Lighting And Supports
For The Studio And Location Photographer

Lighting And Supports

Everywhere you turn in Las Vegas, there are lights flashing, or should we say, flashy lights? And while the Las Vegas Convention Center was not awash in the bright, showy lights of the Strip, still the lights of photography shone in their own small way. As did tripods and tripod heads, camera/flash brackets, and some neat little digicam pods.

Flat-Panel And Linear Lights
While small in numbers, these were by far the most engaging lights at the show. My first introduction to the genre of flat-panel lights was a small Novoflex unit (from HP Marketing) some time back, a light that I applied to macro photography. Now several other manufacturers have come to my attention here in Vegas, with several units large enough for studio applications and others small enough for field use. Essentially, these lights produce a very uniform wash of light across the entire subject area, acting as a softbox in one sense, without the need to add accessories that may shift color balance and which are certain to reduce effective output. The larger studio units qualify for lighting large groups of people and may even find applications in automotive photography, with a laundry list of possibilities in between. A separate category of flat-panel lights is even finding use with digital capture.

Sunpak's digitFLASH is a flat-panel studio flash light source, from ToCAD America. The digitFLASH, available in 500 and 1000 ws models, provides uniform shadow-free lighting in a package that measures less than 3" in depth, featuring stepless power-ratio control and flicker-free cold-light modeling lamps, plus a built-in slave--all in a user-friendly design. Their cyberFLASH is a compact version of the digitFLASH (available in a continuous-light model for digital, as the cyber-LITE).

Remarkably, Interfit (Paterson Photographic) has a series of flat-panel lights with very similar monikers. The cyberFLASH offers 300 ws of power, with 5400K long-life linear flash tubes behind a flat diffuser and flicker-free 5000K modeling lamp, with 2.8 sec recycling to full power. Slave sensors are built-in. The digitFLASH is considerably more powerful and larger, measuring 18.5x19.5x2.6" to serve as an even softer light source, and available in 500 and 1000 ws models.

Photogenic's Linear Light ($439), while not in the flat-panel genre, is still interesting. It attaches to the PowerLight 2500DR head, as an optional replacement for the standard flash tube/reflector and consists of a long, linear flash tube positioned against an open/rectangular reflector. Facing the subject sideways, this head throws out a wide-area light that spreads very evenly across a generous expanse, without any hot spots.

Studio & Location Lighting
In this category we've included AC power pack systems, DC power-pack systems, AC and AC/DC monolights, and high-intensity, battery-pack-powered strobes. As you can see, this category continues to grow. (The model number generally represents output in watt seconds or joules.)

Power-pack systems are at the heart of the commercial photographer's studio and often go on location as well. Novatron introduced the D1000 Power Pack, which is the first of a new line of computer-controlled, digital readout flash systems. The fan-cooled D1000 has a maximum output power of 1000 ws over a four-f/stop range, in 1/10-stop increments, and supports 250w modeling lamps with separate circuit breakers.

Bogen focused on two new power packs: the Digital 1200 RX and 2400 RX, which are compatible with fan-cooled Digital S and SE heads or high-speed A heads for digital, fashion, and other applications, including multi-shot imaging and QuickTime VR sequences. These packs offer digital control.

Monolights are a portrait photographer's dream, being self-contained and often fairly compact and portable, without the encumbrance of a heavy pack and otherwise practically as versatile, and these lights pervaded the show at every turn. Continuing with Elinchrom, we have the new Style RX-series. Available in 300, 600, and 1200 ws configurations, these monolights optionally offer full digital control by two-way remote and centralized control via computer. Each unit is fan cooled and offers variable power (1200 to 9 ws on the 1200RX), rapid recycling, flash duration down to 1/2850 on the 300 RX (1/1450 on the 1200 RX), and a very stylish translucent shell and lightweight design.

JTL showcased the Mobilight 110, 200, and 300, each with JTL Battery Pack, which takes these self-contained studio strobes to a new level of usability and convenience. Out of curiosity, I asked JTL what their products offered that gave them a competitive edge.

They pointed to the detachable diffuser, which unlike others, is open-ended, making it easy for you to replace flash tubes without removing the diffuser. Also the head mounting system on many units permits you to shift balance to accommodate front mounted accessories, notably bulky softboxes.

Brandess-Kalt-Aetna announced the release of the SPDCBP DC Battery Pack from SP Studio Systems. This rechargeable battery pack (charger included) is primarily designed for the LancerLight AC/DC flashes. A 160 ws unit will get approximately 200 pops on a single charge.

Photo Control Corporation announced the Norman ML600 Monolight ($529), which features digitally displayed power settings in either f/stops or watt seconds, in 1/10-stop increments from 600 to 18 ws, with proportional 250w modeling lamp.

ToCAD America/Sunpak's new Platinum and Platinum Plus monolights feature a quiet, slim-line design with stepless power-ratio control, down to 1/32, with matching modeling lamp. Models available with output ranging from 150 to 1000 ws, each with umbrella reflector, flash tube, modeling lamp, sync, and AC power cords.

Photogenic drew my attention to a new series of StudioMax II monolights. This series of self-contained strobes consists of two AC/DC and two strictly AC models (the "B" designating AC/DC): AD320B ($349), AK160B ($289), AD320 ($259), and AK160 ($199). They each accept all Photogenic accessories and offer a continuously adjustable six-f/stop range, built-in photo-slave, recycle times from 0.4 to 3 sec on full, and flash duration from 1/4300 to 1/125, with a user-replaceable flash tube, and 40w modeling lamp.

Distributed in the US by Performing Light, Hensel introduced a new and improved battery-powered Porty, the Porty Premium, with up to 250 flashes at full power (1200 ws) and a recycle time of 2.4 sec. The pack features two head connectors, asymmetrical distribution, and 6.5-f/stop range in 1/10-step increments.

Quantum showcased the upgraded Qflash T2D and X2D Digital battery-driven strobes, which provide dedication to the latest digital and film cameras using Quantum's new QTTL dedicated adapters. Qflash T2 and X2 models can be upgraded. This company announced that the upgraded Qflash is the only portable studio-quality flash that is fully dedicated for the Kodak DCS Pro 14n. QTTL adapters ($140) are available for cameras from Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Contax, and Mamiya.

Lumedyne is now shipping the Basic Power Packs and Deluxe Power Packs (both available in 200 and 400 ws versions). Prices start at $720 and $870, respectively, for the 200 ws models. Albums Inc. came on the scene with a full range of monolights, from 300 to 900 ws, each infinitely variable, with built-in slave, fan cooled, and removable flash tube and modeling lamp. They also offer tripods and other studio accessories.

Shoe Mounts, Digital Strobes/Slaves & Macro Lights
I had to look far and wide, only to find a smattering of lights under this category. Still, what I did find proved interesting.

Metz showed off two new electronic flash units and an SCA-3402 module, all of which are designed to work with Nikon D-series digital SLRs, including the D1, D1H, D1X, and D100. The Metz 54 MZ-4N ($500) has a
built-in sub/fill flash and is compatible with Nikon's propriety 3D matrix flash metering mode, and features auto zoom and a GN of 177 (ft). The Metz Mecablitz 44 AF-4N ($240) shares the Nikon compatibility, and carries a GN of 144.

THK introduced us to the new addition to the fold: Nissin flashes, featuring the PZ400 autofocus dedicated system and the 301Z, a basic two-stop auto-sensor flash. They also showed a variety of camera-dedicated flash units and compact digital slaves.

And speaking of digital slaves, I looked for more and found them. Why use one? These very compact strobes are designed to work with your compact digital camera, providing that extra oomph, being triggered by the built-in flash. Dot-Line Corp. has a new Digital Slave Flash ($39.95), with three adjustment positions that change the internal reflector for 360, 180, or 45Þ, with another setting to accommodate the camera's built-in pre-flash.

The Vivitar DF 200 digital flash ($109.95) offers the power and versatility of a 35mm type flash unit with an intelligent circuitry that learns from your camera's flash characteristics, with four selectable power levels and power zoom, swivel, and bounce; with a 92 GN. Mini flex pod and shoe mount included.

OmegaSatter, which now distributes Wein, debuted an extensive line of Wein Digital Smart Slaves, designed to trigger any existing flash unit or units cordlessly with any digital camera in complete synchronization, ignoring the pre-flash, up to 3000 ft away. They are available in all popular flash terminal configurations including PC, hot shoe, household, and mono-plug designs.

As for OEM-dedicated units, the only one that debuted came from Sony, and with little fanfare. The HVL-F32X was designed to extend the capabilities of the MVC-CD500 CD-based digicam via the dedicated terminal.

Now we turn to some of the more esoteric designs. The Sunpak e-FLASH (ToCAD America) is an on-camera flat-panel light, designed for today's popular compact digital cameras. The e-FLASH delivers soft, even illumination as a main light or slave flash (via built-in slave sensor). An innovative new flash-grip system allows one or two e-FLASH units to be mounted to a camera, with a single flash option of side or above camera positioning.

Interfit (Paterson Photographic) offers its own eFLASH, which has a GN rating of 12 and a full range of accessories. It can be used on or off-camera and is promoted as ideal for macro and nature photography. And Argraph extended the Samigon Halo-Light's reach to digital cameras, with a special articulated-arm bracket. The Halo-Light is a compact, daylight-balanced fluorescent ringlight for macro photography.

Digital Studio Lighting: Tungsten/Fluorescent
Studio lighting for digital capture has garnered a place all its own this year, whether it involves tungsten or fluorescent light sources. A few more flat-panel lights were found in this grouping, as well as some "studios in a box"--all of which are eminently suitable for small product photography, with flat panels reaching over into digital portraiture. I also came across some hot lights that would be equally at home in a digital studio.

We begin with fluorescent light sources. Interfit's cyberLITE and digitLITE (Paterson Photographic) are flat-panel lights with color-corrected (5600K) fluorescent tubes, featuring flicker-free, noiseless operation and a uniform light edge to edge. They are compact and easily carried. Accessories include four-leaf barn door, color filter set, Fresnel filter, and soft case. Illumination surface, respectively, on the cyberLITE and digitLITE is 11.5x9.75" and 13.5x17.5".

ToCAD America/Sunpak's counterpart, by similar names, is the digitLITE, which provides even, shadow-free continuous lighting for digital photography, in an equally slim package. The 5600Þ cold light features stepless dimmer control and noiseless flicker-free operation, with the built-in mount and swivel allowing fast light stand setup and adjustment.

Moving on to halogen and photoflood lighting, a handful of products caught my eye. From JTL comes the Everlight Kit (under $599). This kit consists of three each of the following: ultra-quiet 500w/3200K
self-focused halogen quartz bulbs, heat-resistant softboxes with connectors (softboxes feature a wide frame edge to easily allow you to install accessories, such as louvers, and are silver surfaced internally), and 7 ft heavy-duty air-cushioned light stands. They all fit into a foam-padded carrying case for storage and transport and set up in minutes.

Also from Paterson Photographic is the Interfit 1300w quartz-halogen fan-cooled head. The glass opal safety dome produces a soft, even light from the twin halogen lamps, which can be independently switched, allowing half-power operation.

From Dot-Line Corp. we have a Two-Light Photoflood Kit ($149), which includes two heads, two 7-foot light stands, and 10" reflectors. It has a ceramic base that works with 500w lamps. We're told that people are using this to light products for eBay sales. Also new is a 250w quartz-halogen lamp ($11) that screws into a standard photoflood base, providing 100 hours of illumination at 3200K, at a fairly low heat level.

APV showed its BAREBulb Kits, with two or three lighting units. Each kit comes with the requisite number of digital BAREBulbs, umbrella lamp sockets, 24" silver umbrellas, and 7 ft black light stands, all fitting into a carry bag for a total weight of 9 and 10 lbs, respectively.

Finally, a category that is to small-product digital capture what a monolight is to portrait lighting: the studio in a box. Very simply, these self-contained units generally employ a daylight-balanced fluorescent light source, or possibly halogen, and often look like a box (fully enclosed, with an aperture for the camera lens) or may be open-sided with an open front panel for the camera, much like a glorified sweep table--and may feature a sweeping backdrop. There may be only two lights or a full array. These self-contained studios can be fairly small or considerably large, with prices ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Most of these studios in a box were designed for digital capture in particular but also lend themselves to film photography with any 35mm SLR. When film is used, regardless of the lighting, the user should use a color temperature meter and do color balance tests first, and filter as necessary.

The Box, from MK Digital Direct, is a full-fledged studio in a box, with its motorized platform and surround-light design. It is ideal for photographing gems and jewelry and other highly reflective items. Coloreal's Photo Box ($1200) is a much simpler system, with symmetrical lamps for uniform lighting. Their Coloreal eBox ($2995) comes with digicam and an array of profiling tools. Litestage offers three models starting at $1104.95 in a pod-like configuration, with three 250w tungsten lamps in the basic unit (plus slave-flash option).

Much simpler in design is the Samigon Internet Photo Studio (from Argraph), consisting of two key sections/light units, one above and one underneath, with each unit housing an adjustable 5000K daylight-balanced fluorescent bulb. Two clips hold a variety of background materials sweep-fashion.

Smith-Victor showed off their Digital Desktop Studio Kit ($649). It consists of an opaque base module, a clear module, two light arms, two 250w quarts lamps, and two dimmers. The 24"-wide Plexiglas sheets are rigid enough to hold objects without sagging. For much larger products, JUST Normlicht offers the Studio Light System 5000, equipped with three 5000K fluorescent lamps that are variably adjustable on mobile support arms. The studio surface is equipped with dimmable lighting. Backdrop included.

Those Ubiquitous Three-Legged Pod Creatures
While I saw plenty of leggy supermodels--I mean, tripods--full-size and compact, I didn't have enough time to judge which ones had a leg up on the competition. What I did see impressed me nonetheless. Here's a
brief rundown.

ToCAD America unveiled a number of new products in the Sunpak line, among them the FieldMaster ($99.95) field tripod. Gitzo (Bogen) introduced four Mountaineer Geared Tripods. THK displayed Slik tripods, including several new carbon-fiber models and a series of compact tripods for the digital market. Smith-Victor showed off a number of new tripods, with the 920 featuring a three-way pan-and-tilt head ($52.95). Paterson Photographic highlighted the Benbo with remanufactured ball heads, along with Bilora tripods, now in their distribution chain. Vanguard was calling attention to their own new tripods, particularly the Square Series. Not to be outdone, Hakuba-Velbon added the Ultra MAXi to its family of travel tripods, along with new carbon-fiber professional models (HG-503MX and HG-504MX). One Source Network introduced Fancier/Weifeng tripods. HP Marketing took to the woods with the Berlebach ash wood designs. Staying with this theme, KB Systems announced additions to their backpack line, the KBBP Mini Set--all ash wood.

Tripod manufacturers were on the ball, with new ball heads announced by Bogen for Gitzo and Manfrotto. Rolling along, OmegaSatter introduced German-manufactured FLM ball heads to the US market. And ToCAD America did not stand idly by, introducing a new Sunpak Medium Ball Head ($69.95). Heading in a different direction, HP Marketing featured the Novoflex Q-Base quick release, to fit Arca-type plates, along with a series of nine Q-Plates to accommodate various cameras/accessories.

Attack Of The Tiny Pod People
What were once simply tabletop tripods have now been rejuvenated under the moniker of digital mini-pods, with new ones expressly designed for this purpose appearing at every turn. The same could be said for camera/flash brackets in the smaller sizes, with mini digital brackets leaving an indelible mark as well.

Hakuba-Velbon division of ToCAD America showed off the Flat Pod--a very neat-looking, slim, flat tabletop tripod, while ToCAD America itself introduced the Sunpak Compact DXL, with Brandess-Kalt-Aetna (BKA) introducing the Mini Digital Folding Bracket by Stratos, and Pedco UltraProducts division of BKA focusing our attention on the neat-looking UltraPod mini and UltraPod digital, both with touch-fastener strap to attach either to a nearby tripod. Joy Innovations had one of the most innovative products: a portable, lightweight tabletop tripod with automatic timer for use with single-use cameras--yes, your single-use now has a self-timer, thanks to this gizmo. Perhaps most elaborate is the combo from APV: BK-2, more of a full-size camera/flash bracket, with DS-1 flash trigger for your digital camera, with slave-syncing smart enough to resist a pre-flash.

Full-Size Brackets
Pro 4 Imaging showcased the JustRight bracket ($179), which accepts a square-format camera, or with appropriate rotator (for $279), a 35mm or 645 for vertical and horizontal compositions, so that the flash is always above the camera. It features a quick-release plate, and legs so that you can set it down conveniently on a flat surface.

Photo Control Corporation introduced a new Lindahl rotating camera bracket for the Kodak DCS Pro 14n digital camera. The bracket will easily change the position of the camera from vertical to horizontal while the lens rotates on axis. A flash bracket is also available for the system to maintain the flash head centered over the lens.

Manufacturers/Distributors'

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