Why I Got An AlienBees B800

MeetUp Session: Setting up a home based studio + understanding studio lighting (Mentor Session)


AlienBees B800

This last Saturday I went deep with Michael regarding lighting and talked about the merits of speedlights vs. studio strobes. I fully appreciate that speedlights can be used to create great lighting and, with the right setup, can mimic the lighting I can get out of a studio strobe; that is, if I am very particular about the tight lighting setup around my model, and I put in extra effort with faster lenses, such as the thrifty fifty. With that having been said, and after having done a 2 bulb continuous lighting setup with a single speedlight during a portrait shoot, decided to go for the AlienBees B800 for $280 because:
1. The AlienBees B1600 is surprisingly lightweight, the B800 is even lighter!

2. The B800 can go from 10-320 Ws, while my Canon 430 EX II is unlikely to put out any more than 60 Ws; this necessitates moving the speedlight within a couple, or maybe 3 feet from the subject, indoors, at ISO 100, f/3.5, 50 mm w/ x1.6 crop factor giving 80 mm.

3. I can port around an AlienBees in my bike panniers with a Vagabond mini in the future with two strobes for <$300.

4. I can use the cheap silver umbrellas I already have as part of my <$60 continuous lighting 3 stand kit, so this acts as an addon for now.

5. I can start with optical slave and sync both the 430 EX II and strobe at no additional short-term cost, no need for PocketWizards.

6. The B800 is well over 5 times more powerful than my 430 EX II. It is at least 4 times more powerful than Canon’s top of the line 600 EX-RT that might, might, put out 75 Ws, and that is being generous. This doesn’t even consider the $500 price tag for a single speedlight, I can nearly get two B800s for the same price, and not worry about heat or continuous shooting at all!

7. I can now feel free to spread out the two front light stands in front of my subject using the 2 reflective umbrellas, no need to move light stands within a few feet anymore with the B800 and a speedlight at +0 power, utilizing it conservatively.

8. No more fiddling with f/3.5 or lower in attempting to use 2 continuous lights mixed with a single speedlight.

9. No more missed shots due to f/2.8, or even f/3.5 shallow depth of field. Even f/3.5 is sometimes a challenge for the sharpness I am after.

10. Less fiddling with the light stands and camera, more time is spent interacting with the model for the limited time I have for the shoot.

11. My PocketWizard Plus III’s sync cable connects to the sync port on the AlienBees for future wireless upgrades. This will really be handy out in full sunlight or challenging indoor shoots where multiple flashes are already present, making my optical slaves problematic at best.

12. I want to pop off as many shots as I want, both in-studio, and out, without worrying about heat or tube life — I could care less, I want great shots! Being able to replace the flash tube puts my mind at ease and encourages me to pound it more often, each and every week. This also serves to motivate me to shoot more often and create more great images.

13. The modeling light is really nice to get some idea of what the flash will do to my shots, whereas continuous lighting and speedlight always kept me guessing.

14. Keep my 430 EX II at +0 power, reserving +2 and +3 for the shots that require the utmost of portability and spontaneity where extreme power or reach is occasionally necessary, rather than being pushed weekly. I don’t want to abuse the 430 EX II at plus powers constantly, wearing it’s tube out faster than necessary, or generating unnecessary heat during summers, or even having to think about it for that matter (this has been offputting). The 430 EX II manual specifically states that no more than 20 continuous shots may be done without first having had a 10 minute rest period of no shots, to avoid overheating of the flash head or degrading of it’s performance.

15. No matter how much I play with the f/3.5 lighting setup, I can always pinpoint the side of the face lit by the continuous lighting, despite the reflective umbrella! Having two strobes in front of the subject will be awesome!

All in all I am very satisfied with my thrifty fifty, f/2.8 70-200 Sigma lens, and my continuous lighting kit with interchangeable flash and bulb heads. This gear, along with the AlienBees, will enable just about any kind of possible shoot I can come up with, at a minimum, while still enabling a future upgrade path and portability in all of my gear. Since I love to shoot low light, am doing street photography, the gear I have thus far will get plenty of use, which is my main concern, I don’t  like purchasing limited use gear.

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