Alien Bees / White Lightning Review with Canon EOS

Techie Stuff: This brief description is aimed at those who are thinking of using Alien Bees or White Lightning equipment with Canon EOS type cameras (both Digital and non-Digital).

We currently use the Alien Bees with the Canon 10D. We own two B800 and two B400, and use them in our studio. Here is a sample photo shoot from last night, we were taking pre-wedding pictures for a couple. Almost everything in this article describing Alien Bees also applies to White Lightning equipment.

Q: Are the Alien Bees/White Lightning bright enough for a small studio? Which Alien Bees should I use (B400, B800, B1600)

A: The Alien Bees B800 are rated at 320 true WS(watt-seconds), but have a very high luminosity of 14,000 ls (lumenseconds). Lumenseconds measures the amount of light emitted in one second, but because the B800s for example have a flash duration of 1/3200th of a second, the BURST of light is very quick and bright. This is very useful, because it allows you to shot at high shutter speeds and still capture all of the light available from a single burst. If you are planning on using the Alien Bees in a small to medium size studio the B400 will be definitely sufficient. We usually use our B800s at 1/16 or 1/32 of top power (4 or 5 F-Stops down), while shooting at ISO 100, 1/200th sec, F 4 - 5.6.

In summary, the B400s will suffice for a small to medium sized studio. For a large studio you may want to consider the B800s. If you're planning on shooting in large spaces (arenas, churches, etc..), then you MAY need the B1600s.

Q: Which cameras are the Alien Bees/White Lightning compatible with? How can I trigger them?

A: You can trigger the Bees using the supplied cable, which plugs directly onto the 10D (it actually works with the entire EOS line, 20D, D30, D60, 1D, 1Ds, 1Ds MarkII and 1D Mark II or the new 5D).

You can also trigger the lights using the build in photo sensor. However keep in mind that the Canon EOS line of Cameras and Flashes uses E-TTL or E-TTL2, which means it will fire two shots. The first shot meters the scene while the shutter is closed. This first firing of the flash will trigger the lights, and the second flash will open the shutter, at which point the Studio Flashes are already done firing (remember they have a VERY short firing time), yielding no light. I.E. you end up with a black scene. To trigger the bees using the photo sensor slave, you will have to turn your on camera flash to manual mode ( non-ETTL, single firing). For a review of 'remote control' devices that can be used with EOS equipment please look at the 'Alien Bees / White Lightning Strobes - Remote Control. RadioOne Remote versus the PocketWizard' article

Q: I tried some other lights and got inconsistent color results. How will the Alien Bees behave?

A: The Alien Bees / White Lightning studio strobes use color corrected flash tubes. They are either the standard 5600° K Daylight-Balanced Flashtubes or the 5200°K UV-Coated Flashtubes. If you're shooting Digital you will never need the UV-Coated Flashtubes, as they are only necessary when shooting with certain types of UV sensitive film. The Daylight-Balanced Flashtubes give extraordinarily even response throughout their lifetime. If you're shooting digital, setting your white-balance to manual Kelvin scale and dialing it to 5600 will give great results most of the time.

Q: I set my camera to 5600 Kelvin, and still don't get the professional looking quality color. How Come?

A: You are not doing anything wrong.. you are most likely getting the right color, the issue is that a lot of high-fashion, model photography is done at a higher color temperature then normal. This gives the nice 'Tanned' look. Set your camera to 6000 Kelvin or as high as 6500 and you will notice that the skin tones will start turning from a redish tone to a more yellow/brown color. This makes for healthier looking skin colors but will negatively affect every other color in the photograph. This is simmilar to applying a 'warming' filter in photoshop.

Q: I've heard that you should not mix lights of various strengths for one scene setup, is that true?

A: Usually this is not true, however it can cause problems if you're relying on the modeling lights to give you an indication of how the shot will render. This is true because at full power the B400 and B1600 will have the same strength modeling light. To remedy that just install a less powerful light. For example:
B1600 - 150 Watts
B800 - 70 Watts
B400 - 40 Watts

Such a setup would give a pretty faithful indication of what the final scene will render like.

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