I have this dream of getting my photography gear simplified to a bag of cameras and a bag of lights. Right now I have two bags of cameras. That’s a Phase One bag and a Fuji bag. If my dream digital medium format camera is ever made I might be able to get it down to one bag. For now, though, my cameras are set. My attention has now been placed on my bag of lights. Currently, I have three bags of lights. I’ve gotten to this point in a very slow and methodical way through the years. It’s been quite organic really, but now it’s getting out of hand and I need to prune this all back and simplify my gear.
My first bag is for hotshoe flash. It holds four LumoPro LP180 flashes and various hotshoe accessories. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of hotshoe flashes in my life but at the moment I’m not using four of them at any one time. Two is all I need when I really think about it. So there are two lights I can shave from my kit.
My next bag of lights is the one holding my two Elinchrom Quadra kits. I have two packs and two heads and I absolutely adore these lights. I fell in love with the Quadras when I first saw them introduced at PhotoPlus. If I am really honest, I bought the Quadras more out of want than need. I already owned a good kit of AlienBee gear complete with Vagabond 2 batteries. Here’s the deal:
AlienBees are like the base model
Toyota Corolla of lights.
They’re solid dependable little econoboxes that do the job. At some point in your life, though, you’d like something a little nicer. Something with a better fit and finish to it. Something that doesn’t have a f*cking cartoon character painted on the side of it. You know what I mean? You work your ass off for ten years and you’d like step up from the Corolla to a nice used Lexus or something. Quadras are a nice used Lexus? I guess. My metaphor is falling apart.
Lastly there’s my big Think Tank Logisitics Manager bag that holds most of my AlienBee gear. I have two 1600’s, two Einsteins, and one 400. Look — AlienBee lights are great. They aren’t the most consistent. They aren’t the prettiest. They don’t have the best fit and finish. But damn it, they are solid lights and I have yet to see anyone top Paul C. Buff’s customer service department. They really do have the finest customer service in the entire photography industry. There’s all sorts of great things to say about them but damn it all… I’ve been at this game for awhile now and I want some better lights. I want better construction. I want a more secure mounting system.
Speaking of mounting systems, this is the main reason why I’m working on finding one system to rule them all. When you buy lights you are buying into a system. The system includes power options, speedrings, triggers, etc. Some things are universal while other things are proprietary and you have to decide what’s going to work for you today and down the road. I feel I’ve gotten to the end of the road with the Alienbees. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt I’d reached the max potential with lights; I thought when I bought my Quadra system I’d start moving to a full Elinchrom line of gear but, in reality, I just like the Quadras the best and not the rest of their line.
I have looked at all the lights out there. Name the strobe and I’ve considered it. Profoto, Broncolor, Bowens, Godox, Dynalite, etc. This is what I know — I want to stay with monolights, I would like a triggering system that can control manual power settings from the camera position; I want battery power options as well as an AC option for work in the studio; I want a secure mounting system for modifiers; I want there to be plenty of third party accessories available so I’m not stuck with one company’s modifiers. I’m willing to invest in a system but I can’t sell the farm to buy the cow.
So for lack of an idea on which way to go, I just kept plugging along with my hodgepodge set of gear. Until a year ago when I was ushered down a hallway and shown the prototype of the Indra 500. I asked for a review unit as soon as they could send one to me and I now have that review unit.
To be honest, Phottix was never on my radar. I know they have been growing as a company and they have been producing some great gear lately, but I wasn’t expecting this 500 watt second monolight. As soon as I picked up the Indra I was intrigued. The size, weight, and over all feel of the head is fantastic*. It’s far more solid of a unit than an AlienBee or Einstein.
I love that they went with the Bowens mount as it’s one of my favorite mounts out there and I wish everyone just went with this mount. There are a ton of third party options out there for the Bowens mount and when mounted, the modifier sits inside of the head thus sealing that area from light spilling out. That’s something that’s always been a pain with AlienBees. I keep gaff tape on hand to cover that gap from a modifier to an AlienBee body because light is always spilling out of there.
While the Indra has TTL capabilities for Canon and Nikon and transmitters that do all of that TTL witchcraft, they currently do not have a universal transmitter for manual control of the light from any other system like a Fuji, Sony, Phase, etc. However, from what I understand they are working on that. For me that’s a key part of the system that I want as I move forward. One main system of lights. One, and only one, trigger to rule and control them all. I am done with sync cords. Give me strobes AND flashes that can be triggered and controlled with one transmitter on my camera and I will be a happy photographer.
The Indra, in my initial testings, runs anywhere from 1/3rd to 2/3rd’s of a stop less power output at full power than an AlienBee 1600 or the Einstein. I’ve found the more efficient a light modifier is the less of a difference in power output. That makes me pause for a moment but it’s not a deal killer by any stretch of the imagination for me.
To conclude: I am really impressed with this light. I can’t believe how nice of a light this thing is. With a starting price of $1,200 it might seem expensive, but when you compare it to a Quarda kit or the Profoto B1 you’ll quickly see that it’s quite affordable in this segment of the market.
If I had to do it over again today I would choose the Phottix over the Quadra. The reason I would choose it over the Quadra is due to the better build quality, smaller and lighter battery, and all for less money. It does cost a good bit more than an AlienBee but once you hold the thing in your hand you see why. The fit and finish is far superior. I need to spend some more time with the Phottix and I really want to see how their universal trigger works. If that brings the whole system together then I will most likely be cleaning house on my lights and building one cohesive system.
I’ll leave you with a test shot I made last week of my friend Kate. I wanted to make sure the Indra could sync at high shutter speeds and I’m pleased to announce that it can. This image of Kate was shot at 1/1600th of a second on the Phase One camera. The modifier used was the Phottix collapsible beauty dish. It’s really more of a small Octa than a beauty dish but it’s quite nice really when used in close like a dish. I could see myself using this modifier a lot and it’s a snap to set up.
We shot this for the original Indra review video that we subsequently blew the audio on. It was ok but it wasn’t great. We ditched that video and made the one you see above. Ugh. Sometimes video just makes me want to curl up in a corner, pet a kitten, and cry.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Hit me up in the comments below and I’ll do my best to get back to you!
*Editor’s note :: that’s what she said.