Editor's Choice 2007: Lighting

Editor-s-Choice-2007-Lighting
Editor-s-Choice-2007-Lighting

|| |---| | | Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.| Lighting Product of the Year: Sekonic L-758DR Light Meter

Ambitious film photographers have long had Ansel Adams' analytical Zone System to help them produce rich, full-toned images. Now like-minded digital shooters have a similar tool: The Sekonic L-758DR metering system. We stress "system," because unlike past Sekonics the L-758 is more than a self-contained, hand-held flash and ambient light meter.

Here's how it works. You use your digital SLR to shoot a bracketed series (plus and minus three stops, in whole-stop increments) of a Sekonic test target, in both continuous and flash lighting, at two different ISOs. Then you download the files to your computer for analysis by the software supplied with the meter, which determines the dynamic range for your particular camera. That data is then uploaded to the meter, which you attach to your computer by USB. (The data covers a speed range from ISO 3 to ISO 8000, with both flash and ambient light.) From then on, when you take a reading with the meter it will flash LCD alerts if light levels exceed the range of brightnesses your camera can record in a single exposure. One L-758DR can hold such "profiling" for three D-SLRs. www.sekonic.com

The profiling process isn't exactly easy, due mainly to a poorly translated instruction manual. But once we completed it, the L-758DR gave us a sense of exposure control and certainty that we haven't yet experienced with digital cameras. While still not compatible with Windows Vista or Mac Intel-based machines, Sekonic's L-758DR system is a great asset for digital photographers who need exacting control of their exposures.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

This rugged, reliable 2,400 watt-second strobe can do double duty for studio and location photography. We'd heard lots of photographers praise its smaller sibling, the 1200 watt-second Verso A2, so when the company announced this more powerful model we called it in, together with its Power Dock portable battery. We were duly impressed.

First, the A4's power. Even when you're running off the battery, it can deliver a full 2,400 watt-seconds. To the best of our knowledge, this makes it among the industry's most powerful battery-operated strobes. The only tradeoff is that recycle times are somewhat slower with the battery than with AC power.

Next, the A4's modeling light. When running one head off the A4/Power Dock combination at full power, the proportional modeling light was one of the brightest we've seen in a battery-powered location light. Pins connect the battery "dock" to the base of the A4; the two fit together seamlessly, but together they weigh over 50 pounds. (You may want to hire an extra assistant!)

Finally, construction. The A4 is extremely well-built, and should serve as an integral part of any photographer's studio for many years. Other features include a seven-stop adjustable range that allows you to set power as low as 18 watt-seconds per channel; connections for three heads; backlit controls; automatic monitoring and correction of both color temperature and discharge power; and self-switching voltage control that lets you use the A4 worldwide with 230-volt or 110-volt AC power. It's the only power pack we know of with custom functions; these control such things as the sensitivity of the built-in optical slave, the timing of auto shut off when on battery power, and programmable sequence firing. About $6,860 (compare prices).
www.broncolor.com.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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Claimed to be "the world's flattest softbox," this new lighting concept is part of a system that's probably the most scalable of its kind. Whether you're lighting a single piece of jewelry or an entire jewelry store, the Rololight system can expand or contract to light it. You can link its modular fluorescent tubes to form entire walls of light, or scale back to a small bank of three or four tubes for tabletop jobs. The resulting flat panels of light can be spread across a floor or ceiling, hung on a wall, or mounted on a conventional light stand.

Rololights are usually sold in eight-tube Pro Kits that include the hardware needed to link them to one another, plus two adapters for lightstand mounting. An eight-tube bank measures 25x25 inches and emits enough soft, wrap-around illumination for an exposure of about 1/60 second at f/4.5 (ISO 200) with a light-to-subject distance of about four feet. Tubes are available in 3200K, 5600K, and 6500K color temperatures.

The system's linked sections don't have to be broken down for transport; the panel that holds the tubes is flexible and can simply be rolled up (hence the name) and loaded into appropriately sized carrying cases. Each tube draws only 24 watts for its 100-plus tungsten-equivalent watts of output (about what you'd get from a 500-watt tungsten hot light diffused with a typical softbox), so you can group dozens of Rololights without tripping circuit breakers or blowing fuses. And because the mounting panel that holds the tubes is thin and flexible, it can go places and do things that conventional softboxes can't. You can literally "wrap" light around a subject by bending a Rololight bank to conform to its contours. About $1,650 (Pro Kit). www.rololight.com

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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This 18x24-inch rectangular softbox deliberately places the strobe head on which you mount it off-center, for an asymmetrical output that is top-heavy when the unit is oriented vertically. Why? Because photographers often put more light on the upper portions of a portrait subject, "feathering" it to dimmer levels below. Being narrow and rectangular, strip lights (AKA strips) are smaller than comparable square softboxes and are typically used in a vertical orientation, the usual format for portraits, making their output easier to control than that of a square softbox.

Because a conventional strip's output is usually even from top to bottom, it casts the same amount of light on a subject's face, neck, torso, and even legs (if full length) -- not always desirable for the portraitist trying to draw attention to a face. So photographers often reduce the light falling on areas below the subject's head by "flagging" the lower portions of a conventional strip. The Westcott/Dorn Strip eliminates the need for that practice, or for mimicking it with post-production burning and dodging, by placing the head off-center -- so that up to three stops more light falls on the subject's face than below.

For situations that require less falloff, or even fully symmetrical output, the Dorn strip comes with three interchangeable front diffusion panels that reduce its hot spot to two, one, or even zero stops. About $400 (compare prices).
fjwestcott.com

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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This is the first beginner's lighting kit that teaches while serving its purpose. It's available in several configurations, including two- and three-light kits for portraiture or product photography. Each kit comes with two (or three) heavy-grade, pneumatically-braked aluminum light stands, two (or three) umbrellas, a heavy-duty carrying case, a slate-colored cloth backdrop with a simple hanging system, and a well-produced two-hour instructional video.

The two-light portrait kit includes a pair of sturdy 500-watt variable-output tungsten heads housed in thick, heat-resistant plastic. The heads are color coded to correspond to positions on a cleverly designed 6x11-foot mat, also supplied with the kit, that spreads out on the studio floor and indicates standardized positions for lights, subject, reflector, background, and camera. This arrangement is specifically designed to produce the 1:2 lighting ratio considered most common for portraiture.

Westcott supports the Photo Basics system with a line of accessories (a five-in-one reflector, additional backgrounds, etc.) and a dedicated Website (photobasics.net). The site offers lighting and posing tips, photo contests, and even scrapbooking templates for the hobbyist, with more content still to come. From $400 to $500 (compare prices).
fjwestcott.com

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

For the run-and-gun pro who wants a portable strobe system that operates on AC or battery power, but doesn't need the power of a Broncolor A4, Calumet's new Travelite 125 may be just the ticket. The Travelite head and Calumet's TravelPak portable lead-acid battery have a combined weight of about five pounds, yet the combination is designed to provide an ample 500-plus full-power pops per charge. It also has a 250-watt modeling light that's bright enough to add some tungsten to the exposure, if you like.

The Travelite 125 has a built-in optical slave, stepless power adjustment, and a five-year warranty. Unlike most monolights, which ship with reflectors, Calumet makes you purchase the Travelite reflector as an accessory. In our opinion it's a small price to pay for this kind of portable power. From about $370. calumetphoto.com

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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Like Broncolor, Godard, and Speedotron, Elinchrom is a pro's brand of strobe -- rugged, reliable, and powerful, with a price to match. But this affordable new model is the company's first entry-level studio strobe. Unusually compact and weighing well under three pounds, the D-Lite is available in 200- and 400-watt-second versions, and accepts all Elinchrom light modifying accessories.

Most D-Lite features are pretty standard in a good strobe, but what's unusual is their sheer number. The unit has power adjustments in tenths of stops, a proportional modeling light, an optical slave, and a built-in, multi-voltage transformer (230- or 110-volt) for seamless international use. One unexpected and helpful feature is that the D-Lite accepts common household bulbs as modeling lights.

The control panels are also a cinch to navigate. That's all well and good, but what really won us over were the rugged-but-svelt carrying cases for multi-head D-Lite kits. If there's a more attractive case in all of photography, we haven't seen it. Two-light kits include stands, reflectors, and, of course, the case. Under $900 for two-light kit (compare prices).

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

The online auction phenomenon has created an explosion of tabletop product photography systems. Many of these all-in-one solutions -- lighting hardware plus backdrop -- often resort to cheap fixtures mounted on flimsy telescoping or goose-neck arms that tend to break. The simpler backdrop-only systems, while small enough to be considered truly portable, often have no carrying cases, so they really aren't. Of these, we've encountered backgrounds that are easily scratched, or even cracked, or that have sweep surfaces which yellow prematurely.

The Sharpics D-Flector product photography system seems to have been conceived with more attention to both convenience and functionality. Essentially a background built into an oversized attache case, it features a top-mounted handle and non-skid feet, and is available in three sizes ranging from 18 to 30 inches wide. Open the case and, if you're shooting by available light, you're ready to go. There's nothing to unpack, thread together, or plug in.

The D-Flector's durable white seamless background material, which is designed to be smudge-resistant and easy to clean, is coated with a light-reflecting substance similar to what's used on projection screens. This extra reflectance creates a lighter background than you can get with white seamless paper or even backlit plexiglass. The result is that your subject has a clean, silhouetted appearance ideal for eBay or other marketing venues. About $70 (20x32 inches) and $120 (30x40 inches). sharpics.com

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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The Quantum Qflash has long been the event photographer's run-and-gun flash unit. Its sheer power and extensive exposure options, including wireless TTL operation, have helped make it an industry standard. Its oversized parabolic reflector and multiple diffusion panels produce just about the softest light of any portable, on-camera strobe we can think of. But with its QF69 Mini Folding Softbox, Quantum has taken soft on-camera light even further.

With a surface area about one foot square and a light spread of 180 degrees, the QF69 lets you use flash with any wide-angle lens you please. But at under three inches deep, it's much flatter than comparable devices, making it less cumbersome at crowded cocktail parties or wedding receptions. To mount it you simply remove the Qflash reflector then slide the softbox (which folds flat for storage and transport) over the flash head. The unit has an internal baffle for reducing any hot spot, and, as you'd expect, is designed so as not to block the Qflash AE sensor. About $75 (compare prices).

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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