My old Multiblitz MiniStudio 3-light kit

Over the past three years this little photography business has been growing!  Two years ago I bought a humble 3-light Multiblitz MiniStudio lighting kit to use for studio portraits, head shots, and even event photography.  One year ago I started doing larger events that required me to rent an additional light or two in order to light groups of up to 25 people.  Six months ago one of my trusty 3 lights inexplicably quit working, at which point I had to make a decision… Is it worth renting two lights every time I do an event?  What do I really need in a light kit?

So I slipped into comparison shopping and learned how fiercely loyal people are to the lights they use!  Alien Bees all the way!  White Lightning!  I went on Amazon and searched for photography lights.  I saw complete kits (backdrop and all) for under $200.  I went to Pro Photo Supply and was shown a sweet Elinchrom kit with remote adjustments that was about $1200.  My head was spinning.

Lighting Kit Comparison Spreadsheet 2011

So I did what any rational photographer would do in this situation… I made a spreadsheet.  Have you ever done this?  I do this all the time and often drive myself completely batty but at least by the end of it I’ve tricked myself into thinking that I know what I’m doing.  This spreadsheet had columns for brand, model, power per light, guide number (even though I still barely know what that means), trigger type, accessories included, stand height, refresh rate… I even had a column for whether the unit beeps when it’s fully recharged.  I was not kidding around!

In the end this is what I concluded… Overall, you get what you pay for.  In my opinion, the Paul C Buff lines (alien bees and white lightning) are good lights but are overpriced for what they are.  I was biased towards them in the beginning because so many people recommended them.  But I discovered that they have a misleading model number system that is easy to mistake for light power, and I had to call them up to get the real wattage ratings.  They had great customer service but when it came down to it I decided that they are cute and fashionable but not the best value after all for most applications.  Bummer.

I waded through many other “cheap” lighting kits from Interfit, Flashpoint, Westcott, Impact, and RPS.  I hemmed and hawed about price, quality, weight, refresh rate…  But with all the creds laid out in a spreadsheet it became easy to weed out the cheap sets.  Turns out, they’re cheap for a reason.  Inevitably they had unusably short stands, long refresh rates, and accessories that weren’t worth anything.  So when it came down to it I came all the way back around to that Elinchrom 400Ws D-Lite IT Kit.

Photography is the art of creatively capturing light as it exists at one moment in time.  With that in mind, light is not something I’m willing to skimp on.

The last step in my journey to  better light was completed today.  I sold my original Multiblitz kit to a young guy who just finished photography school.  It was a little sad watching it walk out the door.  Despite the broken pieces, heavy flash units, short power cables, and crazy big hard case that I grew to dread moving, that kit and I had some good times together and I will miss it.  I’m glad it’s going to a new home where it will get some use.  In the meantime, I’m über glad to have my excellent new Elinchrom lights to take out on upcoming gigs!

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