Lighting equipment advice for financialy challenged n00b

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by smiddlehurst, Mar 28, 2010.

  1. smiddlehurst macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2007
    #1
    Hey folks, looking for a little advice on my first faltering steps into doing decent indoor lighting.

    I'm currently using a Nikon D90 complete with a SB-400 which is a very nice combo for on-the-fly indoor shooting but I'm looking to play around with some additional light sources for portrait work. Sadly my finances do not currently support particularly lofty ambitions so I've only got a couple of choices:

    1) Buy a cheap, no-name 'studio lighting kit'. You know the sort of thing, couple of ~150w strobe lamps, basic stands, umbrella and softbox. Probably very limited in terms of expansion but enough to get started with and I can make a decision on what (if anything) to invest in when I've got some more experience. It'd let me experiment properly as well as getting rid of the camera flash altogether if required. Problem with that route is while it gives a lot of freedom it also needs a lot of setup and my home doesn't have a vast amount of room to play with. Some of my friends have a lot more space but I really don't want to drag a full kit bag around there until AFTER I know what I'm doing.

    2) Buy a SB-600 and use it off-camera with the SB-400 on the D90. Obviously that's nowhere near as flexible an option compared to the full kit but it's compact, easy to physically setup (I have a spare tripod around here somewhere) and even if I find myself not using it for 'studio shoots' that often it can always be used as a flash on the D90 and the SB-400 can sit on the D40. Plus if I decide to get rid of it they seem to hang on to a reasonable chunk of their value.

    3) Buy a cheap third-party flash that can work off-camera and learn with that. Not my favourite option as a) I can see it being of poor quality and b) it'd ONLY be used as an off-camera flash but it'd be about £80 versus £160 for the SB-600 so should at least consider it.

    I know none of these options are going to give me fantastic results but I think it should be enough to let me get a decent grip on what can be done and whether it's an area that I'd want to invest more time and money in. My personal favourite right now.. uh, actually changes between 1 and 2 on a regular basis but I'd say 2 just shaves it. Any thoughts would be very gratefully received.
     
  2. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #2
    Light is light is light- the only real "killer" is if the temperature on a cheap unit isn't reliable- but if it is reliable, then getting 3 cheap sources will be no different than 3 expensive ones other than perhaps recycle time and intensity, and may actually be better than 1 cheap and 1 expensive one depending on the drift (though for portraits, that's not that big an issue IMO.)

    Paul
     
  3. smiddlehurst thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jun 5, 2007
    #3
    Hey Paul, thanks for the reply and it's actually set me off on a slightly different path.

    The cheap flashgun I was looking at seems to have a bit of a reputation for being... uh, let's be generous and say poorly built. Uneven distribution, unreliable internals that sort of thing. So that's dropped out of the running. However after thinking about what you've said and my current resources (or lack thereof) I went looking to see how far I can push my budget and came up with a very cheap studio setup. 3 180w flash heads (complete with modeling lamp which some of the cheap sets seem to be missing), 3 stands, 2 softboxes, 1 Barndoor set, 1 Snoot, a sync cable and a carrybag for £200.

    As you said, light is light and these would all be balanced with each other. I'll have to get a sync cable adaptor for my D90 of course but that's not too expensive and it'd give me a proper studio setup to play with and learn from. If I find myself wanting to work outdoors at a later date I can see what's cheap then.

    Thanks again for the help, much appreciated.

    Edit - Typical, I finally decide to place an order then the bloody web site I'm buying from doesn't work properly. Someone up there is having a right good laugh at my expense here....
     
  4. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2001
    Location:
    Sendai, Japan
    #4
    Just a few thoughts: If you go for option 3), instead of getting cheap no-name flash guns, I suggest you get used good flash guns, e. g. Nikon's SB-28 (DX) or so. They will have much better built quality than cheap new flashes. Also, it's less likely you will run into any problems with consistency.

    I suggest you get one or two SB-600s. You don't need an SB-400 to trigger the two SB-600s, the pop-up flash can do that just fine. You can get reflectors for these flashes -- or you can make them yourself. Ditto for snoots, filters, etc. They should also have plenty of power.
     
  5. smiddlehurst thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jun 5, 2007
    #5
    Yeah, I think that's more-or-less my plan now. The studio kit has been ordered (which is going to be interesting trying to get both it and me in the same place at the same time for delivery...) and I can now sit back and keep an eye out for cheap second hand stuff. I've already got the SB-400 and really really like it, mainly because unlike the bigger units I can pretty much keep it on top of the camera permanently and not feel like it's getting in the way and it gives me options I just wouldn't have with the pop-up flash.

    Cheers for the advice!
     
  6. AndyGordon macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2009
    Location:
    Cambridgeshire, UK
    #6
    Just a thought, but instead of a synch cable adaptor, do these heads have a 'slave' built in? I am guessing they might as you would tend to use a synch cable to kick off one of the lights and trigger the others.

    If this is the case why not have a look at a cheep Infra Red hot shoe mounted trigger - this is what I use with Elinchrom D-Lite kit - just like this....

    http://www.warehouseexpress.com/buy-elinchrom-prolinca-i-r-transmitter/p1004773

    Cheers
     
  7. smiddlehurst thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jun 5, 2007
    #7
    From what I've read they can be triggered by the on-board flash, IR or sync cable. But, and please don't take this the wrong way, are there any benefits it IR triggers over sync cables (other than the wireless bit) as that's about twice the price of the Nikon sync cable adaptor?
     
  8. MattSepeta macrumors 65816

    MattSepeta

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    Location:
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    #8
    Similar Boat

    I was in a similar boat a few weeks ago!

    I ended up getting a Nikon SB-28 to compliment my already owned Canon 430EXII for $100 on ebay, brand new condition.

    I then bought this kit to fire the flashes wireless

    and an extra receiver for the other flash.

    I also bought a cheap 2 light stand kit on amazon that came with 2 of each: light stand, connectors, and umbrella. It was under $100 I believe.

    I have been SOOOO pleased with the results! I am learning lighting control the hard way (trial and error) and I feel I have learned a ton already by doing this.

    You can spend under $300 and have a pretty decent 2 light setup with umbrellas and triggers.
     
  9. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #9
  10. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #10
    No, that's not right. You can do first quality profesional work with any kind of light. Work llanps from Home Depot are great (but hot at 500W each) and I've used an od slide projector aimed at the ceiling.

    The $80 Vivitar H385 strobes wok as well as the SB600 and give the exact same quality of light. Also the Old Nikon strobes from the film era work as well and are cheap too.

    I have a Norman studio setup and it's advantage is not quality of the light but speed in setup. When you have all the fancy bard doos and defuers and adjustable stands then setup is fast.

    A 500W halogen lamp aimed at a 2x4 foot white foam core board is the EXACT same thing as a 2x4 foot softbox with a $800 Norman strobe head inside. Hot lights are good and cheap way to go because you ca SEE the shados with your eyes and move and adjust the lighting before you take the shot, and way-cheap too.
     
  11. jmdfd415 macrumors regular

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    Sep 9, 2008
    #11
    i say look into alien bees. i just sold my sb-900 and got a b1600 and it is just amazing. they are worth every penny.
     
  12. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

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    Apr 14, 2001
    Location:
    Sendai, Japan
    #12
    People with Nikons don't necessarily need radio triggers, the better Nikons (D90 and up, save for the D3) can use the built-in flash to trigger external flashes in a smart way: you can use TTL if you want or set everything manually right on your camera.
     
  13. jampat macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2008
    #13
    If you are going with AB's don't buy a 1600 for inside work. It has way too much pop. When inside, mine is normally at the minimum power (and typically I want even less). Thankfully a friend bought some more 400's and 800's, so now the 1600 only comes out in large venues or outside.
     
  14. jmdfd415 macrumors regular

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    Sep 9, 2008
    #14
    I agree def dont buy a b1600 for indoor. The reason I got mine was bc I use it outside. for indoor a b400 should be fine depending on the size of the area you are using it in, but the b800 may be a little much.
     
  15. smiddlehurst thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jun 5, 2007
    #15
    While I do appreciate the advice, that's not a low cost option. Even the cheapest Alien Bee would cost me $225 (and I don't think they export to the UK anyway). For only $30 more I've picked up a basic studio kit with three 180w flash heads, stands, softboxes, barndoor, snoot and carry case. Thanks anyway though, will bear it in mind if I ever decide to expand my kit.
     
  16. smiddlehurst thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jun 5, 2007
    #16
    Quite right and my fault, I wrote the original post in a bit of a rush and screwed it up. What I was aiming for was, uh, it wouldn't be as flexible as a more advanced setup rather than a better quality finish. This has given me some neat ideas though... think I may have a hunt around for a couple of items I saw buried in the back of a stockroom in work when I'm back next week.
     
  17. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #17
    Hot lights aren't the same- there are issues that potential users should know:

    1. Hot lights are constantly on, so if you shoot people, be prepared for beady eyes.

    2. You can't easily modify the light from a hot lamp, they're too hot for most scrims and softboxes.

    3. They're hot- models will get sweaty after any period of time, people can be burned by them.

    No, it's not the same thing- it's a similar thing- but with lighting the closer you move the light to the subject, the softer it's going to be (light becomes a harsh point source as you move it further away.) You'll generally have real issues trying to work a reflector and light close enough to a subject to get that ethereal soft look- and the double diffusion of a softbox produces light that wraps more fully around than that you'll get off a flat surface like foam core. You simply can't usually modify hot lamps the same way you can cooler or non-continuous sources.

    Anyone looking to do inexpensive continuous lighting is *much* *much* better off with fluorescent bulbs, which are easier to diffuse, don't get everyone sweaty, can be moved up close to the subject and don't have near the fire or injury risk of hot lamps.

    Paul
     
  18. AndyGordon macrumors newbie

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    Oct 24, 2009
    Location:
    Cambridgeshire, UK
    #18
    No cable would be the obvious benefit, so nothing to trip over, fall out of the camera etc and better mobility for you if that is a requirement.

    IR or Wireless also doesn't introduce any extra light into the equation

    As for triggering flash using the camera's flash - as long as it can be set to fully manual so that it doesn't fire a pre-flash for exposure/distance calcs just prior to firing the main flash as the pre-flash will trigger the lights.

    Another option is to pick up a small, cheap and low power manual flash gun and use that, but that of course adds extra light which may not be wanted.

    No probs about the question by the way - thats how we all learn

    Cheers
     
  19. smiddlehurst thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jun 5, 2007
    #19
    Well everything turned up as planned this morning so for about the same as a single SB-600 I've now got a very large (and frankly quite impressive) kit bag containing three 180w flash heads complete with modeling lamps, 3 stands, 2 softboxes, 1 snoot, 1 barndoor complete with gel packs and what looks like an IR attachemt for a hotshoe which is controlled via a PC Sync cable (that I wasn't expecting to be in the box quite frankly).

    A very quick bit of experimenting with a single head to check everything works confirms that the D90 can hapily fire its flash manually and trigger the studio lights. Better still with the SB400 on top of the camera I can flip the flash vertical and even set to very low power still get enough out of it to trigger the flash units. Horray, huzzah etc.

    Thanks again everyone for all your help, when I've had some time to play about I'll report back in a bit more detail.
     
  20. VirtualRain macrumors 603

    VirtualRain

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    Vancouver, BC
    #20
    So where did you buy your kit and how much?
     
  21. smiddlehurst thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jun 5, 2007
    #21
    Oh yeah, knew I'd forgotten something :cool:

    http://www.stableimaging.co.uk/stud...studio-flash/strobe-lighting-kit/prod_14.html

    £200 for the kit, £10 for delivery and they're on Ebay too. Quite impressed by the quality for the money, it's obviously an OEM kit that's been rebranded and everything's fairly cheap plastic but it all works, seems to go together pretty well and there's even something approaching decent instructions complete with a basic guide to using the kit properly. One criticism is that the softboxes are a pain in the backside to assemble so a bit of a shame it didn't come with one softbox and one umbrella but they're cheap enough to get hold of and the stands support 'em.

    A quick test tonight (lets hear it for cheap Nikon remotes!) had all three heads firing reliably from my SB-40 tilted up to the ceiling, despite one of the lights being tucked away behind the chair I was sitting in. They seem to recycle pretty quickly too and didn't feel like they were going to melt either themselves or the accessories.

    Now what I really need is practice practice practice at starting to use 'em properly. Will get a softbox together tomorrow and bribe the better half to model :D
     
  22. jampat macrumors 6502a

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    Mar 17, 2008
    #22
    Almost all non-portable soft boxes are a pain to setup. You're not alone in feeling that pain. The portable ones are much faster to setup, but cost more and are more fragile.
     
  23. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #23
    I now use shoot-through/reflective combo brollies for travel- it's so much less of a pain and missing the added diffusion layer doesn't hurt as much as it might, since the brolly is curved you get some good scattering of light through the fabric anyway.

    Paul
     
  24. smiddlehurst thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jun 5, 2007
    #24
    Heh, I think the ones that come with this kit combine all the pain of a normal soft box with the fragility of a portable one... Sadly I fear that I'm not going to be able to find an umberella anywhere nearby until next week... time to improvise methinks.
     

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