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First Studio Lights: Norman D24, Calumet Elite 2, or Profoto Acute 2R 2400

Allen L , Jan 27, 2007; 12:29 a.m.

I'm a serious photo student about to invest in my first set of studio lights. I want a powerpack and strobe setup, and a high quality system that I can build on for many years. I'm considering the Profoto Acute2R 2400, the Norman D24(w/ pocket wizard built-in), or the Calumet Elite 2 2400. I'm also open to other suggestions.

What I do: I like product photography and want to pursue it as a career. I've been taking senior portraits at a studio for 1.5 years. I shoot with a Sinar F1 4x5 camera, a Mamiya RB67, and a Nikon D200 digital. I consider myself very technical and tend to try to push the technical envelope much farther than the artistic one. I don't doubt that I'd use all 2400 w/s of any of these powerpacks. I'd also like to use this studio setup for taking portraits.

I know most of the specs pretty well (except for with the Calumet). Power is equal, the Profoto has only 3 head outlets, while the others have 4, the profoto has a slower flash duration (1/320th) at max power than the Norman (1/800th). The calumet doesn't have a built in pocketwizard. I do want wireless control, fussing with sync cords in front of clients is embarassing. Recycle times are all with in 1/3 second, the Calumet doesn't have a switch on its optical slave, and it's also the heaviest. Student discount prices put the Profoto w/ 2 heads at $2650, the Norman at $2465, and the Calumet at $2450 + the cost of a pocketwizard transceiver. Accessories will be much more expensive for the profoto, but higher quality. Also the Profoto has less convenient power adjustment, but is also 5-8 pounds lighter than the competition. I do place some value on portability. What I don't know and what I would like to hear, are some testimonials from people with experience with these. I've worked with the Profoto packs, and lower quality Normans(808, P500s, etc.). The Profoto seems to be the ultimate quality, with great engineering like the zoom reflectors. Everything is solid and well built, and feels top-notch. The other two seem to be more value-based. They have 4 head outlets, more finely adjustable power(the Norman atleast), faster flash durations, etc. More features, but not as top notch basically. I doubt I'll ever need the adjustable voltage of the Prototo (for other countries right?), or the precise color accuracy. But yet I do long for the absolute quality. I love my D200 not for its obvious feature over the D70, but for the hundreds of tiny things that I noticed after buying it.

I guess I don't ever want to feel limited by my equipment, and when buying equipment I want to do things right the first time. But I'm also trying to develop good business skills, which means not indulging in the nicest most expensive equipment if I can do just as well with something cheaper. So let me know, was your Profoto setup worth every penny, or are you happy you wen't a more economical route?

Responses

caleb condit , Jan 27, 2007; 05:43 a.m.

I think your last sentence states it best. You should get something that works, gets the job done, is durable and has the ability to upgrade. I've used profoto, and it seems to be top notch build but some things I didn't like. For example only 3 outlets for strobes. And then the built in radio slave is just one more thing that can break in the long run (THAT would be embarrasing in front of a client).

My suggestion would be to also take a look at Speedotron. They have one of the largest selections of light modifiers(all really well made, durable) and if you get a 2400 pack and 2 heads with modifiers it'l end up way less than profoto and be of high quality. Plus, having pocketwizards is prety incredible as you can use them with multiple packs etc.

Also, the flash tubes for speedotron are about $150 dollars cheaper.

Also if you go to calumet right now they have a couple of things that might interest you. http://www.calumetphoto.com/item/SB1078.html This first one's a 2400w/s with two heads and accessories and also an airline case http://www.calumetphoto.com/item/SB1025U.html this second link is a 2403CX (2400w/s) pack thats lightly used for only $850...I know a couple of very well established shooters that ALWAYS use speedotron, even with the pickyest of clients. It's really because they work, they're highly available and ultra durable.

mark schafer , Jan 27, 2007; 09:14 a.m.

My recommendation goes squarely toward rentable equipment. All the major markets support Profoto in a big way. If you go the Acute route, you get your light formers and when you're ready to upgrade or rent additional equipment you're set to go. I used Normans only once and they stopped working after a couple hours standing outside in subzero temperatures, whereas Profoto kept on going. I'm working with Profoto now for over ten years and love they build quality and more importantly their light quality, because that's in the end what it's all about, and the Acute line is a great and economical way to get that light. I second the build in Wizard solution, an additional thing that can break and i don't think the cost advantage over the non-Wizard pack is that great (has to be over $185). Anyhow, as people trading their equipment around, check out eBay for interesting deals as well, but you can't go wrong with the student discounts (or ask local pro's if they're getting rid of equipment anytime soon, a friend in the Southwest is selling a fantastic bron setup right now and my Acute 1200 kit, that I had as a quicky setup to bring on the weekends will be there soon, haven?t used it that much either)

Ronald Moravec , Jan 27, 2007; 10:20 a.m.

I like modular anything. Stuff breaks. I would rather have two small packs than one large one and use a slave on the second.

I would want the brightest modeling lamps I could get with the most accuracy.

I have had Normans for years and the only repair I needed was when a pack got submerged in water, hardly Normans fault.

Lately I have been doing Lowell DP with umbrellas or diffusion screens.The 750 watts is better than any modeling light.

I also have a 650 watt frenel for hard lighting and a few small frenels for macro work. The brand escapes me.

Portrait sitters can sit under a DP bounced into a Lowell heat resistant umbrella all day long without discomfort. They are NOT like 12 in reflectors.

Blue dichroics can be fitted on the DP.

Allen L , Jan 27, 2007; 08:29 p.m.

Thanks for the info. I'm looking into the speedotrons, but having trouble finding much information on them, even from there own website. Maybe I won't get a pack w/ built in Pocket wizard, but I definately want a pocket wizard unit and I'll just carry a sync cord as a backup. Like I said I've used Profoto Acute and Norman kits, and the quality of the Normans leaves something to be desired. I've seen the Normans randomly start smoking until they are unplugged, then not work twice now at the studio I work at. They are a much more high-volume studio than I plan to ever have and they use their packs all day every-day, but still the packs were on but not in use when they fry'd. I appreciate the quality engineering and build in the Profoto systems, but the less sophisticated features(only 3 heads, lack of fine power adjustment) are a disadvantage.

Allen L , Jan 30, 2007; 02:19 p.m.

Well I think I've finally decided on the Profotos. The speedotrons seem nice and very practical, but they lack a few of the bells and whistles that I see myself wanting, such as a built-in slave. They are also very heavy for location work, which as a commercial photographer will be inevitable for me. I'm going to get the Profoto Acute 2 2400, without the pocket wizard. I'll buy two of the pocket wizard tranceivers later down the road, after I get some C-stands and light modifiers. I'm getting the Profotos over the Normans due to the overall higher quality, even though it lacks a few nice features such as fine power adjustments and 4 heads. I've never been very impressed with the quality of Norman equipment, the heads especially. Don't get me wrong they get the job done, but they leave something to be desired. The Calumet Elite 2 unit seems comparable to the Normans, but not quite as nice for the price.

Thanks for all the help, comments are still welcome as I don't get paid until thursday, and thats when I plan on ordering them.

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