AlienBees Studio Lighting

Started Mar 4, 2014 | Discussions
srafoto New Member • Posts: 8
AlienBees Studio Lighting

Hello Everyone,

I'm farely new to photography and I'm really trying to strengthen my portfolio so that one day I will hopefully be able to become a full-time photographer.  As everyone knows equipment is not cheap at all.  I currently have a D300s and a 50mm f/1.8.  I only have one Nikon speedlight though and I find it difficult sometimes only using one.  I was looking into some studio lighting and I cam across AlienBees.  So far I have seen people who love them and people who don't.  I know that is the case with most products, but I wanted to get some feedback.  Also, I just started a website to show off some of my work.  It is a work in progress.  Please share your thoughts.


Nikon D300S
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tr0910 Regular Member • Posts: 145
Started with one, and now have 8

Paul Buff Alien Bee's are priced at an affordable level, but the quality is there. Our earliest AB800 has flashed over a million times without a single issue. The spare flash tube is still found in its box never been used. The other thing we use is ebay triggers like this to fire them.

They too have fired over a million times. We did break the pigtail cord that plugs into the back of the flash, but once fixed they continue to work. (we did have to change the battery on the transmitter about 500,000 images ago)

We do have one of the lights that is starting to get a noisy fan. That's the worst we've seen. The biggest downside to Alien Bee's is that if you need someone to hold your hand, you won't find anyone local. The distribution structure they use makes the lights very affordable, but there is no local dealer to help you out. The design of the lights is so simple though that that hasn't been an issue. And places like this are better sources of help anyway for someone even partially technical.

I have tried to introduce the Paul Buff Einstein lights to our studio, but staff find them too complex. They prefer the Bee's

My strategy, use the money you save to buy an extra light.

Brooke Meyer Contributing Member • Posts: 654
Re: AlienBees Studio Lighting

You're going to need to invest some time to learn lighting property & principles. It will pay back more than gear you can buy.

I also use AB800's, bought mine used from KEH. Made in USA, Buff sells direct so you get a great value and great customer service. I've also been using eBay triggers ( Cowboy Studio NPT-04s with my flashes ( Pentax & Yongnou) & AB800's. Have used all the lights together.

I'd buy my Bee's again tomorrow. I also use their PLMs with and without diffuser socks. Sometimes I'll use the bare reflector and sometimes grids.

Her's a sample studio setup. This was for a Daddy Daughter Dance so I had to pose & shoot quickly, 1 to 2 minutes each. Very simple 1:2 ratio, diffused with socks on umbrellas.

Lawrence Keeney
Lawrence Keeney Veteran Member • Posts: 6,815
Re: AlienBees Studio Lighting

I have eight Alien Bees lights of different types, and I have been using them for about 12 years. I personally thing they are great for the money you pay for them.

I was doing a shoot out on a dry lake bed and had a big gust of wind blow over one of my lights that had a beauty dish attached. It was blown over backwards and when it hit the ground, the weight of the beauty dish pushed the back of the light into the ground. This pushed the power cord into the interior of the light. I sent it back to Alien Bees for repair, and they charged me something like $30 for the repair. I don't know of any other studio light manufacturer who would do this for anywhere near this price. Their customer service is unbeatable.

I also have their Vagabond I, Vagabond II, and their Vagabond Mini Lithium power supplies. These are fantastic for on-location shooting. I even take them to indoor shoots so I don't have to worry about power cables running across the floor to power my lights.

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Sailor Blue
Sailor Blue Forum Pro • Posts: 11,945
Re: AlienBees Studio Lighting

You can buy cheaper studio strobes and you can buy more expensive studio strobes than the AlienBees but I don't think you can find a better light for the price. Simply put the AlienBees have the best performance for price you can find on a budget.  Paul C. Buff also has the best reputation in the industry for service and customer relations.

The worst decision you can make in buying studio equipment is to buy cheap. I did that the first time and most of my strobes quickly wound up in the trash. Cheap turned out to be very expensive. The second time I did my research and bought quality studio equipment. I wrote this article to help others avoid my mistake. Please read it carefully before you do like I did and waste your money.

Sailorblue - Digital Photography Review - Equipment Guide for Setting up a Small Home Portrait/Glamor Studio

If I were buying new studio strobes in the US my first choice would be PCB Einsteins because of their greater color stability but if I was on a tight budget I wouldn't hesitate to get AlienBees instead.

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ilta Regular Member • Posts: 217
Re: AlienBees Studio Lighting

Yet another photographer here who loves his ABs. I bought a 400, then an 800, then two more 400s and they've served me well for years now without any issue at all. I do a lot of portrait work and they work great. Basically all the shots on my website that are taken with a flash are lit by ABs and I'll keep using them for years to come.

I agree that, from what I've heard, you could get moderately better lights for a good deal more money -- the Einsteins in particular are apparently a good step up, and the Elinchroms are also in a similar bracket. But ABs, even if you end up using them for a few years and then upgrading, are well worth the investment. They'll keep their value remarkably well -- I don't think I've seen the price on used ABs budge in 5+ years of ebay watching. And just like your $75 nifty fifty, you won't get a better light/dollar ratio anywhere else.

I see you do a lot of outdoor work, so I'll second the advice that the Vagabond Lithium should be on your radar as a likely early purchase. It's really amazing what that thing can do, and it weighs next to nothing. It's designed for Paul C Buff's lights, but I think it would work with most small studio strobes (though you might not be able to power two lights with one battery).

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historianx Veteran Member • Posts: 3,044
Re: AlienBees Studio Lighting

another Bee devotee here. Have 4 800s one 400 and a ABR 800 ring, with various modifiers, and they have transformed my former speedlight oriented studio/location photography into something much more professional and sophisticated. Plus if theres a problem, which is rare, a real person at Buff is there to listen and help. I cant stress that enough. Good luck!

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lightcatcher2014 Junior Member • Posts: 44
Re: AlienBees Studio Lighting

I have AB800 and pretty happy with them. Simple and easy to use. Very reliable and I know I can trust them all the time.

Also use strobes YN-560III as well, so you can always start with strobes and later upgrade to monolights. The earlier you start using additional light sources and master two exposures setup, the better your photography would become. Natural light is not to be disregarded but for portraiture, flashes and monilights are must.


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Trifon Anguelov
Portrait and Wedding Photographer, Mountain View, CA

Guidenet Forum Pro • Posts: 15,748
Interfit or Bowens

srafoto wrote:

Hello Everyone,

I'm farely new to photography and I'm really trying to strengthen my portfolio so that one day I will hopefully be able to become a full-time photographer. As everyone knows equipment is not cheap at all. I currently have a D300s and a 50mm f/1.8. I only have one Nikon speedlight though and I find it difficult sometimes only using one. I was looking into some studio lighting and I cam across AlienBees. So far I have seen people who love them and people who don't. I know that is the case with most products, but I wanted to get some feedback. Also, I just started a website to show off some of my work. It is a work in progress. Please share your thoughts.

I shot AB800 monolights for quite a few years for personal use. At work, my company supplied Bowens gear and so I also got used to that. Recently, I've retired and had to make a decision on how to equip my new studio. Let me explain why I've sold my total AlienBee setup and how and why I chose Interfit.

For starters, and this might be unfair, but I think the AlienBee and other Paul Buff designs look less professional than most other brands. You might think "who cares" but I'd suggest setting creative expectations in some other area than studio lighting cases. Also, regardless on the quality of the plastic used in ABs and Einstein models, its still plastic and I believe this works against you in this competitive market. The same goes for that boxy shape of the cases and playful logo.

Even if some would totally disagree with my perception, remember I shot ABs until very much recently, there is another very important reason to consider something other than ABs from strictly a structural point of view. That is the mount. Paul Buff strictly uses the old Balcar mount with the two antlers you pinch together to connect your speed ring or beauty dish. While Balcar is suitable for the smaller, lighter weight modifiers, some of my newer, larger 7' Westcotts and my 27" beautydish with grid tax the mounting system to a far greater degree.

Enter the Bowens S mount. Its also the professional mount for Interfit and is used on all the better Stellar lineup of lights. Interfit uses a cheaper mount on their EX lights. Several other companies also use the Bowens S mount with its bayonet and three large locking lugs. I think you won't find a greater selection of modifiers out there than what's offered by Bowens, Interfit and all the others for the S mount. I also don't think you will find a stronger connection.

I'm currently in the process on closing on a new studio. My new Interfit Stellar kit is already filling up one bedroom and part of my living room as I buy into the new system. I'm also happy to report that the Interfit mono lights and most of the modifiers are less expensive than AlienBees by a small amount. I would just suggest you also consider Interfit and Bowens. You might find them a better bang for your lighting buck.

Take care.

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Cheers, Craig
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William Faulkner Senior Member • Posts: 1,653
Re: AlienBees Studio Lighting

One of the strangest responses was one that had issues with the way Alien Bees/ Einstein strobes "look".

Now I don't have any Pink ones but most of my clients really don't give S**T what the equipment looks like. What they care about is what really matters, what the images look like.

They could care less about whether I'm shooting Canon or Nikon or use a Beauty Dish or Softbox or Umbrella or homemade modifier.

So if you have the self-confidence and your portfolio can back it up Paul C Buff equipment offers the best value of any of the major brands out there.

I have not used any of the strobe units from China so I can't speak to their build quality but what the other post mentioned about what PCB charges for repair is true. It's like $40 to fix most anything and it only takes like a week to get it there and back.

But after three years and 7- Einstein units I still have to go on their word for that because I've only had one unit start acting up and they fixed it under warranty. Never had a problem with any of the others.

PCB Alien Bees are a good way to start out, to test the waters as it were. If you like their equipment you can upgrade to Einstein's and your modifiers and remotes will still work.

One of the more brilliant features from PCB (the Einstiens especially) is the CyberCommand remote system, especially when you're working by yourself. The ability to individually control all your strobes by the remote can be a huge time saver. You need to check out the PCB website to see what they offer. Besides all the different strobes they have battery power systems, lots of Modifiers, Remotes and even ways to carry everything.

One final thing to think about while you make your decision.

I came from using Dynalite equipment. One of the factors I had to weigh was that the Einsteins were "only" 640W/S. I was used to having 1000W/S or 2000W/S available. To my surprise the Einstein actually put out a half stop more than the M1000X Dynalite with a 4040 head.

If you have an oportunity test out some different manufacturers equipment before buying anything.

Good Luck.

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Bob Wolf
Bob Wolf Regular Member • Posts: 428
Re: AlienBees Studio Lighting

I just ordered an AlienBee B1600 and the 47" folding octabox, along with a couple of stands. The only other folding box I found was a Wescott which goes for $300.

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