What does 'Alien Bees' gear mean to the photography world?

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by kkamin, Feb 7, 2010.

  1. kkamin
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    kkamin New Member

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    It seems like Alien Bees gear is very popular nowadays but don't really understand what that means.

    Is it popular because it is very affordable? Is it stigmatized with the pros?

    I haven't ever seen or used their products, but I just went to their website and their equipment seems reasonably priced, but it doesn't seem like its the cheapest either.

    Thanks!
  2. shmne
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    shmne Active Member

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    It is the middle of the line gear, at least in my opinion. The best starting place if you plan on going pro, since they are very affordable, very durable, and easily modified all things considered. They are good enough to get you started and last you a lifetime if you want them to.

    Many pros dislike them because they have a long flash duration, and seem cheesy. Personally I love the fact that they come in colors (I'm weird). Granted most people say they are garbage because of the cheap plastics used for the casing, from what I've heard they can be dropped with little damage (meaning little enough to where the light is fully functioning, with the flash tube shattered). The least appealing part about them to many pros is the lack of power, or true watts per second.

    I won't be getting Alien Bees mainly because of their flash duration, and because I want something with more kick in it. I will be buying some of the supplies though, I already own an umbrella from them and love it. For me there are some better options out there.
  3. gsgary
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    gsgary Well-Known Member

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    I think it is because they are very cheap, can't be bought here in the UK but if they were on sale they would be in the budget range and not pro quality
  4. kkamin
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    kkamin New Member

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    I saw that on their specs for their monolights. It says something like 400 effective w/s and 250 true w/s. How does that work?
  5. shmne
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    shmne Active Member

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    It works by being truly 250 w/s. Its like how Zack Arias put it "Its like saying a car feels like 600 horsepower but really has 400 horsepower" or something to that effect.

    I'm not sure why they say what they say, I've handled them before and don't see what they mean by 400 w/s effective :|

    The Einstein which is hopefully coming out soon, will replace most of the problems of the older versions. It will have an extremely fast flash duration, and a much higher "true" w/s.
  6. Phranquey
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    Phranquey New Member

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    I think the "effective" might be linked to the longer duration. The burst is 250ws, but since they are on longer, they put out an exposure's worth of 400ws. Essentially... marketing gimic.

    I had AB's for a little while, and they do work, but there is a difinite color shift from full power to low power. It's not huge, but it's there.
  7. TJ K
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    TJ K New Member

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    Are you just referring to the Alien Bee lights or to their products in general?

    I have a pair of the cyber Syncs and they are very good. They work reliably to several hundred feet. They are better made and much more reliable than those cheap ebay ones and plus they are made here in the USA.

    The plus side is they don't cost near as much as the pocket wizards. You can get an alien bee transmitter and receiver for the price of just 1 pocket wizard. Within a few hundred feet they are just as reliable as pocket wizards too. They don't have TTL abilities but when I take the flash off the camera and even sometimes on the camera I prefer to use it in manual anyways. I think that is why people tend to go for them. Good price amazing quality and top notch customer service makes alien bees my choice.
    TJ
  8. shmne
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    shmne Active Member

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    Can't believe I forgot to mention the color shift! As little as it sounds, that gets annoying after a while. We found this out in class with a live demo of Alien Bees lights, bunch of us were playing with them (with the teacher's camera, so same camera) all coming out with slightly differing image color quality.
  9. kkamin
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    kkamin New Member

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    But I think that's how all strobes work. I think the maximum duration of flash creates the highest power. I could be wrong.
  10. Phranquey
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    Phranquey New Member

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    I have the cybersync's, and I love them... just didn't care for the strobes.
  11. shmne
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    shmne Active Member

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  12. Derrel
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    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Here is my take on it. I have owned professional level studio flash equipment since 1987,and am familiar with some of the history of the Paul C. Buff products.

    The concept of sowing doubt and fear about "effective" watt-seconds and "true" watt-seconds has been widely ridiculed by older professionals who have been around studio lighting equipment for decades. The idea of effective vs true watt-seconds is a brilliant and purely marketing-driven idea invented by Paul C. Buff, years ago, to confuse customers and to spread fear, uncertainty,and doubt about--FIRST, about the other flash manufacturers of the 1980's, and then 15-20 years later, the so-called "Euro-flash" companies. It is pure and simple, a way to make customers feel better about the product: unlike other,older flash companies like Speedotron and Photogenic from the USA, and Braun, Elinchrom, and Bowens from outside the USA, Buff started naming his flash units "differently", with the White Lightning 10,000 back in the 1980's. No other flash manufacturer used such a high specification "number" to identify its monolights. Lumen-seconds is not the traditional way to rate studio flash units: THE STANDARD for decades prior to the 1980's had been watt-seconds or Guide Number. Beginning with the White Lightning "10,000", and continuing to today, the Alien Bee flash line uses a specification number that is far in excess of the number of stored watt-seconds.

    The imaginary "other company" the true vs. effective watt-seconds nomenclature was "based upon"was never once identified by name and or model that I know of; the idea put forth in the Bufff company's marketing materials is that the "other" companies were/are being disingenuous or flat-out lying by stating the number of watt-seconds worth of energy stored in their flash units' capacitors. Lots of smoke was blown about lumen-seconds output of Buff units, primarily because it is one way to actually quantify light levels--and yet, NOBODY I KNOW in America or Europe, owns a lumens-seconds meter. Many of us have light meters, and the traditional method was to test flash units for Guide Number, stated in Feet in the USA, in metres in the rest of the world, at ASA of 100 (later ISO), in a "normal-sized" indoor room that did not have hugely high ceilings. Calumet Photographic, in its huge and comprehensive 1986 catalog, had ALL flash units tested the same way: the actual f/stop metered at 10 feet from the front face of a medium Chimera soft box. By doing that, they 1) fairly and 2) realistically equalized the measuring method t the then-current "standard" of a 36x48 inch softbox, of top quality. And you know what??? My recollection is that Speedotron, Norman, Photogenic, Broncolor, Calument, and Dyna-Lite ALL had almost identical actual f/stop ratings among packs of the same price class and nominal specification. There was very,very little difference between the major flash makers, which lead me then to the conclusion that the "real" and the "effective" watt-second ratings of the major flash makers were all QUITE realisitc,and honest. I pored through the 1986 Calumet catalog for months before finally making my decision to go with Speedotron equipment.

    In all honesty, the majority of flash has for decades been based on units like 50,100,200,400,800,1200,1600,and 2400 watt-seconds. The fact that the Buff company has taken a 320 watt-second monolight--but labels and sells it with the name of Alien Bee 800 while alleging that it has "800 watt-seconds of effective power" is quite a marketing ploy. I would dearly LOVE to read name and model number of the "other company" that makes this mythical 800 watt-second power supply and flash head OR monobloc flash that stores 800 watt-seconds of power and does not absolutely blow the Alien Bee 800 away. My feeling is that the "effective/actual" disparity is so,so ridiculously large that the only possible way a 320 watt-second light could approach the output of an 800 watt-second unit is if the 800 watt-secopnd were something like a 35 year old, bottom of the barrel Novatron. Seriously: let's look at a 320 horsepower engine and say it produces 800 "effective" horsepower. Instead of calling it a 320 HP engine, let's call specify it as an 800 horsepower engine. To put this marketing and naming system into perspective: I am exactly 6 "real" feet tall, but when I play basketball I am 15 "effective" feet tall. In high school I played football at a "real" 168 pounds, but my "effective" playing weight was 420 pounds.
    The real/effective disparity is a factor of 2.5 x!!! I have an old Nikon worth a "real" $95, but I would like to get an "effective" dollar price 2.5 higher, or $237.50.

    I hope this answers what Alien Bees means to "some" people in the photography world. Medium-priced lights sold under a specious "effective power" level that is 2.5 higher than most other companies. To people who have been around studio lighting for a long time, the company that makes the A-B units has a history that is, well, one of "inflated claims" leveled against a decades-long phantom "other" opponent. Many are happy with the AB flashes and their price and cute name and affordability, and the marketing materials are rich and thick and comforting.
  13. c.cloudwalker
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    c.cloudwalker New Member

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    The way I look at Alien Bees is as a great step between the "strobist thing" and a real studio set up.

    The "strobist thing" is a great learning tool but is severely limited in the long run. ABs are a good start working with real strobes although they do have problems. The color shift is a hell of a problem for serious studio work. But the ABs can be used for non-problematic areas in a studio going more serious such as, for example, lighting your backgrounds with gelled lights... so that they are not as useless an investment as a bag full of on-camera flashes as required by the strobist.

    Some people will not like what coming next but that is their problem. When you want to be seen as a pro, you and your studio need to look like pros. The strobist way just doesn't fit that idea. ABs would a bit more if it wasn't for the weird colors. But I tend to believe that anyone getting more serious about photography after they get ABs will eventually get better strobes so it does not really matter.

    I think ABs are great for a while or for a weekend shooter type of photographer. If you don't progress past that stage, fine, you'll keep being happy with them. But if you do go beyond that stage, you'll switch to better gear.

    One of the problems with photo lighting is that very few amateurs really understand its importance. They'll spend a few Ks on a body and not give a second thought to their strobes... when they could have kept their one year old body and bought a couple Broncolors.

    To each his/her own. Personally, I am going back into commercial work and because of being there before I know I will not or would not buy ABs for my studio.
  14. Don Kondra
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    Don Kondra Well-Known Member

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    I own and use two B1600 units.

    Does Paul Buff use creative advertising ? Yup...

    Is he the only company that does this ? Hardly...

    I also own and use two 200 w/s Cowboy Studio lights.

    Does that make me less than a professional ?

    I've also been using a 9" contractors saw to produce award winning furniture for over 30 years.

    It's a poor craftsman that blames his tools.

    Cheers, Don
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  15. c.cloudwalker
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    c.cloudwalker New Member

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    Would that explain different tones in the wood in your photos when you show a set?

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