Feb 01, 2016
Throughout my photographic career I have had a chance to work with various lighting equipment. In this article I will tell you about this experience, briefly about the different equipment and in detail about why in the end I decided to stick to Profoto.
In 2009, I was deprived of my driving license for a while and decided to part with my car. With the proceeds I got from the sale the first set of lighting for home use was bought. The shooting was planned to take place in a big room of a regular apartment. The choice in Novosibirsk is not particularly large and, like many, I went to a horrible shop "foto.ru" with the world's lowest, in my opinion and experience, level of service. It is commonly known that they were promoting the brand Raylab.
Raylab is low grade lighting equipment, made in China. Falcon Eyes equipment is slightly better. Arsenal and such are slightly worse. Such equipment has two advantages.
- The first is the price. The cost is low, you can buy a low powered Raylab Axio for about 90 USD.
- The second is availability. It's not a problem to buy Chinese equipment even in our back country. There won't be any trouble with purchasing or with the service in large cities.
The rest of the description of this type of equipment are solid cons.
- Reliability = zero. Chinese sources burn instantly. They can last a long time only when used moderately. For example, when a photographer carefully builds up a shot, and then clicks on the start button - as film photographers. In our time, when 99% of photographers have never worked with film, immediately starting with digital, almost all make a ton of shots and then choose the best. This approach allows you to catch more moments, however, Chinese devices give way under such pressure. When I just started working with stock photo sites and had very long photoshoots (sometimes 10-12 hours per day, i.e. about 5 000 shots per day), flashes began to burn 1-3 times a week. They had to be taken and repaired. And that's 10 USD for every flash. In the end, after some time it turns out that the original price is already not a plus, because of all the repairing, it increases significantly.
- Accuracy = zero. Power output and color temperature is very unstable, that's why, when laying out the settings, and then shooting, you expect that everything will be fine, but in fact the color and light from shot to shot changes and this looks messy. I bet this has happened to you. If you work professionally and need good quality images, you have to spend a lot of time on the computer before you get a decent result.
- Usability = zero. Changing light shaping modifiers, light options - all this is not particularly easy, as there is no remote control for the flashes, and when changing modifiers there is always a risk of damaging the lamp (due to the design features of most monolights).
- Recharge. I don't know any fast Chinese lighting equipment. Usually, even the most underpowered of them charge for about a second, and sometimes longer. It's awful when you have to shoot a series of pictures, and you have one lit, and the rest of them dark. What the hell!
In general, beginners hardly need to worry much about working with the Chinese, but professional photographers (I mean true professionals) will definitely feel the difference in the work and the result, comparing to quality lighting.
This is, for example, Hensel, Elinchrom, Einstein, Prograf, and others. In general, these sources, though 2-3 times more expensive than the chinese ones, are not much different from them. There are still problems with usability. Not many have remotely controlled flashes. Many of the structural elements are such that the modelling lamp and the flash bulb stick out. Therefore, when changing the light modifiers, there is a risk of damaging the equipment. The level of accuracy in power from actuation to actuation in a series of shots and the accuracy of color temperature are also not on the highest level. Moreover, as with the chinese equipment, middle monolights suffer from temperature changes when shifting from minimum power to maximum. In the end, if you are shooting with 2-4-6 and so on monolights, some more powerful, and others - less, then you will probably run into a mismatch of color temperature.
As for the benefits, it is, of course, reliability. Just like all the parameters in general, it is higher than in the chinese equipment. Much higher. Such devices are suitable for continuous operation at a decent level. Such devices can be placed in studios that are rented out. You can earn money with the photos made using these light modifiers.
However, this wasn't enough for me. My goal in the equipment plan was this - I wanted an absence of any technical boundaries in photography. So that the only thing to bother me was myself. My level of development and experience. I began to look for equipment that would have made the dream come true.
Sometime in 2010 I attended a conference Stock in Russia in Moscow, where I visited master classes and met such professionals as Jonathan Ross and the team Pressmaster. This had a profound impact on me. Jonathan was shooting using Profoto. I saw the result on the iMac screen immediately after the shooting. The light was soft and the pictures looked super from the technical, as well as from the aesthetic, point of view. The colors were very natural. I began to dig deeper. Learned that Yuri Arcurs also uses this equipment.
Over the next 3 years I was preparing mentally and financially for the purchase of the first set of equipment from Profoto and finally bought it. Below are the pros and cons based on my experience with this lighting.
Let's start with the cons:
- The price is a killer. Now, a set of 2 flashes, some accessries and a case are worth more than 2000 USD, that is, one flash more than 1000 USD. This is, of course, impossibly expensive for 99% of photographers who want to get their own lighting. The problem can be partially solved by working in studios with Profoto equipment. There are such in Moscow, St. Petersburg and thanks to us in Novosibirsk. I'm advertising a little bit here, but our Milles Studio has an excellent and the most massive set of Profoto equipment beyond the Urals. And our prices are not higher than in the studios with Chinese light.
- Service centres. No one repairs Profoto in Novosibirsk. The official service centre is in Moscow and maybe in a couple of other cities. Of course, such flashes do not break often. We have 6 flashes, which are used every day for 5-10 hours or more without days off. Half of them have been in use for 3 years, the other half for over 5 years already. However, only recently one of them failed us. Before this none of them had had even a single focus or repair. However, we had to send the monolight to Moscow, where they get fixed and then are sent back. All this takes about 1-2 months at best. Oh, and the repair cost more than with the chinese equipment. About 300-400 USD.
- Availability. Screw the repair. It is impossible to buy Profoto in Novosibirsk or small towns almost worldwide. So we buy either from our friends Specphoto (in my opinion it is the most adequate store with polite and professional staff, and a wide range of equipment in stock and to be ordered, although the prices are a bit higher than their competitors have) or from friends of friends in Mirfoto.
That's it with the disadvatages. Let's pass to advantages. Profoto D1 monolight is under the main focus.
- Reliability. As you understand from the description of cons, Profoto equipment is damn reliable. That is why it can be found in the vast majority of studios around the world. Certainly, it is the most popular brand. Especially among studios, which are rented out.
- Design. Besides the fact that it is very pleasant to look at, the design of the equipment of this producer is the most handy in the world. Let's have a look at least at the fixing system of light shaping modifiers. If other sources have to be inserted into the grooves and clicked, here the modifiers are connected using a flexible mount ring. It is much easier and faster than other manufacturers' equipment and much more reliable. Nothing ever hangs out and hardly anyone would think that the softbox is about to fall on the model. Also, this system allows you to mount modifiers on a scale up to 8 (marked on the case), which affects the focus of the light spot and, as a consequence, on the light pattern. This increases the variability, literally, to infinity. In addition, all the lamps are recessed into the casing and protected by glass so that it is impossible to damage them when changing modifiers. Apart from this, the light beam, despite the deep location of the lamps, distributes almost at 180 degrees, as in those devices which have the lamp for that purpose sticking out. This is achieved by a special frosted glass and a reflector inside the monolight.
- Variability. In addition to this focusing light spot system, there is a whole lot of different light shaping modifiers of all shapes and sizes for any type of shooting. That's why they call themselves "The Light Shaping Company". There are huge modifiers as the Gigant Reflector, and big Umbrella XL, and smaller umbrellas, and softs of various sizes, for example - the outstanding Window LIght, and hard boxes for still life and other stuff.
- Softness. For me it is very important. I'm not a fan of hard light. If you take Broncolor, for instance, its light, in my opinion, is much harder and colder. Which is certainly great for still life and food, but for people I prefer a different type of light. With Profoto everything's cool in this sense. The secret is their matt frosted glass, which you find on the monolights and on the generator heads. This glass considerably softens the light. So much that sometimes I use monoblocks even without any modifiers at all.
- Accuracy. There is no problem shooting a series of 100-1000-5000 photos with one scheme. Just putting the camera on a tripod and shooting isolates for stock sites (photos on a perfectly white background) or still life. All images will have a stable temperature (deviations are so small that they won't be seen with naked eye) and with a stable capacity. This way you will be able to edit one image in raw Converter and just apply the settings to the rest. No unnecessary hustle.
- Management. There is a convenient synchronizer. It's also a remote control. You can adjust all the settings directly from the camera, or with a special module in the form of a memory stick and laptop. Power, on-off, pilot light and so on. You can specify the source group and control it either one by one or in groups. It is very convenient to shoot isolates also. When there are 6-7 light sources, for example, group A is the background, group B - contrast strips, group C draws, D fills in the shadows. It's easy to adjust power on the spot.
- Speed. Those who worked in our Studio or anywhere else with Profoto. Well, have you noticed that these flashes take any time at all to charge? Personally, I haven't come across the fact that the monolight did not charge in time. At a very high power recharge takes less than one second. To be precise, no more than 0.9 seconds. At minimal power you can do a series of 20 images or how many can your camera stand at all? There was a case, when Annie Leibovitz put a bunch of cameras - 6-8 Nikon D3s pieces, which fired one after the other to increase series and in the end flashes did it in time for all this process (they were Profoto generator systems).
- Fun. Making a splash is better than cash. Just kidding. It is truly a pleasure to work with high-quality lighting. To approach beautiful flashes and make beautiful pictures without worrying about whether the flash will have time to recharge or whether it will be good with power and other parameters.
In the end, I can say that when working with Profoto you do not only get great pleasure from work, but also you get a great result that looks professional (provided that other conditions are favorable, like your shooting skills), and it saves editing time.
I wish you all good health and to only work with Profoto super lighting.