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White Lightning Strobes -- What's the Downside?

Ted Springer , Sep 17, 2008; 10:09 p.m.


I have been looking into strobes for portraits, for the past few months. I've got $1000 to spend and I keep coming back to White Lightning/alien bees. I've heard such great things about them. Power, portability, reliability, all in one neat little package. I am thinking what's the catch? Has anyone had any bad experiences with White Lightning Alien Bees? If so what lights would you recommend in my price range?


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Ted Springer , Sep 17, 2008; 10:14 p.m.

Oops, I just realized there is a similar thread that was just posted a few minutes ago... I am still curious to know if anyone has any other lighting systems to recommend.

Michael Axel , Sep 18, 2008; 02:32 a.m.

Hi Ted, I have a very high regard for the SP Excalibur system. Very affordable, very economical, very accurate white balance and output. I've used them and built my in-studio system for many years. BH Photo has them and I can't say enough good things about the quality.

Doug Settle , Sep 18, 2008; 02:57 a.m.

I have used three of the older WL strobes for about 15 years now. Thos used with film camera they have been very reliable, NO trouble or malfunctions and I would say good value and good quality... as far as the Alien Bees, thats the newer ones Ted is talking about, and I have no knowledge of that one. I would venture a guess and say the AB's would be a good investment.

Ellis Vener , Sep 18, 2008; 07:18 a.m.

'I am thinking what's the catch?"

As thye used t osay in bad ads, White Lightning /Alien Bees parent company has always direct ed marketed: they don't have a distributor and they don't have dealers. On the other hand they have very aggressively implemented terrific customer relations including very fast and economical repair turn around times. The only downside I've encounterd with them is that graphics look silly.

Tim Ludwig , Sep 18, 2008; 10:46 a.m.

After using 4 White Lighting Ultras for over twenty years with only three repairs and turn around times of less than a week each time, I guess I'm more than a little pleased. By the way, That includes lots of bumps and bruises on the road shooting architecture and hundreds of days shooting non-stop on portraits. I've only replaced one flash tube and I broke that one. I can't even estimate how many thousands of pops have gone through these things.

My business partner uses four of the X3200 series and got them at my suggestion about 7 years ago. He loves them.

Make careful comparisons between the big guns and the Bees. More power and more controls on the big boys.

Christopher Schlaf , Sep 18, 2008; 11:50 a.m.

I have both White lighting and Bee's there is no better customer service.As far as Im concerned they have a customer for life.

Harry Joseph , Sep 18, 2008; 12:56 p.m.

"The only downside I've encounterd with them is that graphics look silly."

I couldn't see myself using the Martian pink, or alien green AB units unless I was shooting kids or something. The thing I find attractive about the ABs is the compact size and weight, but I'm not particularly crazy about plastic equipment. I had all sorts of problems with plastic darkroom equipment that the manufacturer claimed was "as strong as steel".

That is the only thing that has got me thinking about the White Lightnings. However, I'm not particularly crazy about the tube shape of the WL's. Seems like it just makes it allot easier to tip them over in a hectic studio.

As far as outdoor work I shot many a portrait with a 400WS Norman flash and had to turn it down to 50WS being that the subjects were only 8-10 feet away.

Indoors I got a measly 15X18' room, with 8+ foot ceilings. My Continuous Light system handles 2 types of bulbs 500 and 250Watts. In the space I got, I can only use the 250Watt bulbs(and even that is too much), the 500Watt bulbs would be like letting in the Sun, so I think I might be satisfied with the 150Watt modeling light of the ABs indoors.

Tim Ludwig , Sep 18, 2008; 01:24 p.m.

One suggestion, think of your possible future needs. It's easy to reduce power on any of these units for a small room space, but if you are shooting anything the needs a large depth of field or are in a gym or large space trying to shoot a big group shot, you are going to need every bit of power you can beg, borrow or steal. Reserve power is an investment in those times.

Brooks Short - Tampa, Florida , Sep 18, 2008; 02:45 p.m.

One the downsides to WLs are that they are monolights. Because they are monolights they are heavier than flash heads from pack and head systems and they can be a lot of weight high up on a light stand or suspended over the set on the end of a boom.

Because they are monolights, they each require their own power cord and AC outlet. A 3 light setup requires 3 separate outlets.

As monolights, it's awkward to adjust their controls when they are high and out of reach on a light stand or boom, unless you have a wireless control option or even more cables for wired controls.

Effective WS is effective nonsense. I like a manufacturer to NOT make up the specs for their product.

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