Friday, June 13, 2014

Radio Head - A brief summary of wireless strobe options for 2014

Paul Buff
P.W. W/Control TL Enabled PCB Einstein
Paul Buff has a very well respected reputation as a vendor of reasonably priced strobes with very advanced features, particularly the Einstein 640. There are many remote perks enabled both by P.B.'s own branded triggering and control package as well as pocket wizard tools. Unfortunately P.B.'s Cyber Commander which is a fantastic compact remote does not work when the light has pocket wizard remotes on the lights. It will store multiple light configurations that can be recalled later on for faster setup. The P.B.'s lights do no feature any remote software control via PC, Smartphone or similar platforms like some of the other lighting systems that will be mentioned in this article. I do not consider this to be a deal breaker at all but as I mentioned it to a Paul Buff staffer it would be a good direction to consider going in for future products. When a PocketWizard remote system is connected using the P.W. Power Control Monitoring feature it enables a TTL function similar to the TTL function of a on camera flash when set to auto, power levels are adjusted continuously as you shoot. I can't say as to how this measures up to Profoto's overpriced and crippled B1 Air but if I had to guess it's pretty close.

This is not necessarily a good idea but it can be useful when you deal with situations where you lack control of the location and need shots now (quicky family portraits for instance). If you work in a controlled setting then manual is the way to go, i've tested this with Sekonic's wireless configuration and it works great. If the P.W. is in auto TTL then whatever measurements you made with the Sekonic are invalid, the power settings will continue self adjust. I did some quick comparisons between the Sekonic using manual flash measurements and using the P.W. TTL system, they were very similar in result.
The exception is when using a ridiculously wide lense. The auto TTL measurements were way off because of the all the light flooding into the lense from the white walls in my apartment. I just wanted to see how it would behave if I threw it a curve ball.

(Initial tests with my Nikon D800E in Hypersync mode did not reveal positive results.)

The color temp settings seemed very accurate, I didn't have edit those much when I did a few self portraits to test it out. I've worked in a studio setting with a mixture of lights made by Bowens and some others I did not know names of, their color temps were sometimes off by over 2500 kelvin from where they were supposed to be.
CyberCommand Remote.

Elinchrom RX and Digital RX

Elinchrom Digital RX heads feature advanced wireless control capabilities VIA Pocket Wizard and Elinchrom's own proprietary wireless RF system. One of the increasingly common perks in the quickly evolving world of digital strobes is software controlled lighting configuration courtesy of their SkyPort remote system. Software controlled lights allow you to pre-configure all your lights, save it then load pre-saved setups for the day's shooting; do some quick spot tests with your camera or meter to verify prior to beginning the set and just go. Elinchrom is very expensive, they have their own power pack systems, these lights are typically sold as sets with a battery pack.  They are a reputable company so if you're a pro then these may be a wise investment in the future of your business. I don't own any of these so I can only go by what other Elinchrom owners say. I am sure the P.W. TTL features I mentioned in the Paul Buff section also work identically on the Elinchrom RX heads as well.
Regarding P.W. Hypersync, your experiences will vary depending on the combinations of strobes and the camera you use, some shutter systems are much more robust and better designed (D4, D3, 1DX etc).
SkyPort Remote Software

These lights feature a very impressive variety of wireless options: USB Dongle/Wireless Remote/Software controls
Rimelite's strobes are based off a 2.4ghz WiFi system called ZigBee. Software control packages are available on PC/Mac and various portable devices (phone & tablet). The studio flash heads have a feature that is probably not that common among studio lamps, upgradeable modeling lamps up to 1000 watts. How useful it is to have a light that strong, I couldn't really say except that the modeling talent is sure to feel like they are the latest selection on a food buffet under a heat lamp.
This company and its products are unknown to me other than the sparse information I can find about them on the web, i'd guess they are unknown to other american consumers. Their products have lots of great features but very little in depth information on their system exists, most of what I did find is not in english. They are distributed in the U.S. by RimeLite USA, soon to be released if it is not out already is an update to their line of portable flash units that operate off rechargeable internal Li-Ion battery packs.

Whoever their marketing director is, they need to get off their butts and allow some serious deep surgical grade unbiased dissections of the product, its features (in english) and how well it actually works in a real setting.

Brief Demo Videos of RimeLite - 

ProFoto D1 & B1

Profoto makes wonderful products, but I still have a small grudge against them for 'dumping' their B1 Air onto the market  at such a high price point, with certain advertised features not working or barely working with hardly any camera on the market. If a company plans to release a product that costs over 2000 dollars with non working features, they really ought to rethink that move. The B1's primary selling point is the battery system, compact size and probably some improvements internally as to how the light functions, but the advanced TTL feature doesn't work most cameras and full remote functionality is only available through Profoto's own proprietary wireless triggers.
If you bought it for the advanced TTL, congratulations you are now paying over 2000 dollars to be a beta tester for a product that's already released with impaired functionality. I admire companies who push the boundaries and try new stuff but not when the outcome is turning the consumer into another victim of the R&D process.
Profoto's D1 and B1 both feature certain software automated functions on PC similar to the other lights mentioned in this blog post. Their lights are too expensive for me to own but if I were a serious professional getting paid large sums this company would feature prominently on my list equipment manufacturers to buy from. I already plan to own some of their soft boxes.