Chasing the elusive spot light

I WANT IT! aka "GAS" (gear acquisition syndrome)

I've had this lust for a spotlight for some time. I've kept a web alert in place for a Norman TriLite that I could convert to work with a Speedotron pack. I have a Speedotron Shakespeare optical spot light and a Light Blaster (both available for sale). I saw Zack Arias talk about a new device with a zooming fresnel lens and I got one of those (photo of it appears below). And there is the tried and true snoot.

Profoto SpotSmall

Profoto SpotSmall

But the holy grail for me has been for a small optical spotlight. Profoto has one called the Spot Small that sells for around $1,000. Though it comes with a Profoto mount, I found that I could easily replace the mount with a Speedotron or Balcar mount and probably some other mounts. But the price was out of my range for the amount of use I expected to get out of it.

Bowens Universal Spot

Bowens Universal Spot

Elincrhom MiniSpot

Elincrhom MiniSpot

Then I discovered that Bowens had what appeared to be an identical product they called the Bowens Universal Spotlight Attachment. It cost only $575 and I wouldn't have to change out the mount to fit my lights. I considered it for a while, but still couldn't justify the cost--I kept on saving my pennies, though. Then one day I noticed that it went from Available to Backordered and to Special Order over a few days at two of the big online camera stores and that got me worried a bit. Another day or two later things got clearer as word came out that Bowens was shutting down operations. Now it is listed as Discontinued. There went that opportunity.

That got me looking again and I found the Elinchrom Mini Spot Projection attachment for $500. But I couldn't find one to see in person to figure out what it would take to change the mount to fit any of my studio lights. And $500 was still a bit pricy for something I knew I wanted but didn't know where or when I was actually going to use it. But it did include a few gobo patterns in the price...


One day in August I somehow typed in the right combination of words in Google and was taken to the Aliexpress site. There I found an optical spot made in China for around $230 -- and it had a Bowens S-mount that would work with my Interfit lights. That was tempting, but I still kept on procrastinating. Finally, I decided my birthday was coming up in September and I would buy the thing for myself. I typed in all my info and pressed the buy button and my credit card was declined. Got a text from my bank immediately asking if it was really me making this purchase in China. I said yes and they said OK, try it again. I did, but accidentally used the wrong credit card and was again declined. But this time the site came back with a "others who looked at this item also purchased..." list that had the same spotlight from another vendor for $160 including shipping. And while the original vendor said it could take up to 30 days for delivery, this vendor said it would be about a week.

Chinese optical spotlight attachment

Chinese optical spotlight attachment

Got out the right credit card, placed the order and waited a day or so for it to process from Alibaba to the vendor. Then I got the shipping notification and I saw it. A typo in my address. I left a number out. The vendor wasn't much help in getting the address corrected, but once it was in the hands of UPS they were able to correct the address (whew!). I watched it track from China to Japan to Alaska, to Kentucky, and finally to Seattle a day earlier than promised.

The item was well packed and arrived in perfect condition. It includes a gobo holder and a few different gobos. It also has a set of 5 plexiglass filters (red, green, amber, yellow, and blue). No instructions are included, but it is a simple device and pretty obvious how to use it. My only "complaint" with the device are that the gobo holder is not standard. It doesn't look like any standard size gobos from various manufacturers will fit in it. They would have to be trimmed down, which is easy to do. As I will be using the spotlight attachment with Interfit strobes which have LED modeling lights that don't get hot, so I can make my own gobos out of black card stock (don't even think about trying this with your 250-watt quartz-halogen modeling lamps) or thin sheets of metal. 

So, does it work? Yes! Here are some images comparing a spot on the background using the optical spotlight, a snoot, a snoot with a grid, and the fresnel device Zack introduced me to. Of those the spot light and the snoot were the most effective for this use. The fresnel just doesn't seem to be tight or narrow enough for what I wanted. Let's go to the photos...

The optical spotlight attachment with 3 sizes of circle gobos and with no gobo

The snoot by itself on the second row (same distance as the optical on the left, moved in closer on the right) and with a grid on the end of the snoot in the third row (again moved in closer on the right)

The NG-10X zoomed out and then in on the second row and moved in closer in the third row

Here are a few more images all made with the optical spot and a variety of gobos and filters.

Gobo patterns and color filters on the optical spotlight on the mannequin and on the background of the selfies (main light on the selfies is a 2x3 Interfit softbox).

Now to figure out how I am going to integrate the spot light into my projects. Do you have GAS? What photo gear are you lusting after? Let me know in the comments below.

And, did I mention the LED modeling lights in the Interfit S1 and Honey Badger strobes? No more burnt fingers or overheating when using enclosed attachments like snoots with the modeling lights turned on. 


It is NOT the lens!!

It's the DISTANCE, %&^^^##

Here we go again. If you have read my harangues about this before you can go ahead and skip this one. But again I see photographers talking about lenses and perspective and blaming the lens. Even back in 2012 I was talking about the camera adding 10 pounds to people. So, let's try this again. All lenses show the same perspective from the same camera position.

Wide angle lenses don't expand a scene and long lenses don't compress a scene. The area of a photograph taken from the same camera position with the two lenses that is common to both photographs will have the exact same perspective, which includes the look of the drawing of the face in a portrait. What short lenses do is tempt us or allow us to move in closer to the subject. What long lenses do is make us back up away from the subject to fit the subject in the frame. But that is your decision. The lens suggests things, it doesn't dictate them.

Don’t let the lens dictate your camera position. Find your position, then pick the lens that fills the frame appropriately.

Let's look at two photographs. One was taken with a 24mm lens, the other with a 105mm lens and they were cropped to match the same size. Can you tell the difference?

Yes, there are some obvious giveaways. The 24mm photo has more depth of field (you can see it in the hair) because the subject was magnified less in the 24mm original. But in general, the look of the face is the same with both lenses. How can that be??? It is because the distance between the camera and the subject didn't change. That distance is what determines the look of the face. Don't blame the lens!

Above you can see the full frame and cropped images from three different focal lengths, 24mm, 50mm, and 105mm with the camera 24-inches from the subject. The perspective is the same in all three.

Just because a wide angle lens tempts you or allows you to move in close doesn’t mean that you have to!

Below is the same series, but this time from 86-inches away. Again, the perspective is the same for all three lenses. But it is different from the set above because the DISTANCE changed, not because of the lens.

Now let's go back to the slider. This time the two photos compared below are taken with the same lens (24mm), but at two different distances (24-inches and 48-inches). Now you see a big difference in the perspective. But these are made with the same lens--how could that be? It is the DISTANCE.

I really hope that this helps clear up the question about lenses and perspective and adding ten pounds to the subject and on and on and on. 

Yes, it is not practical to make a portrait with a short lens and then have to crop in and enlarge it. But again, that isn't the fault of the lens. You picked the wrong size wrench from your toolkit.  Don't blame the lens.




Color consistency in studio flash

Einstein Vs Honey Badger for Color

The Honey Badger and the Einstein

The Honey Badger and the Einstein

I recently saw some comments about the Interfit Honey Badger and how consistent color would be from shot to shot because of its price level. I have been using the Honey Badger in my studio for a bit over a week now and had not noticed any issues with shot to shot consistency. But I decided to put it to a test. Many of the comments I read were comparing the Honey Badger to Paul Buff lights such as their Einstein and their new DigiBees. I don't have a DigiBee, but I do have some Einsteins here, so I compared these heads (as I did last week while talking about modeling light power). Up front I will mention that I have recently become part of the Interfit CreativePro group. I have also been to the Paul Buff facility in Nashville and have great respect for them and their products. So that does not affect my testing of these units. I use these lights in my day-to-day studio work, so I wanted to know for myself how things stacked up.

The Test Setup

WhiBal and ColorChecker Passport as my test subjects

WhiBal and ColorChecker Passport as my test subjects

Here is how I set it up. I used a Canon 5D mkIII camera with a Sigma 24-105 lens. The white balance in the camera was set to Daylight (which shows as 5200K +5 tint in Lightroom). The Einstein was set to "Color" mode (it also offers an "Action" mode with faster flash duration, but less color consistency). My test subjects were a WhiBal card and an X-Rite Color Checker. Both lights were used with the same Interfit 24x36 (60x90cm) softbox. Images were brought into Lightroom with no adjustments. I took my measurements for the test from approximately the same spot on the WhiBal card.

My notes

I made 10 exposures in quick succession (but waiting for the ready indicator) with each flash at full power, then at a middle power setting, and then at the minimum power. For the Einstein, I set full power, -4 stops, and minimum power. For the Honey Badger I used power levels 10.0, 6.0, and 4.0. Then, in Lightroom, I used the White Balance eye dropper to set a custom white balance for the WhiBal card. I recorded the original RGB values and then the changes in Kelvin and tint for each exposure at each power level.

The Results

The Einstein put out a light that was more yellow (warmer) than the Honey Badger. Or the Honey Badger put out a light that was more blue (cooler) than the Einstein, but a custom in-camera white balance would have brought them in line with each other. Right now I am looking for the consistency between exposures. 

Both the Einstein and the Honey Badger stayed within a +/- 50K range at full power and at mid-power. The Honey Badger remained within the +/- 50-degree range at minimum power, too. The Einstein was a little less consistent at minimum power, with a range of +/- 100-degrees K. Tint levels were similar. At full and mid power the Einstein remained within a +/- 2 range, but at minimum power that expanded slightly to +/- 5. The Honey Badger was within +/- 3 at full and mid and +/- 4 at minimum. ADDED: I later added the S1 to the tests and you can find the results at the very bottom of this post.

The Interfit S1 battery operated flash 

The Interfit S1 battery operated flash 

In my eyes, the performance of both the Honey Badger and the Einstein are impressive. Going in, I thought this might not be a fair comparison because the Einstein costs $499 and uses IGBT technology (so is more similar to the Interfit S1 flash heads) while the Honey Badger costs $299. Both the Einstein and the Honey Badger are A/C powered, so you need an electrical outlet or portable power source. Neither of them offer high speed sync or TTL exposure automation (the S1 offers both, as well as being battery OR A/C powered). The Einstein does win out over the Honey Badger on faster flash duration if you happen to be photographing people throwing water at each other and you can work at lower power levels. But at full power, the Honey Badger has a 1/900 flash duration vs the Einstein's 1/500 (in both Color and Action mode). You really need to dial the flash power on the Einstein down below 1/2 power in Action mode to start taking advantage of the faster flash durations. The Interfit S1 is on par with the Einstein in having fast flash durations at lower power settings. The Honey Badger uses different technology and offers its fastest flash duration at its higher power settings. Flash duration gets longer as you power down.

Some other features of the Honey Badger are its super-bright 60-watt LED modeling light (that remains cool to the touch) and the built-in radio receiver that works with the S1 remote units. Interfit also throws in a useful 24x24 (60x60cm) softbox with the Honey Badger and uses the Bowens S-mount system for accessories (which I prefer over the Balcar spring mount used on the Buff equipment). 

As mentioned at the top, I am a member of the Interfit CreativePro team and they have given me a discount code for people who purchase equipment directly from Interfit. Use the code CORNICELLO10 for a 10% discount (and yes, I also get a small commission if you use that code, so we both benefit). I also urge you to check in with your local photography dealer and purchase from them if you can.

If you are in the Seattle area in September I will demo the Interfit lights at Glazer's camera on Friday, September 15. I hope to see you there.



Later in the afternoon I added the Interfit S1 to my testing with these results: At full power the color temp was within +/-25K across the 10 exposures. At mid power (6.0 on its scale) it was +/-50K. At minimum power (2.0) it was +/-75K. 



LED Modeling Lights In Studio Flash

It's not about the watts!

With the announcement of the new Honey Badger studio flash from Interfit Photographic I've seen some comments about the brightness of the modeling light in these flash units. I think the confusion comes from using the term watts to describe the lights. Watts is a measurement of energy used and doesn't tell us anything about the brightness of the light. Please note that this discussion is about the modeling lamps, not about the flash power (which is even more confusing, but watt-seconds is a topic for a different post). I picked the Einstein for comparison because it uses a typical 250-watt modeling lamp and I had one available when I decided to write this. You can substitute just about any other light that uses the same 250-watt bulbs. Paul C. Buff has also recently released a new Alien Bee lamp head that uses an LED modeling lamp that has the same advantages as the Honey Badger.

The Honey Badger and the Einstein

The Honey Badger and the Einstein

LED modeling lamp on the left, quartz modeling lamp on the right

Mr. Heat Miser

In the past, studio strobes have used tungsten modeling lamps that could range from 25 watts to 300 watts or more. Some units use standard household bulbs. Higher end units use quartz halogen lamps. These share some common features. They are on the warm end of the Kelvin scale at around 2500 to 3200 degrees Kelvin (yellowish compared to daylight color). They are also very hot to the touch. I measured the 250-watt quartz modeling lamp on an Einstein flash with a laser thermometer and got a reading of 210 degrees F on the 7" reflector and above the scale on the bulb itself. You don't want to touch the reflector when the bulb is on or for a while after turning it off.

The cool kid on the block

The Honey Badger comes with a 60-watt LED lamp. The key here is LED. LED lights are much more energy efficient. The 60-watt LED puts out as much light, actually a little more, than the 250-watt quartz light.

Daylight balance LED Honey Badger on your left, tungsten balance quartz Einstein on your right. You can see that they are similar in brightness, but the Honey Badger uses 60 watts and remains relatively cool to the touch vs the 250-watt bulb that will burn you if you touch it or the modifier.

Daylight balance LED Honey Badger on your left, tungsten balance quartz Einstein on your right. You can see that they are similar in brightness, but the Honey Badger uses 60 watts and remains relatively cool to the touch vs the 250-watt bulb that will burn you if you touch it or the modifier.

Here are my comparison measurements of the Honey Badger and the Einstein:

250-watt quartz halogen modeling lamp
Tungsten white balance
Temperature over 200 degrees F (93.3C)
Modeling lamp metered at 39" (1m) = 1/15 second @ f/6.3 at ISO 100
Flash metered at 10-feet (3m) f/20 (640 watt-seconds)

Honey Badger
60-watt LED modeling lamp
Daylight white balance
Temperature 86 degrees F (30C)
Modeling lamp metered at 39" (1m) = 1/15 @ F/9 at ISO 100 (brighter than the 250 watt  quartz bulb)
Flash metered at 10-feet (3m) f/16 (320 watt-seconds)

Why LED?

Some advantages of the LED technology include the mentioned fact of it being a lot cooler and safer to work with (yes, I have had a small softbox catch on fire from the heat of the modeling lamp). It is easier to change modifiers without getting burned. You don't have to worry about accidentally touching the modeling lamp (even when it is not on) and causing damage to the lamp from the oils on your fingers. You can use the modeling lamp for a longer time period when using modifiers that enclose the light, such as a snoot, barn doors, or grids. You can use the modeling lamp for video without heating up the room. And on the Honey Badger you can turn the flash tube off via a switch on the back to make sure it doesn't accidentally flash when you are doing a video session. The lower overall operating temperature of the unit should help prolong the life of the internal components of the flash.

Get a discount!

If you are interested in purchasing Interfit lighting equipment I urge you to visit your local independently owned camera store who really needs your support. However, if your local dealer cannot get these for you, as an Interfit Creative Pro I can offer you a 10% discount if you order directly from Interfit by using the code CORNICELLO10 (all caps) when you order.  And yes, I do get a small commission if you use this code, thanks!


Using the Interfit Honey Badger studio flash head

Honey Badger - The new kid on the block

Mono-block that is. Yesterday I wrote about the new Honey Badger from Interfit Photographic and what comes in the box. As an Interfit CreativePro, I got to use the lights yesterday and today I will show some photos made with the Honey Badger and its included soft box. Instead of using models, I posted on Facebook asking for some friends to come by "as you are" for me to test some new lights. No special outfits or makeup, just you as you. My first three responses came from a mom (who sent her husband and 9-month-old baby over), another Seattle Photographer, and a wonderful friend from SANCA, the circus school that I work out at.

There's a baby in the studio!

Let's start with Max and his dad. I don't usually photograph kids, especially not babies, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Max was absolutely wonderful to work with. He seems to like people and wasn't fussy in any way at all. We sat him down and he hammed it up for the camera. These photos made use of two Interfit Honey Badger flashes. One was under the table pointing towards the background to give some separation. There was no modifier on the flash, just the bare head about 12 inches from the backdrop, in close so the light would gradually fade to dark at the top of the photograph. The main light was another Honey Badger fitted with the 24" square pop-up softbox that comes with the flash. This light, as you can see in the photo of the setup was positioned to the left of my camera and a sheet of white foam-core was positioned on the right side to fill in and soften any shadows. After making a few photographs I  took away the table and had Max and dad sit down. I took away the background light to work with just the one light and softbox with the foam-core fill. And here you see the result in this photo of the two of them. Then one more cropped in close and converted to black & white. Other than the black & white conversion, setting a custom white balance (I think the included softbox puts out light that is a bit on the blue side and I wanted to warm it up), and a little bit of vignette around the corners there was no additional retouching done on these. 

Photographing the Photographer

Next up was another Seattle-base photographer, Brian Wells. I take it as quite an honor for another wonderful photographer to offer to sit for some portraits. I know many photographers who don't like being on the other side of the camera. Brian was also wonderful to work with. My wife, Kim, joined us and the three of us talked about trips to Japan as we made the photographs. Again, I started with the Honey Badger and the 24" softbox. The first image had no fill card for a crisp, dramatic image. I then added the same sheet of foam-core to open up the left side (camera right) of Brian's face. Next  came a tight crop and black & white conversion. I then changed my modifier to an Interfit 2x3 softbox and made one more tightly cropped photo. More about the Interfit softboxes in a future post, but if you look closely in Brian's eyes you might be able to see what looks like window panes in the catchlight in his eyes. I get this effect by putting strips of black masking tape across the front of my  rectangular and square softboxes. 


Next to arrive was Megan, who does partner acrobalancing and cyr wheel among other circus arts. You might remember Megan from some recent photographs in my Chair Series. As I already had the 2x3 softbox set up, I started out with that and a black and white portrait study. Then I turned Megan towards the light for a color image. With those made, I wanted to go back to the 24" box to show what you can do with the light "out of the box" with no other modifiers, not even the foam-core reflector. I moved the light in very close, faced Megan's body away form the light and had her turn her face back towards the light with eyes to the camera for this attractive dramatic portrait. Then I said some non-sensical things to elicit a reaction. Normally I want to get the tail-end of the reaction, but the scrunched up nose was too cute to pass up. And I normally have my subjects make direct eye contact with the viewer through the camera, so changed that up by having her cast her eyes downward. Here the fill card was brought back in to fill in shadows on the side of her face opposite the light. All of the photos of Brian and Megan were made with one light.

That's a wrap!

Well, that's about it for today. Three days in and I am still enjoying working with the new Interfit Honey Badger studio flash heads. It took a little bit to get used to the 60-watt daylight balanced LED modeling lights in these flashes. I've been using 250-watt quartz-halogen modeling lights for the last 40 years. The old tungsten-based lights are warm in color (yellowish) and HOT!! to the touch (3rd degree burns if you touch them). The LED lights are similar in brightness, but cool blue in color and only warm to the touch. No more getting burned fingers when changing modifiers! I am also getting used to controlling the lights from the remote trigger on my camera. Before I was using Pocket Wizards that only fire the lights, and don't have a way to control the output because I was mixing and matching various brands of lights together. Now I have four lights that use the same remote. Could it be time to think about retiring my Speedotron equipment? That relationship goes back to 1981. I'll probably keep them around for nostalgia and for when I need more lights on larger sets. But my day-to-day work is now going to the Interfit lights. 

Thanks for following along on my journey with new lighting gear. Now get out there and make some pictures and have some fun!

John Cornicello


Introducing the Interfit Honey Badger studio flash head

Designed for the Fearless

This morning Interfit Photographic announced their new Honey Badger studio flash head. As a member of the Interfit CreativePro team I was able to get my hands on some of these just a few days in advance for testing. You can see my what's in the box video below.

Science Fiction theme using the 28" folding beauty dish.

On the job

I used the Honey Badger on an assignment this past Sunday for a new theatrical production. Unfortunately, those images are embargoed until the show is announced, so I cannot share them yet. But I did take my usual selfies on the set and can share those. We had two similar lighting set ups for a science-fiction themed photo session (hence the look of the first image, just minus the hair and makeup). The main light was a Honey Badger in an Interfit collapsible 28" beauty dish. For the "white" set there was a second Honey Badger on the floor behind the subject pointing at a white seamless backdrop and an Interfit S1 in a small strip box over head pointing straight down between the subject and the backdrop to help light up the backdrop and to add a little bit of hair/shoulder light on the subjects. I also had an eye-lighter in front of the subjects to add the interesting lower catch light in the eyes. For the "black" set everything remained the same except the background was changed to a black felt fabric and the light on the floor was turned off. I've included a photo using just the overhead back strip light on the black set so you can see what it was contributing to the photograph.

The hair and shoulder light by itself on a black background

After the session was done I sat in for a few more selfies with slightly different lighting. In one I replaced the beauty dish with another small strip bank for a more traditional looking portrait that didn't look as underlit as the theatrical photos. And for the last image I used the 24" square pop-up softbox that comes in the box with the Honey Badger. The differences in skin tone between the images comes from the use of different modifiers, and is not from the flash head itself. When using different modifiers you should do as I say, and not as I did, and create a custom white balance or use a Color Checker in one of the photos with each modifier to adjust the color when processing your raw files.

Using a small strip bank as the main light

On the white set with the 24" pop-up 

Using the 24" pop-up softbox as the main

The new Honey Badger

The new Honey Badger

Easy to use

The control panel on the back of the flash head

The Honey Badger comes in this bright yellow color. It has an easy to use interface on the back with dedicated buttons for each function, no need to push multiple buttons to find the function you want to set. And the included softbox makes it a great starter kit. You will need to provide your own light stand. Or you can get a kit that includes 2 lights, 2 light stands, 2 softboxes, a remote controller/transmitter, and a carrying case. The Honey Badger also has a built-in remote receiver that works with the current Interfit S1 TTL remote transmitters (though the Honey Badger is not TTL) or with the new S1 Manual Remote trigger (purchased separately or comes with the 2-light kit). This allows you to control the functions of the flash head from your camera, such as changing the power setting and adjusting the modeling light (full, proportional, and off). The remotes also let you sets up different channels and control groups to let you control lamp heads individually in more complicated lighting setups.

The included softbox with both diffusion panels in place

Softbox included!

The flash head also comes with a 24" square pop-up softbox that folds up into a small pouch for storage or travel included in the purchase price. It features a double layer of diffusion and is easy to attach to the flash without the need for a speed ring, which you would normally need to attach other modifiers. The Honey Badger also has an industry-standard S-mount for those speedrings and other modifiers you might consider using. The light stand bracket has an opening for an 8mm umbrella shaft. The flash tube and 60-watt cool running LED modeling lamp are protected by a frosted glass diffusion dome covering them. This dome also helps the dispersal of the light to better fill modifiers like a beauty dish or a softbox. One of the switches on the back of the unit turns the flash off while keeping the daylight-balanced modeling lamp on in case you want to use it as a continuous light source for things like video.

Overall impression

The Interfit S1 Universal Remote

The Interfit S1 Universal Remote

In the two or three days I've had to run this flash head through its paces I have been quite impressed. Lightweight, well built, attractive, and very easy to use. I was able to quickly integrate it into my lighting kit along side the Interfit S1 units. 

American Speedlight Corporation (ASCOR)

We've come a long way, my friends

Many, many years ago I worked as a photo assistant in New York City. In 1979 I started at a catalog studio on West 23rd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. Yes, that is where the New York High Line is now. Back then it was an abandoned elevated train track full of weeds and dead birds. In that studio we primarily used Mole Richardson hot lights to photograph things like ceiling fans and large room sets for Montgomery Ward and other similar retailers' catalogs.

Hot Lights!

These were 750- to 2000-watt hot lights. Within the first few days on the job you quickly learned to have a pair of leather gloves hanging from your belt along with some wooden clothespins to use when adjusting the lights. Ouch! And the lights were often mounted on large boom stands that had big maroon color counterweights on one end of the boom arm. Somehow, one of those counterweights, at about forehead level, often managed to find its way to a spot between the elevator and the light switch. Ouch! 

There was a fashion studio on one of the floors, though, that used electronic flash. Balcar was the brand. I don't recall if they were 1200 or 2400 watt second packs. But I do remember the small rectangular plugs that had a habit of arcing. One day the photographer I was working with, who was a bit ditzy, decided to change a head by himself. Unfortunately, I was standing next to him and he unplugged the light as I was yelling at him to turn the power off first. BANG! Lost my hearing for an hour or two. Luckily he didn't electrocute himself.

And that brings me to the subject of this post. My buddy Tony left this studio to go work as a photographer at another studio over on 7th Ave between 25th and 26th street. Shortly after that he brought me over there as a still life product photographer, too. This place was more modern and we used Speedotron 2400 watt-second packs and heads. (As an aside, I still have a Speedotron 2401A pack and one or two model 105 heads that still perform great. I even have a Dyna-lite D804II that is probably 40 years old and still going strong. See the photo below of these units alongside a modern Interfit strobe.) 

Speedotron 2401A and Dyna-lite D804ii pack & head systems, along side an Interfit S1 (self contained, including battery, no A/C power required, but optional).

Speedotron 2401A and Dyna-lite D804ii pack & head systems, along side an Interfit S1 (self contained, including battery, no A/C power required, but optional).

This studio also had a fashion studio, but it had these monster ASCOR Series 800 Sunlight strobes (which ASCOR called speedlights, noting in the instruction manual that strobe was a misnomer, as strobe implies repetitive flashing).

The ASCOR Sunlight

I have to assume that most of my readers might not have any idea what these Sunlight units were like. So, I will quote some things from the instruction manual for these monsters. Before that, I just want to add that almost everyone I talk to who was familiar with these speedlights mentions needing to keep a wooden broomstick nearby just in case they had to pry someone away from the unit in the case something went wrong.

So, from the user manual, dated around 1955...

"ASCOR has long stood for the best in electronic flash. The company (starting as Parker & Young and the trademark Fotolux in 1946, changing to American Speedlight Corporation in 1948) has, from the beginning, specialized in building the most advanced types of speedlights for exacting professionals."

"The tremendous number of speedlights in all shapes, sizes, and prices exhibited at recent photo shows leaves even the electronic flash engineer confused. With all the claims, counter-claims and partial information, it is no wonder that the dealer is wary...think of the poor is amazing that so many have the courage to buy. What is sorely needed are a few simple facts that can be used as a basis of comparison."

Not much has changed

Wow, not much has changed since the 40s and 50s. The manual then goes on to talk about guide numbers, and the "serious faults" in using guide numbers. 1. high guide numbers can be achieved by concentrating the available light in a narrow beam from the reflector, which results in uneven coverage or hot spots. 2. a guide number can honestly be chosen over a wide range, depending on how the film is developed, the latitude of the films, etc. 

They next talk about watt-seconds, "For too long most people have rated speedlights in watt-seconds. Just what is a watt-second? If you really know, you are one of the unusual photographers. Then again, what photographer really cares? Watt-seconds is not a rating of light output of speedlight equipment. The use of watt-seconds, microfarads, and other terms has so confused the photographer that many are thoroughly baffled about electronic flash."

How do you compare lights?

So, what are the points of comparison between various studio strobes? "Speedlight is just light." Photographic effectiveness comes down to...

  1. Strength of the light
  2. Color of the light
  3. Coverage of the reflector
  4. Speed of the flash or exposure
  5. Recharge or recycling time of the equipment

"The ASCOR Speedlight (ASCORLIGHT) is an electronic device for converting electrical energy from a relatively small power source into a high-speed, high intensity flash of light. Essentially, the energy is drawn slowly from the power line or battery, converted into hight voltage, and stored in a capacitor (an electrical storage tank). Then at the moment the flash of light is desired, the energy is dumped instantaneously out of the capacitors through the flashtube (watt-seconds) which converts the electrical energy into light."

Enough of the boring stuff. What I really wanted to point out was the size of the units and the simplicity of operation. The manual then lists 23 important features of the ASCORLIGHT SERIES 800. Things such as "from 800 to 40,000 watt-Seconds" and "Economical (average power drawn is less than drawn by a 200-watt light bulb." But the one that really stands out to me is #22: "Designed for One Man Operation and Portability." Keep the word portability in mind as it then lists the specifications.


ASCOR A801 power supply with 4 800w-s conders

There were two power supplies available. The power supply is the control unit and does nothing on its own until you add condenser (capacitor) units to it. The Sunlight Maste Power Supply A801 weighed 85 lbs. The Super Master Model A805 weighed in at a svelte 355 lbs! The A801 dimensions were 9-38"H x 12-1/8"W x 21-3/8"L. The A805 was 42"H x 22"W x 17"D. Remember, designed to be "portable." And this is just the power supply.

In addition to the power supply, you need condensers. Each condenser stores 800 watt-seconds of power and each weighs in at 60lbs. These are metal boxes filled with oil as the dielectric element. Slightly smaller than the A801 power supply, each condenser was 9-3/8"H x 8-5/8"W x 21-3/8"L. Remember, "portable." And we still haven't added a flash head and the required cables. The manual doesn't list the weight of the heads, but they were pretty substantial. If I remember correctly, the flash tube was around 9" long. The standard head reflector was 14" across and other reflectors were available from 9" to 24" across. And we still haven't added the light stands, which could range from 10 to over 100 lbs each. The model 503 flash head could handle up to 3200 watt-seconds of energy. The model 623 head used a model FT623 flash tube, and could handle up to 45,000 watt-seconds and could be attached to forty-eight (48!!) condenser units. 48 metal boxes, weighing 60 lbs each. That is almost 1-1/2 tons of lighting gear for one flash head!

Guessing that there are about 20 condensers ganged up here for 16,000 watt-seconds of power. Each condenser is oil-filled and weighs 60 lbs. 

You are advised to "Stack the model A802 condenser units on the Type 3200 Dolly (M251) which is designed to hold six condenser units. Place the Platform Adapter M261 on top of the condenser units, this Platform Adapter will fit down over two condenser units placed side by side. If the model A801 Power Supply is to be used, it is placed on the Platform Adapter." At least the dolly has wheels (portable!). Then you took these very thick 3-foot and 6-foot cables and plugged them in between the power supply and condenser and then between each additional condenser and then plug the 25-foot cable to the flash head into the end of the chain. Then use dummy plugs to seal any condenser or power supply connectors not being used.

"Next, connect the Power Cord AC, D102, to the power supply outlet and plug it directly into any 117 volt 60 cycle AC source, "NOTE: MAKE A SOLID CONNECION OF AC CORD: If a flimsy connection of the AC cord is made this condition an cause trouble. A momentary interruption of the power will cause the discharge relays to make contact. If the power is then applied before the capacitors are allowed to discharge, and arc can be started, which can damage the relays and the discharge resistors. The third wired should be attached to a ground." In total, there are 15 steps (each a paragraph) involved in turning on the unit. Step 15 is to plug your camera sync cord into the end of the sync cord which is connected to the power supply. Flash the unit by tripping your camera." Whew! Portable and fast operation. 

They then talk about strobing or repetitive flashing. That is done by "firing several speedlights successively with the ASCOR Strober, each unit powering its own set of lights. The operator can vary the speed of flashing and ONE POWER UNIT IS REQUIRE FOR EACH IMAGE DESIRED ON THE FILM." Emphasis mine. You want 10 images of the swing of a tennis racket? That means 10 power supplies and at least 10 condenser units. At least you could attach two lights to each condenser unit. A spider box was available if you wanted to use three heads. 

Many of you might have heard of sync voltage of older flash equipment and the damage it could do to digital cameras as the current goes through the shutter contacts. Well, ASCOR took care of that way back when. "ASCORLIGHT units use an electronic tube in the triggering circuit or sync circuit which directs the current through the flash tube--not into the shutter contacts. NOTE: Here we have incorporated ANOTHER SAFETY FEATURE to prevent electrical damage to the shutter contacts and to personnel."

For my friends such as Tony Corbell and Matthew Jordan Smith who live by the light meter, I should mention flash meters here. Take a look at this page from the ASCOR manual that pictures the M333 General Radio Light Meter in use. Might be why Joel Grimes says he doesn't want to know what a flash meter is. It is bigger than my cameras.

So, how much light did these monsters put out? The manual claims that using one condenser (800 watt-seconds) at 6-feet using the standard reflector would give you F/22. They don't list an ASA or ISO number, but earlier refer to daylight Ektachrome. I don't know the ASA rating for 1950s Ektachrome. However, they do provide a nomograph that says at ASA (ISO) 100 the guide number for one condenser would be about 400. So that is F/40 at 10 feet. 

The Interfit S1 has 500 watt-seconds of power and weighs in at a little over 6 lbs. 

A modern flash, like the Interfit S1 that is 500 watt-seconds gives me f/18 at 10 feet with the standard 7" reflector. That is 2-1/3 stops more light with the ASCOR (which was rated at 800 w-s), and which has a brighter, more focused reflector. It is also with the ASCOR weighing in at close to 160 lbs plus a heavy-duty light stand, while the S1 weighs in at 6.3 lbs and is battery operated. We have a very different view of "portability" now. 

I am sorry, but I don't know who to credit the photos of the ASCOR equipment to. If these are your photos, may I please ask for permission to keep them in this blog post?

If you used these ASCOR lights and have any stories about them please share them in the comments here. We've come a long way since these units from the 40s. Let's keep some memory of them alive.





Irving Penn Centennial at the Met

Go see the Irving Penn Centennial if you can!

I recently had a chance to see the Irving Penn Centennial show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The show closes on July 30 and I highly recommend that you take a trip to NY to see it if you can. Mr. Penn was one of the most influential fashion photographers, working for Vogue magazine for 60 years. My trip was further enhanced by having Henry Leutwyler along, plus a number of photographers who were in Henry's class at the Palm Springs Photo Festival (PSPF) a couple of months ago. But it gets even better. Henry surprised us by inviting Billy Jim, who was Mr. Penn's assistant for the last years of Penn's career (1988 - 2001) to join us. We had our own personal docent tour with someone who knew Penn well and was able to discuss the ways Mr. Penn photographed and printed.

Irving Penn Centennial at the Met. Henry and Billy are at the top of the steps first in line to enter the museum this morning.

Irving Penn Centennial at the Met. Henry and Billy are at the top of the steps first in line to enter the museum this morning.

An eye-opening thing for me was to see some of the images as they originally appeared IN COLOR in Vogue magazine. I had only seen the black & white prints and reproductions and never knew that many of his iconic images were originally made in color (see the images at the bottom of this post). A highlight for me was one of Mr. Penn's painted canvas backdrops hanging in the gallery. I had an enjoyable experience sitting near the backdrop photographing patrons doing selfies or having their friends photograph each other. 

Henry Leutwyler

Henry Leutwyler

One of Mr. Penn's backdrops

One of Mr. Penn's backdrops

One of Irving Penn's Rolleiflex cameras

As you enter the exhibit at the Met the first thing you are presented is one of Mr. Penn's Rolleiflex cameras in a display case. It is mounted on a Tilt-All tripod head with one of the control arms pointing forward (most people set up their Tilt-all with the arm pointing back at them). The camera has a custom-built quick release plate so that assistants could quickly change cameras between rolls of film. The Rollieflex used 120 size film that only has 12 square exposures per roll, so they had a number of cameras ready to go with film and a 75mm lens. 75mm is just short of "normal" on the Rollieflex. This allowed Penn to move in just a little bit closer to his subjects causing just a little bit of perspective distortion in the frame filling portraits. The cameras were also fitted with a Hasselblad "chimney" view finder so the camera could be used at a lower than usual height and Mr. Penn could look down into the viewfinder for composition.

Platypod Ultra plate

Which brings us to the point of this post. Getting the camera lower to the ground. Mr. Penn's camera in the exhibit is mounted to a round metal plate with three machine screws in it that can sit on the floor, using the screws to adjust the level of the camera.

Henry's camera plate

Henry's camera plate

When I first met Henry Leutwyler a few months ago at the PSPF he brought along a large heavy home-made metal plate for getting his Hasselblad camera low to the ground. This reminded me of a product I had seen on Kickstarter called the Platypod (this is an affiliate link, I will be compensated if you purchase this item via this link).  This led me to purchase the new Platypod Ultra for use with my mirrorless cameras. They also have a Platypod Max for use with larger/heavier cameras. 

Another alternative is using a bean bag to hold your camera, but it isn't quite as adjustable and doesn't offer a way to mount a tripod head for more control. With either of these devices it helps to have a camera with an articulated viewing screen. Or you can get an Angle Finder for your particular camera. The angle finder lets you look down into the viewfinder, similar to what the chimney finder does on Penn's camera.

Some tripods allow you to get close to the ground, too. Some have legs that spread wide with no center column. Others let you mount the center column upside down so the camera hangs low between the tripod legs. Where there is a will there is a way.

Enough about getting low. If you cannot make it to NYC to see the show, Amazon has the Irving Penn Retrospective book on sale. 

After the Met, Henry took us to the Strand book store. That was overwhelming. I have an extensive library of photography related books (at least 400 books), but that pales in comparison to the photography section at the Strand. Somehow int he midst of all those books I took a minute just before we left to flip through a table of small paperback books and found the Irving Penn memorial book prepared after his death, 32 pages of photos of Mr. Penn working. This seems to be rather rare, and I have not been able to find out much information about it online. If you happen to know anything about this book I'd love to hear from you.

In addition to the Penn show, I also got to see the Georgia O'Keefe show at the Brooklyn Museum (this show also closes this month). Quite a whirlwind trip and experience.

At the bottom of this post are some photos I made at the Centennial exhibit. 


Who are some of the photographers who have influenced you or have been a great inspiration?