I’ve been tracing relationships with my cast-off cameras in the last two posts. Today I’ll continue the stroll down memory lane, but with lighting equipment. I’ll include gear I still own this time.
First off, I don’t set up artificial light much. It’s usually sufficient – and a heck of a lot faster and easier – to use what’s there already. But I do consider the use of artificial lighting a critical part of a photographer’s skill set. The reason it’s so important is that the best way to understand light is to learn how to manipulate it. If, once you’ve mastered that (or at least achieved journeyman competency), you decide not to use it, fine; at least you’ll know how to deal effectively with available lighting.
Without further ado, the list:
1955 500w photofloods. The one light source that hasn’t changed much. My reflectors are now blak on the outside, rather than plain spun aluminum, but that’s about all that’s different.
1957 Argus C3 flash, number 5 flash bulbs. The C3 flash was of “potato masher” style, and blasted the subject with harsh, unflattering light. Weegee made that kind of light work for him. I was no Weegee.
1957 Ascorlight M-synch integrated speedlight. The C3 didn’t have X-synch, so it wouldn’t work with most strobes. The ugly, lumpy Ascorlight had a delay circuit built in, so I could use the C3 with it.
1958 Nikon BC-4 flash, FP bulbs. You could use M-synch bulbs with the C3, but the Nikon S2, because of its focal plane shutter, needed bulbs that burned longer. With the S2, you had to set the shutter speed into a dial that determined when to trigger the flash. This flash had a fan-folding reflector, which made it compact. Because the fan wasn’t dished much, the light was more flattering than the Argus flash. You could also leave the reflector folded, and get a bare-bulb effect, which was generally nicer, but you lost a lot of light. FP bulbs weren’t always available at the corner drugstore.
1959 Braun Hobby speedlight. The Hobby had a nice light flashtube head that attached to a black case that you wore over your shoulder. In the case were lead-acid batteries, miniature versions of the ones in your car. The case for the batteries was transparent, so you could see if you needed to add electrolyte. To charge the capacitor, there was a mechanical vibrator that made ac from the battery’s dc, stepped it up with a transformer, and rectified it. I used it with the S2 on X-synch. The S2 had a special shutter speed just for use with a strobe; it was about 1/50 second.
1959 Graflex Flashgun, solenoid synch, number 5 bulbs. The Speed Graphic had a focal plane shutter, but it was too slow to use with flashbulbs. Almost all the lenses had leaf shutters. Many had X-synch, but no M-synch. That was no problem, though, since you could mount a solenoid to the lensboard that would receive a signal from the flashgun and fire the shutter after a delay that was just long enough for the flashbulb to reach peak output. A bonus was that firing the camera from the flashgun was more convenient than reaching around to the lensboard; so much so that I would often leave the flashgun attached to the camera even when not using flash.
Before I leave flashbulbs behind, let me tell you about the sensory experience of using them.
- Sight: they were very bright, and, although it seemed like the duration was really short, you could tell after you’d seen a strobe go off that it wasn’t.
- Sound: they made this delicious sizzling sound when they fired.
- Smell: Right after the sizzling, there was this hard-to-describe, but intoxicating, odor that wafted up from them.
- Touch: of course, I was often too quick to change the used bulb out for a new one, and burned my fingers repeatedly.
1970 Honeywell Strobonar. This was a potato masher flash that was light, cheap, and dim. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
1980 – present Nikon SB-xx speedlights. There have been many of these. They have gradually grown more capable, more powerful, faster to recycle, and harder to figure out.
1989 Balcar 2400 ws power pack, 3 heads. I bought these used after they had been refurbished by Balcar. The original owner had put them in storage, and when he tried to fire them up afterwards, the electrolytic caps couldn’t be re-formed. I was careful to turn them on every few months to re-form them. I used these with soft-boxes, diffusers, reflectors, snoots, grids, and gobos as I, with the aid of the wonderful Dean Collins VHS tapes, I taught myself studio lighting.
2006 Paul Buff White Lightning X1600s. I ditched the Balcars for these 600 ws monolights, used with the same light modifiers as before.
2012 Paul Buff Einstein E640s. Smaller and smarter than the White Lightnings.
2103 Fotodiox Pro LED-200WA-56 monolights. Same form factor as the White Lightnings, but continuous LED light. Dimmable. 5600K.
2015 Westcott Flex Bi-Color mats. Flat. Fairly bright. Color temperature is configurable. So is brightnesss.