I got my studio lighting setup about three years ago, at the time I was faced with the decision to go with strobes or Speedlites, I went with a single-light Alien Bee B800 setup for various reasons. Basically I had the extra space in my house in Austin for a full-time studio setup, strobes have modeling lights to aid auto-focus (I know some flash units do too, but it drains the battery and it really isn’t the same), the price between a B800 + a few basic modifiers was about the same as a single 580EX + a remote sync cord, and a lot less than getting a E-TTL2 wireless system (the ST-E2 + 430EX/580EX, or a 580EX on the hot-shoe + 430EX/580EX as slaves). I started with one Bee, I used reflectors for fill light and sometimes head light, I had silver and shoot-through umbrellas, coz they’re like the cheapest light modifiers you can get. It was much easier to learn with a single light, I’m glad I didn’t go all out and get like a 4-light setup, would’ve been really confusing. When I first started I relied on the histograms to guess the correct exposure settings. Shooting RAW also helped a bit, it gave me a larger margin of error in exposure. But I quickly bought a Sekonic L-358 meter, it was well worth it. 2 years later I was ready for another light so I added the ABR800 ring flash. It was interesting because with 2 lights, I ended up trying to re-create the stuff I did with a single light. It was confusing at first, but after a little bit of experimentation I got it down pretty quickly. I also added a softbox when I got the ring flash, I must say I regret not getting the softbox much earlier, it is definitely far superior than using a shoot-through umbrella. If you shoot female portraits it is a must-have.
The Alien Bee flashes all come with a PC sync cord, it’s pretty long and I’ve been pretty happy using it. It was annoying though, as I had to move the cable from my flash meter to my camera every time I had to take an exposure reading. But PocketWizards are expensive and the sync cord worked fine. Well, until this Tuesday that is. I was in the middle of a quick shoot of the new Iron Heart 634S for Self Edge, and the sync cord stopped working all the sudden. Actually, when Sherry helped me shoot the Skulls the week before the flashes had problems getting triggered, but I just assumed it was because she didn’t plug in the sync cord deep enough, in retrospect I should’ve checked the cord. Luckily I was able to locate the short sync cord that came with my ring flash, and I finished the shoot with camera mounted on the ring flash, and used it to trip the B800 to light the background.
So I was faced with the decision to order another sync cord from Alien Bee, which would’ve only cost $25 or so with shipping. Or, I could go with a PocketWizard wireless setup. I went with the latter, basically I think I’ve had it with using a sync cord, it’s time to go wireless. It’s crazy expensive though, I needed at least 2 PW Plus II transceivers, one on camera hot-shoe and another one connected to one of my Bees. I also needed the wireless module for my Sekonic light meter, and a cable to connect one of the PWs to one of my Bees. The other Bee(s) could be tripped optically, this should work fine in my current “studio”, especially it is now just the living area in my (small!) bay area condo. The day after I placed my order at B&H I read this article at the Strobist, it is just too true, sync cords suck!
I was doing some research on Speedlites as a friend was asking me stuff about what setup to go with. I found out that the new 580EX II will have a PC sync socket!! Finally!! This is great, as one of the psychological barriers I had with using a wireless Speedlite setup is the idea that I would need a 580EX or the ST-E2 to trigger other flashes, and if I go with the 580EX on-camera as a master, almost 100% of the times it will be turned off. A nice, $400 flash turned off just seems kindda stupid, and the ST-E2 isn’t cheap and it doesn’t do anything else other than to trigger your remote Speedlite(s). But now, with the sync socket on the 580EX II, I will be able to use it off-camera with my PocketWizards, this is actually pretty damn cool. I can see myself using a single 580EX II hooked up with my PWs to get off-camera flash in location shoots. So now I think I’m finally gonna get a 580EX II, I’ve avoided getting one for so long. It should also work much better than my ancient 380EX when I use it on the hot-shoe for ceiling/wall-bounced snapshots, as the guide number is way higher and it actually can tilt and swivel so I can shoot vertically. (I know, almost all new flashes do that now, but hey, my 380EX from my 35mm days still works fine).
Speedlite 580EX II Flash
The popular Speedlite 580EX Flash is being replaced by the new Speedlite 580EX II Flash, which features a host of improvements, including a metal hot shoe with an improved locking mechanism for added durability, an external metering sensor for non-TTL automatic flash exposure control and a PC socket for use with non-dedicated slave triggers. Fully compatible with all EOS SLRs, the new Speedlite 580EX II is gasketed for dust and moisture resistance, making it possible for users of EOS-1 class digital SLRs and many L-series EF lenses to use flash safely when shooting in dusty or wet environments.