So after watching the solar eclipse this morning I thought I’d do a little test with the new cute reflector. I placed one eVLOV200 into one of my many S Brackets using the 7″ cone that came with one of my xPLOR600 strobes. Next I did the same thing but added the little reflector I received to the cone. Here are my results:
All shot at 1:1 with the eVOLV200. The bare bulb in the S Bracket was pushed so that the collar of the bare bulb bracket was flush with the base of the cone. Light pointed directly at my Sekonic L358 set to a shutter speed of 1/100th, ISO 100 from 10 feet away.
- S Bracket with 7″ cone: f18
- S Bracket with 7: cone AND the mini cone: f29
And yes it will work inside a softbox too, you will need to push the reflector onto the bulb once the softbox is installed into the S Bracket.
So if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to increase the light output of your 200, this is a pretty inexpensive way other than some DIY options. Just posted this as an FYI.