Is the holy grail of lighting upon us?

Lori Guest Blog Posts, Photography Education

We often get asked about lighting. What kind of lighting do we use, what kind of triggers, what’s best for high-speed sync and TTL,  which lights work with which triggers and so on.  Over the past year, Lori and I have been slowly switching over all of our portable/location lighting and I think this guest blog post best explains why.

Last week I was browsing Facebook and read a post written by Adrian Henson that is probably one of the best explanations of what professional photographers need in a lighting set.  Since posts on facebook last about as long as the flavor of a good meal,  I reached out to Adrian and he was kind enough to allow us to repost his review here.  If you’re not familiar with Adrian, he’s one of the most knowledgeable photographers I know regarding the ins and outs of lighting, even down to the technical details that’s rocket science to most of us!  Adrian also created and runs Photographer Friends,  a facebook group that encourages the growth and betterment of our industry.  Check out Adrian’s bio at the end of this post or click here to see more of his work.

Below is Adrian’s original post.  We hope you enjoy as much as we did.

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The Holy Grail of lighting is upon us… For the most part.
What is the Holy Grail of lighting? I have put a lot of thought into this over the years. Anyone who knows me knows that I know lighting and lighting gear intimately. I know the quirks and aggravations of most of what is out there. I also know that light is light. I will not get caught in a debate about one brand making prettier light, or better light, or more consistent light than another brand. People who debate these issues are victims of their need to justify their purchase. It is quite a simple fact that there are those who can take a $69 light and demolish the efforts of anther person using a $6000 light. Light is light. It’s what you do with it that counts.

The Holy Grail ideal cares not about brands or loyalty. It is an ideal that describes a lighting system that makes the user’s life easier. To the point that management and operation are mindless and we, as photographers, can get on with creating images and not spending our precious time planning and preemptively preparing for the inconveniences that most lighting systems saddle us with daily. It is quite a shame that it has taken this long for lighting to get where it finally is today.

So what is the Holy Grail of Lighting? First, it should be intuitive. If a moderately well-experienced photographer has to read the manual to make it work… It is out. One should be able to put it into service, out of the box, and go shoot a job. Period. Ipod did this beautifully. You pick it up and you intuitively know how to use it.

A Holy Grail system should be clean and elegant. Meaning that there should be the fewest number of parts possible for the photographer to manage. As every photographer knows, if it’s worth having one of, you better get two for safety. This means no cables, no battery pack cables, and no remote cables. Cables are annoying, they are clumsy and they are always a weak link. And if they are made well enough to not be a weak link, they become so big and heavy that they are unwieldy. A cable-free system also means that we do not need to keep spare cables. I recently stored away a box full of back up cables that I have had to carry with me for years. That was a good day.

Cable-free means that the batteries must be in the flash, however, AAs are not “clean and elegant”. One lithium battery per light is much much easier to manage than 4 AAs. For speedlights, it literally means 1/4th as many batteries to deal with. Before I changed to my new system, I was working with 9 speedlights at 4 AAs per light plus a spare set for each. 9X4X2=72. And that is just the speedlights (I used three more Lithium Ion packs for the studio lights). I now have more power, more flexibility and I only deal with 12 batteries, which last longer and recharge faster. 12 vs 75, which is better?

Another aspect of a Holy Grail System is variety or range. The same remote should be able to control and operate a range of lights from very small to very powerful. From a tiny little cube light much like the old Morris Slaves to something in the 1200 to 2500 WS range. Sometimes we need to add light to a small lantern or sconce, and sometimes we need to light the whole treeline of a small forest. With today’s technology, we should not be forced to mix systems and even worse jury rig studio lights for use on location. It is too cumbersome and carries a high risk of equipment failure. These are the tools we, as professionals, use to make our living. We need it to work.

Holy Grail systems should not bury power adjustments in menus. The very thing we need to get to most (power adjustments) should be the very first thing you get to. Ultimately, we need the ability to push a button, corresponding to a designated light or group of lights, then turn a dial to adjust the power for that group. The Phottix Odin II remote is first ever (that I know of) to finally get this right.

A Holy Grail system should give the flexibility of high-speed sync and TTL. I was a very late adopter of HSS but have warmed up to it nicely. It is paramount that we have the artistic freedom to shoot at as wide a range of apertures as possible. Many will debate TTL, saying that Manual is better but when you figure out the quirks of TTL, it truly is a beautiful thing (another discussion for another post).

It should be a given that a Holy Grail lighting system would be expected to have, at very least, a professionally usable level of quality. To me, at very least, 99 out of 100 times, my system should work with no issues.

I do not think that anyone would expect a “Holy Grail” system to be “economy” level cheap, but it also can not be out of reach of the average professional photographer, or what use is it? If an ultra expensive light fires and no one can afford to see it, does it really make a difference?

I have preached this Holy Grail ideal to many over the past few years. I even pitched it to the design team at a major lighting company (they did not listen, and are in pretty serious trouble at this point). But an odd thing seems to have happened. Two companies that no one (in the US at least) would have even known 5 years ago have taken the lead and came fairly close to the Holy Grail of lighting. Phottix, that I mentioned earlier, and Godox (rebranded as Flashpoint in the US).

Phottix has the Holy Grail of remotes with their Odin II. Push a button, turn a dial. It is a beautiful thing. They have speedlights that work with the OdinII and they have full and medium powered studio sized lights that also work on the same system. Some of the downsides are that the speedlights are still AA dependant and the larger studio lights are cabled. The system is also missing the smaller mini slave size lights and the very high powered options. They are a great system though and run about $200 for the Odin II transmitter, $379 for the TTL HSS Speedlights and $1200 for the 500WS studio sized light.

The Godox/Flashpoint System is a little less elegant on the remote design, though after using it, I do not find it as cumbersome as I thought it would be. They too do not have a mini light yet, but one can hope. However they have multitudes of options for speedlights, from completely manual (But still with HSS) to full featured TTL HSS and Lithium Ion powered. Then they have two medium options the AD180 and an AD360 that come in manual and TTL HSS option. These still use a cord and a pretty awesome little power pack that may not be ideal but is sturdy and usable. Then we move up to the AD600 which is an amazing piece of ingenuity that not only has HSS, and TTL, but also has Lithium Ion power built in. Tto make things even sweeter, two AD600 bodies can be attached to a single bi-tube head making a 1200WS light that is also TTL, HSS and Lithium Ion powered, albeit with cables.

A pleasant surprise with the Godox gear is the price. While it’s not free, it is very nicely priced for the features and Godox has built a pretty darn good reputation for decent quality over the past few years. The X1 remotes can be had for just over $40, If you are a strictly manual shooter There are XT16 and XT32 remotes that are in the same price range. The speedlights have a ton of options too. Bare manual only (But still with HSS) units can be had for $69. Full featured TTL HSS and Lithium powered models (Ving860ii) run about $199. Then we get to the mid-size lights. The AD180 (Manual only but guess what? HSS included) is about $300. The AD360 Manual HSS version is about $420 and the full featured AD360 with TTL and HSS rolls in about $500. Finally, we get to the big boys. The Manual version of the AD600 comes in at $550 (still with HSS and lithium power) and the full blown HSS, TTL, and Lithium AD600 runs about $750. If you need the 1200 WS option double that and add $120 for the bi-tube head.

I recently switched all of my location gear to Godox/Flashpoint. Time will tell if they are durable and as photographer friendly as my first impression leads me to believe. I am very impressed at this point as are some of my close Photographer Friends who too have made the switch. I am even considering switching my studio over to a Godox only system so that everything I have works together seamlessly. While it is not perfect (yet), It is as close as anything out there to the Holy Grail of lighting.

I truly look forward to teaching with this system and sharing what I learn about it and from it. I look forward to the comments and questions.

Learn more about the Godox flash system here:  http://flashhavoc.com/godox-flash-system-overview/

Written By Adrian Henson of Adrian Henson Photography

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About Adrian

Adrian Henson owns and operates Adrian Henson Photography in Eastern North Carolina with his wife Heather. Their studio specializes in Highschool Seniors, Commercial Photography, and Dance School Photography. When not producing great photographs, he enjoys traveling and sharing his knowledge of image making. Adrian has a degree in Mechanical Drafting and Design and first used those skills as a project manager for the first 8 years of his professional life. In 2001, after many years of not having any creative outlet, Adrian discovered his love for photography. While the change from project manager to

When not producing great photographs, he enjoys traveling and sharing his knowledge of image making. Adrian has a degree in Mechanical Drafting and Design and first used those skills as a project manager for the first 8 years of his professional life. In 2001, after many years of not having any creative outlet, Adrian discovered his love for photography. While the change from project manager to photographer was huge, the skills and talents learned in his design training proved to be useful in both careers. He is a self-described “hobbyist” and is always on the lookout for new and exciting hobbies to explore. He has been involved with many hobbies from aquariums to metal detecting and from cave exploring to sailing. While photography also started out as a hobby, it was the one hobby that stuck with him and rocked him to the core. Many hobbies have come and gone but photography quickly evolved into much more, it became a core passion that will define him forever. Every hobby now seems to revolve around and come back to photography and Adrian always finds a way to combine new hobbies with his love of photography.

Today, Adrian is heavily involved with his state organization (Profession Photographers of North Carolina) as well as PPA as a council member. Adrian regularly travels throughout the country, and even overseas, teaching and speaking. Adrian has been accepted as an International Print Committee Juror by PPA. He is also very committed to print competition and has been honored with the Diamond, Platinum, Gold and Bronze awards as well as NC’s and SEPPA’s Photographer of the year awards multiple times, just to name a few. Adrian won the Overall 20X16 print award in 2014 and was the Natural World category winner in 2015 at The Societies convention in the UK. Adrian considers print competition the greatest informal education and owes the bulk of his photography success to it. Adrian is devoted to making photography better. He encourages sharing and openness among professionals and believes that “the rising tide lifts all ships”. He believes that through education, we can return confidence back to the photography profession. Adrian has earned his Master of Photography Degree, Master of Electronic Imaging Degree, Photographic Craftsman Degree, Image Excellence medallion and is a Certified Professional Photographer.

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