UPDATE: August 2 2017
I have written a separate article about using a Cheetahstand Chop Stick with a Westcott Zeppelin. You can read that article here.
I really love the Broncolor Para line of modifiers which allows you to adjust the light from full to spot by simply pushing the strobe in or out of the parabolic modifier. BUT it’s 4700.00! So I improvised and rigged up my Westcott Zeppelin to do the same thing.
The Zeppelin has a zipper at the bottom of the modifier, so you can put a light up into the modifer and move it back and forth. BUT since I tend to move my light around quite a bit during any given session having to move TWO lighttands is a pain in the you know what. And I cuss enough even when things are going great.
Original Post 9-10-2014
“Mark what the hell is that thing?!” This has been an almost universal first reaction each time I’ve set up my Westcott 59″ Zeppelin light modifier. Actually let me take that back, it’s NOT the first thing they ask, but I’ll get to that later…
Westcott’s Zeppelin line of modifiers are not that old. I honestly don’t know when they were released or how I became aware of their existence, but once I saw its shape I was intrigued. My modifier of choice for many situations (not all) was my tried and true Elinchrom Rotalux 39″ Deep Octa modifier. I do remember where I first became aware of the Elinchrom and that was after watching a BTS video of Joey Lawrence on location. The light produced by that modifier almost seemed magical, soft yet punchy with a quality I had not experienced with the modifiers I had been using.
So I researched the Deep Octa further and found other pros were just as enamored with its magic light qualities. One pro simply said, “I think that the light just bounces around in there and takes a little more time to exit in the most wonderful way.” So I took the plunge and purchased one.
After using the Deep Octa what I wanted was a larger size for groups and even softer light. The shape of the Zeppelin appeared to be similar yet even more oblong than the Elinchrom. I surmised it might produce the same magical light. I took the plunge and ordered one. On the day my Zeppelin arrived I was a bit shocked at the size of the box. It was HUGE and I simply dismissed the box size figuring it was ‘carefully packed’ meaning lots of packing. I was surprised once I opened the box – it’s a huge modifier which damn near filled the entire box.
Included with the Zeppelin are both an inner and outer diffusion panel along with a skirt that goes on the back of the unit once it’s assembled. There are sixteen rods which give the Zeppelin its shape.
Up until the Zeppelin, my Elinchrom was the most difficult modifier to assemble. Because of the size of the 59″ Zeppelin and number of rods, at first it’s quite daunting to assemble. The rods tend to go all over the place unless you place the modifier unassembled on the ground. Placing the first two rods just below the zipper into the speed ring and then the opposite rods into the ring the rest of the assembly becomes easier. And like all things, doing it the first time is the most difficult. I left the unit assembled for two full days so the rods would ‘relax’ and it actually made reassembly easier.
My client’s first question when I begin the assembly process, “Uh Mark, do you need any help putting that thing together?” I laugh and simply say, “This reminds me of every stunningly good looking girlfriend I’ve ever had. She’s quite the hassle, but the beauty she produces makes it worthwhile.”
As of this writing (September 2014) I have had the Zeppelin for about a month and have used it in four separate client sessions, two of which were for action shots, specifically dance. Two others were for more traditional shots, portrait publicity. Due to NDA reasons I cannot show images from one of the sessions because the client won’t release those images for about six weeks.
For the dance sessions I used the Zeppelin without the outer diffusion panel. I found that it allowed me to more easily control any light spill and gave me a more specular look to the images. The inner diffusion panel has a center ring that is a two stop panel to prevent any hot spots from the flash tube. The fabric that surrounds that circular panel is one stop. It’s very effective. I did use both diffusion panels for the static shots and one of them is included in this article which is of the singer/song writer. The light, whether using a single diffusion panel or both is simply spectacular! Soft, yet with more contrast than a more shallow softbox and because of its massive size, can be place further away from the talent than smaller modifiers. As a matter of fact, for the session I cannot show I stood directly in front of the Zeppelin to take some of the shots. Yes it was elevated, but I still covered the front of the Zep and it produced wonderful light.
For the musician, I was projecting another image behind her onto the seamless using a common LCD projector and could effectively feather the light away from the background so as not to blow out the projected image. It was almost pointing completely away from the talent, yet created a wonderful wrap around her face. Amazing.
The mounting of the speed ring is really quite clever. Because the speed ring is mounted to a metal bracket none of the weight of the Zeppelin is carried on the strobe’s mounting points, which is a real plus for a modifier of this size. One disadvantage of the speed ring/bracket setup is it restricts the upward/downward angle of the Zeppelin due to clearance issues. This is easily resolved by placing a boom onto your stand and then placing the bracket/speed ring onto a boom or short arm. This allows you to adjust the upward or downward angle of the Zeppelin as you see fit.
A final issue and this will not apply to everyone, is the ability to transport the 59″ Zeppelin for travel. The lion’s share of my work is done on a client’s site or on location, which means I am constantly traveling via airlines. The longest checked bag allowed without extreme expense is 54″. I often use a hard sided golf case to transport my modifiers if I don’t plan to rent at the client’s location. Because the interior dimensions of my case is 49″, the rods of the Zeppelin won’t fit. I can ship the unit to the client, but because my trips have been booked back to back, it just didn’t allow enough time to assure the Zeppelin would arrive in time. And because the Zeppelin is relatively new, none of the rental houses I use stock them, at least not yet.
I have yet to try one of its features, the ability to place a light inside the unit through its zippered compartment. One must purchase Westcott’s reflector for that feature, but since it will allow me to produce a huge ring light affect I plan to use that feature in the future.
Would I purchase one again? Well I have one arriving tomorrow, their 47″ Zeppelin which WILL fit into my golf case. Enough said….