Lighting a Zepplin…

In my opinion, one of the hardest things about lighting is the modifiers.  Lights are easy.  You turn them on, some flash and some don’t; and you point them at whatever you want to “enlighten”.  Yea, you have to pick the power setting, but that’s the basic idea.  Whether it’s a speed light, a Alien Bee, a Profoto, or a desk lamp.  The idea is the same.   When it comes to modifiers though, there is a seemingly infinite number of choices for any and all occasions.  Grids, gels, umbrellas (shoot through, and bounce out) ranging from 8″-80″+ not including parabolic umbrella’s,  soft boxes of all shapes, sizes, depths, and levels of diffusion, and the list goes on and on like a song that never ends

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Enter the New Wescott Zepplin Para 59″ Parabolic reflector/softbox.  Why is this a big deal?  Just another soft box/reflector right?  Yes and no.  Broncolor, Profoto, Elinchrom and ect make large parabolic reflector octabox combo’s as well.  Theirs cost between $4,000-$7,000.  Wescott’s costs $699.90 for the big 59″ one (which is the one I had for a few days).  Kind of a big difference yea?  It also comes in almost any kind of mount for your lights.  In this case, I was also loaned a Profoto B1 500AIR TTL unit.  You know, the one that does TTL?  Aim and fire style?   Yea.  BOOM. Two piece review.  In fact, lets start there with the Profoto so we know what we’re looking at.

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(Photo from Robert’s Camera’s website)

First off the usual bit about how I’m not getting paid for this.  I just dig playing with new gear, which works well for me and the folks at Roberts that arrange let me do it because a lot more than I’d like to admit I end up buying a lot of stuff that I love. Yes, I pay for it like everyone else.   If I don’t love it though, I’ll tell you.  That’s how it works.  That said, lets do this.

The Profoto B1 500 AIR TTL is a new head from Profoto that puts out about 500 watt seconds of glorious dragon sunshine slaying power in the design as such that it’s just a head. In fact, that’s one of my favorite parts.  The battery?  Mounts to the side of the head.  No cables, and no pack.  NO PACK!  It’s just one piece for all intents and purposes, so put it on a stand and go.  Quick obscure tip, oven roasted turkey bags are good to sit in a 500 degree oven for hours.  They can handle the heat of your light just fine, which is incredibly needed when you are outside and  it *might* rain.  Not a permanent shoot outside solution, but a solution for if it might start raining that will allow you to finish up without ruining all your lighting gear.  Also, I’ve had a question about breathing in the bags, and good call there.  A majority of all heat coming from a studio head is actually coming from the Halogen Modeling light; which you don’t want to use on battery power anyway. As as long as you aren’t shooting for hours outside at full power in the rain, your lights will breathe just fine. With that I’ll remind you the Turkey bags aren’t a permanent solution, but a “lets just get this finished and go home” kind of solution.

Anyway, I digress.  With the battery attached to the side of this Profoto head there is no more: which cable needs to go where, and how do I mount this to the stand, and do I need it to be X.  Nope.  It’s all in one unit.  Amazing.  How about the TTL?  I had a Canon 5D Mark II and a 28-70F2.8 while I had the unit, along with their TTL Transmitter for Canon.  If I had to pick a weak point in the system this would be it.  No; not the Canon 5D2, or the TTL. (The TTL was Flawless the times that I used it by the way).  The Transmitter.

Transmitter

The transmitter (Subsequently called the “Air Remote”) has a really beautiful LCD display that looks like it wants to show you all kinds of information about TTL, flash levels, rotation of the earth and the speed of photons in  your area.  It doesn’t do a single one of those though, which for a $400 transmitter is an issue for me.  If you set it to TTL, it fires at TTL sure. If you want to make changes (to either TTL or manual), it acts as you would expect also in that it goes up in 1/1oth stop increments per click, but holding the button pushes you up 1 stop at a time.   That’s all great.  What happens once you get it set and take your shot?  The beautiful Transmitter LCD simply reads Manual or TTL like you are just getting started again.  The flash is still set the way that you had it when you set it not a second before so you don’t need to reset anything; you just don’t know what that is and that’s terrible.  Maybe Profoto’s market is made up of much smarter individuals than I, who would remember where they had it set, but it was still unacceptable to me.  I also concede that I’m spoiled by my Nikon SU-800 which tells me what my speedlights are set to all the time; whether in TTL or in Manual.   In theory this is not a difficult thing to do either. (Theory because I’m not a rocket scientist, nor do I understand the magic behind how some of this gear even works). Why just not leave TTL +1.2 on the screen?  Or even Manual +4.0?  That way you at least have a base as to where you started.  (The manual and TTL work the same way in that it’s by stop, not actual power though.  You’d need to know where you start with manual no matter what).

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(Nikon D4s, 100ISO, Nikon 24-70F2.8N@44mm.  1/80th@F14.  Profoto 1B500 AIR to camera left set to full power on a Manfrotto stand aimed direclty at the car.  Paul C Buff Einstein unit set to 9/10th power to camera right aimed at the rear of the car.  Both lights triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus X units, and on Battery power.  Both units also covered in Oven Roasted Turkey bags.)

Ok, so you’ve heard a lot of tech speak about the Profoto B1 500Air TTL, so lets do some sample images.  That above was a rental car I had a few weeks ago.  I know, it’s not a really cool or exciting car unless you love Toyota’s, but I shot that with the Profoto B1 500 Air TTL, and a Paul Buff Einstein unit.  I wanted to see how closely the output matched what they said it did, and sure enough without any doubts in my mind the 500ws was right about there even while on the battery pack.  I was unfortunately only able to snap a few before it started pouring, but that’s what led to the tip above about the Turkey bags.

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(Canon 5D Mark II, 100ISO, Canon 24-70F2.8@55mm, 1/200th@F2.8.  Profoto 1B AIR triggered by Profoto Commander TTL Transmitter set to TTL shot into a Wescott 32″ umbrella)

This shot was my very first TTL test of the 1B air, and it was via an umbrella (not the Zepplin yet, but be patient).  It was flawless; which using Canon TTL is an accomplishment in and of itself in my humble opinion.  I put the transmitter on the 5D Mark II, and that was it.  First shot.  Obviously I shot more, but if I was looking for the correct settings they were there.  Since I only had one lens for the Canon Body, I also had a Pocket Wizard Plus X attached to the Profoto Head, and I made a discovery.  Not only did both the Air Transmitter and the Pocket Wizard plus X work simultaneously hand in hand with two different bodies and two different brands; but the TTL set the flash to a certain level and it stayed there.  So basically if you only had one Air Remote, and you fired a few shots on TTL and then grabbed another body with a Pocket Wizard, you could shoot without having to change any settings while going back and forth.  That’s kinda awesome because forget guessing the power settings for Manual after shooting TTL if you have to change between a bunch of different cameras.  It was probably a Happy Accident since I know it’s not meant to be used that way, but I was impressed nonetheless because it meant shooting back and forth between Canon and Nikon systems was seamless.

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Onward to The Zepplin.  The Zepplin is a very special light modifier and I wanted to create something a little different for these few images because as it turns out I am not allowed to release the other stuff I shot with it yet.  Before we get into that lets talk about the Zepplin itself.  Beautiful light modifier.  59″ of incredibly soft light.  The outer panel diffuser fits very well, the inner panel snaps in easily and has a 2 stop diffusion in the center, with a 1 stop diffusion on the outside to prevent and eliminate hot spots.   It’s big enough that your subject can move around a bit and not force you to worry about moving your modifier like you would if you were using a small 16″ speedlight softbox.  The Zepplin’s mount was really good too, with not one but two adjustment handles to help deal with the sheer size and weight of the Zepplin. (The thing is large enough to be a fort, or go camping in.  Seriously).  Reportedly there are some issues with a few of castings in the mounts out at the time of this writing, but I’ve been told that Wescott is in the process of changing those out Post Haste.  The mount that I had WAS one of the defective units, however it did not impact my usage of the Zepplin one bit so if you happen to get a defective mount then by all means have it replaced; but it’s not going to catch fire and explode or drop your Monoblock anything.  The biggest thing that impacted my use of the Zepplin was actually the assembly process.  If there is one and only one change I could  make to the Zepplin, it would be that some of the poles need to be color coded to the mounting bracket to make assembly go much more quickly.  In order to assemble it as it is, you need to lay the Zeppelin down flat and then make sure you get the two center poles on both the top and bottom first.  This would be significantly easier with a dot of nail polish to mark the first four poles with their corresponding holes on the mount.   I’m just saying it would be easier to have the thing in your hands, and be able to start to assemble it as opposed to lay it all out first.  There were a few occasions where I started to put it together wrong and had to start over.  Once it is together though.  It’s a real Gem.

Dave1(Canon 5D Mark II, 100ISO, Canon 24-70F2.8@70mm.  1/200th@F10.  Profoto 1B 500AIR triggered by Profoto Commander Transmitter set to TTL shot through a Wescott 59″ Zepplin Para at Noon without a cloud in the sky)

I set these shots up at High Noon at my Uncle and Aunt’s pool in Chicago while I was also in town shooting for Paoli Furniture at Neocon 2014.  Why high noon?  Because I wanted the harshest, most unforgiving, most powerful sunlight available to test out the Diffusion power of the Zepplin, mixed with the lighting power of the Profoto B1 Air 500 TTL.  As you can tell; it’s a killer Combo.

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(Nikon D4s, 100ISO, Nikon 24F1.4N, 1/200th@F2 with a Formatt Hitech 0.3, and 0.6 Neutral Density filter on the lens for 3 stops of light reduction.  Profoto 1B 500AIR set to whatever the 5D Mark II deemed was TTL power the last shot I fired with it shot through the Wescott Zepplin 59″ Para triggered by a Pocket Wizard Plus X from the camera’s hot shoe).

Yea, my Uncle loves his Cigars, and took this opportunity to have one while I was shooting his portrait.  I found this image interesting as the light of the Zepplin was soft enough to illuminate both David, as well as the smoke from his Cigar in a pleasing Fashion as opposed to overpowering one or the other.  I shot several different shots like these, and the Profoto recycled appropriately and my Uncle moved around as he pleased while also staying inside the large area of soft light.  The first shots I took were with the Canon 5D Mark II, and they were shot TTL.  The TTL was spot on and the test shot ended up being the one you see above.  I shot several frames also with my Nikon D4s too  because as I mentioned previously, I have a lot more options with my Nikon gear than with the loaner Canon gear I had and the TTL settings stayed, meaning going back and forth meant zero waiting.

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(Nikon D4s, 100ISO, Nikon 24F1.4N, 1/200th@F2 with a Formatt Hitech 0.3, and 0.6 Neutral Density filter on the lens for 3 stops of light reduction.  Profoto 1B 500AIR set to whatever the 5D Mark II deemed was TTL power the last shot I fired with it shot through the Wescott Zepplin 59″ Para triggered by a Pocket Wizard Plus X from the camera’s hot shoe).

 In that shot I simply backed up, didn’t move the light one bit.  As you can tell the Zepplin lights very evenly across a wide range of space allowing quite a few possibilities with a single modifier!  It’s also worth noting that the Profoto B1 500AIR TLL unit was perfectly balanced to the sunlight as well.

So wow that was kind of a lot of information jumbled into a few images on top of more information.  Between the two I have to admit there is only one that I seriously feel inclined to spend my money on sooner rather than later and that’s the Profoto B1 500 AIR TTL.  I don’t own any Profoto Equipment, but the TTL in the side of a Studio head was incredible and I can see it being a valuable addition to anyone’s kit.  That and the fact that the battery attaches right to the head.  Again. NO PACK!!  It’s all in one unit; a whole new world.  I probably wouldn’t swap out all my lighting gear to jump to Profoto any time soon, but adding one of these Profoto heads to the mix is probably going to be on the to do list on the sooner side of sooner or later.  What about the Zepplin?  Does that mean I didn’t like the Zepplin?  It doesn’t mean that at all.  In fact I thought the Zepplin was incredible.  I however, am a location based photographer meaning that I don’t rent or own a studio space for shooting regularly.  After carting the Zepplin around with me for about 1,000 miles and having set it up 7 times that were not just to figure it out, I can’t imagine setting it up and taking it down everywhere I went.  If I had a studio space the $699 would have been spent already though, and it probably would get used almost every time I shot.

In conclusion here, what we have are two different animals.  One which belongs on the road shooting wherever, whenever, and whatever needed, and the other belongs in a studio waiting for the next Portrait, headshot, or model to come in to bask in it’s gloriously diffuse light.  What’s right for you?  One? Both?  Only you can tell that.  If you need more help with that decision, feel free to shoot me an email through the contact page,  OR call the guys at Roberts here in Indy.  They are good people and they deal with all my ridiculous questions, so I’m sure yours won’t be so bad.  Also you can pre order the Zepplin,  or order Air Remote, and/or Profoto B1 500 AIR TTL there on the phone or at the links I just provided.  Otherwise, More Soon.