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Author Topic: What do you prefer, power packs or moonlights?  (Read 2067 times)


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What do you prefer, power packs or moonlights?
« on: January 03, 2009, 05:07:59 PM »

What do you prefer, power packs or moonlights?  And Why?

I am looking more towards moonlights but as I read more I keep wondering if I should really be looking at a power pack system.  I will mostly be shooting architectural with an every once in a while photo shoot of product (ceramics mostly).  I see the moonlights working for me because I can plug them in on site and they will weight less to transport.

I have been looking at purchasing a kit from profoto (compact pro 6), elinchrome (bx or rx series) or Bowens Esprit Gemini (either the digital or analog).  Each have their pluses and minuses.  Profoto can be used with either 120 or 220 (donít think that will apply much to me), modifiers seem easy to change quickly and is easy to rent anywhere.  Elinchrome RX series has the skyport system with the ability to change settings just at the camera or computer.  The Bowens Gemini can be run on AC/DC power (plugged into the wall or used with a battery).  

Minus on the Profoto, their modifiers and replacement bulbs cost more.  The Elinchrome RX series is the most expensive to the three moonlights I am looking at (to get an equivalent kit it will cost about $800 to $1,000 more).  With the Bowens it seems not many pros are using them, but I could be wrong here, I am just worried about their durability.  On the Bowens I am also curious what the difference is between the digital line and their analogue line.

What are some of your experiences with either of these lines; pluses and minuses and if moonlights would work better for me then a power pack system?  Keep in mind I can purchase any of these kits were I live here in Seattle and can rent them also.

Aaron Britton



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What do you prefer, power packs or moonlights?
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2009, 05:21:10 PM »

Profoto all the way. The universal reflector design, build quality and light quality are head and shoulders above the rest. If you don't like the bulb and glass prices, don't break them. I am a little biased, I have been using Profoto for 20 years and only ever had one "incident".
Through the years I have also had the chance to use and own others(Bowens, Dynalite, Broncolor, Venca, Speedo, Norman etc) as well so this is not really a one sided opinion.
Spend your budget plus 10%; buy slightly more than you can afford in the beginning and work harder to pay it off. I'm a firm believer in buying the best you can.
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What do you prefer, power packs or moonlights?
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2009, 09:11:38 PM »

At first I was confused, trying to figure out what a "moonlight" was.

I am going to recommend that you buy Alien Bee 1600s.  I have been using them for about three years along with White Lightning X3200 and X2400 (no longer available.)  I also have about 10 Balcar PSU 500ws and 1600ws heads and six packs (AC and battery) that I occasionally use.

I specialize in shooting interiors so this is why I recommend the Alien Bees.

1. They are small and lightweight. So you can travel with a bunch of them. Their size and shape allows you to hide them more easily than many other units. Monoblocks in general are much handier on location because every time you add a light, you are increasing power. With packs you are dividing power when you add a light.  Plus connecting cords all over the place on an architectural shoot is a pain often requiring you to have several packs if the lights are going to be in various rooms.  If you need one light on an upper balcony, it is a lot easier to carry an Alien Bee up a few flights of stairs than a heavy pack and head.  The long shape of Profoto and many other monoblocks make them hard to shove up in a corner or hide behind a column.  I have home-made reflectors for use with my Alien Bees in tight spaces.  Being light weight makes them easy to boom out over a staircase or landing.

2. The Alien Bees have a radio remote control system (recently discontinued but about to be replaced by the better Cyber Commander system.) This allows me to control and adjust (in 1/10th stops) each light from the camera.  A great time saver that also makes it easier to get exactly what you are after. For instance, if you have a light pointing into the room through a window from outside, do you really want to keep going outside to adjust it?  In architectural usage, lights are often placed in difficult to reach locations.

3. They are very inexpensive, well supported, and can be quickly and cheaply repaired. The flashtubes cost around $35.  So if one unit gets damaged, it is no big deal to have it repaired. The inexpensive price allows you to have a lot of units so that you can do more creative lighting and also cover yourself if one goes down.

4. They are available in a variety of colors. This sounds strange but I bought all the colors because it helps in identifying them. That way I can tell my assistant to go to the "pink" one and tilt it down a little.

5. They accept Balcar reflectors, softboxes, etc. I have a bunch of these. At one time Balcar made some unique softboxes that are especially useful for interior photography.  The Balcar 7" reflectors can be fitted with Lowel DP light 7" barndoors and other Lowel accessories.  These banrdoors offer better control than others that I have seen from strobe manufacturers and serve double duty with my Lowel hot lights.

6. The Vagabond II battery system (which I do not have) looks like a great way to run the lights when there is no AC available or you'd have to run a cord across the scene. (This is common in bathtubs and showers.)  I would have bought the Vagabond system, but I already had three Balcar battery systems and three Norman 200ws battery units.  I often light the exterior of houses with these.

7. I was on one shoot and the homeowner started looking at the lights and said, "Alien Bee, that is an interesting name..."

8. They have plenty of power for shooting interiors at ISO 100 with digital cameras.  I typically shoot around f8-f10 and don't have the units at full power.  I can generally get f16 (ISO 100) if I need it. Of course modern cameras can be used at higher ISOs now.  They are a bit more powerful than my Balcar 1600ws units that were very expensive and are much bigger and heavier.  (Even though the Balcar PSU was a fairly light hybrid pack/monoblock system.)  In the old days with 4x5 I needed f16-22, and I often had filters in place. So I had to multi-pop with the Balcars.

The only possible drawback I have seen with monoblocks is if you plug a bunch of them into a single AC circuit, you may trip the breaker.  But you can easily carry extension cords to run to other outlets.  I have tripped breakers with packs too.

The fans in the Alien Bees cool the electronics but not the flashtube/modeling light. I don't use the modeling light very often as no modeling light is very useful during the daytime on typical architectural interior shots. My Balcar lights (and some other brands) have fans that cool the electronics but also blow air onto the the flashtube and modeling bulb. This may be useful if you leave the modeling lights on all of the time and have gel filters close to the bulbs. It also may help keep the tubes cool during fast repetitive shooting over a period of time.  I typically don't do that on interior projects.   But this might be a limitation with the Alien Bees favoring another brand for heavy duty shooting.  (Check their duty cycles.)   I don't see the duty cycle listed for the Alien Bees so you might want to call them if you are concerned. The White Lightning X1600 is listed as having a duty cycle of 400 flashes per hour. I think the two units have similar electronics and specs but the X series has heavier duty construction and has an overheat warning alarm.

If you want to see some examples of my lighting, go to my web site and click on "Model Homes."  My Photoshelter site also has many examples.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2009, 11:54:40 AM by AlanG »
Alan Goldstein
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What do you prefer, power packs or moonlights?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2009, 11:18:50 PM »

Quote from: bavanor
What do you prefer, power packs or moonlights?  And Why?

Aaron Britton

Definitely moonlight...

It's much more romantic!
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