A recent behind the scenes video of a shoot for AC Estab working with water, rooftop windy conditions, and darkness. Stills were lit with four Proheads powered by 8A packs thru beauty dish and zoom reflectors and set was lit with four Aputure 300D/120D/T and two Aputure 672 panels.
Experienced events photographers are well prepared. And that experience comes along with knowing the venue and its constraints. There will be times where and when ‘speed light bouncing’ won’t work, black walls and black, often tall ceilings. Are you going to blast straight flash when you know that image quality are crucial for international press releases and the publicists of the celebrities are critical on how their client appears on photos? Sometimes you have to when you don’t have a choice nor control. But when you do, here’s where strobes took care of the problems; Profoto 8A with large umbrellas in the pit behind the red (actually black) carpet. The photographer have no worries about logistics, setup or tear down, its all handled by our crew.
We recently partnered with Aputure Asia at the Jimami Tofu film premiere at Vivocity Golden Village, Singapore. The directors wanted the premiere event lit with filming lights versus conventional house lighting and Aputure Asia supplied the lights and AssistantCrew supplied the grips and hardware. Jimami Tofu is a film written and directed by Christian Lee and Jason Chan from Banana Mana Films starring Jason Chan, Rino Nakasone, Mari Yamamoto, Christian Lee and Masane Tsukayama.
The Switch from Nikon to Godox Flash
Recently our lead photographer and founder Anton Chia switched from Nikon speedlights to Godox hotshoe flashes for his wedding works. Mainly because of the V860II. We had been watching the development of China’s “Big 5” photo gear companies for years. Godox, Phottix, Jinbei, Yong Nuo and Aputure, (Aputure being more video focused now) and we are now at a time where Chinese products are thrice the performance at a third of the price. The quality and tech just kept improving. Make no mistake we still love our Profotos and still love-hate our Nikons. But when something good comes along, we utilize it.
As mentioned we had been eyeing the Godox hotshoe flash systems for a while now, (alongside with the AD series which we own several AD600s). When Godox progressed beyond using their old FT-16 triggers and put on a new and better lithium battery pack into their 860 version II, its time to dump the expensive and backwards Nikon Speedlights and make the switch. Each Godox hotshoe flash is now both a master and a slave. No more fiddling with the old Phottix Strato triggers to get TTL pass-throughs, and we don’t even want to be reminded of the struggles we had with the highly unreliable CLS system. The controls are strikingly similar to Nikon’s CLS sytem, except that it is much better. There are plenty of reviews out there that goes into details for their features but that is not the point of this article.
Recycle Time Tested and Compared
We got the V860II and TT685 and want to know how they stack up in terms of recycling time, which is something important to the weddings and events photographers. And especially since the V860II can’t utilize an external battery pack, that’s why we got the TT685 as well for that purpose. We know from other reviews and feedback from existing users that while the V860II battery power seems to last for days of shoots, its recycling time pales slightly in comparison to the Nikon. We want to know exactly how much and here we share our findings.
Tested with its propriety lithium battery pack of course and the results:
At 1/32 power, (a common stroboscopic power setting for speedlights) we were able to hit 11 frames per second repeating burst and maintain it across 3 seconds, all 33 frames have consistent power output. It would probably go on forever till the battery runs flat.
At 1/16 power, 11 fps maintaining it for a full second, it barely manages after frame 6, either it pause for a split second and continues, causing you to loss some frames, or it gives you a unfired black frame. Out of 11 frames, we got around 7 to 8 frames exposed. (In comparison, SB910/SB900 at 1/16 is able to do it effortlessly at 11 fps, just normal NIMH 4AA cells, no external battery pack.)
At 1/16 power, dropped down to 5 fps and maintained across 25 shots over 5 seconds; every shot is consistent. It probably can go on forever till the plastic melts.
At 1/8 power, 5 fps, which is around the power most of us will be shooting speedlights at to get consistency without a battery pack and within a fast enough frame rate to grab moments; the v860 can maintain a full second at 5fps. If the burst is maintained across 2 seconds, at frame 6 its goes black and it comes back on again at frame 8, 9 and 10. (SB910 in comparison is able to maintain it across but with each frame after the 7th going darker and darker. We kind of remembered it is a smart Nikon design, to still pump out some low powered flashes while recycling at the same time, the benefit is that some shots could still be savaged in post production. So props to Nikon for that.
1/4 power and above is what it really matters in difficult lighting conditions since the V860II can’t use an external battery pack to boost recycle times.
At 1/4 power, 3fps across 2 second, it succeeded in the first second giving good frames 1 to 3, but immediately failed at frames 4 to 6. This is borderline ok for awards presentation, 2-3 shots per pax, rest 1-2 seconds for the next person to walk up, repeat. (In comparison, SB910 succeed for all 6 frames, with frame 5 and 6 darker by 1/3 and 2/3 stops respectively which is not a big issue)
At 1/4 power, 2fps across 3 seconds, all 6 frames ok. Probably the real world usage power/speed for stuff like awards presentation. (In comparison, SB910 succeed for all 6 frames, again with deteriorating exposures)
Tested with a recently charged up set of Imedion NIMH 4AA cells that was left unused for around a week. The cells had a about a past year of regular usage, always slow charged and frequently reconditioned. Here are the results:
At 1/32, again it can blast off 11fps almost indefinitely, depending on your battery condition.
At 1/16 power, 11fps, it can keep up to frame 6 and from frame 7 onwards it is all dark.
At 1/16 power, slowed down to 5fps for 2 seconds, it managed 7 frames, and the rest of the frames were all dark.
At 1/8 power, 5fps, it survived till frame 4.
At 1/4 power, 3fps, it managed only 2 frames.
At 1/4 power, 2fps, again it managed only 2 frames.
From here it may appear that the TT685 performance is way beneath the V860II, but IMHO, it all depends on your battery cells, mine is pretty old. We also noticed that at higher power and faster shooting frame rates, each shot is slightly darker than the previous. Then we tested with a fresh set of “Energizer Advanced”, a popular battery with local photographers, supposed to be meant for high drain devices like camera flashes.
At 1/32, not measured, obviously it will be all good.
At 1/16 power, 11fps, it kept up to frame 7, but frame 8 was severely darker and the rest of the frames were all dark.
At 1/16 power, slowed down to 5fps maintained for 2 seconds, it got us 9 frames with the last frame dark
At 1/8 power, 5fps, it survived till frame 4, just like the NIMHs.
At 1/4 power, 3fps, for 2 seconds, frame 3 was dark, frame 4 is back on again, frame 5 and 6 were dark again.
At 1/4 power, 2fps for 2 seconds, it managed 3 frames.
In conclusion, fresh out of the pack, high drain alkalines are just a tiny bit better than the old and abused Imedion NIMH rechargeables. So the V860II with its lithium pack battery actually way outperform the TT685 on high power alkalines.
Godox TT685 with External Battery Pack
TT685 plugged in with Canon CP-E3 power pack with 8 fresh Energizer Advance AAs. In the flash body is a recently charged set of Imedion NIMH cells that had a about a past year of regular usage, always slow charged and frequently reconditioned:
At 1/16 power, 11fps, succeeded 10 frames and goes dark at 11th.
At 1/16 power, down to 5fps, maintained for 3 seconds, all 15 frames lit!
At 1/8 power, 5fps, maintained for 2 seconds, all frames except the 8th lit.
At 1/4power, 3fps, maintained for 2 seconds, all frames except the 3th lit.
At 1/4power, 2fps, for 3 seconds, all 6 frames lit.
Versus SB910 with External Battery Pack
In comparison with SB910 plugged in with Nikon SD8A power pack with 6 fresh Energizer Advance AAs (Yes, 2 cells less, my SD9 pack was long dead for no reason, poor circuitry or quality that’s probably why), and again in the flash body, a recently charged set of Imedion NIMH cells that had a about a past year of regular usage, always slow charged and frequently reconditioned:
At 1/16 power, 11fps, all 11 frames lit, but there are slight exposure inconsistency in some frames.
At 1/16 power, down to 5fps, maintained for 3 seconds, all 15 frames.
At 1/8 power, 5fps, maintained for 2 seconds, all 10 frames lit.
At 1/4power, 3fps, maintained for 2 seconds, all 6 frames lit, exposure inconsistency with each shot very slightly darker, like a -0.10 in Lightroom exposure adjustment
At 1/4power, 2fps, for 3 seconds, all 6 frames lit, again exposure inconsistency
Conclusion for TT685 vs SB910 both with power packs; the SB910 is a better performer even with a smaller power pack (2 cells lesser), but have slight exposure inconsistency, it might fare better with the SD9 pack with 8 cells. The TT685 with power pack is easily as good as the SB910 because it makes up the slightly slower recycle with exposure consistency and that means less time on post production adjustments.
Godox TT685 with External Lithium Battery Pack
Latest test (22 December 2017) with a Hyper-Pac/Charger Device 2X2s (depending on where they are rebranded into), which is lithium clone version of the Nimh Quantum 2×2 plugged in, and in the flash body, a recently charged set of Imedion NIMH cells that had a about a past year of regular usage, always slow charged and frequently reconditioned:
At 1/16 power, 11fps, all 11 frames lit consistently.
At 1/16 power, down to 5fps, maintained for 3 seconds, all 15 frames lit.
At 1/8 power, 5fps, maintained for 2 seconds, all 10 frames lit.
At 1/4power, 3fps, maintained for 2 seconds, all 6 frames lit
At 1/4power, 2fps, for 3 seconds, all 6 frames lit
Here on we pushed the limits at 1/2 power
At 1/2power, 3fps, maintained for 2 seconds, frame 3 and 6 dark.
At 1/2power, 2fps, for 3 seconds, all 6 frames lit.
Best performer of all with a Lithium pack.
More Interesting Findings
During the course of the tests, we also noticed peculiarly, that while lowest manual power allowed is 1/128, the flash actually can go down to 1/1024 in TTL mode. Another thing, these units can be triggered both via the built-in radio and the optical slave modes, but interestingly, the optical slave modes doesn’t work like conventional optical flashes. When the unit is in optical slave mode, it can only be triggered by the master slave while it is on the camera’s hotshoe. It ignores all other flashes. In other words, it may be in optical slave mode but someone else’s flash won’t be able to trigger it. Kinda remind us of CLS again.
Surprisingly for such a popular flash system such as the Profoto Pro8a, detailed information concerning its exact flash duration and frames per second at a specific power settings are seriously lacking. It is not mentioned on Profoto’s manual either. We did some tests and like to share our findings. These aren’t comprehensive tests by any means, but it is based upon what most commercial photographers will do and need; specifically, high speed flash photography at high frame rates. ie situations like a dancer spinning in midair, a martial artist slashing water droplets, smashing glasses, splashing water and flying powders. So let’s cut the chase and get to the point.
1/2000 second flash duration at T1 is the common speed needed to capture high velocity movements, like the examples mentioned above. You can perhaps make do with 1/1500 or even 1/1000 if critical sharpness is not crucial, if it is not macro level work, or if the image won’t be used for high definition or large prints.
The Sweet Spot for Pro8a
150ws is the Profoto Pro8a pack’s magic number, the sweet spot, providing a flash duration of about 1/1750 at T1. It is not 1/2000, but it is near enough that the differences are negligible most of the time. To get real 1/2000, power down to 100ws and if you need more power, 400ws still gets you a decent 1/1000 flash duration. But why do we say 150ws is the magic number and the sweet spot, read on about frames per second.
Although Profoto Pro8a boast its 20 frames per second frame rate, it is only if you shoot at its lowest power of 4.7ws (1/512 power). That is like the power of a SB800 Speedlight at 1/16 power. We want a workable power to shoot with at high frame rate and in most studio portrait conditions. 150ws will still gives us f/8 at ISO100, shooting thru a softbox. But that’s not the main reason for working with 150ws. 150ws is the power setting that enables the Profoto Pro8a pack to fire at up to 11 frames per second consistently without losing power. If you go above 150ws at 11 fps, for example, at 300ws; the first shot will be at 300ws, but the remaining 10 shots will be at 150ws. 150ws is the cap. And 11 frames per second should nail you the exact moment you want.
Using Two Heads
Till now we are only talking about using just one flash head. What happens if we plug in two flash heads? The sweet spot is no longer at 150ws but goes down to 49.5ws max per port/head, at 11 fps. Again if your power settings are at 100ws for example, the first shot will be at 100ws, and the remaining 10 shots will be at 49.5ws. Flash duration at 49.5ws is around 1/2600.
If you have a Pro Twin Tube flash head and two packs, you can get 300ws into one head. But you can get the same results ganging two heads together into one modifier.
More Things To Note
To achieve the frame rate, it is very important that you plug the power direct into the power socket and do not share that power point (fuse group) with other appliances. Performance may also deteriorate if you run a very long extension cord. Use either the Profoto Air Remote Transceiver or trigger it using optical slave. We tried using Phottix radio triggers and it couldn’t keep up with the frame rate.
Tested with the Pro8a its Speed setting set to Max, optical slave triggered, using a Nikon D4 at 11 frames per second, and measured with Sekonic L-858D-U. All flash duration mentioned at T1.
Another recent ‘mega’ Cyclorama setup on site at a multi-national pharmaceutical company, we were given an nice unused portion of their building floor for this shoot. This time having more width, our Cyclorama is wider than the previous 21 feet attempt. Some differences from the previous time are:
- Booming the center rear light head longer for better spread and balance instead of using honeycomb grid like the previous time. And then controlling the spill with a flag. You don’t see the center flag in the time lapse as it comes on later. The Profoto Zoom Reflectors again are very handy for controlling the background lights.
- Adding a 9 x 6 white screen at the left to box in the light further and soften the shadows on the left side. This saved us post production efforts. Secondary benefit is that it controls human traffic and provides a place to hide equipment behind.
- Instead of taping the paper roll on top of the canvass like the previous round, we tape it to the floor and laid the white canvass over it. The previous experience taught that if the paper rolls are taped to the canvass, it tends to pull and cause big wrinkles on the backdrop paper. This is especially so when people stepped on the canvass or when the weight of furnitures/props were placed on it. This time round it worked well.
- Using three Profoto Acute2 2400 generators and six D4 heads versus a Profoto-Elinchrom mix previously. The weaker Elinchrom couldn’t keep up and had overheating issues due to firing at near full power continuously for hours.
Once again, tribute to Zack Arias‘ original tutorial many, many years ago (not the one in link, but anyway), all these grew from one man’s generosity in sharing knowledge, at a time when sharing was rarer than today.
People do not realize how expensive cables are, ie those from lighting systems. For a quick example; the Profoto Pro Head extension cable is USD383 for 5 meters, and Broncolor is USD400 for the same length. Some audio cables are even more expensive. How we coil the cables affects the lifespan and possibly the performance of our gear. Below is an example of a messed up Profoto Pro Head extension cable found on the internet. Someone probably try to coil and store it like a rope and when released, this is the result. Because essentially the core of the cables are copper, conductors of electricity, or silver, for high end audio cables, and once they bend into a shape, they stay that shape, unbending them risks damaging the cable when the copper within breaks or cracks or separates. Nobody cares for household appliances’ cables, but we do for our gear. We also do not throw cables to spread them, so as to avoid damage to the cable ends.
We recommend the Over and Under method and we keep the coiled diameter in general around 8 inches, more if we can afford the space. The less they bend, the better they are. There are countless videos on youtube, just view a few. Or here is a nice link for more info. If you buy pre-owned gear you might end up with less than ideal cables, don’t try to bend them back the opposite direction, but let it flow its natural curl and don’t stress it further.
Here’s how we coil and store our cables below. Take care of your gear and they will take care of your shoot.
Voice activated lightstand – communication with assistants. But voice requires a language. Haven’t we all encountered the situation when communication broke down and the client could obviously tell there is no rapport between the photographer and his crew? Photographer says “slightly move the light left” and the assistant did exactly as told and moved the light position left, but that’s not what the photographer really wants. What he really wanted is to feather the light slightly to the left, in which he should tell the assistant to pan left. Another example would be that the photographer says “Move the light outwards”. But what does he meant? Out to the left or out to the right? Or out of the set? Or turn off the lights?
We recommend that you considering following our language;
- Forward shuffle or Reverse shuffle – This is moving the light position inwards or outwards RELATIVE TO THE SUBJECT without changing direction, as the light always face the subject, (thus the word reverse, just like a car moving back, but still facing the subject).
- Pie left or right or slice left or slice right- This is moving the light position like ‘slicing a pie’ or pizza without changing the distance from light to subject, and the light always face the subject, thus you tell the assistant to ‘Pie left 7 o clock, or slice right 4 o clock.
- Stick up, stick down – The lightstand remains in the same position, but the height of the light head is being adjusted here. ie stick up 6 inches.
- Pan left or right – The light remains in same position and only the light head rotates on the horizontal axis. Preferably you let the assistant know ‘by the clock’ 9 to 3 clock, ie Pan fill light 2 o’ clock to your left. (The assistant will always face the light at the subject, so in case he is adjusting the kicker light for you, his left is your right.) Alternate word is ‘feather left or feather right.’
- Tilt up or down – The light remains in the same position and again, only the light head rotates on the vertical axis. Let the assistant know ‘by the clock’ 6 to 12 how much to tilt vertically.
Once you have the language and communications nailed down, then you can easily position and fine tune your lights effectively and efficiently. Try “Reverse shuffle the key light 2 feet, slice right 5 clock, stick up 3 inches, then tilt it down to 8.30/3.30, and a slight pan left to 11 o clock.
The next complication is, what if its a boom arm? It is actually the same. Remember, the light always face the subject, and adjust from there.
Today we talk about Studs and Spigots and Safety. Stuff we see at the end of light stands, grip gears, clamps and lights, or photography load bearing stuff. They are made of brass, stainless steel and aluminum. Be wary of aluminum spigots and studs. They might be ok for light weighted stuff, but be very careful once you started using them as they get mixed into other gear and eventually they end up in one of your heavy lights or rigs and that is a disaster waiting to happen. They bend, they break and they strip their threads way too easily. Don’t do it. Speaking from experience. They becomes the weakness link in the whole rig and very often, the stress points are right there where these spigots are; the joints and the ends. It is so much easier to end up with them nowadays when things are purchased online; you often don’t get to examine the quality. They may look like stainless steel but they are actually aluminum. If you add in environmental stresses like wind, changing temperature over the course of the day outdoors; metals expands and contracts, what might felt tight may gradually slip and loosen over the course of the day and give way. That’s why good assistants and grips check rigs regularly, ie hourly for outdoors, daily or more for indoors.
Another point to note the 1/4″ tripod hole specification. It’s for tripods and cameras (most stills cams), in other words; light weight stuff. It’s not meant to bear heavy loads. You can convert them to the 3/8″ to 5/8″ standard by using stainless steel adapter rings or male to female adapter studs. But doing this does not neglect the fact that your weakest link still remains at the 1/4″ joint. I had the stainless steel adapter rings broke in midst of an assignment before, after using them to upsize my 1/4″ pins to 3/8″; in reality these adapter rings are really just a thin strip of metal grooves.
If you look at our gear list, you may notice we have an assortment of Matthellini Clamps. They are often referred to as Cardellini too, the original brand that invented these clamps. These are tools of the film industry actually, and seldom seen in the repertoire of the stills photographer. But they are incredibly strong and useful, securing a heavy strobe easily at venues and premises where light stands aren’t allowed.
The flat jaws and linear clamping direction makes them more friendly to surfaces compared to the Superclamps favored by still photographers, which clamps more like a triangular shape. Interestingly, Superclamps in the film industry are known as Mafer clamps and they use those on pipes, not on flat surfaces. And I don’t want to recall incidents in the past when I put a dent on someone’s wooden shelve or table from using Superclamps. If I use Superclamps on flat surfaces I will try to sandwich it between two layers of plywood (cribbing) to protect the venue’s furniture. But by doing that it adds to the width, thus not always practical in real world usage. With Matthellini clamps, we can go anywhere up to 3 inches, 6 inches, and even extendable up to 15 inches or 27 inches with the Extendellini extensions.
Here is an example of it being deployed on assignment holding up a Godox Wistro AD600.