As I wait for the Godox AD600BM remote head I fabricated a focusing rod for my Westcott Zeppelins. The AD360 fills the modifier well.
I know that the most popular use for the AD360s will be as key lights for portraits. But I was recently asked to do an environmental portrait of an owner/chef in his diner. The time of day was very specific and I could not pick what I thought was the optimum time of day to conduct the session. At the time of the shoot, the sun was almost directly overhead of his establishment and the table I wanted to shoot him at was shaded. So I opted to use one AD360 paired with a Westcott Rapidbox Octa 36″ shot through the window to recreate window light. Each of his windows have awnings over them which shaded the actual window light more.
My goal was to take the photo and have it appear that no artificial light was used at all. The table I chose in his diner was the perfect spot due to his many old school framed posters, which epitomizes his establishment, old school in the best way.
So with a Pentax 645Z coupled with a smc FA645 45-85 lens and a two stop ND filter attached I lit it with the AD360 and the Rapidbox. Ultra portable and light, my assistant stood outside and aimed the light at Bill while keeping it just out of frame camera left.
The value of these lights continues to amaze me along with their unlimited uses.
One of my clients has just released a publicity photo I created using a single Godox 360. I placed it camera left just beyond the entry to the backstage area I utilized to create the environmental image. The modifier is a PCB PLM on axis Extreme silver 51″ parabolic adjusted as a beam of light. Camera right is a ‘voice activated light stand’ holding a Sunbounce Mini silver reflector just out of frame. Camera is a Pentax 645Z using a smc Pentax FA645 45-85mm f4.5 at 70mm 1/30th f5.6, ISO 200.
In my line of work pre publicity shots are often taken months in advance for theatrical performances. This gives the marketing departments ample time to advertise their productions through print/billboard/social media and other methods to put ‘butts in seats.’ What this means is as a show is cast with the actual talent, I’m tasked with reshooting the same scene with the actual actor who will play the part.
So today after weeks of experimentation I finally decided to use strobes that were completely different than what I used for my original shoot. Don’t get me wrong, doing something like this was not done willy nilly. Clients don’t take kindly to photographers who decide on a whim to ‘test’ new gear on their campaigns because we ‘feel like finding out’ how something performs. Nope weeks and weeks of testing prior to today’s shoot gave me the confidence to use gear different than what I used in my original session.
For those of you who are of the school to ask “Well why didn’t you use the exact same model/camera/etc. to show us how different gear compares?” please close your browser now. My job is NOT to write comparisons, it’s something I do as a courtesy to other photographers who may be interested in a certain type of gear. If you want to be passive aggressive or show how much you know, I suggest you jump on any of the many forums out there. Rant over.
OK now that that’s out of the way here is what I used:
Original shot created on 11-21-14
- Canon 1DX with an EF85mm f1.2 II L lens
- EXIF data: 1/125th, f8.0, ISO 200
- Einstein key light through a Westcott 47″ Zeppelin, both diffusers in place, camera right just out of frame.
- Einstein fill light through an Elinchrom Rotalux 39″ deep octabank, both diffusers in place camera left and elevated 1 foot above the talent’s head.
- Sunbounce Mini silver reflector placed just below the talent’s waist out of frame.
- Savage 107″ super white seamless, Photoflex background stand/crossbar
Subsequent shot created on 3-23-15
- Pentax 645Z with a Pentax 150mm f2.8 lens
- EXIF data: 1/125th, f4.5 (f3.55 35mm equivalent), ISO 100
- Adorama Flashpoint 360 bare bulb flash as key light shot through a 46″ Phottix Softlighter modifier with front diffuser in place. Optional silver inner reflector not used. Camera right just out of frame.
- Godox 360 bare bulb flash fill light shot through a SMDV 70 octabank modifier with both diffusers in place camera left and elevated 1 foot above the talent’s head.
- Sunbounce Sun mover silver reflector places just below the talent’s waist just out of frame.
- Westcott’s XDrop portable background stand, white fabric.
Why different ISO’s? Using the MF Pentax I always try to protect the highlights in any shot. Blowing out highlights is something I try to avoid. I do meter all shots before taking an image, but I tend to adjust my aperture on the fly and sometimes don’t pay attention to the histogram as much as I should. So it gives me a bit of a buffer for any screw ups I may make in exposure when I’m in the heat of the moment.
Why different cameras? I purchased my 645Z in December and it’s my camera of choice now for all studio work unless it involves very fast dance or fight scene action.
No modeling lights with the Flashpoint or Godox. This can be an issue. I always shoot in a very dark to completely dark room to retain my calibrated color balance. So in this case I needed to allow some ambient light in order to lock focus.
Why two different 360’s? Well I bought the Godox through Amazon because it was available and after falling in love with its performance Adorama had a sale on their unit. They are interchangeable which is another fabulous feature about these units.
I feel that when used properly the gear I used today produces light that is very close to more expensive gear. I say very close because there are subtle differences although those differences are more about pixel peeping than the actual quality of light. And if you’re looking for me to point out those differences…sorry it’s more about personal taste than anything else. And again since this was for actual client work, if I didn’t feel the quality was up to standard, I would not have used the gear I selected.
UPDATE: March 20 2015
Image shot with a single Godox AD360 using an Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa 39″ with only the inner diffuser installed. Pentax 645Z, 1/125 f8.0 ISO 100 at 50mm
UPDATE: March 2 2015
I was able to test the Neewer AD360 in studio using an Elinchrom Rotalux 39″ Deep Octabank mounted through an Elinchrom speedlight ring adapter. The results from the test are very good. The Neewer is more than capable of filling the modifier with enough light to create a great wrap around the talent. This photo was shot only using 1/64th power from the Neewer, shot with a Pentax 645Z at 1/125th f2.8 at 150mm. To camera left is a Sunbounce Mini silver reflector for fill.
Test 1: Overcoming Ambient light through a small modifier using HSS – February 23 2015
This review is a series. This test is its ability to overcome strong ambient light.
- Next will be using two of these units in studio using a Pentax 645Z along with an Elinchrom Rotalux Deep 39″ Octabank and a gridded reflector as a rim light.
- Finally I will test these units using a Fuji X100T outdoors to determine the light’s ambient light reduction taking advantage of the Fuji’s leaf shutter.
These units are carried under several different names, yet are the same units which are all manufactured in China:
- Neewer AD360 (I own this unit)
- Cheetah Stand’s CL-360
- Adorama’s Flashpoint StreakLight 360 (I own this unit)
- Godox-Witstro AD360
My purpose of trying the lights was to give me another option for a portable bare bulb light source. As a commercial photographer who specializes in publicity photography for dance as well as other fast moving talent, I use PCB’s Einsteins exclusively. The reason is their t:1 and IGBT flash characteristics. Stopping action with a very short flash duration is critical for clear tips of fingers and toes. 1/13000th of a second flash duration ensures that clarity. PCB also has wonderful choices in portable power with their Vagabond line of power packs. But when the occasion doesn’t call for extremely short flash durations or 640 watt seconds of power, I wanted other options. Until recently bare bulb flash units were expensive and underpowered as was the case when I considered the Quantum 180 ws line of bare bulb flash heads and their power packs were heavy. (I hate lugging gear)
The other consideration was the limitation of modifiers I could use with most ‘speedlight’ flash units. I wanted the ability to use the modifiers I use in studio, octabanks, parabolic reflectors, etc. The mounting options were limited so combining low power/high cost with few professional modifier choices, I continued to use my Einstein/Vagabond combination when on any non studio on location shoot. I also investigated Profoto’s B1 self contained unit, a 500 watt second portable studio strobe. Wonderful stats, well made and recommended highly by one of my pro photographer friends who does alpine shooting for Patagonia along with other clients. But at a price point of 2,000 along with the prospect of having to purchase modifier adaptors that I don’t use regularly, well the ROI just didn’t make sense for my work. Plus I seldom if ever purchase only one light type. I find it too limiting.
So I decided to try the Neewer 360 unit. Yes, half the power of my Einsteins, but lighter and more portable when lugging into hard to access locations where less weight trumps power. I’m a big believer in the right tool for the right job and no one tool is right for every situation. When I calculated that two Neewer lights plus two batteries were about half the weight and space of two Einsteins and two Vagabonds, the combination seemed very attractive. My other consideration was the ability to overpower ambient sunlight. In the past I’ve used either my Fuji X100T camera with its leaf shutter or my DSLRs with a variable ND filter to cut the ambient. The ND solution also cuts flash power, the Fuji is limited to a minimum of ISO 200 for RAW files so both were a compromise. Number 2 on my list of must haves for something more portable than the Einsteins is recycle time. Since expressions change in a nanosecond I don’t want to wait for my flash to recycle and miss a money shot expression. You can change lots in post production, but you can’t change an expression. And for me that trumps everything.
My first purchase of the Neewer resulted in me obtaining a copy with a bad battery. After only five full pops at 1/1 the battery failed. I had read that the company in China who produces all of the units regardless of branding had an early batch of batteries which malfunctioned. After returning that unit and obtaining a new one it worked flawlessly. There are other reviews online which you can read about the technical aspects of these units. The one I found incredibly helpful is found at:
So on February 23 2015 I talked my son into being the ‘talent’ in order for me to test the high speed sync capabilities of the 360 unit. Because the unit offers HSS using Cheetah Stand’s CellsII-C controller I wanted to see how that feature would perform. I had also tested the HSS feature of the 360 using my Phottix Odin transmitter/receivers and HSS worked well. But because the whole purpose of considering these units is to keep the amount of gear to a minimum I opted to purchase the CellsII-C transmitter. Cheetah Stand’s website does not list the Canon 1DX as compatible with the CellsII-C controller, but since I have a Canon 5DIII as my backup camera and that was listed as compatible with the HSS remote unit I felt it was worth a try. At worst I could use it on my 5DIII.
So combining the Neewer 360, a SMDV 70 octabank, the SMDV DA-03 adapter (changes the SMDV’s speedlight mount to a bare bulb only mount) and the NEEWER® DB-02 Cable Y adapter 2 to 1 (to reduce recycle time) we headed out to the Bay Trail to test the HSS feature at about 5:00pm which is just about 30 minutes before full sunset. I was shooting with my Canon 1DX and a Sigma 50mm Art f1.4 lens. The whole setup was being triggered using the Neewer USB receiver and the Cheetah Stand’s CellsII-C controller. The light was placed camera left about six feet from my son and approximately two feet above his eye line.
The 360 was at 1/2 power with both diffusers attached to the SMDV. I shot at various speeds and apertures during the session as well as varying the power of the 360. I found that there was not enough power to use both diffusers on the SMDV so I removed the outer diffusion panel using only the inner diffuser. This is not unusual since I do that in studio when I want a more specular look to the light. But I was disappointed that the 360 could not power a small octabank with both diffusion panels in place and overcome the amount of ambient I wanted to darken while supplying me with enough flash power to light my subject in the manner I wanted. One other consideration for outdoor shooting without assistants is the wind factor. I will be testing the unit again using a much different modifier, one of the PLM’s parabolic umbrellas. Their umbrellas are extremely efficient, much more so than the SMDV, but I can’t really consider them in moderate to high wind, they just become a sail. Today’s wind was moderate about 8-15 MPH which provided a good test of the SMDV’s ability to remain stable (and not fly away!) during the session. Yes the Cheetah Stand was weighted with a 15 pound sandbag.
Keep in mind that I wanted to OVERCOME the ambient to a darkness level that may not suit your taste. Had I simply wanted to use the 360/modifier combo as fill light on the talent, I could have done so easily with the 360 with both diffusion panels in place. Again this was for a very specific test of the light unit/modifier combo using a SINGLE light rather than multiple lights. This is also a test of having NO assistants in moderate wind. Had there been no or little wind I would have used a Sunbounce mini silver reflector on a light stand to fill in my son’s face camera right. But that would have also meant a much tighter shot since a reflector far enough out of frame would have had minimal bounce. I wanted to include more environmental context than a tight shot would allow. And at a 2×3 foot surface area in today’s wind no amount of sandbagging would have prevented the reflector from twisting or falling over….
I almost always test new gear alone. Sometimes my partner who is a remarkable photographer will come with me to test gear, but in most cases I do so alone. I know that many of you shoot alone without assistants, so I also wanted to give you my impressions of using this light solo and its characteristics in moderate wind.
Which brings me to a short but very important point. I ALWAYS test new gear LONG before engaging its use on client work. So often the talent I am shooting commercially has little time for the session AND/OR the extra time spent trying to figure out how you want something to perform is wasted time. Something ALWAYS goes a bit wrong during a shoot no matter how well planned, the talent is late, wardrobe goes longer. If you ever expect to make your living at commercial photography, practice and know your gear’s limitations prior to your shoot.
Here’s what I found:
- The power of the 360 is far beyond what can be achieved with any speedlight.
- Using a bare bulb unit fills the modifier more evenly than a speedlight producing a larger light source.
- High Speed sync does reduce the output of the 360 since it pulses the light, however because it produces about two stops more light than a speedlight it’s usable to reduce ambient.
- Cheetah Stands, the type that conveniently retract its legs when lifted are not well suited to uneven or vegetation covered ground.
- The lightweight swivel I was using to hold the light/modifier on the light stand was not strong enough to keep the modifier/light from twisting in moderate wind. Function outweighed weight savings…
- The SMDV 70 with both diffusion panels reduces light output on the 360’s HSS mode more than was acceptable for what I was trying to achieve. But would work fine as fill light while moderately reducing ambient by 1-1.5 stops.
- Cheetah Stand’s CellsII-C transmitter works well with my Canon 1DX. It never misfired.
- I would only consider using this combination with any lens f2.8 or faster. This allows me to reduce the 360’s light output to reduce recycle time and get the lighting results I want on the talent.
- The whole rig is extremely light and portable.
- The camera loves my son’s face.
Next up: In studio use utilizing two 360’s, one with an Elinchrom Rotalux 39″ Deep Octa modifier and the second 360 using a 50 degree gridded cone reflector as a rim light shooting with a Pentax 645Z.