B800 vs 580EXII - Have I made up my mind already?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by duncanapple, Jan 15, 2010.

  1. duncanapple macrumors 6502

    Jun 12, 2008
    So I am still debating what type of flash set up I need to buy... I may even already know the answer but I am curious if I am overlooking anything?

    I know I want a flash unit - My camera is in the sig (so no built in flash at all, but between my prime, the full frame, and its high ISO ability, it does pretty good without a flash) and as far as what I will use it for... pretty much anything. I wouldn't say I have a niche as far as pictures I take... My camera is used from everything from family gatherings, to vacations (which can include landscapes, indoor pics, pics of flowers, pics of people, etc), to times where I just set out on foot and take pics of whatever strikes my eye.

    From the outset I decided I wanted a flash b/c I want to learn how to do portraits of my wife and kids down the road. However it would also be nice if I could occasionally use the setup outside, at dark indoor gatherings, maybe even a wedding (NOT as a pro, just as a guest)

    I know both of these units are at least semi portable (though the B800 would need a battery pack if I go away from an outlet right?) and I am definitely interested in learning to use either (even the 580EXII) as an off camera flash.

    if I do the on camera variant I am going to go with the 580EXII to get the max power I can from this type of flash. (Unless someone has a better suggestion). These run around $385 plus an umbrella and stand.

    From what I read if I do a strobe, the Alien Bees are well built value driven strobes and a good bet for someone who wants good results but doesn't want to break the bank. So I settled on the middle of the road B800, plus a stand, reversible shoot through umbrella and a case (they have a package thats about $350 plus i would maybe need a power supply if I use it away from an outlet?).

    My only reservations are that the AB can't sit on top of the camera in those times I want a self contained camera to take to say a wedding, or cant be dragging a separate umbrella, light, and power supply around. However in a "studio" (ie my basement) setting, the alien bee may be quite a bit better? Or can the 580 do decently as a stand mounted off camera flash?
    (side note what is the difference in a "strobe" vs just a flash? Does strobe mean just a larger off camera flash? Would the 580 be considered a strobe?)

    So given my needs, is an AlienBee/strobe a ton better than an off camera 580EXII/umbrella? Should I not be worrying about mounting the flash to the camera and just go with the Alien Bee? My biggest problem is the more I read about lighting the more I realize I don't know :) But I do want to get hands on and start learning.

    2 minor last notes - #1 I want to stick to one light source (other than the sun :) ) and build as I learn, and #2 I will prob also get some pocket wizards to trip the flash - I may reserve my questions there for a different thread - specifically, is the new MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 just new versions of the pocket wizard plus II? Or do you need them both? I assumed the camera needs a miniTT1 or pocket plus II and the flash needs a flexTT5 or pocket wizard plus II?

    Sorry for the huge post :) Thanks in advance!
  2. hakuryuu macrumors 6502

    Sep 30, 2007
    Lomita, CA
    I have a 580EXII on my 40D and have been quite happy with it. It took me a while to properly learn how to use but it does a really good job. Correct me if I am wrong but if you do use it off camera with an umbrella you will still need either the Canon flash controller (ST-E2) or something like the Pocketwizard.

    You will also need something to control the B800 as well.

    And you cannot underestimate the usefulness of the 580EXII in regards to portability. You can't always bring your umbrella. hehe. I've learned quite quickly to use surrounding surfaces to bounce off of in lieu of an umbrella. Works well enough thus far.
  3. jared_kipe macrumors 68030


    Dec 8, 2003
    Agreed, 580EX comes before studio lighting in my opinion.

    You can take the 580EX off the camera by either using a smaller flash or control unit to control it. OR using an shoe extension cord (what I have and use). So as long as the camera is on a tripod and within 2-3 feet of where you want your umbrella setup, you could use the 580EX and a cable.

    And/Or down the line you can use a 430EX or an aditional 580EX to trigger it AND provide more light.

    EDIT: Also, having a 580EX means you can get a wide variety of "accessories" to change the type and directionality of its light.
    Such as from http://store.garyfonginc.com/diffusers.html
  4. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    which will you use more often?

    the biggest weakness for someone new to (portrait) lighting is not being able to visualize the result. monolights have modeling lights, speedlights don't, and the rear LCD is a poor substitute.

    are you entertaining other options? you can get a Calumet Genesis 1-light kit for $170 (or two for $300), or there's quite a few Adorama Flashpoint lights to choose from, and then tack on a used 580ex or a 430ex for on-camera lighting and a second light for off-camera.

    an alternative to using on-camera flash is to sit a monolight in the corner with an umbrella and light up the whole room. you could do it with a flash, too, but the recycle would be much slower and you'll have to worry about batteries.

    as for triggers, I'm not sure of the specific differences between PW models, but the mini and flex support ETTL. the only other RF triggers that support ETTL are Radiopoppers (forget which model). supposedly there should be another option coming out in the next month or two for around $200. you should buy those if you need high-speed shutter sync, otherwise save the money and get something else. depending on range and budget, there are CTR-301P and RF-602's from ebay, Alienbee Cybersyncs, and Elinchrom Skyports.

    first, most of these accessories are not that useful, and second, it's not like monolights don't have a huge selection of modifiers.
  5. jared_kipe macrumors 68030


    Dec 8, 2003
    I'm sorry, did I say that monolights didn't have modifiers?

    Saying something like, "most of these accessories are not that useful" is not that useful. I didn't say buy all of these, regardless of how similar they seem.

    The idea of an "accessory" is that it is not useful most of the time. It's like saying that a macro lens is not that useful because anytime you're not using it to shoot small things you could be using a cheaper or faster lens.

    Oh, and the 580EX speedlight does have a test flash button you can press to see how the shadows fall or if there is some odd glare.
  6. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

    Apr 26, 2008
    I can't tell you about the other lighting accessories, but about the 580EX II. It's a wonderful flash, although a little expensive. I do like my 580EX II a lot, and before buying it I spent a little cash buying the cheapo's advertised all over the Internet. A couple of those are now collecting dust around the house.

    For parties, weddings and such (I don't do professional work), I set the 580 to TTL, and the camera at M (manual). First adjust the flash light output from default to 1/3rd or higher. Once you have mounted the flash on the hot shoe and energized it, you should be able to control it through the camera's menu.

    ISO around 400
    Distance of perhaps 12 feet from a single subject (a person)
    Aperture around 3.5-4.5 (a little higher number for more than one subject)
    Flash to perhaps 1/3rd to 2/3rd over default light output (all the way to 1 if you want)
    Bounce off the ceiling, or a wall, etc., using the built-in bounce card

    Read all the stickies in this forum, and ask questions, too. The owner's manual helps you somewhat, but the people in here will save you a lot of time learning how to use the flash:
  7. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    no, I'm making an additional point because I don't know how much the OP knows.

    I'm sorry I didn't have the time to look up everything at the time.

    blind diffuser taste test
    best flash diffuser note how 3 of the top 5 are overglorified index cards

    a macro lens isn't an accessory, actually.

    the modeling light on a flash is a high-frequency flickering that lasts for about a second, if even that. it hardly works.
  8. jared_kipe macrumors 68030


    Dec 8, 2003
    Since you need to be a member to see the photos, I'm going to link them into here just for comparison.

    There is nothing wrong with a post card or something to be used as a diffuser, and they certainly work in a pinch.
    However, a fair number of these RELY on having a white or light colored ceiling around to bounce the flash off of.

    Of course you'll get the most diffuse light if you can do something like stand in front of a white wall and shoot your flash backwards.

    But just because the poll choose things, that doesn't mean they were "right." I think the easiest way to look at these images do decide how "diffuse" the light is to look at the shadow behind the hot-air-balloon in the background.

    Ordered from most diffuse to sharpest/harshest. IMHO

    Removing the ones that rely almost solely on bounce from ceiling.
    *still at 90 degrees but with a diffuser
    (This list is actually IN ORDER with what the public voted on, when you take out the ones that are bounced)

    What do we learn from that?
    That even when bouncing is available, his "Pacific Ace Special" would be my pick. Which is ironic, because it was my pick before I know which was which (and got second in his poll), but for different reasons.
    I picked E because I felt that it left us with the LEAST shiny flash hair look. Meaning that the wig didn't have as much shiny bits on it (the reason we use diffusers in the first place). The only one IMO that was less clare was C, but it looks flat and is under/exposed/lowerContrast.

    Its doubly ironic because I am the proud owner of a LightSphere (I bought it a long time ago, otherwise I'd probably have a WhaleTail), that goes on my flash practically every time I put the flash on my 5DmkII. And it appears that that is what his "Pacific Ace Special" is based on (or vice versa).

    The macro lens example was a metaphor, its only an accessory as any lens is to a camera body. But what I'm saying is that it has an accessory like "mode", in the way a Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens is a 100mm lens that just happens to have a really close minimum focusing distance.
    The canon 100mm f/2.0 lens is a stop faster, and is $150 cheaper than the macro "version".

    What I said about the "modeling" flash is accurate, and works quite well.
    The human eye is quite adept at noticing shadow or glare flaws in a "flashing" image.

    Attached Files:

  9. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    yes, it is accurate, but the fact that it cannot be kept on is limiting (and it overheats quickly), and it does not scale with the flash power setting. not all modeling lights scale, of course, but the better ones do, which is helpful as a reference point.

    and maybe you just have a better eye than I do, or at least are less distracted by the flickering, but I have difficulty picking up where all the shadows are falling when using the flash's modeling light.
  10. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    don't all flash diffusers rely on bounce light? except for something like a softbox, anyway.

    that doesn't work as a metaphor since it is still useable as a "normal" lens, and the macro ability cannot be duplicated easily. the problem with nearly all of the available diffusers is that the effect can be replicated or done better with a raised index card, or just by knowing where to point the flash.
  11. jared_kipe macrumors 68030


    Dec 8, 2003
    You can do it with either diopter filters or extension tubes. I never once said that a macro lens was an accessory, you're twisting what I have said. I said a macro lens is like a normal lens with an accessory mode. The fact that you can "duplicate" this accessory mode with accessories, further solidified the macro as accessory metaphor. :p

    The idea behind the LightSphere and the Stofen Omnibounce(or whatever I don't remember the product names) is that some of the light gets bounced (in a semi-all directional way) and because of that semi-all directional way, some of the light goes forward.

    The weakness of a index card is both size, and that it sends the light more or less straight forward and straight up. (and ease of use/reusability?)
    With the lightSphere you can even point it straight toward the subject and it is kinda like a soft box, though one thats only about 6 inches in diameter. This works better the smaller/closer the subject is. Fill light on flowers/bugs with it pointed straight forward is probably 75% of my flash photographs. The IQ difference between straight flash and the lightshere on bugs is night and day, sometimes I even use my hot shoe cable and position the whole thing even closer to the subject.
  12. Ljohnson72 macrumors 6502a


    Dec 21, 2008
    Denver, Co
    Since you're just getting into flash, I'd definitely get the 580EXII. You can use it on camera, and off camera (via sync cable, Pocketwizards, etc). Many people believe speedlites aren't very useful but they're extremely portable and pack a punch. Check out the Strobist blog on lighting with speedlites,


    For on camera diffusion take a look at the Lumiquest system, or Sto-Fen Omnibounce if you are bouncing light, as it is useless if you use it head on. I know some people who use the Gary Fong stuff and say it's great but I haven't tried them.

    Once you get into portraiture I'd invest in some Pocketwizards to get your flash off camera, and an umbrella or softbox. Possibly a Sekonic L-358 light meter if you get another flash to get light ratios.

    edit: Regarding the Pocketwizard Mini TT1 and FlexTT5..You need either (1) TT1 and (1) TT5 or (2) TT5 to trigger a single 580EX II. You can use (2) PW II's if you want. With the new models you can retain E-TTL and use HSS (High Speed Sync), meaning rather than being able to only use your flash at 1/320, you can use it at 1/8000, which is useful when fighting again strong sun. I personally use the TT1 and a TT5. They're great IMO. Some 580EX IIs have some RF noise issues which limit the range on the Pocketwizards, but you can get the "AC5 shield" which you wrap around the flash and you get much better range. I tested mine with the sock and I get 130'+ with 100% fire rate.
  13. duncanapple thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 12, 2008
    Thanks a lot all... That was a lot of good info and good confirmation to my hunch. I bought a 580exII today (couldn't find used much less than new, so I got best buy to match b&h's price and bought new). Going to mess with it a little and maybe buy a stand/umbrella/cord soon. Pocket wizards are for sure coming but maybe a little later... I told my wife the 5D was it for awhile last month lol and here I am buying a flash. Going to have to cool the wallet for a bit before the PW's ;) besides, it's easier to learn one new element at a time right? Thanks again for all the advice!

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