Photogenic StudioMax II

My next-door neighbor Jennifer was kind enough to sit for a headshot that I decided to convert to black and white using The Imaging Factory's Convert to BW Pro Photoshop compatible plug-in. For this portrait, I kept the umbrella mounted backward and fired through it to make the light somewhat directional, but not too directional. Ambient light was very low (there was a storm outside) and I was still able to get f/7.1 at about 1/4 power with a shutter speed of 1/60 sec. (Canon EOS 10D, ISO 200, and Canon 28-105mm lens at 105mm lens.)
Photos © 2003, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Photogenic's StudioMax II is the kind of monolight I've been trying to find for a long time. It's lightweight, powerful, and accepts battery power so it can be used on locations where the nearest AC outlet is a city block or county away.

Form Follows Function
The StudioMax II housing is small and oddly shaped; it's almost as if they made the housing fit the components rather than stick them inside a can, as with most monolights. Its 71/2" reflector has a semi-quick change mechanism that allows it to be used with Photogenic's eight optional reflectors or a lightbank. There's a place on the reflector that appears to be a "knock out," allowing an umbrella shaft to pass through to a thumbscrew holder on the unit's housing. The rather complete manual calls it a "knock out," too, but after putting a small dent in the reflector trying to knock it out, I realize it's more like a "pry-off."

Stand adapters are provided to let you mount the StudioMax II on light stands that have 3/4" or 5/8" posts, and I'd suggest making sure the adapter is very snug to keep it from falling out. As part of the setup, you need to remove the flash tube and install a round, flash bulb-shaped modeling light and when you do the flash tube wraps around it like a Bill Goldberg bear hug. The modeling light is not proportional with the StudioMax's continuously variable output control, but that didn't bother me and probably not any of the users this light is aimed at either. It's not that powerful anyway.

Controls are wonderfully simple for fast set up so you can begin making images within seconds. A lever lets you tilt, then lock the StudioMax II, holding it at the desired angle. The lever is located on the same side of the housing as the stand attachment knob, which is something the late Alphonse Chapanis in my Human Factors Engineering class told me was a no-no. It's a bit awkward but you may not even notice because the umbrella holder is on the other side.

A three-position slider lets you turn the unit off, flash only, or modeling light and flash. A knob lets you set the output from 1/32 power to full power, and anywhere in between so you can easily dial-up your favorite aperture for a given shot. There is a built-in slave that disengages when the PC cord is connected and Ready LED, but the Test button is tiny, so you'll need to use your thumbnail to fire test shots.

In The Field
The StudioMax II AK320B comes with everything you need but a light stand and light modifier, but that's easy to fix. The 10-foot sync cord is kind of flimsy and way too short but will work until you have time to get a proper heavy-duty and longer cord or just an extension cord. In contrast, the AC power cord is tough and long. Snuggled next to the AC connection is a DIN jack that lets you connect an accessory DC battery pack so you can really take the light to any location--into the middle of a football field if you want. Photogenic supplies a power cord they say works with "most batteries," and to my eyes it looked like a Quantum Turbo connection if ever I saw one, but I was unable to get a battery pack from them before deadline to try this particular feature. If you call Photogenic's customer service (800-682-7668) they'll tell you what company's batteries are compatible with the lights.

The first thing you notice about the 320 ws Photogenic StudioMax II is that it's powerful for its compact size. Even at low power settings I was able to work at relatively small apertures to maintain critical focus. The specification sidebar has lots of details, but many of you are interested in the age-old question, "What's the guide number?" Using the standard reflector and measuring 10 ft from the light, and under conditions where there was little possibility of additional bounce from ceilings or walls, the StudioMax II produced usable power over a range from f/2.8-f/16 at an ISO of 100.

When used with another unit, or even its less powerful sibling (see sidebar), the StudioMax II is a wonderfully flexible and portable power source for anything from full-length bridal photographs to group shots, delivering enough depth of field so the person paying the bill (the mother of the bride) will be in sharp focus.

Indoors working with an umbrella and occasionally a reflector, the lights seemed a bit cool in color with a Canon EOS 10D set in Daylight or Electronic Flash white balance. If pure color is important, as in product photography, I'd get a Kodak white card (the flip side of the Gray Card is white) and use your camera's custom white balance setting to get the cleanest possible color. If you're shooting raw files, this won't matter, but I prefer warm skin tones, so I shot some tests with JPEG files at different color balance settings, ultimately preferring these first test portraits and headshots at the Cloudy setting. Every digital camera and film, too, for that matter has its own color bias, so test the lights before a paying assignment.

The first group of images was headshots of my favorite model, my wife Mary. I attached a 36" generic, cheapo white umbrella, which probably lets as much light pass through it as it bounces back. My Gossen Luna Star meter showed f/8.0 at 1/4 power with the light about 6 ft from her and the Canon EOS 10D at ISO 200. See the captions for specific technical details on these lighting tests. Then I worked with Amelia C. Beonde to create a series of images where existing backlight was important and the StudioMax II's power dial allowed me to find the aperture I needed to balance the existing light. Through it all, the StudioMax II delivered consistent power in a compact package. This product should be on every location photographer's list of monolights to check out.

For more information, contact Photogenic Professional Lighting by calling (800) 682-7668 or visiting their website, www.photogenicpro.com.

Technical Specifications
Models: AK320 & AK320B
Flash Power: 10-320 ws (six f/stops)
Flash Duration: 1/120 sec at Full; 1/400 sec at 1/2; 1/840 sec at 1/4; 1/1660 sec at 1/8; 1/2900 sec at 1/16; 1/4800 sec at 1/32
Recycling Time: 0.02-3 seconds
Power Control: Full to 1/32 range (six f/stops); 0.1 f/stop resolution
Modeling Light Power: 40w, 120 VAC
Modeling Light Control: On or off
Triggering: Built-in slave; Push to Test button; synchronization jack
Power Supply: 105-125 VAC, 50/60 Hz, 3 Amp
Housing: Molded, high-impact, plastic case
Weight: 2 lbs, 8 oz
Dimensions: 5.25x5.25x7"
Price: $199.95 (AK320); $289.95 (AK320B)

Flash Tubes And Modeling Lamps:
Flash Tube: Plug-in style, Photogenic Standard C4-12 only
Modeling Lamp: 40w, 120 VAC, 40S11N/1
Fuse: 3AG type, 8 Amp, SLO-BLO
Models: AK160 & AK160B
Flash Power: 5-160 ws (six f/stops)
Flash Duration: 1/175 sec at Full; 1/700 sec at 1/2; 1/1300 sec at 1/4; 1/2400 sec at 1/8; 1/4100 sec at 1/16; 1/7400 sec at 1/32
Recycling Time: 0.01-1.5 seconds
Power Control: Full to 1/32 range (six f/stops); 0.1 f/stop resolution
Modeling Light Power: 40w, 120 VAC
Modeling Light Control: On or off
Triggering: Built-in slave; Push to Test button; synchronization jack
Power Supply: 105-125 VAC, 50/60 Hz, 3 Amp
Housing: Molded, high-impact, plastic case
Weight: 2 lbs, 2 oz
Dimensions: 5.25x5.25x7"
Price: $159.95 (AK160); $259.95 (AK160B)

Flash Tubes And Modeling Lamps:
Flash Tube: Plug-in style, Photogenic Standard C4-12 only
Modeling Lamp: 40w, 120 VAC, 40S11N/1
Fuse: 3AG type, 8 Amp, SLO-BLO

 

Here I used the "poor man's softbox" and turned the umbrella around and fired the StudioMax II "through" it. No reflector was used but I asked Mary to turn her face toward the light and the Photogenic unit produced excellent quality with just a single source located just 6 ft away. Under these conditions, I was able to get f/16 and slowed the shutter speed down to 1/15 sec to pick up some ambient light as fill. (Canon EOS 10D, ISO 200, and Canon 135mm SF lens. Who says you can't use a 135mm lens (digital equivalent 216mm) indoors?)

Déjà Vu All Over Again
This has happened before, you know. Kodak sent a warning shot across the film world's bow in 1995 with the 6-megapixel, $30,000 DCS 460. Olympus rocked the camera world in '97 with the first good megapixel camera, the D-600L. In '98 the world of photojournalism got stood on its head with the 2-megapixel Kodak DCS 520. Even at $17,000 it became a runaway success, and captured more great breaking news and sports images than any digital device of the era. The real groundbreaker, as far as the consumer marketplace is concerned, was the stunning 2-megapixel Nikon Coolpix 950 in February of '99. Now for under $1000 any photographer could capture big, beautiful color images, instantly, with no film expense. The cat was out of the bag.

Two Worlds Now One
Up until this past August, the digicam world was separated into two worlds: the point-and-shoot world and the SLR world. Point-and-shoots started at $100 and topped out at $1000. The better cameras, like the advanced models from Nikon, Canon, and Olympus, produced 5-megapixel images that rivaled color negative film for saturation, sharpness, and clarity. SLRs were for the pros and the really serious "enthusiasts." This
is why the Canon Digital Rebel is so groundbreaking.

Canon introduced their new baby and made a fairly impressive statement. The new camera utilized a modified version of the same exact sensor, exposure control system, and autofocus system as the popular EOS 10D, but would sell for an amazing $899! The magic $1000 barrier had finally been broken, a mere three years after they broke the $5000 price barrier with their 3-megapixel EOS D30. Even more exciting was the introduction of the $999 Digital Rebel Kit, which is the camera bundled with an interesting 18-55mm EF-S lens, specially designed exclusively for the Digital Rebel.

High ISO shooting is also excellent; it's comparable to the EOS 10D and vastly superior to the older EOS D60. This shot was captured at ISO 1600 in raw mode.

The Rebel Specs
First, the specs. Keep in mind that Canon has a very specific goal with this camera. To bundle the exact image performance of the acclaimed EOS 10D in a less expensive, smaller, and lighter D-SLR package. The popular Rebel line of cameras was a great place to start, since their form factor and ergonomics have been proven in the real world for years. The Digital Rebel seems like a digital version of the new Canon EOS Rebel Ti, and for the price point that seems like a very good thing.

The Digital Rebel does in fact sport practically the same 6.3-megapixel CMOS sensor as used in the EOS 10D, and even has the same seven-point autofocus system; 35-zone evaluative metering system; ISO 100-1600 speed range; BP-511 lithium ion battery; and a similar menu system. Canon claims their new "DIGIC" chip makes brisk performance and low battery consumption possible. To their credit, Canon has not stripped out the best features of the "prosumer" cameras to make the price. You still have that brilliant CMOS sensor with those incredibly vibrant colors; Canon's raw mode; and a standard stainless steel EF lens mount, capable of not only accepting the new EF-S lens but also the complete and entire line of Canon EF lenses.

Obviously, that makes this little Rebel a machine capable of handling some of the most exotic and expensive glass in the world. (Though I would not hang a 300mm f/2.8 off of this lens and carry it around by the camera strap!)

In addition, you still have complete and total control of your photography, with camera modes ranging from full auto program to total manual control. The Digital Rebel has the same excellent auto white balance system as the EOS 10D, the same six preset white balance settings, and the same quick and accurate custom white balance setting system. (Shoot a white card, white wall, or a really clean tennis shoe, click OK, and you're white balanced.)

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