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Whats the ideal set-up for off-camera flash - on a low budget?

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  • Whats the ideal set-up for off-camera flash - on a low budget?

    Hi everyone,

    Im trying to put together my first studio and would love some advice! After much consideration, Ive chosen to replace my Nikon SB-24 flash with either the SB-800 or SB-900 instead of buying monolights for studio. That will come later when I can afford it! It only makes sense to replace my flash!!

    A little about me and my plans I use a Nikon D90. I want to start doing more portraiture work (babies, families, seniors) and possibly weddings etc. I have a bat mitzvah and a group of women to photograph outdoors, scheduled in the spring. My first paying shoots! I have done several weddings for friends and family as gifts and now want to go professionally (just as a second photographer for now). My set-up will be on the small side, since there is little space in my home. I want it to be portable and easy to transport. I have a 32 round 5-in-1 reflector.

    What would be the ideal set-up with a manual flash and either one of the flashes mentioned above for what I want to do? Will this combo work okay for starting out? Should I focus on only one flash for now? Im so confused when researching the SB-800 vs SB-900. I hear raves about both. I feel Id need the power of the SB-900 more, but understand its a bit more complicated to understand (newbie here) and very cumbersome due to its size. People seem very happy with the SB-800! What would work best for my needs?

    Also, Im confused between purchasing a softbox or an umbrella and what size? Is it a personal preference bet. a softbox and unbrella? If so, I just can't decide!

    Thanks so much for taking the time! I hope that someone can give me some insight. I know very little about lighting and am researching as much as I can right now! I will also read strobist: Lighting 101 as soon as I can. I've been told it will explain things very well. Thanks again.

    jane

  • #2
    I think going "strobist" is the best choice on a budget, and I don't know of any setup that is easier to transport.

    Instead of replacing your SB-24, why not just add the SB-800 to it? That way, you'll have a two light setup with a reflector. You can do quite a bit with that gear.

    From my experience, which is still relatively limited compared to others', I have not noticed any big difference in the quality of light between a softbox and umbrella; they both produce wonderfully soft light. Currently, I use umbrellas for my lights, but I would like to eventually get a softbox. If you're on a budget, umbrellas would be your best bet; they are (generally) cheaper than softboxes.

    I hope this helps.
    Last edited by natek313; 01-13-2010, 04:56 PM.
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    • #3
      Thanks so much! I was hoping to use both. I meant replacing my SB-24, as replacing my flash unit that I use with my camera when out and about. I was hoping to keep it and use it with the new flash when doing studio work. Thanks! That answered that question.

      I've seen studios that use a softbox AND an umbrella. Would this work well, or stick with two of the same thing?

      Thanks for your help!

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      • #4
        Why get rid of the SB-24, and why get the SB-800 or SB-900? Either of those lights is going to cost you ~$450. For that price you could get a pair of the Alien Bees studio lights: AlienBees: Illuminating the Galaxy with Professional Photographic Lighting Equipment. (or just get one and have a lot left over for modifiers). If the power is what you're after, then the AB's are the way to go. If portability is what you're after then I'd consider getting another or the old Nikon flash or a third party manual flash. You're money will go a lot further towards modifiers, stands, remote triggers, or even additional flashes.

        Oh, and I generally prefer the quality of light from a big softbox over an umbrella, but that's really a matter of taste.
        [ԯ] marcus
        photoblog | Facebook | flickr | 5∞ px | G+

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        • #5
          Originally posted by dakwegmo View Post
          Why get rid of the SB-24, and why get the SB-800 or SB-900? Either of those lights is going to cost you ~$450. For that price you could get a pair of the Alien Bees studio lights: AlienBees: Illuminating the Galaxy with Professional Photographic Lighting Equipment. (or just get one and have a lot left over for modifiers). If the power is what you're after, then the AB's are the way to go. If portability is what you're after then I'd consider getting another or the old Nikon flash or a third party manual flash. You're money will go a lot further towards modifiers, stands, remote triggers, or even additional flashes.

          Oh, and I generally prefer the quality of light from a big softbox over an umbrella, but that's really a matter of taste.
          Hi, I'm sorry. I should have worded it better. As I said above, I'd replace the SB-24 with a newer speedlight for regular shooting when a flash is needed. Ultimately, I need a new flash. Mine shorts out from time to time and I can only use it in manual on my D90. It's 20 years old. Time for a new flash anyway, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone.

          I've been looking a great deal at those AlienBees!! My decision was made because I need a new flash, pretty much. I see your point, and I struggled with this for a while until I decided to buy a new flash over the AlienBees. Hopefully, one day, I'll have enough money and I'll be able to do it the other way.

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          • #6
            If you need another speedlight, though, why not get another SB-24 or even an SB-600? You said you're on a budget, so why dump all of that extra money into Nikon's high end flash? For my money, the difference between the SB-900 and the SB-600 isn't worth the difference in price.
            [ԯ] marcus
            photoblog | Facebook | flickr | 5∞ px | G+

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            • #7
              Originally posted by janeqb View Post
              I've seen studios that use a softbox AND an umbrella. Would this work well, or stick with two of the same thing?
              Yes, that will work just fine. The last shoot I was at, the photographer was using a softbox along with two umbrellas, and he was getting nice light. I know you only have two lights, but there is still nothing stopping you from using both the umbrella and softbox concurrently.
              Last edited by natek313; 01-13-2010, 08:55 PM.
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              • #8
                If you liked the performance of your sb24 back in the day, then the sb-600 will be perfect. If you found the sb-24 wasn't powerful enough then maybe the sb-900. The difference is price is a bit over double ($220 to $460). For the 200+ dollardifference you'd have your sb-600 for "normal" flash duty and enough $$ left over for a radio triggers, a light stand, shoe mount clamp, umbrella, extra batteries...
                "They call me Bruce."
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                • #9
                  I'm with Neil van Niekirk. If you want a flash for on-camera use, getting the top-of-the-line is going to pay off. I have a 430EX and a 580EX, and it's no contest which one is more useful for me in any bounce situation--the 580EX hands-down, because of the added power and 360° swivel. I've used the 430EX on-camera and been caught short. And the additional features an SB-900 will give you--something as simple as SU-4 mode--can make a huge difference in terms of usability.

                  A lot of folks don't get the 360° swivel thing. But if you're using the flash on-camera to bounce, swivel and tilt are how you choose the direction of your light--you basically aim the flashhead at a bounce surface where you would have put the softbox if you had one. Having only 270° swivel removes 25% of your options right off the bat. If you want the light to come from behind your right shoulder, how are you going to get that? What if the only wall you have to bounce off is on your right? If you portrait shoot by flipping the camera counter-clockwise (and you aren't using a flash bracket), how the hell are you going to position the light at all? On a stand, this is no big deal, most of your directional decisions are done with the umbrella swivel and stand orientation. But on-camera you're stuck with what the flashhead can do. Only the SB-900 in the Nikon speedlight lineup does the 360° swivel. The SB-800 has to have its neck wrung, and that could possibly destroy the flash.

                  Back to the OP's question: chances are good that what you want for a budget Strobist setup is two stands, two umbrellas & umbrella swivels, and cheap radio triggers like the Cactus V4 or Yong Nuo RF-602s: a 1Tx/2Rx set. Then figure out what light modifiers you want and whether you want to try DIYing them or purchasing them.

                  For on-camera, I recommend reading van Niekirk's articles on his black foamie thing.
                  I shoot with a Canon 5DmkII, 50D, and S90, and Pansonic GX-7. flickr stream and equipment list

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by zona5101 View Post
                    If you liked the performance of your sb24 back in the day, then the sb-600 will be perfect. If you found the sb-24 wasn't powerful enough then maybe the sb-900. The difference is price is a bit over double ($220 to $460). For the 200+ dollardifference you'd have your sb-600 for "normal" flash duty and enough $$ left over for a radio triggers, a light stand, shoe mount clamp, umbrella, extra batteries...
                    Look at the guide numbers between flashes.. The sb-24 is actually a quite powerful flash from what I have been reading... The SB24- SB28 are close to the same power..


                    Nikon sb-24 at 100iso in m
                    24mm GN=30
                    28mm GN=32
                    35mm GN=36
                    50mm GN=42
                    70mm GN=47
                    85mm GN=50

                    Nikon SB-600 at 100iso in m
                    14 mm GN 11
                    24mm GN 20
                    35mm GN 22
                    85mm GN 30.5
                    Cameras: Canon 60D, Canon 20D, 35mm Nikon FM2n
                    Canon EF lens used : 50mm f1.8, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.5, 75-300mm f/4.5-5, 85mm f/1.8
                    Tamron Lens: 28-75mm F/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF)
                    Strobist: Canon 580EX II , "Vivitar DF400MZ, Nikon SB-24, LP-160, YN568EX"
                    http://flickr.com/photos/bhursey | http://brianhurseyphotography.com

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                    • #11
                      Thanks so much for all the valuable information everyone! It has caused me to rethink everything. Grrrr. Now I’m second guessing my initial decision.

                      I'll finish checking out the rest of the links you provided as well. Thanks inkista for all the info! After carefully reading all of your responses, I’m thinking that the SB-900 would be way out of my budget after purchasing all of the additional accessories.
                      I do love the 360 swivel, but since I’ve never had it, I don't think I'll miss it (sigh). One day, when I can afford it, there's no doubt that it'll be the one that I buy! The SB-800 would be ideal right now, but again, the additional money would cost more than what I’ve come up with. So….because I’m a newbie to lighting and will learn as I go, Ive decided to build a studio slowly and start simple.

                      For now, I’m thinking that one AlienBees B800 would be the way to go. I would only need to buy a light stand, umbrella, and a trigger remote. The beginner package on their site is $358.66. The Beginner Bee This leaves me with needing to buy a trigger remote, extension cords and backdrops. If I have any extra money down the road (a long way down the road), is it possible to set up my SB-24 with an umbrella and light stand to work with it? If so, what do I need for a slave drive and trigger? Is there a remote that would work with both and if so, what is the most affordable and dependable, giving me the most bang for the buck?

                      Since I still need a flash, eventually, I’ll probably purchase a used SB-600. Then I’ll be all set. Does this sound feasible? So what do I need for what I described to get me on the right track? Remember, you're talking to a newbie who is pretty confused. LOL.

                      Again, thank you so much! You all have been very helpful! I'm so grateful!!

                      jane

                      ps. Someone told me about a GREAT website and I signed up for their FREE lighting course. Rosanne Olson’s Lighting from A to Z. – CreativeTechs Classes The first lesson was today and I was very impressed! I know that I'll learn a lot! I'm so happy!! Check it out. You can sign up anytime. They offer different courses. I've signed up for the advanced photoshop retouching as well.
                      Last edited by janeqb; 01-14-2010, 03:13 AM.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by janeqb View Post
                        For now, I’m thinking that one AlienBees B800 would be the way to go. I would only need to buy a light stand, umbrella, and a trigger remote. The beginner package on their site is $358.66. The Beginner Bee This leaves me with needing to buy a trigger remote, extension cords and backdrops. If I have any extra money down the road (a long way down the road), is it possible to set up my SB-24 with an umbrella and light stand to work with it? If so, what do I need for a slave drive and trigger? Is there a remote that would work with both and if so, what is the most affordable and dependable, giving me the most bang for the buck?
                        Well, the nice thing about the AlienBee (AB) units is that they have a built-in optical slave capability. That means that any other flash that the AB unit "sees" will trigger it, and it will fire. Now, just realize that the optical slave feature is not 100% reliable; I have heard that sometimes the AB units will not fire even when another flash is triggered. I haven't heard it as a major problem, though. Plus, that issue is not unique to the AB units; it's the case with all optical slave systems.

                        I would recommend using radio triggers to fire the flash(es). With radio triggers, you have a couple options:

                        1 - Get a radio transmitter and one receiver. The transmitter connects your camera, and the receiver connects to the SB-24. No receiver is connected to the AB unit. The AB's default mode is slave mode, which means that as long as you don't plug in anything into the PC port, the unit will behave like an optical slave, firing when it "sees" another flash fire. So, when you set everything up and take a shot, the on-camera transmitter sends a signal to the receiver on the SB-24 that fires the SB-24, and the light from the SB-24 triggers the AB. Of course, when you actually see it happen, it all looks like it's happening at the same time - a good thing!

                        2 - Get a radio transmitter and two receivers. The transmitter connects to your camera, one of the receivers is connected to the SB-24, and the other receiver is connected to the AB unit. This is slightly more expensive than the first option (since you're buying an additional receiver), but it is more reliable, since you are not relying on the optical slave system of the AB unit. So, after you set everything up and take a shot, the on-camera transmitter sends a signal to the receiver on the SB-24 and the receiver on the AB, firing them at the same time.

                        Now, as far as what radio triggers to use is up to you and what you can afford, obviously. Some people use Cactus V4's; some people, like myself, use CyberSyncs (made by Paul C. Buff); some people use Yongnuo radio triggers. There is plenty of discussion here and elsewhere on each of these products, so just do some searching around. Of course, there are PocketWizards, but those are definitely not wallet-friendly.

                        I hope this helps.

                        EDIT: I know you asked about getting a SB-600 unit as well for your on-camera flash use. Which route you go really depends on what your needs are right now. If you need off-camera lighting more than an on-camera flash, then go that route. Or, if you need an on-camera flash more, then go that way.
                        Last edited by natek313; 01-14-2010, 03:57 AM.
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                        • #13
                          Vivitar 285HV

                          If you really want to save money on a off camera/strobist setup without breaking the bank, go with a Vivitar 285HV flash or two. Just one wouldn't set you back more than a $100. You will have more money for decent transmitters and receivers, stands, umbrellas, rechargeable batteries and etc.

                          Even if you want to eventually go with the AlienBee route, the 285HVs are great for back-ups when a power source is not available.

                          Hope this helps!
                          flickr

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                          • #14
                            Nikon D90 and SB900

                            You must also remember that the NIKON D90 has an internal flash controller compatible with SB900, so you don't need to buy an additional radio controller.
                            I've tried the pack D90+SB900 and works very fine.

                            Regards from Spain.

                            Juan

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                            • #15
                              Inkista:

                              you said, "Only the SB-900 in the Nikon speedlight lineup does the 360 swivel."

                              I have a Nikon SB-600 and it has full 360 degree swivel. I can rotate the base 360 degrees and I can tilt the head 90 degrees no matter where the base is positioned. For instance, I can rotate the base 180 degrees and tilt the head 90 degrees to reflect off the wall in back of me.

                              I don't know how anyone could get more flexibility out of a swivel action.

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