How far can you go with Speedlites?

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by ChrisOquist, Jan 2, 2009.

  1. ChrisOquist

    ChrisOquist TPF Noob!

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    Earlier this week when I went to the shop to pick up my new backdrop frame I started thinking that it might not be too bad to have another strobe, and I walked out with a 580EX.

    I already have another 580EX and a 430EX, and I use them all as slaves with an STE2 wireless transmitter sitting on my Rebel XT.

    I haven't taken it out of the box yet and I'm wondering if I should return it and get back my nearly $400. For the amount I'm spending on these Speedlites, I could get Alien Bees B1600s or save for a professional system. Here's my thinking:

    1. These Speedlites have no modeling lights, and the other options do - it would be fantastic to be able to see what the light is doing both to save time, and to increase rapport with models (more time shooting, less time going "oh wait, let me try this.." "wait a second" "let me just...")

    2. Recycle time with Speedlites can leave a lot to be desired, especially an hour into a shoot.

    3. More power with studio systems.

    The thing I love about the Strobist thing is the portability of a system built on battery-powered Speedlites. Shoot outdoors, carry them to clubs, don't worry about where the outlets are.. This makes it worth it for me. But, where are the practical limits of using them? Can you do something like this or this with Speedlites? Is there enough power to throw them into a chimera softbox or set up two of them behind a sheet for fill light?

    Especially as I have more and more ideas for involved shoots, I start wondering if I should stop buying $400 Speedlites and invest in a bigger system.

    Thoughts? Any of you doing elaborate things with a multi-Speedlite setup?
     
  2. dxqcanada

    dxqcanada Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Look at a flash's guide number.
    This will give you the output level.

    The Speedlites are probably between 100 to 190 ft. depending on the zoom.

    The AlienBees will vary according to the reflector:
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]guide numbers[/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]B400[/SIZE][/FONT] [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]B800[/SIZE][/FONT] [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]B1600[/SIZE][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]Standard 7-inch Reflector[/SIZE][/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]#118[/SIZE][/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]#172[/SIZE][/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]#236[/SIZE][/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]11-inch Reflector[/SIZE][/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]#220[/SIZE][/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]#320[/SIZE][/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular][SIZE=-1]#450[/SIZE][/FONT]​
     
  3. dxqcanada

    dxqcanada Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    FYI: if you are not familiar with flash guide numbers ... they do NOT represent the maximum distance.

    Direct flash:

    Distance = GN / Aperture
     
  4. ChrisOquist

    ChrisOquist TPF Noob!

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    I was a little confused at the responses but now looking at the title of this post its obvious the problem is that my question was confusing. I wasn't asking how far literally, as in how far away can subjects be and still be adequately lit.

    I was actually asking about using a Speedlite-based system versus studio strobes. How limited are you in terms of what you can do with Speedlites. Should I keep buying them (since I already have 3), if I'm planning on doing a bunch of elaborate fine art stuff with multiple models, involved sets, etc, or should I start building a studio setup.

    Thanks! Sorry to be confusing.
     
  5. Chris of Arabia

    Chris of Arabia Herding cats since 1988... Supporting Member

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    I'm hovering on the edge of the same dilemma myself. Whilst you can carry on down the same route you are already on and adopting something of a strobist approach to your lighting, there is still that interminable problem of not having a modelling light. I'd say that even the most basic studio set-up would be an improvement for your main lighting and perhaps use the Speedlites for bits of fill in as needed.
     
  6. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Not sure if you call it elaborate, but I've lit our complete house floor for Christmas Eve (when we open our presents). 5 speedlights and 2 studio strobes firing everywhere on the main floor so that no matter where you took a picture, from the kitchen to the living room, the stairway and main entrance and anywhere in between... everywhere was perfectly balanced to trip the light meter to F/5.6 and ISO 200.

    All I had to do was walk around and take pics of the family doing it's Christmas things. Because I had multiple triggers, I also had a trigger on my Nikon E8800 point and shoot for my sister and mom, and for my dad, we even used up a 24 pic role of film from his Nikon F2A, using my 3rd Cactus trigger, setting off the strobes throughout the place. Ok, I felt it was a pretty good idea... and my neighbor thought we had a disco going on for a few hours becuase of all the flash that was visible from the outside from most of the house windows ... LOL.

    What was nice about this was that there was never a flash firing into your face so it was not as intrusive. Using the Cactus V2s setup meant that I could strategically place each light source in such a manner as to light a specific part of the room and never use on camera flash, nor blast someone with a direct flash shot in the face... it was fun playing till I got it just right. With a little care, you could hit all the right angles just so and not even see a lightstand or flash head in any of the shots anywhere (well none in mine... my dad's composition needs a little work... lol).

    The pictures were all identically lit, and after about 200 pictures, you really note this and it starts to look almost boring (except for the fact that what you are taking is a pic of someone in a highly festive mood) , but I sincerely do not think I ever saw pics so sharp thanks to the 24-70 and smaller apertures (my normal apertures last year were F/2.8 and F/4 last year). I also plopped the camera on a tripod for a few and we did some quick family portraits with me in the pics for the first time, thanks to a wireless trigger that I also picked up from Gadget Infinity.

    All that aside, you really need to define WHAT you want to shoot before deciding if you need no flashes at all or 15 speedlights or 5 studio strobes. For 95% of my shots I can easily get by with one or two flashes in 2 lightstands and umbrellas and be VERY happy.

    I can see a time coming very soon, though, where I will need to have 2 mini studio setups for my niece's HS graduation ceremony (its a private and very posh girl-only school that my niece goes to... lol), and I want 2 separate areas... one made for single shot portraits and another area that is larger and made for group portraits of an entire class or group of girls that receive a specific award or are from a single grade.

    The smaller single student portraiture setup will be taken using the D200 and 4 speedlights (2 on shoot through umbrellas at different power settings, a snoot for a kiss of hairlight and back-lighting effect, and one last strobe for the gelled and coloured backdrop).

    The larger group area will be taken using the D700 and 2 stronger studio strobes with two reflective umbrellas shooting against a black velvet curtain backdrop that is available to me on location.

    Nothing uber-elaborate, just a lot of fun!

    Meh... at the level you and I are shooting at, modeling lights are near useless. I already have a 90% idea of what the light will look like as I am setting them up, and a quick look at the LCD quells the other 10% of possible questions for me. Others need modeling lights... I've never found the need for it. A light meter would be more important. IMHO.

    Buy better quality batteries. With 4 AA Energizer batteries, I am getting well past 450 pictures before recycle times become an issue. 3 min and a battery change later, I am ready for the next 450 pictures. That is being conservative too. At my last Strobist meet, I shoot well over 300 pictures and the 3 other photographers that used my setup easily shot 150 each. That was all on ONE set of batteries!

    No argument there... but do you REALLY need to light a huge area with 2 studio strobes? Most lenses at the F/13-F/16 levels that these lights can easily produce, are WELL beyond the sweet spot of the lenses and you are not gaining anything anymore. Also, stronger lights do not offer you the same level of control that the weaker lights can. Environment size is everything. Shooting in a 12-foot wide by 20-foot deep area was EASILY handled by 2 SB-600s in reflective umbrellas at 1/2 power and F/4 at ISO 200 at a recent Strobist shoot that I did.

    [​IMG]


    I'd say none, really. Need more light? Add another strobe. What you need to be asking is what and where are you going to be shooting the most? Get the right equipment for that.

    Yes on the first one.. with 4-5 speedlights. Very likely yes on the second one, but now you are REALLY pushing them (I'd have to try it myself to know for sure).

    Ok, depends on what you want to do. Are you going to shoot 50-75 feet wide shots REGULARLY or are you just starting out? Are the plugs in the areas that you want to shoot or not? if not and you are not interested in adding the additional costs of generators wiring or battery packs that don't even last as long as batteries in strobes... thats another consideration.

    "They" say that there are 2 things that you don't skimp on... that's your lighting and high end lenses. The saying goes "you buy your lenses and lighting ONCE, and replace the camera every year or two"... and I agree... good lenses are ALWAYS good lenses and the same goes for lighting, but camera bodies have a way shorter lifespan.

    However, if good lighting for you means 10 X Vivitar 285HS or 10 SB-800s... becuase you demand versatility and portability...cool.

    If you are going to spend your life on studio sets, you cannot beat the bug guns... and a lot of them, because, just like with strobes... 2 is NOT enough once you start talking at this level.

    For me, I don't need that level of lighting... once I do, I just may as well go 3 ProPhoto heads and a nice $10,000 cheque and be done with it... but until I get to that level... if ever, I can live with speedlights or lower end lighting like the Elinchrom D-lite 4 package.

    Unless someone starts to pay me good money for my pics, I am just not *that* head over heels with my hobby that I need multi-thousand watt light setups... nor do I even come CLOSE to needing them.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2009

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