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Old Oct 11, 2004, 10:47 AM   #1
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I'm a long time film photographer who has now had a Nikon D70 for about 6 months. I used to try to use my older Nikon SB-28 with the D70, but I eventually gave up and got an SB800. Frankly, as compared to my results with my older F100 film camera, I'm disappointed with my flash results. For example, group photos look "flat" and often not as sharp as I was expecting. I've recently started playing with aperture settings in an effort to get more depth of field, and hopefully this will improve things.

I'd like to some more serious portraiture. Another thing I'd like to do is take photos of my wife and a friend for their scarf business. I'd be taking head and shoulder shots of them wearing their scarves to post on the Internet and for printed material. However, I also wanted to just upgrade the general quality of my flash photos.

In going carefully through my D70 owner's manual, I found that I can use my built-in flash in "commander mode", and then fire the SB800 off the camera. I have tried it on a bracket, about a foot above and to the left of the camera, and I've also tried it attached to a clamp that I then clipped onto a chair nearby my model. The results aren't bad, but they are hardly reproduceable, and I'm not really sure what I'm doing.

In the past couple of weeks, I've been looking at a variety of "moderately priced" studio setups, like the Alien Bees with a couple of B800s and umbrellas, or a similar setup with Calumet Travelites.

So, the question is: Can I get one of the relatively basic Alien Bees 2 strobe kits, and also use my on-camera and SB800 strobes? For that matter, can I just use ONE Alien Bee strobe -- perhaps with a light box, using the on-camera turned way down (mostly just for a little fill and to fire the other two strobes) and the SB-800 as some kind of backlighting? I must admit to being a little perplexed to the differences between monolights and battery-powered strobes -- my SB-800 has a pretty high guide number, and it costs more than an Alien Bee B800. Why not just get another one or two of them, with clamps and attach them around the room? I could even get an umbrella and bounce the strobe.

Thanks so much for your help!


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Old Oct 11, 2004, 4:31 PM   #2
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fmilder wrote:
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In going carefully through my D70 owner's manual, I found that I can use my built-in flash in "commander mode", and then fire the SB800 off the camera. I have tried it on a bracket, about a foot above and to the left of the camera, and I've also tried it attached to a clamp that I then clipped onto a chair nearby my model. The results aren't bad, but they are hardly reproduceable, and I'm not really sure what I'm doing.

In the past couple of weeks, I've been looking at a variety of "moderately priced" studio setups, like the Alien Bees with a couple of B800s and umbrellas, or a similar setup with Calumet Travelites.

So, the question is: Can I get one of the relatively basic Alien Bees 2 strobe kits, and also use my on-camera and SB800 strobes? For that matter, can I just use ONE Alien Bee strobe -- perhaps with a light box, using the on-camera turned way down (mostly just for a little fill and to fire the other two strobes) and the SB-800 as some kind of backlighting? I must admit to being a little perplexed to the differences between monolights and battery-powered strobes -- my SB-800 has a pretty high guide number, and it costs more than an Alien Bee B800. Why not just get another one or two of them, with clamps and attach them around the room? I could even get an umbrella and bounce the strobe.
Thanks so much for your help!
You could get a flash-mount bracket for a light stand and mount your SB-800 on it (using an umbrella or another light modifier). Since your camera will fire your flash automatically, you will have a basic wireless system. (I do something similar using a Vivitar 285HV & an umbrella when I'm travelling). You can add the Alien Bees to the mix (they have a built in slave function & will fire when your SB-800 does). Trust me, you will love the Alien Bees lights.
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Old Oct 11, 2004, 4:39 PM   #3
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Thanks for you input; I had noticed that you seemed to get great results from your 285.

Can you tell me anything about the relative brightness of a battery-powered flash compared to an Alien Bee B800? Is a shoe-mount flash really bright enough to use "confidently" with an umbrella?

Thanks again!
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Old Oct 12, 2004, 7:50 AM   #4
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I have both setups myself also. The advantages of a real studio light system is as follows:

1) More modifiers available. Umbrellas, softboxes, snoots, gels. Although versions of these exist for smaller flashes they are not as good. The true power of studio lighting is in the control, it is not just making a lot of light.

2) Power.. Guide number is not everything. The thing to remember is that a B800 has a wide angle dispersion while an on camera flash has a narrow dispersion. When shooting straight at a subject you can live with this but when trying to light up an entire wall (backdrop) the falloff of a small flash is pretty dramatic.Your big flashes allow the subject to move around on the lit set, the smaller flashes are going to need to be repointed often. Also using reflectors is harder when the entire reflector is not illuminated.

3) Modeling light. Yea some flashes have a modeling light like function but once you get used to a real one for aiming and balancing it really is a feature.

4) Replaceable tubes.. Things break and the ability to repair the flash tube/modeling lightfor a nominal feeis a lot better than needing to return your flash to the mfg.

5) Controlling the light. Yea the TTL modes are nice for an average shot but the true fun of lights comes when you put them on manual. Most flashes are not that easy to set when on manual they have small buttons and some even have menus. Most of the pro flashes are a couple of buttons and a knob or slider. Most pro flashes have continuous control rather than click stops also.

-----------------------------------------
The smaller lights are still useful for tight spaces (shooting a close up spot), adding a little hidden fill (the old fireplace/tv trick). Portable shooting when you want to keepthe rig in your airlinecarry on.

A hunk of cardboard around the flash makes a nice snoot that can be pointed directly to highlight an area of interest and bleed off some shadows.

------------------------------------------
If cost is the problem go with continuous studio lighting learn and then switch to strobes.
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Old Oct 12, 2004, 12:47 PM   #5
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Yeah, what he said...
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Old Oct 14, 2004, 7:03 PM   #6
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Whow, this is like dejavous... You sound exactly like I did when I first got my Digital Rebel. I wanted to do everything with TTL flashes and set up this neat small wireless setup....

Then I discovered
  1. Rechargeable batteries dying at the worst time (multiple sets).[/*]
  2. slow resync times of battery powered flash causing missed shots.[/*]
  3. harsh shadows caused by narrow flash disburstment.[/*]
  4. High cost of Canon flashes, and good rechargeables.[/*]
  5. Lack or ability to switch to manual and measure lite with meter. (no remote trigger).
[/*]
So I saved my self some money and headaches and purchased two Alien Bee 800's, a Sekonic Light meter and these cheap little wireless triggers for $49.00 from joesauction (Thanks again CastleDude).

I LOVE IT.... I very seldom ever use my TTL Flashes even when I am on the road. I setup my AB800's everywhere I go and my photos look soooo much better with much less work and no shadows. I also no longer have to correct image color or levels in Photoshop. When I do an Auto Color or Auto Levels I can see no visable change :-)

My vote AB800's all the way.... But, keep your TTL flash for tite situations.
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Old Nov 1, 2004, 10:05 AM   #7
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minutephotos --

Your comments about your AB strobes ("I very seldom ever use my TTL Flashes even when I am on the road.") provoke my most fundamental question. As a serious amateur, but someone who doesn't have a "studio", just how much trouble is it to set up a couple of ABs (or White Lightnings, which are what I've been thinking of), umbrellas and stands and then break them down again?

I have this fear that I will spend $1500-2000 on some very nice equipment, and then wind up looking at it in boxes all the time.

Thanks for your thoughts!
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Old Nov 1, 2004, 1:05 PM   #8
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It's not that much trouble. But, you say you don't "have a studio", so I wonder what size setting you will be operating in. For your product shots it seems you would not need much space. For your portrait work, it depends on what type (head and shoulder, groups, full body, etc). Truly, you will love your Bees, but they do need some space for setup with stands, umbrellas/softboxes. It's not hard, just takes some space. I dedicated a full 17ft wide by 30ft long area for my studio work - but the majority of the lights are always in the first 8-10ft of the stage area, along with camera, tripod, AC cords, etc.

One last consideration is your future plan. The 800's are great and pretty powerful. If you ever plan on having expanded space or group needs, they'll be there for you. If you don't, and stay small space oriented, they may be too much power and you could save on 400's instead. Personally, I'd rather have too much power that I could limit in various ways as opposed to too little that can never be made stonger without buying up. As always, your needs and mileage may vary.
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Old Nov 13, 2004, 4:58 PM   #9
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It is very easy. it is only three pieces, stand, strrobe, umbrella. I got the AB carry bags for both stands and lights. Makes the job fast and easy. The benifit comes in when I start shooting, the stobe resync much fast than on camera flashes. With the wireless system I have $49.00 I can strand anywhere and shoot freeely.
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