Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Three Headed Thing - 2015 Studio PowerPack Overview


A brief comparison with some of the more popular lighting options, P Buff technically doesn't count
it's not a power pack based system but is extremely capable and an excellent value for the price.
This chart features some older products but it still has relevance, The A4S is an older model, the S model has been greatly improved upon.


BronColor Light Products
Scoro S shown here.

Broncolor is considered the very best in lighting products you can possibly get for the money, and their price premiums tend to reflect this fact. What sets them apart from every other company in the business aside from build quality, is the consistent backwards compatibility with every power pack ever made for all their head products going all the way back to the early 70's.

Bron Electronik is a swiss company, sells the power pack systems under the company name Broncolor while their sister company Visitek builds and sells studio mono-lights under the Visitek name.
Most of Broncolor's pack kits also include their RF2 remote controller, bundling lighting products with their respective RF controller options is something that is not very common in the lighting industry from what i've seen so far. The RF2 features 99 channels and 40 possible groupings.

   BronColor Scoro S & Scoro E
The Scoro S and Scoro E are mains only top tier generators.

  The Scoro S is a 3 socket model, the top tier product offered by BronColor. It features some of the latest and most advanced digital management systems available in portable lighting systems today. It does not have the level of RF trigger integration of a product like the Hensel Porty L, but the quality and capabilities of it makes up for any perceived shortcomings easily enough. The Scoro S looks like something borrowed from a Nasa simulator when its all lit up in the dark. Priced as new approximately 14,000. This pack holds the worlds record for fastest recycle times at full power, capable of up to 50 flashes a second.

The Scoro E is a 2 socket model with similar features slightly lower prices. Both Scoro feature tunable color temp for calibration purposes. Priced as new 8000 and above.

BronColor Move 1200 L
The Move 1200 L is one of two battery based location packs.
Feature-wise this product is really impressive, it probably spanks most non B.C. products in the same price range and below. It appears that BronColor considers the Senso to be one tier above this product the way it's listed on their site, but the features of this product would insist otherwise. The interface design of this product is much better than most of the profoto products i've looked at so far. A barebones version of this product is priced at approximately 5000. A decent kit is priced at 7k, it weighs about 13 pounds, provides capacity for 2 lights, typical outdoor shoots are not going above 200 watt seconds per a head during daylight so 1200 is plenty for most applications.
This pack has the same flash duration profile as Profoto's B1, Hensel's Porty L and some of Profoto's top end pack's. The cycle time is similar as well but The Porty L (discussed later in this article) has the fastest full power cycle time of all the battery enabled packs in this article.

BronColor Senso
The Senso is a very affordable entry level mains only generator.
The senso is priced slightly below the Move 1200L, it features a simpler interface compared to the Scoro and the Move, it is RF2 pre-equipped. It does come in a 2400J capacity also. Priced as new it's about 4800 bucks for the 1200j kit, comes with 2 lights/battery/remote. Sync port allows use of Profoto or other trigger.

BronColor Verso
The Verso is a generator that is also battery enabled.
The verso line offers 1200j, 2400j; 3 sockets for lamps, RF2 pre-equipped standard. The interface is dumbed down even further than the other product lines, not really a deal breaker. It's a no frills high capacity 3 light pack with lots of room. Priced as new around 8000, its the poor mans version of the Scoro S. When powered by 230v mains, this product has the same recycle time stats as the Scoro S, when running on Li-Ion packs it's maximum recycle time at 1.5 seconds. Similar to the recycle time of the Porty L.



Briese (Breize) Light Products 


If they are priced at or above current known prices for Broncolor,
you're probably looking at over $150,000 of products here.


Briese power pack PDF (power cube product line)

This company's products are probably the most upscale and exclusive out of any i've seen so far in the last few years, so much so that they don't have publicly list prices for it. They established an office in New York in 2009, previously having no corporate presence in America that I know of. Not very much information about them or their products is readily available online. I sent off an email to their EU customer reps requesting availability and pricing in the US market, they did not have contact information readily available for the American division. I will update this section later when or if I hear back from them.

This company could be compared to a beefed up superhero class of Broncolor lighting, their parabolic systems offer a fully robotic RF controlled armature system that allows control every aspect of the lighting systems that are networked in the Briese RF ecosystem with their proprietary wireless control system.

Retracting or closing of the parabolic umbrella, controlling the height and attitude (angle) of the head, the focus of the head inside the parabolic (zooms in or out); all of these features are managed by the integrated robotics in addition to controlling the light levels of the head.
These Briese products appear to be exclusively for studio use.
Update: Briese rep contacted me and mentioned they have no american distributors, and prices are only in euros, I will obtain a price sheet for those who may be interested.


Elinchrom Lighting Products


Elinchrom lighting products seem to be considered the redheaded step-child of the lighting world. They are not terrible but they do rank near dead last in quality and reputation for most uses.

They are reasonably good products but the company has shown a reluctance to respond to customer demands for service calls on defective products. Their recent non power pack mono-lights are now made of plastic, some say they are increasingly prone to failure.

The Elinchrom Quadra and Ranger Rx product lines are very compact and reasonably priced. Elinchrom does not have an integrated Skyport radio in their top of the line Ranger product, as far as I know the new Quadra RX and RX Hybrid both have it.
All 3 product lines only offer the ability to power two lights, if you're traveling light to do location work that should be plenty.

Ranger Speed RX AS, Ranger Free
The Ranger Rx line is built like a tank, they are meant to be used outdoors in some of the harshest working conditions you could possibly find. Subfreezing temperatures, covered in snow, rain and much more are handled with aplomb.
I've heard of these dropped in a lake; the owner pulled them out, disassembled it and dried them out. He Re-assembled them later and kept on shooting with the same set.

The Ranger line appears to be restricted to Ranger lights, the Quadra lights don't work I think, doesn't make sense to me at all. The ranger lights and ring flash are very well built but expensive, worth the money if you need something that takes abuse and keeps working.


Quadra RX & Quadra Hybrid RX
The Quadra are not as well made but the trade-off is lower price, considerable space and weight savings, resulting in a very travel friendly on location lighting product. Providing power for 2 lights.

The Quadra is capable of using almost all the mono-light heads Elinchrom makes even the ones meant for the Ranger RX, the caveat is that the Ranger RX product are built for higher power requirements and may not allow the modeling light or fan to operate.

The issue with the Quadra that may concern some is that the heads are almost entirely made of plastic, all the way down the mounting hardware that secures it to the stand, that means large light modifiers may be a problem.

Digital RX
Digital RX power pack is meant for studio use, it does not appear to have any of the weather proofing found in the other portable products. Powers 2 lights like the rest, features a ton of wireless configuration options through the integral EL Skyport system and portable devices like cell phone apps. Priced around 2k new, this seems like a new product but some vendors are marking it as discontinued.



Hensel Lighting Products

2015 is the 20th anniversary of the Porty product line, for a limited time Hensel is offering a brand new Porty L 1200 to the person who can provide them with proof of ownership of the oldest Porty still in circulation, showing proof with photos of the manufacturers serial number on it by the deadline.


Hensel seems to make very good products in terms of build quality I'd rank them as slightly above Elinchrom out of all the systems reviewed in this post. If Buff made power pack systems this company would be similar in product quality to Paul Buff if not better.

The prices of their mid level products are competitive with the entry level pricing of their larger and more expensive rivals.
Porty prices for older models in new or unused condition and the most recent release for the 1200 W/S pack are priced  2700+ and 3300+ respectively.

Hensel offers a feature on their mid to high end products called free-mask, that is integrated with their wireless triggering system, it claims to simplify subject separation from the background for compositing work flows.

Free Mask is or was a licensed software product made by another company who partnered with Hensel, purchasers of certain Hensel lighting products are also given a license to use Free Mask without needing to purchase one separately. I suspect Hensel bought that company. FreeMask is enabled when using compatible heads with Hensel triggers, older heads can be upgraded to allow freemask usage.

Hensel has a partnership with Briese, licensing the use of Porty power systems, allowing Briese to re-badge them as a Briese product to be sold by Briese distributors. Briese offers these as a battery source to power their mains powered generators (cubes).

Porty L 600/1200 Watt Seconds
The Porty L is Hensel's top of the line Li-ion enabled generator, perfect for travel.

The latest Porty L 600 & 1200 W/S power packs offers a wealth of remote triggering and management options, more than I've seen on most products. It spans Porty's own RF triggering system, offering additional cross compatibility with Profoto's Air and Pocket Wizard. As far as I know this level of integrated RF trigger interoperability is extremely unique in the world of lighting eco-systems. Hensel's Porty L, offers 3 separate radio transceivers pre-installed in the unit.
Porty L is a 2 socket Model

This ability if nothing else, sets it apart from just about every other lighting system out there.
There are trade-offs of course, none of the Hensel products appear to offer granular asymmetrical power distribution (independent head power settings). I think they offer them if at all, in ratios rather than user defined levels for certain sockets.

3 separate radios could cause some annoying problems if Hensel doesn't allow you to shut off the ones you are not using. For example, at a convention with a large number of active RF triggering systems being used within 1000 feet of each other can cause all kinds of problems.

Pocket Wizard is not exactly known for it's reliability in noisy RF environments, I can personally attest to that. I own two TT5's that are now used as paperweights, but I digress.

Capacitor recycle times at minimum and full power are competitive with most mid to high end generator packs, particularly in light of the fact this is a battery enabled generator. The flash durations don't not in any way compare to the higher end offerings from top tier providers like Profoto and Broncolor, this means stopping fast moving subjects will require more effort to avoid blur showing in the frame. HSS TTL support is unknown, if it supports Pocketwizard and Profoto, there's a good chance it's in there or can be added through software later.
Tria 3000S

Tria S - 1600 & 3000 Watt Seconds
Tria S is a beefy looking partially manual 3 socket design with some but not all of the features found in the Porty L, this one seems antiquated compared to the Porty L.

Norman's series 900 offers quite a lot of power in a very brown bag package, it's a no-nonsense very basic battery system that offers Pocket Wizard integrated versions of the system, it will power 4 lights. Priced around 2800 bucks. I have never heard of this system before today when I was searching around for information on generator kits, someone mentioned Norman in forums so I decided to include it. The lights that plug into these reflect the brown bag packaging of the pack itself, not fantastic but not terrible either.




Profoto Light Systems
Pro B4 Air Battery Pack Pictured Here
Profoto makes fantastic products, the one drawback if I had to name one is their habit of forcing obsolescence upon their product lines much in the same way Apple computer builds a ticking time bomb of arbitrary expiration into the products they make. The products typically outlast their service life by a wide margin if treated carefully, but they are not always compatible with older or newer products once the age of expiry is reached.
Despite that compatibility issue the build quality of their products as i said is usually of high caliber and its ability to retain high resale value reflects this. I'm sure their engineers and management have a logical reason for doing this other than profit margins but it is daunting for most to see a 10,000+ pack system fall of the supported list with limited options for new heads.
The good news about this is their eco-system of light shapers are compatible with almost every light profoto makes.
There was some grumbling not so long ago when Profoto made the decision to create a new zoom head modifier that did not fit existing adaptors for grids, some of the older lights, and the older light shaper grid set was not compatible with the new one. Brand named grid packs are pretty darn pricey.

Profoto Acute & D4 Air
D4 Air Mains Generator Pictured Here

The acute's are the entry level product for Profoto's line of battery packs. Profoto Acute accessories are plug and play with current D4 but not with the Pro line of battery packs. The acute line is a compact no frills travel friendly power pack. Price is similar to Norman & Elinchrom products but probably a little higher due to the fact it says Profoto on it.

The D4 is a studio generator, just one step below the pro-line offering comparable performance to much more expensive B4 and B8 products. The D4 is the real work horse out of this entire group, offering capacities up to 4800J and powering 4 lights, plug and play compatibility with more lights than any other
pack system offered by profoto(Acute, D4, Pro).




Profoto B4 & B8 Air
B8 Air Mains Generator Pictured Here

The professional grade battery pack system for Profoto, Acute system accessories are not compatible with this product. These are multi plug light systems offering the same level of performance as the B1 air's electronics offer but it does much better at the cost of size, weight and a huge price tag. The B4 is intended for travel and on location shoots outdoors, it powers 2 lights at a combined maximum of 1000 w/s.
The B4 is Li-Ion enabled, a very capable battery system but the Hensel Porty L & BronColor Move both have equal footing if not an upper hand over this system in terms of features, quality and price. The exception might be if you were already heavily invested in the Profoto system and you needed to back into the game with a working unit, then it might make more sense for you to continue with that. If you have a working system and want to see how the other half lives, the other two aforementioned competitors are very compatible with Profoto. The plug and play features allowed through either integrated transceiver or VIA the sync port on your respective RF controller, give you lots of easy mix and match options. It's still a win-win regardless of which way you go.

The B8 is branded as a studio generator, powering 2 lights, this unit is offered in capacities of 1200 and 2400J. Its far too expensive to be referred to as a mains only studio unit when it only powers 2 lights, they need to address this deficit somehow!





FootNote:

So.. it's 2015, lots of new lighting systems and cameras have appeared out of nowhere seemingly. I still see no attempts at preventing a RF controlled strobe-ageddon of sorts caused by so many RF enabled devices that share overlapping frequencies not using any encryption or Ident code to allow your strobes the ability to discriminate between your flash controller and someone else's (vice versa).

WiFi routers have this ability, it's called WPS, various other wireless devices use similar crypto methods.
(TKIP, IKE - These are key exchange based crypto systems.)

Conventions or various public venue's where a lot of photographing occurs can often have triggers of the same type all sharing the same channels with compatible devices. None of them have any way of preventing misfires from occurring other than not using it at all. Not an ideal option when the whole point of buying them is to use it.

Phottix is introducing a product called Odin II with a type of device pairing system that should prevent further accidental triggering of off camera flashes. Announced last year in what turned out to be a paper launch, it may make an appearance later this year, who knows.