We Got A High End Strobe System For 4 Days – Here Is What We Did With It

Dec 5, 2014

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

We Got A High End Strobe System For 4 Days – Here Is What We Did With It

Dec 5, 2014

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

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4days

Multiblitz was very kind. They said: “Here is our catalog, choose wisely”.

So we did! We prowled through their catalog and picked a small yet very powerful set of strobes for us to play with for a few days (spec below). It was pretty exiting to choose what to take and set up our wishlist, we had big eyes as the packages arrived a few days later in our studio. It was only then that we realized that we still need to put a model on a crane in a junk yard; Take an amazing beauty shot and test the strobe speed with a pro diver.

Our “Order”

We had some plans in mind and wanted to get a 4-light setup which we could use for various things. This set contained:

The X-System is famous for shooting milk-dress and powder and pigments thrown and frozen. You can see the system used quite often in tutorials. The X series has a very short flash duration at high power settings, which makes it perfect for action-freezing shootings (t=0.5 at max power=1/4000 by spec). The X10 also has an optional battery power, which was helpful for us as we went on location with the system.

We worked with this set on 4 different projects for this review. To be 100% honest, this is actually not a review as you’d probably expect, because our team does not really do reviews. It’s more like a real life test. Our own lighting gear was given away for a week, so we had to work with 100% X-System and we did what we do best: conceptional photography.

This was quite an opposite experience from doing a similar challenge with cheap gear, though both show that once you have a strong concept, you can make it work with either :)

First impressions

We loved the units as soon as we saw them. They felt very solid and well build. The kind of thing that you hold in your hand and it screams quality.

The controls are easy to understand as there is only one wheel that you jog. For the ‘more advanced stuff’ like changing radio channels we had to look at the manual as it involves some less intuitive logic such as “press the test button for 3 seconds to enter the Channel select”. Nonetheless, once you are familiar with the system, it is easily controlled.

But you also want to read the manual because it can save you from a lot of quirks: for example, if there are two modeling light-bulbs for the X10: one for A and one for DC. You can use the AC-Lamp while on DC, but you will get a shimmery and reddish light. If you use the DC bulb on AC…. well, I hope you have installed the provided security glass. You will need it (It was tempting, but we didn’t try).

Oh, the cables are red.

Day I – the junkyard

The Fresnel spot is a lighting modifier that changes how the light coming of the strobe is spread. Instead of sending a cone of light, it sends off a very tight beam. Think stage lights. It is a perfect tool to imitate a spotlight. So we thought about a concept for it and found ourselves in the middle of a gangster scene. A model hanging in a crane, lit by the light beam of that spotlight; the gangster couple waiting at the car until they “brought out the trash” and leave for the next party.

This was the first idea for the Fresnel Spot (one of the favorite tools)
This was the first idea for the Fresnel Spot (one of our favorite tools)

It’s winter here in Germany right now. That means 5°C. It was wet and cold.

Our setup included one X5 with the Fresnel spot attached, and one X5 diffused with a 2 meters by 2 meters diffusion scrim to light the entire scene from the camera angle. Behind the wagon on the left side we placed the X10 (power-packed) with a strip light to get some nice highlights on the hair.

The second X10 was also behind that wagon mounted with a standard reflector to light the trash heaps. The camera, a Nikon D800, was on a tripod, so we could run around with that flash/reflector/battery-trio to create a few more images with more interesting light and shadow for masking them in later in post.

"Take out the trash" - final image
“Take out the trash” – final image

We’ll note that we had some serious issues working with the multiblitz happy trigger. We switched to PocketWizard flex/TTL5. No change. I think it has to be related to the fact we were working in an environment that is packed with metal scraps and it caused some kind of interference. Both the happy trigger and the pocketwizard worked perfectly in studio on the next day. We also had some problems with the drone, so this may seem like a reasonable explanation. Here is our lesson: if you ever plan to shoot on a junkyard – take long sync cables with you.

Here is the lighting setup we used.

lighting "take out the trash"
lighting “take out the trash”

And are the highlights of the editing process:

base capture
base capture
masking background in
masking background in (walked around with the X10 to get more details)
more background
more background
more awesome machines
more awesome machines
and some dirt on the floor
and some trash on the floor

Day II: beauty shot

The next shooting was kind of a safe shot for us: a standard beauty shot. The lighting setup was pretty straight forward for this kind of shot: A beauty dish as main light camera right, a strip light 180° behind the model (both on X10 units). One X5 was used for the background gradient with a standard reflector; and the last X5 fired into the huge super-brolly – a parabolic reflector – to fill up some shadows.

Here is the result and the lighting diagram:

The beauty shot
The beauty shot (probably about 2000WS combined)
lighting diagram "beauty shot"
lighting diagram “beauty shot”

We had about 2 hours to set up the lights, so there was a lot of time to play with the flashes. Usually we shoot in out small studio with not-so-powerful-strobes (<200WS) which is enough to use even with big softboxes. It also provides the opportunity (or the creative necessity) to shoot wide open with close up lights. The X10, on the other hand,  has 1000WS of power, and the ability to control that power in 1/10  stop-steps down to 2WS. That’s a huge range of 10 stops from lowest to highest setting. Of course we tried both.

with 3000Ws in a small Studio, switching from f9 to f2.5: entirely possible with headroom in both directions
same setup with 250WS combined, going from f9 to f2.5. This is entirely possible with headroom in both directions

Recycling times are good on both, the X5 and the X10. Our Nikon D800 can shoot at 4fps and with our other system we did have the experience of you keeping the finger a little too long on the shutter, creating a nice black image. Not so with the X-System. After 30 Minutes we disabled the sound of the flashes because they are faster than the D800 even in higher settings.

We also noticed that light temperature was very consistent among the units and did not change no matter how we tweaked the power settings. This made our post work easier.

The light modifiers are solid. The softboxes are easy to set up & tear down. With some systems you think “If I ever disassemble this one, I’ll have to buy a new softbox”, well not with those units. We disassembled the strip-light (and strip-lights are infamous for crappy setups) for transport – no problem at all. The Beauty Dish has a grid, which we just snapped on or off the dish in 5 seconds without any tools. We never had that awkward moment where the crew is waiting until the tools are properly prepared.

If you have a Fresnel spot and a model in the studio, you have to test it. So we did. We had to play for another 30 minutes after the shoot, just to see what we can do with it. The Fresnel, aside from looking like an alien weapon disintegrating everything in a 3 miles radius, also gives the feeling of an old Hollywood movie as soon as you switch on the modelling light. Hard, focused light is perfect for black and white images (there will be another b&w-challenge!).

We tested the color temperature too: 100 images in 0.5 f-stop steps: 50 kelvin difference between highest and lowest setting. It’s safe to say: these lamps are super stable over the complete range of power (which is a big one).

Beauty shot with the fresnel spot
Beauty shot with the Fresnel spot

Day III: swimming pool

When first looking at the system we were obsessed with this one thing. The flash duration. We had to do some kind of action shooting and see how good it is. We had our models freezing two days before, so we opted for an indoor pool and a platform diving artist for this shoot. Usually we try to avoid any kind of sport (photography), not because we have any issues with it, it is just not where we wanna go as artists, but this one, really called for some water action.

This time it was nice to work in 30°C. We used both the X10 units with power-packs and felt quite secure. After all, the wet climate in a pool is not our number 1 preference place number for studio flashes, but even worse are electrical wires running from and to the strobes.

At 1/4500 the strobes should be fast enough to freeze the splashy water completely (which they did)

"The splash"
“The splash”
"the swimmer"
“the swimmer”
frozen action @1/4500s 100% crop
frozen action @1/4500s
100% crop

One word about the batteries: they are heavy. Not the thing you want to carry around the whole day. Actually you don’t want to carry them for more than 10 minutes. On the other hand we charged the batteries completely, shot the gangster scene with high power settings for 4 hours and didn’t recharge for the pool session, because the indicator showed “full”. The manual says 650 flashes at full power. Yes, we think it is safe to say: These batteries are capable.

A little side note: Be very very careful with electrical equipment and water. It’s not just about damage for you gear; it’s about your health. If you are not familiar with all that electricity things, ask someone for help. 230 volts and water do not play nice on your brain. Don’t take this lightly!

Great things we’ve destroyed

The mechanism for tilting the head on the X-Series is great. There is a Ratcheting gears mechanism (a little toothed hard plastic disc) to fix the flash without killing oneself out while tightening it. It’s enough to “just tighten it a bit”. It will stick to that position forever. It’s nice!

On the other hand you have to tell your helpers to really open that screw before tilting the lamp – otherwise the disc could break we assume… Of course we didn’t really break it. Just a little bit… We swear. And only on one lamp. But it still works great, even on the broken one. Same goes for the second broken disc :)

The bayonet

There is one generally annoying thing with studio flashes: the bayonet.

Sometimes it feels like every flash-maker is cooking their own soup. The bayonet from Multiblitz is a good one: lockable, easy to open and very solid. Even the big and heavy Fresnel spot did not cause any problems. Thank you for opening counterclockwise. That’s something I can remember and usually try first. Open is CCW – perfect.

Conclusion

We wish the system had a wlan remote system for a tablet or a computer. It’s something we really love and use all the time. You can change the settings through the happy trigger unit, so it’s not crucial. It’s more like: you can view more, get better feedback and generally feel better with a 9” touch screen, especially when using multiple strobes, than with a 2 digit 7-segment display with 5 buttons.

But to be honest – we didn’t miss it while shooting. It’s just something you get used to and if you think about “what things could be better”, it just pops up.

Our “what’s great list” was by far easier:

  • Very good workmanship
  • Solid color temperature over the whole power range
  • Great batteries (if you have someone with strong shoulders)
  • Very practical bayonet
  • Red cables (this actually saves a lot of money in lost cables and tumble-overs!)
  • The grid for the beauty dish is great!

We had zero problems while working with the flashes. The manual is well written and for the X10 it is not only recommended, it’s mandatory. (Though we are the RTFM kind of folks anyways).

We would rather buy the X10 then the X5, because the price tag is quite the same and you not only get twice the power, you also get the battery option and faster recycling times. The X10 is a great flash even for small studios because of its wide range of power settings.

Multiblitz X-System
Multiblitz X-System

Do we recommend sell all your stuff and switch to Multiblitz? No.

If you are just gearing up and starting from scratch the Multiblitz system is definitely worth to put on the shortlist.

PS: We had a fourth day, but this will be another post. It’s about product photography. The X-System can create clipping masks very easily. Fascinating stuff …

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Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

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8 responses to “We Got A High End Strobe System For 4 Days – Here Is What We Did With It”

  1. udi tirosh Avatar
    udi tirosh

    that is some pretty awesome stuff, Stephen. first photo is a killer!

    1. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      Thank you!
      I love every single image. That system is crazy good, was a lot of fun to test it :-)

  2. echomrg Avatar
    echomrg

    was it really necessary to make violence against women look glamour?
    i’m not usually “that guy” and refrain from this kind of comments, i know it’s fiction, entertainment, etc. etc. some might even think it’s funny.

    well, i think this time it’s simply too much, especially because it’s completely gratuitous, it doesn’t serve any storytelling purpose or tell a different, hidden story.

    it’s just a glam picture of a murdered woman.
    (posted just a few days after the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, nonetheless)

    i really wonder why you chose this subject or what made you think that posting a picture of a murdered woman being crushed with crane was a good idea…

    1. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      I’s fiction, it’s entertainment and I also think it’s funny.
      If this is the kind of thing that should be avoided, we would probably loose a lot of good filmmakers (like Tarantino etc).
      The storyline… well… if you read the text, the girl in the crane actually IS the storyline. It’s not that hidden. Also the title “take out the trash” is not randomly chosen, it’s based on that storyline.
      Some pictures are driven by fun, other are driven by fear and this one is driven by the need to lift a girl with that crane.

      To make a Statement: We are definitely against violence in any form. Also we are against censorship of art. Our work is neither a political statement nor should it motivate someone to try this stuff at home.

      We are simply looking for ideas with a strong visual impact.

      With this preamble, I can answer your questions:

      1) No woman were harmed while shooting this image.
      2) yes, it was a very good idea and had that visual impact we are aiming for

      1. echomrg Avatar
        echomrg

        as i said, i’m not usually “that guy” ;) i’m definitely not saying that all violent
        content should be avoided and i can absolutely appreciate a Tarantino movie.

        i also had already guessed that the girl in the crane wasn’t really dead.

        this is not about censorship, if you really believe that this picture carries some kind of message worth spreading or tells a story you want to tell you should definitely feel free to share it.

        but, as with any kind of “creative act”, this *is* a political statement.
        the choice to post such a charged image carries its consequences, it’s not something you can simply dismiss as “just fiction”.

        1. Stefan Avatar
          Stefan

          Now I’m curious. What is the political statement of that image?

          1. echomrg Avatar
            echomrg

            that images of violence against women can be funny and cool and glamorous. that images of violence against women are an acceptable subject for a generic tutorial about lighting.

            it’s just like jokes about gay people… of course they’re “only” jokes.
            but as long as jokes about gay people are widespread and acceptable they help create an hostile environment.

            this picture won’t make anyone murder a woman just as django unchained won’t turn anyone in a slave master or call of duty won’t turn anyone into a killing machine.

            yet i think using a murdered woman as *generic subject* for a
            tutorial trivializes violence and contributes in creating a women-hostile environment.

          2. Guest Avatar
            Guest

            I think I get your point.
            The way I see it is different. We wanted to create an image in “our kind of style”. We are looking for strong and sometime controversial ideas for images. Of course we could have used something else. Probably a jazz saxophone player on a stage or just another beauty shot. This is not a tutorial, it’s an explanation. We used something we call “zone lighting” and wanted to show which parts are lit and composed later, to avoid any question like “this is not lit by 4 lamps, because there are at least 8 light sources in that image”.