Alien Bee

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by come together studios, Dec 20, 2009.

  1. I am looking for a strobe system to shoot weddings with. I have looked into every brand on the market. I have read great things about Profoto, Elinchrom, Broncolor and Alien Bee. Profoto and Broncolor being the most expensive followed by Elinchrom then Alien Bee. As far as budget goes Profoto and Broncolor are out. So do I go for Elinchrom for a little more money or the very reasonable Alien Bees. I can get 3 Alien Bee heads a Beauty Dish, Softbox, Cyber Commander, stands, Vagabond battery and umbrellas for the price of just the basic Elinchrom Ranger kit with no extras. Sounds like a no brainier right! Not really. Here's my problem and my question. Does anyone else see the poor quality of light given off by the bees? I understand you get what your paying for but I never read anything bad about the bees harsh yellowish/red light. I have looked at dozens of photographers using bees and they all have the same hard light with a "flashy" color tone. Is this the photographers using them wrong? If so can anyone send me links to there sites using them correctly? I would like to buy Bees and buy American to support the economy but can not sacrifice quality to do so. Thanks so much for any responses.
  2. "flashy"? You're saying the Ranger doesn't have this quality? Can you put up two examples? They have to be straight out of camera because people fiddle a lot in post nowadays...
    A Ranger setup is much lighter than the Bee equivalent, but also costs multiple times more.
  3. I do not own the Alien Bees so have no pictures to post. I'm referring to other peoples pictures I have seen while researching. I have seen a over all better quality photo from the Ranger pictures I have seen. So I am trying to find Alien Bee photos of better quality then I can seem to find. What I mean by "flashy" is a harsher light with a poor quality of color tones. The Profoto/Elinchrom/Broncolor seem to put out a more consistent light to models faces. A light the wraps around the body in a more natural way. I apologize that I cant exactly put into words the difference. I'm not saying Alien Bee can not have a good quality. I'm just having trouble finding examples of it. Thanks so much for your time.
  4. The Aliens and White Lightning are the same company. The Lightnings are more powerful, with a stronger modeling light. I have the White Lightnings for this reason. However you can't go wrong with the Aliens. For repair you cannot beat this company. Their turnaround time is about a week.
  5. Todd,
    First, it might help if you were to post links to examples of what you have in mind.
    Aside from that, I can tell you that I have a set of Bees and am quite happy with them. Amongst other things, I use them for art reproduction. I have a developed a workflow that results in a very high degree of colorimetric accuracy. I haven’t noticed any problems with the light or color quality that were not a direct result of my own inexperience and improper technique.
    For example, have a look at All pictures were shot with Bees and a 5DII. The group portrait on the splash page has some problems, such as the light on the face of the bass trombonist (back left); that was at least partly caused by the gaffer’s tape on my homemade barndoor falling off. But the rest of the pictures I’m mostly happy with.
    Most of what you’re describing has a great deal more to do with the modifiers and the use of the lights than the lighting itself. It may well be that people who buy Bees have less money and so buy smaller softboxes (for example), or are less experienced and so don’t know how to use them effectively. I’m having a hard time figuring out how a flash head could contribute to one light doing a better job of wrapping around a model than another, but I have no trouble at all envisioning poor lighting technique doing so.
  6. I hear that Paul Buff has wonderful customer service and repair services. Which is one of the many reason I want to invest in there lights. My issue is not with there customer service. Its with there light quality. I read endless post about how great there customer service is but almost no raves about there actually quality? If you have any examples of pictures you have taken with your White Lightnings id love to see them. I really want to pull the trigger on the Alien Bees but just need some Professional examples of work using them first.
  7. Hi Ben Thanks so much for the response. I can not post the pictures I am referring to because they are not my own. I'm just saying in general I see a poor quality of light over all from pictures I have seen taken using Bees. You maybe right about it just being due to poor lightning techniques and mis use of modifiers. That's exactly what I'm trying to get to the bottom of. A flash head can most certainly contribute to how well light wraps around the body. Yes of course soft boxes etc make a big difference but the quality of the bulb and color temp output are big factors. I'm trying to get an idea from others like yourself if Paul Buff has that level of quality. Thanks for your time!
  8. I use Bees exclusively. I have no problem with "flashy" images. Light is light when it comes from a flash tube. The same technology is used in everyones lights. A high voltage triggers a discharged through a zenon tube that produces a flash of light. Electrons don't know who makes the light, zenon gas does not know who makes the lights. Light is light.
    I have no problem with color balance. I also use a white balance target in one image, generally before I start, that allows me to set the proper color balance. Perhaps those with images that are "yellowish/red" light were not propely color balanced. I have seen excellent images, properly colored, that have been taken with incadescent which are considerably more yellow than anything given off by a strobe.
    I find no compelling reason to not continuing using Alien Bees. They are light, reliable and work. The customer service is second to none. I have had one light repaired in two days. I sent the light on one day, it was received the next, repaired and sent out the same day, back in my hands the next day.
    You can order the lights. If you do not like them you can return them within 30 days for a complete refund.
  9. Thank you Reymond. That's good to hear. I really think I will go with the Alien Bees or Einstein when it comes out. Out of curiosity why does a flash tube from Profoto cost almost 11 times more money per bulb if there exactly the same. Are they ripping people off? Also if there all the same why is Alien Bee so much less money then the rest. P.S. I'm not being sarcastic and saying Alien Bee isn't as good because there cheap. I really don't know there answer to why they cost so much less.
  10. Well I am going to play the Devil's Advocate! I don't care for the Alien Bees (I have experienced color shifts using the Bee's on long shoots). I do believe there are quality of light differences, perhaps attributed to the flash tube coatings/construction or even the engineering of the parabolic reflector.... I don't know. But at a wedding reception, shooting bare bulb, I prefer my Quantum flashes over the Alien Bee's. That said, Alien Bees are very hard to beat for weddings: cheap and reliable enough. By that I mean I probably won't experience a color shift doing a relatively short formal shoot. I don't care if my flash power output varies from wedding to wedding as I don't need to exactly match the output from wedding to wedding, I can just adjust my aperture. Some photographers need incredibly accurate flash output from shoot to shoot. I might experience a color shift using my Alien Bee's during a reception... but in such lighting situations, I am not sure anyone would notice. So I can't think of any reason not to use Alien Bee's for wedding work. I would rather lose or break an Alien Bee than one of my Quantums or an Elinchrom. Now if I were building a studio it would be Profotos all the way.
  11. My main concern with using Profoto or Elinchrom for a wedding is breaking them. I am often in the rain, wind, etc. I have the Metz 76mz5 which is powerful but not beat the sun powerful. That is the same problem with Quantums. There amazing lights but not for large formals when i have to beat out the sun. I use a Metz 76 mz5 in receptions because of its amazing color consistency and power. Something that the Canon 580II falls short of in my opinion. So I need strobes with the same color consistency and power for formals. Color shifts are bad when your shooting 1500 pictures per wedding. So thank you John you have giving me something to think about.
  12. I expect that the "harsh light" that you're seeing in photos lit with Bees has more to do with the photographers, and the light modifiers they use, than with the lights themselves. Bees are affordable, so it's often the first lighting setup that photographers buy (and, for some, their last).
    I find that the light from my Bees is fine for portraits and for shooting indoor sports. Paul Buff is coming out with a new mono light that you might find interesting (not sure of the launch date).
  13. John, what you are describing is the difference between a thyristor flash (the quantums) and a normal studio flash (the bees).
    • The typical studio strobe (whether monolights like the Bees, or a pack and head system) charge the capacitors up to different voltages depending on the power level you set. Full power is the highest voltage. Color temperature of a flash tube varies with voltage. Most flashes that allow you to adjust the flash through a 6 stop range will have their color temperature go up about 300K when going from full power to 1/32 power (5 stops down).
    • For decades, small flashes like Nikon, Canon, Metz, or Quantum strobes have worked with a different kind of circuit, often referred to as "thyristor". These flashes charge the caps up to the full voltage. When you want a less powerful flash, they just electronically "break the connection" between the capacitor and flash tube. The more constant voltage means that the flash has a better controlled color temperature, typically only varying about 50K over an eight stop range from full power to 1/128 power.
    Some monolights and pack/head systems have that type of thyristor circuitry. It's pretty expensive, so you typically only see it in very expensive gear. Photogenics "Solair" monolights (about twice the price of Paul Buff "White Lightnings" and over twice the price of the Alien Bees have this circuitry. Only one majot brand of heavy studio lighting (can't remember if it was Broncolor or Profoto) uses it. The new Paul Buff "Einstein" lights (if they ever hit the market) will supposedly bring the price of thyristor flashes down to "white Lightning" levels, and combine that with a state of the art control system. Someday...
  14. My main concern with using Profoto or Elinchrom for a wedding is breaking them.​
    That is one of the reasons I advocate the Alien Bees for wedding work.
    I need strobes with the same color consistency and power for formals. Color shifts are bad when your shooting 1500 pictures per wedding​
    I would disagree with that, at least to some extent. As example, shooting wedding formals indoors- is even 1/2 a stop (which would be pretty bad) really that bad? Especially with instant feedback, the ability to adjust the aperture, or even fix in post? And the same would apply to white-balance. It would need to be a drastic color shift from one image to the next to really mean something at a wedding. And color shifts throughout the day are inevitable at weddings: your color temperatures actually change! I'm sure you would do a CWB for indoor formals and another if moving outdoors. So that takes care of your immediate color and if it shifts because of a cold or hot strobe, it isn't going to be a lot over the course of that particular portion of the shoot. And finally at a wedding reception, you would need to be shooting ISO 400 or less throughout the event to even worry about a color shift (you aren't getting the best color rendition shooting higher ISOs). And provided you do, I can't imagine being able to notice a color shift during a reception. Now if I have 150 dances, each in the same pink costume, in front of the same backdrop, with the same lights and I notice a few different shades of pink as the shoot progresses, that's a different story! Which is why I am not a fan of the Alien Bees, but they are what I use at a wedding because they are cheap and reliable enough. Scott Kelby had a blog post (can't find it now) where I think he asked Joe McNally to tell him what was lit with a large strobe/softbox and what was lit with a diffused speedlight and he had the examples posted. Joe got it right after studying the images awhile. The point being, you have to actually study the images to discern. As photographers, we tend to do just that. But most of our clients do not. I would rather have three Alien Bees than one Elinchrom. If one Bee breaks, I have two more. Or maybe I want to gel one blue at a reception, one amber, and one not gelled but one-stop under for fill and just get some interesting lighting going on. If I remember my lighting set up in the shot below, I have a Quantum with a blue gel in the background, an AB, not gelled bounced into the corner/ceiling and a light red gel on my camera flash, bouncing the flash off the ceiling for "locational" fill. The strong reds are from the DJs lighting scheme. When you look at it this way, it would be impossible to see any color shift from the lights!
    @ Joseph, thanks for that explanation. My color shift with the Alien Bee's happened slowly throughout the day however. I've read from others that as the units get warmer (even though they are fan cooled), that the color tends to shift even though the power remains unchanged (at least physically by me). I'm not sure if this is part of the differences you mention but I can confirm I've had it happen!
  15. Todd Johnson Out of curiosity why does a flash tube from Profoto cost almost 11 times more money per bulb if there exactly the same. Are they ripping people off?​
    Neither makes their own tubes. It takes specialized equipment to produce the glass, form the glass, and provide the zenon. Each may have slightly different specifications from the manufacturer. They may also specify coatings on the tube that may be different from each other. The color of the light from a zenon tube can be slightly modified by the voltage and current through the tube.
    But to me it does not matter if there is a color difference between brand A and brand B. The differences are subtle and would only be apparent when matched to a known, calibrated color source. Your eyes are not good enough. Using a known reference is the only way to get a true color balance. And you have to always photograph in a location where the light never changes during the entire session. During a wedding the light will change and that will affect the color, even with the strobes. When doing formals if there is even one window in the church it will affect the color balance slightly as the light changes, unless you photograph when it is night time. The color is also affected the local lights when using shutter speeds above 1/60th. Each cycle of the regular lights is different depending on when you take the image.
    And lastly, most people will never notice a slight color shift in the images. As long as all the images are consistent, balanced to a known source you will be OK. In fact many people I have photographed prefer that their images be warmed up slightly as it makes the skin look better. Just make the bridal dress white if that was the orginal color.
    Alien Bees work. They work well. Yeh, I would like a $25K Phase One camera. But in the end for the work that I do a $2K body will work just as well. Consider the reality. Not every one needs the absolute best equipment that money can buy. Sometimes you can get there with a Yugo instead of a Maybach and have a couple of Yugos to spare.
  16. Thank you Robert, John, Raymond and Joseph for all of your help. I'm thinking for the money the Einstein will be my best option for weddings. If it ever really comes out. It sure has been "Coming Soon" for sometime now. I really only need it for formals. My Metz 76 Mz5 works great with a few off camera 580II's for the church and reception. On a side note for anyone looking for a upgrade from the 580II the Metz 76mz5 really did take my work to the next level. Its worth the money. The power combined with the fill flash is perfect.
  17. I use the AB's for a few reasons.
    1) Cheap (relatively) and replaceable if one should bounce.
    2) lighter weight = faster setup/teardown.
    3) I use Radiopoppers with them and can now turn the power up or down from my camera.
    4) A really great green color body.
  18. Yes, the Einsteins look really nice. The delay is unfortunate, but I'd rather have the design right and wait a bit. I'm particularly interested in the short flash duration because I shoot sports, too.
    My AB800s have been great. They're light and rugged - just perfect for mounting in gym ceilings (with appropriate safety cables and rigging, of course).
  19. I'm torn between recommending Alien Bees and not doing so, based on my own experience with them. I have two. Neither has ever fallen or been subject to any shock whatsoever, yet the modelling light tracking in one of them doesn't work any more. I had used them perhaps a half-dozen times when I noticed it, and alas, they were out of warranty by then. I reported it to Alien Bees and their quoted cost to fix it (40$) was more than it was worth to me. It's somewhat sad that I have 20, 30 and 40 year old electronic-reliant cameras that still work perfectly and yet this simple electronic mechanism failed w/o even seeing much use. I don't think Alien Bees is particularly prone to this - modern quality control has gone WAY down in the last 10 years or so, everywhere.
    That said, the flash function of both Alien Bee units works perfectly and accurately, and ultimately that's what matters in a studio flash. A decent flash meter can tell you all you need about lighting ratios. The modelling light feature is minor.
  20. I have been looking around for some lights also and have been hearing only good things about Alien Bees. I'm stuck between the Bees and Calumet Genesis 400. With the Genesis 2 light kit and add on their transmitter and receiver and it would run just over $500, where a 2 light Bee kit with their trans and rec would be over $850. I have delt with Calumet over the years and have always been happy with the service and products. Just wondering if anyone has ever used the Genesis light kits?
  21. Re WL quality, I've used a single White Lightning Ultra 1200 exclusively since 1989, either a shoot-through umbrella or the big old salad bowl diffuser. never had a reason to get anything else, but I'm not shooting weddings anymore. Every year I keep thinking "this is the year the flash tube is gonna blow", but it keeps on going. I used to carry it in carry on bag before 9-11, believe it or not.
  22. Todd: you can link to the "flashy" images even if they're not your own. That's what URL links are for :p
    I'm thinking you're seeing the difference in a modifier as well. The reflectors on bees are conical instead of parabolic in shape. Your quantum flash has a standard parabolic reflector...
    There are color shifts at lower than 1/4 power but most studio strobes will do the same unless you get into expensive 2K+ setups...
  23. "Does anyone else see the poor quality of light given off by the bees?" I always assumed light was light.
  24. A White Lightning pic, shot on valentines day this past year while doing instant prints. Lighting looks fine to me, it's not harsh, not yellow, nice wrap around quality. I used two 60 inch white umbrellas. Todd, what do you think?
  25. Ken its not the URL. I mean I do not want to show someones work as my example of poor lighting. That would not be right.
  26. Bob I think it is a very good picture. Well lit with good wrap and a soft quality but to be honest I see the Yellowish/red tint that the Bees seem to give off. Maybe I'm nuts. Nobody else seems to think they do so I guess I'm wrong. Regardless of weather the tint is there or not it is a very nice portrait and I thank you for sharing it with me.
  27. Actually the photo isn't really that good. It is a simple setup I use for instant prints, on location. For studio work I get a bit more technical and often use 5 or 6 lights, consisting of barndoors, grids, huge 6 foot soft boxes, reflectors, things of that nature.

    Although I don't see what your are seeing flash tubes can often give out different Kelvin color temperatures. According to White Lightning their flash tube ratings I think are 5900. I could be wrong. You can call them to be sure - 615-383-3982. Needless to say you can also dial in your camera settings to whatever Kelvin rating you wish, such as less yellows and reds.
  28. Whatever color balance you might see in the image, a simple custom white-balance at the time of the shoot will give you the proper color (if correctly done) no matter what light you are using. The problem I have had in the past with the AB is that that color temperature will change as the flash head gets hotter. I can't stress enough however, that the differences would NOT be noticeable unless EVERYONE was wearing the exact same outfit and the shoot went on for hours.
    As far as "quality of light" goes, define quality. Most of the time we define quality of light as something like hard to soft. A hard light is a small light source. Period. The smaller the light source, the harder the light. The harder the light, the more defined the shadow edge is. I could use a Profoto bare bulb or an Alien Bee bare bulb: both will be hard light sources (assuming you are photographing something larger than the flash tube!). At the other end we have soft light. And here is the key to soft light: the larger the light source in relationship to your subject, the softer the light. So as the light source gets larger we achieve a more wrap around kind of light and a very soft, gradual edge shadow. So, I could put a large softbox on either a Profoto or an AB and provided that softbox is larger than my subject, I will have wrap around lighting. The tricky part is not to confuse diffused lighting as soft lighting. By nature, soft lighting is diffused. However, hard lighting can also be diffused. Imagine a strobe with it's reflector pointed at something. Put a diffusion panel directly in front of the strobes reflector. You still have a small light source, you're just scattering/diffusing the output (slight softening of the shadow edge but not gradually). Now start to move that panel forward, away from the bulb. You will see the light source gets larger and larger. The larger it gets, the softer the light becomes. Obviously, this all has to do with modifying the light. And again leads back to the Alien Bee's being good enough. I find it amusing that Bluff & Co are making new, improved lights (Einsteins) which simply seems to confirm that there are better lights! But I don't need commercial consistency with my lights. I don't need to photograph the same exact object at the same exact color on two different days. I don't need that type of ultra exact output of power and color temperature. If I don't need it, why pay for it? And if you find you do need it- you are in a position to bill the client for it.
  29. "I mean I do not want to show someones work as my example of poor lighting. That would not be right."
    If you said hey this looks like the guys did a bad job w/ the lighting and really suxxxx, I'd understand, but if you just want to point at an image and say the colors look a bit off because it's an AB, I think that's ok.
    What would be nearly impossible to tell w/o more control over the actual image is what was done during post? What room was it in? (walls give a color cast)? What was the ambient light? What was their workflow? What did the other images from the shoot look like? There are a lot of things that can influence color balance far more than running the bees at low power levels. I'd honestly say unless you're shooting catalog work, you'd be hard pressed to notice comparing photos.
    A quick way for you to find out is buy some bees (they have a 60 day return policy) and consider the shipping cost a "rental fee". Stop by your local Calumet or other photo store and rent a Profoto setup (or Elinchrom or whatever you're thinking about are fairly cheap...maybe $100/day for a decent setup). Spend a day w/ a model and run a few hundred images through each. Show us what the images look like in lightroom. Then you can say it makes a difference or not.
    If you're running these at a wedding reception, formals, etc., there are so many other variables that will cause color casts in your image...
  30. Ken Its not any one picture. Its a collection on photographers pictures that I have seen who are using bees. Maybe I'm nuts because no one else seems to agree with me. In the end I think you are right. I will just have to get some and try it for myself. I do like what I hear about there customer service and there pricing is unbeatable.
  31. one thought about the cost or price of the alien bees is that they only sell direct, there is no profit being made by retailers which obviously would increase prices, I am happy with mine and have no complaints about the images I am getting when I use mine. It's all in knowing how to use the lights and the modifiers to get the desired result.
  32. see my site
    people folder
    everything is with alienbees
  33. Todd, if you have a sense about some image aspect from repeated exposure to seeing it ... trust your eyes. Your impressions are more important than anyone else's when it comes to what may affect your work.
    Light isn't just light, and there is a reason why certain lighting products are found in most every professional studio and rental house and others are not. These products are so consistent in their output and color temp that they are used with Mutlishot digital backs that do 4, 8, or even 16 shots per image.
    That said, a level of performance like that is probably overkill to the tenth power for wedding work. Then there is a cost threshold to take into account, so the top brands are probably out of the question anyway ... unless you find a good deal on used gear.
    IMO, it is better to step up when buying lighting because even inexpensive gear gets expensive if you have to swap it out ... trust me, that is direct experience speaking. So, choose carefully going in and you'll have a solid investment in lighting gear to serve you for many years to come.
    Lots of choices out there besides those you mentioned ... so look around a bit and explore your options.
  34. "Does anyone else see the poor quality of light given off by the bees?"
    Todd, I'm so glad you asked this question!
    For many years I used a couple Sunpak monolights, which I loved. They both went on the fritz about the same time, so I started looking around for new studio lights. Alien Bees were highly recommended to me by a camera club member, and I bought three lights, and two soft boxes. I have the same set-up as before, the soft boxes are a similar size, and yet..... the light is funny.
    I can't put my finger on it either, but I don't get the softness of light I got with my Sunpaks. If I had never used studio lights before, I would have said it was my imagination, but it is definitely not the same. I wish I could show some side-by-side examples comparing the Alien Bees with the Sunpaks, but I don't have the Sunpaks anymore.
    The Alien Bees light does seem to be harsher, and harder to work with. I am seriously thinking about replacing them with another brand. If White Lightning is just a more powerful Alien Bee, I think I'll avoid it!
  35. I disagree that light is light. A given light level at a given colour temp will look totally different from one light to another. However its correctable, its quick and easy to tune a light that you use to give the results you want.
    The reflectors /grids/softboxes that each manufacturer supplies also vary wildly in quality.
    Photograph your source reflector and see how even around the bowl it is, some are shocking.
    Lights are not there to do your job for you, They are a tool that you need to learn to manipulate in such a way that gives you the results you seek. Because its different to another light you've used doesn't make it inferior, it just means you have failed to learn the nuances of the new source.
    Thats the craft of a photographer.

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