Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cheetahstand Cheetahlight CL-360

I recently purchased a Cheetahstand Cheetahlight CL-360.  This is a powerful (300 ws) flash in the form of a speed light, with several differences to a standard speed light:
1) It Powerful. At 300ws it is 4 to 6 times as powerful as most standard speed lights.
2) Its a bare bulb flash, so it has a different light spread than a standard speed light, that has a very directional fresnel lens.
3) It does not have an internal power source.  It does not hold its own batteries, so you have to supply it with an external power source through the external power port.

I've created a video that provides an overview of the CL-360 that you can view below:

Unfortunately I have a light artifact at the top of the screen impacting the grey background.  I'll have to fix that next time, as its distracting.

Anyway, overall I am quite impressed with this flash.  As stated in the video, its a manual flash, it has a flash foot as well as two different sync inputs for external triggers or to attach to your camera (a pc sync port and a 3.5mm port).

It supports 5 different firing modes:

  1. Manual - supports full power (1:1) all the way down to 1/128th power.  That is 8 stops.  You can also set it in 1/3 stop increments in between any of those 8 stop settings.  This works for all the standard sync speeds your camera supports (generally up to 1/250th of a second)
  2. S1 Mode - this is basically a standard optical slave mode.  It fires when it sees the flash of the master flash.
  3. S2 Mode - this builds off of S1, by ignoring the first single flash it sees.  This is normally the TTL pre flash from many manufacturers flashes, so it tries to play nice in environments like Nikon's CLS, allowing you to optically trigger it.
  4. RPT Mode - This allows you to fire off a set number of flashes in one exposure, giving a stroboscopic effect.
  5. High Speed Sync Mode - This mode is used for sync speeds above your camera's standard sync speed, and allows you to sync up to 1/8000 sec.  In this mode, you have reduced power, and the range of the flash reduces to 1:1 to 1:8 (instead of down to 1:128).    You have to have a flash trigger that supports HSS.  The Cheetahlight CL-TX does not directly support HSS.  For Canon, the Cheetahlight Cells 2 trigger supports HSS.  Unfortunately, Cheetahstand does not sell a Nikon version of the Cells 2.  

However, there is hope.  Triggers such as the Yongnuo YN-622N DO support HSS and so if you use it with this flash, you can take advantage of the High Speed Trigger mode.  Here is an image of the flash when using it with the Yongnuo 622N:

Cheetahlight CL-360 with Yongnuo YN-622N
You'll notice that I still have the CL-TX's receiver still attached to the CL-360.  With the setup above, I can still control the power levels of the CL-360 remotely with the CL-TX, and then actually fire the flash with the Yongnuo.   Unfortunately the CL-TX does not support toggling the High Speed Sync mode, so to go in and out of that mode still requires a physical touch on the flash.

I'm impressed that it is compatible with FP/HSS on Nikon Cameras (if using a compatible trigger).  I originally thought that would only be supported on Canon's, so was pleasantly surprised to see it work with my Nikon D300 (I have also tested it with a D600).

Here is shot of the back of the flash control panel without and with High Speed Sync engaged:

You engage it by pressing the 'Mode' and 'Set' buttons at the same time.  The other mode's can be engaged by simply pressing the 'Mode' button.  Power levels are set by using the scroll wheel.  'Buzz' toggles the beep for when the flash is recycled, and the 'MF' toggles the focus assist functionality.

In the video, I show the following image as an example of the extra power that can be achieved by the CL-360 vs. the SB910.

Some extra detail on this.  I would have added another 1/2 to full stop to it to get the exposure I wanted, but unfortunately the SB910 topped out at full power before I could get there, and I didn't want to change my camera settings.  But this does show you the 2 stop difference between the two.  Both of these shots were taken in a 43" Octabox with an internal baffle as well as an external diffuser, and with equal distance from the subject.  The SB910 had the 14mm diffuser flipped down on it to help get as good of a light spread as possible.

Conceptually, I could have removed the internal baffle of the Octabox when using the CL-360 in order to regain the 1/2 to 1 stop that eats up from the flash.  The  reason for that is that the CL-360 is a bare bulb flash so has a better light spread inside of the softbox than a speed light has with its fresnel lens (which is why you need the internal baffle for the speed lights.  However, I kept the internal baffle on for the CL-360 so that it could be an apples to apples comparison.

I also did a comparison of the two flashes in HSS mode:

The way I compared here was a bit different.  Here I used the CL-360 in SuperSync mode using the YongNuo 622N.  The Yongnuo SuperSync mode allows you to use the long duration of a flash at full power to get HSS like functionality out of it.   With that set up, I was able to get over 3 stops over the SB910 (which was firing in its normal FP high speed sync mode).  If I would have used the native High Speed Sync mode of the CL360, I probably would have lost somewhere between a 1/3 of the stop to 2/3 of a stop, so the overall difference between the two flashes would have been closer to 3 stops.

The thing I found interesting about this test was the color variation in the flashes.  I did not expect it to be that great, but the CL-360 is clearly cooler than the SB910 when comparing these two photos.  I have not done any additional testing to confirm the results shown from a white balance perspective, but something I may look at a little closer in future posts.

One thing I forgot to mention about the Cheetahstand Lithium 4500 battery pack is that it comes with that shoulder strap that I had attached to it.  It's a nice little extra.

Overall I am very happy with my purchase.  I wish it came with a hard carrying case like the Xenrgizer RS600P, but that is a minor quibble for such a good flash.

I'm working on additional materials for this page regarding the CL-360, as well as its FP/HSS capabilities on Nikons, and will be posting those updates over the next few days/weeks, so come back to see those.

By the way, for a detailed article on the Cheetahlight CL-180/360, you can visit FlashHavoc

Thank you, and Happy Shooting!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Matt Granger's 'Take Control of the Light' Workshop

At the end of May, I had the opportunity to attend Matt Granger's "Take Control of the Light" workshop in New York City.

I live in Pittsburgh, and travelled to New York for the weekend to attend the workshop.  I lived there in the 90's, and it was really nice to be back for the weekend.  I flew in Friday afternoon, and left on Sunday night.  The workshop itself consisted of a social Friday night, and then the actual workshop that ran from 9:00am to 6:00pm both Saturday and Sunday.

Since I was flying Sunday night, I had to leave at 5:00pm on Sunday, but I think the free shooting time with the models extended past 6:00pm, so if you travel to one of the workshops, I recommend you fly on Monday rather than Sunday.

There were about 15 students, Matt Granger, and an assistant from NY that Matt knew.  Unfortunately Matt's assistant on his site, Tina, didn't make it to this workshop, so we did not get to meet her.  However, Matt's assistant Mos was great.  On Saturday we had 3 models and on Sunday we had 4 models.   Everyone from Matt, his assistant, the students and the models were all great to work with.

The workshop itself took place in a great space.  Its a photography studio / event space called Fitography Studio - 550 Broadway.  It even had full length windows looking out over Broadway.  You can learn more about this great space here.   Matt had the entire space rented out.

We had one main studio area, but there was enough space and lighting equipment to split into 3 or 4 groups during the many breakout sessions to try out the concepts that Matt was teaching.  The format is that Matt would speak about a concept for 30 min to an hour, and then we would have a breakout to  try out the concepts.  It was a great way to experience the concepts in action.

At the end of each day, Matt would give us free shooting sessions to try out different lighting concepts with the models and to try to hone our skills.  I took a few that at first I thought were going to be mistakes, but I ended up liking some of the darker lit photos:

On the second day, two of the models from the first day returned, and two new models joined that we were able to shoot during our exercises.

On the second day, we did an fun exercise where Matt asked us to show some photos from photographs that we liked the lighting on.  He then talked about how they likely lit the photo, and then asked us to perform an exercise where we tried to replicate the style of lighting.  

The photo I submitted was one from Joel Grimes, who has a very distinct look: Joel Grimes.

My attempt at replicating the look wasn't fully successful, but I learned a lot while trying.

What the workshop didn't focus much on was light modifiers and how different light modifiers affect your photos differently.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but given the name of the workshop being "Take Control of the Light", I assumed that there would be a focus on light modifiers (e.g. snoot vs. sofbox vs. gobo vs. octobox vs. beauty dish vs. ring light vs. bar doors, etc).   The overall workshop was heavy on the physics of light and how that impacts your photograph (in an easy to understand form).   And that is important, as after all, that is all a photograph is, is a recording of light.   And its important to have a strong base in that before worrying about one modifier vs another.

Overall, I think the workshop helped me better understand lighting and allowed me to hone my flash skills.  One thing that Matt did talk about during the workshop was his new video series of the same name: Take Control of the Light.  At the time of this writing, that is priced at $75 compared to the workshop cost of $700.  Matt provided the video series to us as a bonus for the workshop, and I have since watched the whole thing.

I highly recommend the video series.  It covers most of what we discussed at the workshop.  What it doesn't provide, is the interaction with Matt and other students where you work together in solving issues and gaining a better understanding in a way that a one way medium like a video series can't do.  I learned a ton from the other students.

However, if you have a good local photography club or Meetup group that allows for that interaction, then I would suggest buying the video series and skipping the workshop unless you want to ask Matt himself a lot of specific questions.  If you do not have access to other photographers in a format such as a Meetup group, then I would recommend the workshop over the video series (I think if you saw the video series first, and then attended the workshop, you may get frustrated by the repeat of material).

Overall a very fun weekend in a great city, with great people, and learning new things.  What more could you ask for?!?!

To see some additional photos from the workshop from me and the other students, you can check out the following Flickr group:

If you have any questions about the workshop, please post those in the comments section.

Thank you and happy shooting!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Working with Yongnuo YN-622N's in TTL

I usually work with my Yongnuo YN-622N-TX and 622N's in remote manual mode.  I love that I don't have to walk over to every flash individually just to change power settings.  I only use TTL when I am in fast moving situations where setting need to change dynamically and I don't have time to dial in the correct settings on top of the TX.

I usually don't run into problems when using TTL, but I have had several readers/viewers who have run into challenges, and they have reported that the order in which you turn things on matters.  Richard F and Larry C (thanks Richard and Larry) reported that you want to make sure that the flashes and 622Ns are turned on prior to the TX, and theorizing that on startup, the TX handshakes with each, so if its not the last one, there are speed lights not taken into the calculations.

I am going to be doing some experimentation in this regarding over the coming weeks/months, but in the meantime, this is the order I do things that seems to work (starting off with everything in the 'off' position:

1) I have put all flashes on the 622N hotshoes.
2) I turn on the flashes and confirm they are set to TTL
3) I turn on the 622Ns
4) I then turn on the 622-TX mounted on top of my camera
5) I then turn on the camera

I do tend to turn my TX off and on periodically to conserve power and to take shots without flash.  I am also one of those people that turns my camera off between shots to save power.  So often I will turn the camera off/on without turning the TX off/on.

As mentioned, I will test a few scenarios over the coming months so you can see results.  In the meantime, if you rely on TTL with the 622Ns, you may want to be careful about the order in which you turn things on and off, take note of what works for you, and go with what you find works best.

If you do find an order that works best for you, or if you have additional findings to contribute, please leave a note in the comments section.  Thank you.

Happy Shooting!