White Lightning X-Series uses the now familiar Buff extruded
aluminum design. What is very new is the aggressive cooling
fan and beefy 250w halogen modeling lamp. (Hooray!)
Monolight Power Definitions
As you probably know by now, White Lightning basically invented the now
prevalent method of labeling monolights. Rather than call a 640 ws unit
a "640," Buff calls it a "1600." The concept is
simple: If a 1600 ws studio strobe generator can generate f/16 at 10 ft
through its strobe head, and a White Lightning all-in-one unit can generate
the exact same f/stop, why not label it in "effective watt seconds."
The theory is that strobe generators must pass their power to the flash
tube through a long cable, losing a fair amount of power along the route.
Monolights must only pass their high voltage a few inches to get to the
flash tube, making them a more efficient lighting device.
In practice it's not so simple. Yes, a White Lightning X1600 does
produce about as much light as an old Speedo Brownline 1600 pack and head
I have laying about the studio, which is about the same as 800 ws of modern
Speedo power. Still, a 640 ws X-Series White Lightning head really does
at least equal an 800 ws studio pack, which I think is pretty impressive.
In my tests with the pack-and-head systems I own, the White Lightning
consistently put out as much light as between 800 and 1200 ws of modern
The X-Series has a tremendous amount of control. Besides
the very sensitive slave (which is not user switchable,
so keep that black gaffer tape handy!), there is a tremendous
seven-stop range, broken up into full and 1/4 power ranges,
model lamp stepless control, and the connection for the
great Buff wired and wireless remotes.
Upgrades Cure Beefs
Over the years I've had the opportunity to shoot with a number of
different White Lightning units, and even bought my own set of tiny but
powerful AlienBees strobes. Since my studio uses Swiss-made Balcar strobes,
all of my reflectors and speed rings are fully compatible with the entire
Buff lighting line-up. While I've admired the bang for the buck
of the previous White Lightnings, there have been a few things that drove
Older units did not offer fan cooling, limiting them to low wattage household
bulbs for modeling lamps. The other big beef of mine was the reflector
clamp. I need to have that speed ring locked on with the "Clamp
of Death," not a flimsy spring-loaded clamp. The new X-Series addresses
these issues beautifully. They are the only Buff designed units to finally
offer a big, bad 250w halogen modeling lamp with a cooling fan. Now I
can mount my softboxes and keep the modeling lamps on all day without
worrying about melting stuff or burning out my bulbs.
The reflector clamp is also a thing of beauty. The four gripper fingers
are spring loaded, yet the release lever allows for very, very secure
locking as well. It's a "best of both worlds" scenario,
since the spring loading allows quick and easy positioning of heavy and
awkward softboxes, and the secure lockdown keeps them from crashing to
the ground during the shoot.
Four units, all hooked up to the Buff remote, allowed me
to finely tweak the lighting ratios right from the camera.
Fantastic control, and none of the units were set over 1/3
power and I still got f/16 at ISO 100!
© 2004, Jay Abend, All Rights Reserved.
Features Of Note
Now that my main objection has been addressed, it's on to the other
features of the X-Series. First of all, it does seem that Buff is able
to pack more and more stuff into these strobes, all the while trimming
both the weight, size, and recycle time. For instance, the X1600 has a
true watt second rating of 660, yet clearly produces more light than most
800 ws strobes, and the whole package is only 4.8 lbs! Since most studio
light heads weigh in around 3.5-4 lbs, the X1600 hardly puts any burden
on a photographer's overworked shoulders; a three head kit will
be far lighter than three light heads and a strobe generator pack. Size
also matters, and all the X-Series heads share a 4x4.5" basic extrusion.
While the X3200 is a fairly large 15.7" long, the X1600 is only
12" long--again roughly the size and weight of an old Norman
LH2000 head with blower attached. Progress is amazing.
Another handy feature on the X-Series is the dual-mode power control,
so now it's a simple matter to use the unit at either full or 1/4
power, and then use the power slider to adjust the power from that point.
This allows for an amazing range--from full pop 660 ws down to a
little bitty 6 ws. Wow! Since I use the X-Series in my studio for lots
of little fill situations, this is incredibly handy.
These X-Series strobes also seem to be the smartest units yet offered
by White Lightning. Not only is the internal cooling fan very quiet and
extremely efficient (which it needs to be to handle the 250w halogen modeling
lamp), but the units are fully output voltage regulated to ensure consistent
pop-to-pop performance. Audible alarms for flash misfire and overheating
are also present, and handy to have. There's nothing worse than
melting a strobe because you have inadvertently blocked the cooling fan's
In The Studio And The
As nice as these units are, the proof's in the pudding. I not only
used the X-Series around my studio for several weeks, but dragged them
on location. On the road is where these units really shine, since I could
pack four of them, power cords, and softboxes into a medium Lightware
case. For quick "hit-and-run" corporate headshots I have been
throwing a pair of X1600s into a Domke camera bag, and bringing along
a pair of light stands with a white and silver umbrella. Now I can throw
a lighting kit in the car and go unassisted anywhere.
Another important feature of the White Lightning system is the full line
support offered from the Buff companies. Not only do they offer a complete
line of reflectors and softboxes to fit the White Lightning's Balcar-style
reflector mount, they also offer both wired and wireless remote systems.
Since I have a wired remote for my AlienBees strobes I figured I'd
ask if they made a similar inexpensive remote that would work with the
White Lighting strobes. "Um...just plug your AlienBees remote
in...it should work fine," was the reply from White Lightning.
Sure enough, worked like a champ, and now I had a killer studio system
with complete strobe and modeling lamp control. Taped to my tripod, I
could plug the camera into the remote's sync socket and fire all
four strobes without any additional wires. Even more exciting is the possibility
of hooking up the wireless radio remote system. I'm a big fan of
the PocketWizard radio units, and having a transmitter, four receivers,
all synced together, all firing when the camera fires, and having complete
control over individual strobe output, wirelessly, is really amazing.
Even better, the entire package only runs a bit more than $500, certainly
the cheapest way to
get radio wireless strobe control for four light heads.
It's hard not to like these strobes. Finally, a White Lightning
strobe has a decent modeling lamp, a really aggressive quiet fan, and
the ability to be remotely controlled. Add to that the nicely understated
appearance, consistent performance, and the enviable reputation for bulletproof
reliability, and you've got a winner. The baby of the line, the
handy X800 sells for a reasonable $399. The popular X1600 is $479, and,
the big boy, the X3200 is $669. I would think that a four light kit made
up of a pair of 1600s and a pair of 800s, along with some light stands
and softboxes, should cover practically every studio or location situation
If you haven't taken a good look at the White Lightning strobes
recently, you might want to check out the X-Series. White Lightning has
grown up--a lot--and this mature product remains a terrific
value. Whether you're a working pro or just a serious shooter who
needs some reasonably priced pro-quality lighting gear, I think you'll
For more information about the X-Series, visit the White Lightning website