White Lightning Strobes -- What's the Downside?

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by ted_springer, Sep 17, 2008.

  1. Hi,

    I have been looking into strobes for portraits, for the past few months. I've got $1000 to spend and I keep coming back to White Lightning/alien
    bees. I've heard such great things about them. Power, portability, reliability, all in one neat little package. I am thinking what's the catch? Has
    anyone had any bad experiences with White Lightning Alien Bees? If so what lights would you recommend in my price range?
  2. Oops, I just realized there is a similar thread that was just posted a few minutes ago... I am still curious to know if anyone has
    any other lighting systems to recommend.
  3. Hi Ted, I have a very high regard for the SP Excalibur system. Very affordable, very economical, very accurate white balance and output. I've used them and built my in-studio system for many years. BH Photo has them and I can't say enough good things about the quality.
  4. I have used three of the older WL strobes for about 15 years now. Thos used with film camera they have been very reliable, NO trouble or malfunctions and I would say good value and good quality... as far as the Alien Bees, thats the newer ones Ted is talking about, and I have no knowledge of that one.
    I would venture a guess and say the AB's would be a good investment.
  5. 'I am thinking what's the catch?"

    As thye used t osay in bad ads, White Lightning /Alien Bees parent company has always direct ed marketed: they don't have a distributor and they don't have dealers. On the other hand they have very aggressively implemented terrific customer relations including very fast and economical repair turn around times. The only downside I've encounterd with them is that graphics look silly.
  6. After using 4 White Lighting Ultras for over twenty years with only three repairs and turn around times of less than a week each time, I guess I'm more than a little pleased. By the way, That includes lots of bumps and bruises on the road shooting architecture and hundreds of days shooting non-stop on portraits. I've only replaced one flash tube and I broke that one. I can't even estimate how many thousands of pops have gone through these things.

    My business partner uses four of the X3200 series and got them at my suggestion about 7 years ago. He loves them.

    Make careful comparisons between the big guns and the Bees. More power and more controls on the big boys.
  7. I have both White lighting and Bee's there is no better customer service.As far as Im concerned they have a customer for life.
  8. "The only downside I've encounterd with them is that graphics look silly."

    I couldn't see myself using the Martian pink, or alien green AB units unless I was shooting kids or something. The thing I find attractive about the ABs is the compact size and weight, but I'm not particularly crazy about plastic equipment. I had all sorts of problems with plastic darkroom equipment that the manufacturer claimed was "as strong as steel".

    That is the only thing that has got me thinking about the White Lightnings. However, I'm not particularly crazy about the tube shape of the WL's. Seems like it just makes it allot easier to tip them over in a hectic studio.

    As far as outdoor work I shot many a portrait with a 400WS Norman flash and had to turn it down to 50WS being that the subjects were only 8-10 feet away.

    Indoors I got a measly 15X18' room, with 8+ foot ceilings. My Continuous Light system handles 2 types of bulbs 500 and 250Watts. In the space I got, I can only use the 250Watt bulbs(and even that is too much), the 500Watt bulbs would be like letting in the Sun, so I think I might be satisfied with the 150Watt modeling light of the ABs indoors.
  9. One suggestion, think of your possible future needs. It's easy to reduce power on any of these units for a small room space, but if you are shooting anything the needs a large depth of field or are in a gym or large space trying to shoot a big group shot, you are going to need every bit of power you can beg, borrow or steal. Reserve power is an investment in those times.
  10. One the downsides to WLs are that they are monolights. Because they are monolights they are heavier than flash heads from pack and head systems and they can be a lot of weight high up on a light stand or suspended over the set on the end of a boom.

    Because they are monolights, they each require their own power cord and AC outlet. A 3 light setup requires 3 separate outlets.

    As monolights, it's awkward to adjust their controls when they are high and out of reach on a light stand or boom, unless you have a wireless control option or even more cables for wired controls.

    Effective WS is effective nonsense. I like a manufacturer to NOT make up the specs for their product.
  11. I switched from White Lighting to Speedotron about 6 months ago, and I'm glad that I did. I still use the WL's as background lights from time to time, but I am much more pleased with the Speedotron kit. As Brooks said, monolights put a lot of extra weight up on a light stand, where a pack/head kit keeps the weight down on the ground. I had trouble locking my WL heads in to place with large softboxes on them, and actually ended up stripping one of the mounts, and had another one bend on me. The Speedotron heads are very light, and I have one in a 5x6 foot softbox on a boom with no trouble. The other thing I dislike about monolights, as Brooks mentioned, is that you need to climb up to adjust them, or run a separate control cable. I can put my powerpacks all in one spot, and control my lighting ratios without moving from my camera.
    <br>I will say that their effective WS bit, while very salesman like, is somewhat accurate-output from the X3200 measured pretty close to the output from my 2400 w/s pack in to a single head. <br>
    Monolights do have their uses, and the White Lightnings certainly aren't bad lights. I would say if you are going to only be doing portraits, without a ton of traveling, and don't plan on getting more than a few heads, then the Alien Bees would be a fine choice-I would definitely suggest getting the wireless controls so you aren't running all over adjusting power levels during a shoot. <br>
    If, on the other hand, you want to be a commercial photographer, and plan on traveling far and wide on photo shoots (and who doesn't), I would highly recommend getting a brand such as Speedotron, Profoto, Elinchrom, that is readily available at lighting and rental places, just in case something goes wrong.
  12. Brooks and Andrew bring up the fine qualities of power pack systems and they are good. However, if the power pack fails, you are out of business until repaired or replaced. With monolights, if one goes down, the rest are still operational so you are still shooting with only slight modifications.
  13. ".....However, if the power pack fails, you are out of business until repaired or replaced. With monolights, if one goes down, the rest are still operational so you are still shooting with only slight modifications...."

    It's just as simple and, depending on the power and brand, not much more expensive to have more than one power pack. If one power pack fails , something which hasn't happened to me in over 25 years of owning Speedotrons, I still have the same number of lights that can be used with a second power pack.
  14. Brooks and Tim, both of you are hijacking this thread into a pack vs. monolight discussion. And I'm also tired of correcting Tim's example of a whole pack failing!?

    I've already done it here...

    And my second post here...

    No use repeating that and getting more off topic. As to the original question, I personally feel the negative is that Buff doesn't sell to any middle man. While this is why you save a lot of the money, it also means that you have to send back any repairs to him. It also means that if you do have equipment fail, you are most likely not going to be able to rent more Buff gear while it get's repaired. However, if you have friends w/ the same stuff-- that will loan you the lights (and aren't so busy they won't have time to), then you circumvent this.

    They are an entry level lighting kit for good money, and monolights are actually easier to use if you have 2 heads or less and the wireless remote. The Alien Bees w/ thier plastic shell are really light too. However, the effective ws is non-sense, and if I wasn't leaving for Europe tomorrow I'd schedule a test w/ a friend of mine that has Buff lights.
  15. Paul Buff has pretty much dropped the "effective watt second" stuff a year or two ago. He only gives actual watt seconds in ads now. I have two B1600 and one X3200. I am an outdoor photographer who lights up BIG stuff (barns, canyons, grain elevators, freight trains.) I love them. Great value for the money.

    Kent in SD
  16. Nathan,

    Sorry that you are so irritated by two guys who are trying to help someone make a valid decision.

    Neither Brooks or I are hijacking this thread, just giving our honest information to Ted so he can make his best
    decision. I totally respect Brook's opinion and support it, I just take a different and also valid direction.

    As to your "correcting" me about power packs failing; were you there the day that one of mine exploded two
    capacitors during a portrait session with an absolutely terrified toddler and his extremely ticked off mother? Sounds
    about like standing next to a 20 guage shotgun while it fires right beside your ear. By the way, it shut me down for
    three days until a repacement could be shipped in!

    Were you in the seminar I attended about 25-30 years ago when a brand new power pack that was dealer loaned at
    the convention, (manufacturer withheld but top line European power pack system) blew up in front of an audience of
    perhaps a hundred or more people, shutting down the demonstration part of that seminar because there was no back
    up? Huge concussive and deafening sound even in the middle of a very large auditorium. You look as though your
    age doesn't fit that time line, so I'm guessing not.

    And finally were you there when my business partner had one of his huge dark packs fry in our studio? (That was
    before he switched to X3200's.) I don't recall seeing your presence there that day either, nor have I been told that
    you were at the studios of a couple of commercial shooter friends who have shared similar pack failure situations.

    So, if you weren't there for any of these events, it's understandable that you don't have that very real perspective!

    I am NOT against power packs and have used them with great success. They are wonderful systems and can/may
    last for decades without problems. But, I recognize that any mechanical or electrical/electronic device can and may
    fail and I have somewhat protected myself against that potential (rare though it is) by opting for a system that allows
    me to keep working if one key component fails.

    I don't know Ted's budget circumstances nor that of anyone else, but he may not be in a position to own a standby
    pack or be in a town where a pack for his system could be quickly rented (if available) while waiting for repairs to be
    made, but those are very valid things to consider when deciding on system requirements.

    Ted deserves to have all information from every side before making his final decision. That is the point and that's
    what Brooks and I and all other contributers to this thread (including your valuable opinion) are trying to offer..

    By the way, The lack of a middle man has actually speeded up the process for me in the three times I've had to
    have Ultra units repaired in the two plus decades I've used them. Sent from my door and returned to my door without
    having to take time to go drop it off plus pick it up at a dealer or camera store and pay their extra shipping and their
    service mark up on the repairs. To me, that's a gigantic positive. When I've had Norman's, Speedotrons, and
    Photogenic's repaired, they have all cost me much more in time and fees BECAUSE of having to go through the
    middle man.

    Entry level....I can't imagine anything working better or more easily and be more adaptable, but that's just my humble

    Have a great weekend.
  17. I use X3200's and X1600's. Love them. For the price you can't get a better outfit and the new Cybersync radio triggers are
    fantastic. I am so glad they got rid of that last trigger...pure junk.
  18. I use both Alien Bees and White Lightning Strobes. I like them both and use them for different reasons. I have 2 WL 1600's and three AB 800 I have at least 2 of each so I am never down if I need to send something for repairs. Weight has not been an issue for me If I need to put something overhead I use one of the much light AB800's. If I need to use a large softbox I use the WL which have metal mounts more powerful modeling light and stronger mounts to the ring. Also WL can adjust modeling light independently of flash power and can go lower in strobe power than AB800's. I think light modifiers end up being more expensive and make more of a difference to image than the strobe...

    There for I see no downside of the AB or WL strobes. If you have problems with these stobes, its probably not the stobes.
  19. Tim, not irrated w/ either of you-- but it's off topic and against the guidelines. The OP's question was about a specific brand. That aside.

    As for your examples, most pack systems have to have more than one capacitor in them-- if it blows, then the other caps should work fine and give you half or quarter power. But I've detailed that in the two links, and don't see why I should have to type it out again. And if the capacitor's are exploding-- what it sounds like you are describing to me is an arc issue that is caused when (older) packs are mishandled. The instructions in them warn about unplugging/plugging a cable while it's turned on.
  20. What's the downside. There is none.

    SP excalibur takes more than twice as long to recycle.
    The objetions to monolights vs power packs apply to all monolights not just WL. BTW, Paul C Buff also makes power pack strobes called Zeus. Check them out.
    Speedtron Brownline also cycle slow and the Backline are way more expensive vs Zeus.

    You can't go wrong with Alienbees, White Lightning or Zeus as long as you chose the correct producty for your usage.
  21. "Were you in the seminar I attended about 25-30 years ago when a brand new power pack that was dealer loaned at the convention, (manufacturer withheld but top line European power pack system) blew up in front of an audience of perhaps a hundred or more people, shutting down the demonstration part of that seminar because there was no back up?"

    So whose fault is that? the manufacturer, the dealer or the guy presenting the lecture? The seminar presenter me thinks, for not being professional enough to have back ups. Hopefully everybody got a refund.

    I've had or seen the following lines of gear (packs and monolights) blow up or fail on on me over the years;

    Balcar, Calumet, Comet, Elinchrom, Norman, Novatron, Profoto (Pro and Acute) , and Speedotron Blackline.

    Talk to any strobe repair people ( Flash Clinic, Helix, Irena's PRS, Robals, Light Tec (they don't repair lightign gear any more), or John Morgan) and they will all tell you the same thing: all electronic flash lighting gear can fail and when it fails it will generally be spectacular .
  22. Hi Ted,
    I was just in the same situation as you. I sold off some medium format gear to finance some studio strobes. I decided to go with White Lightning (WL) X 800 (two of them) for the time being. I also purchased an octobox (octagonal soft box, also made by Paul Buff Inc.), a boom stand and a standard light stand as well as a background stand. All for about $1000. I purchased the WL X 800 units on eBay for $280 each. I called WL to 'register' my used flash units - they still had a couple of years left on the transferable 5 year warranty! I asked about an extra diffusion baffle for the octobox (older model, now discontinued) and although they no longer had them, they sent me the last replacement part they had for this octobox - for free.

    What is the catch? Well in my situation I "went out on a limb" and ordered a couple of the Ultra Zap 1600 (now discontinued) for work. That was almost 7 years ago. I went on to buy six more Ultra Zap 1600 and some other accessories. Never had to send anything back for service. Three of the Ultra Zaps were used by me in the Ecuadorean Amazon (along with the original Vagabond power pack)! Right in the middle of the jungle, set up a studio and shot for almost two weeks! It all worked, it still works. So, my catch is that I had used them before at work, before buying them for personal stuff.

    I also like the fact that the flash units are made in the US.

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