Einstein 640 & PLM System Review From Paul C. Buff

Einstein 640 & PLM System Review From Paul C. Buff

The Einstein E640 strobe from Paul C. Buff is compact, light weight unit capable of shouldering studio work yet portable enough to take on location. The unit weighs in at four pounds and because it is self contained, it does not require a battery pack which cuts down on gear bulk.

I shot around with the Einstein 640 and the 86 inch PLM (parabolic light) umbrella in studio to test the products and see how they stacked up in my work flow.

The self contained strobe unit held up great during the test, it responding well to my style of shooting and did what I needed it to with the three different lighting setups used in studio.

Some of the functions that stood out from the get-go were the condensed size, the LCD display and the simple controls on the back of the unit. After firing it up and messing around with the controls for a bit I found it easy to pick up and learn how to operate the unit and make it do what I needed it to. The unit is easy to manage, fits in the palm of your hand and has minimal set up right out of the box.

Kansas City Photographer, Aaron Lindberg, commercial, advertising, editorial, fashion, fitness photographer.

The LCD is a great feature to see all of the settings and understand where the levels are set. Adjustments are made with the function and adjust buttons on the back control panel, with all parameters displayed on the back-lit, LCD screen (320 x 240 pixels). The screen shows the output level of the flash, the color temperature, the output level of the modeling lamp (the f-stop and watts), the modeling lamp setting, the recycle ready status and setting, the slave eye status, the action or color mode selection and the CyberSync channel and frequency selection (I was not using the CyberSync system for this review).

Kansas City Photographer, Aaron Lindberg, commercial, advertising, editorial, fashion, fitness photographer.

The Einstein unit recycles to full power in 1.7 seconds. Once the recycle is complete, the ready state is indicated by both a auditory and visually que. Both settings are adjustable through the unit to customize your shooing style. The Einstein includes a flash sensitive built-in slave sync for wireless firing and arrives with a standard 1/8" to PC sync cord for direct camera connection. The unit can also be fired with 3rd party triggers.

Einstein spec highlights:

  • 9 f-stop power variability (2.5 Ws to 640 Ws)
  • LCD digital controls
  • Adjustable in 1/10 f-stops
  • Action-stopping up to 1/13,000 second
  • Bright, voltage-controlled 250 Watt modeling lamp
  • Frosted dome cover reduces UV emission
  • UV Coated 12mm single-ring flashtube
  • Audible and visual recycle indicator alert options
  • "Easy Set" button for quick return to default settings
  • Complete remote control capability with CyberSync
  • 4 pounds, 5 ounces (without the power cord)
  • 7" height x 5.4" width x 7.8" length (with lamp, tube, dome and shipping cover attached)



PLM System 

To be blunt, I loved shooting with this massive umbrella. I use a lot of beauty dish light in my workflow so I have a solid understanding of the type of parabolic light beauty dishes produce. The PLM umbrella created a wider spread of light that I enjoyed working with and could control with ease. The PLM measures out at 86 inches across the arch from tip to tip, 72 inches across the open face great for producing a large amount of light from a single source. The specific model I tested with was the Soft Silver lining. The unit is produced in three variations, White PLM, Soft Silver PLM and Extreme Silver PLM. The parabolic light creates directional lighting that easily can add shape to the subject or can be used as a large soft light source when positioned closer to the subject. During most of the test shooting in studio I used the open faced soft silver side and later on added the difusion panel that wraps around the unit. Even with the large diameter of the umbrella, installing the diffuser is easy to accomplish without an extra set of hands on set. Because of the soft silver lining, the back of the umbrella eliminates spill from the back, reflecting all of the light through the panel onto the subject.


I decided to set up and light three different scenarios to get a better idea and understand of what the Einstein 640 and PLM could do. I wanted to look at the different ways the light and umbreala could be used as a one light set up to create three different looks.

  • The first look was with the Einstein and Soft Silver PLM umbrella without the diffusion. The light was placed camera right (about eight feet from subject) and used as a main light. This produced a high contrast light that gave shape to the subject. This set up would help create more of a directional/dramatic light to your subject.
  • The second lighting set up was with the same as the first in terms of gear, the Einstein was set up with no diffusion but the light was closer (3-4 feet from subject.) The light was placed behind camera which allowed me to stand in front of the umbrella without cutting down the amount of light, giving a super soft, clean and airy look. With the size of the umbreala I was able to photograph the talent from head to toe giving a nice even light top to bottom.
  • Third set up I added the diffusion panel to the Einstein and used it as a fill light, mixing with the natural light from the studio. This gave me a wide light source that allowed the talent to rotate and move around without a lot of repositioning the light.


Below are the three different approaches to the light, main to the side, main over camera and as a fill light.

Kansas City Photographer, Aaron Lindberg, commercial, advertising, editorial, fashion, fitness photographer.

Overall, this is a great unit in a compact design that can work in studio or on-location depending on your needs. The Einstein E640 retails for $499.95 and the PLM Umbrella used in this test retails for $79.95 through Paul C. Buff. When compared to other strobes sets that can easily cost over $2,500 for two lights, the Einstein might be a great pick for the photographer getting into studio lights or on-location lighting without the big budgets. For the on-location photographer who is looking to get away from AA battery powered flashes, the Einstein paired with the The Vagabond Mini might be a big step up in both amount of light and power consistency along with the rechargeable pack.

There are a slough of light modifiers available that work with the Alien Bee's, White Lightnings and the Einstein units. You can read up on all of the options at paulcbuff.com.



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I would buy two of these in an instant if they we´re available for about the same price in Sweden, sadly they are not, and nothing like it exists here...

I wonder what would it cost if someone from US bought and shipped an estimated 12-14 pounds of freight to Sweden?

Yeah. Thinking about it. I have some relatives living in the US, that visit here frequently but then there's the issues with taxes and warranty. Guess it would be a better deal If i wanted to buy them for myself and not for my company.

just looked for you .. it would be about 260 us

Careful though, cause 3 einsteins is the limit you get into a large case that pcb uses. if you get 4, or other stuff (umbrellas, stands, etc..), then they may use 2-3 boxes!.. and thats going to cost you even more for shipping. PCB can't tell you by email how many boxes they are going to ship, nor the size or the weight. I tried to get the info, but no luck.

I had 3 einsteins + 3 CSXCV transceivers + 1 Pocket W. MC2 + the CyberCommander + 1 international power cable... shipped from a friend to me in Norway with DHL, and it costed $284.5 usd. (also buyed the vagabonds but had to be sent to sweden to another friend because of dumb norwegian legislation forbidding lithium batteries over 100mah to enter the country by fly, and freaking swedish dhl did something stupid (they used JetPak as an intermediary to forward the package to my friend in Sweden, he got the box.. but I couldn't go to Sweden because of job and family, so after a month or almost 2, I went, there was my box... I was happy.. until I opened!!... an Audi piece that I can't even name!... (it was in german), so I contacted JetPak and Dhl, send that Audi part to them, and after a week received an email (not a phone call!), telling me that my package was destroyed by equivocation. And the value on the package was 0$ !! <--- careful!.. in fact I had my friend say the real price when shipping, and he did!.. but then when we checked the receipt it said $0 there too!! So the shipping agency did write $0, but did take payment as it was worth the real price... so they earned some black cash right there!!) and... I got no refund!!, cause its their word against my friends.

Now thinking of getting 1 vagabond from UK, but still, expensive!.. and this taxes/shipping etc.. are just plain wrong!

If PCB US, send to the UK distributor via freight cargo, he could send hundreds of einsteins and vagabonds, for not so much!.. and this is probably what he is doing!.. common a TV manufactured in China, is sent to US to then be distributed again all over the world sometimes.. and the price in Europe is the same as in US. (ok.. maybe a tad more expensive... but just a little tad!)

Now... look at the vagabond "carrying bag", for a nice $14.95 in the US, against an outrageous £54.99 = $90.27 USD!!!!!!!! whats that all about?? really??? thats 6 times its original price!!!

ok.. now in christmas time, we get an 18% discount from the UK store, so it gets £44.99 = $73.86 yeah baby!!

Ridiculous!. This happen also with Apple!.. (and Apple do mark up their prices a biiiig way!.. more than any other computer/electronics company) but even Apple haven't their prices so high in Norway (yes there are high, in fact higher than almost any other country!.. but from $2599 in the US to $3592 in Norway) while PCB is $500 vs $903 (thats almost twice the price!)... is like if Apple had sold the 15" rmbp ($2599 in us) at $4700 in norway.. and they don't! (oh.. and apple is free shipping, but the PCB einstein still have to be shipped to my country!, so even more money down the sludge!), and then if repairs needed, have to pay for shipping to UK again... with a apple product it wouldn't cost me anything extra!

Now of course Apple is bigger than PCB and this is unfair comparison?... what about any item we get at amazon US?... they send it to me and I have to pay shipping + a %25 of taxes, so the last thing I buy costed me $1000 on the store, and $70 for shipping!.. + %25 of the total ($1070 + 25%) = $1337.5 <-- so now lets say that is what 2 Einsteins would cost to the UK distributor.. (and thats not it, but just lets say that)... still he sells 2 Einsteins at $1806 + shipping

Just plain wrong. (and I have a degree in business economics... and it doesn't make sense!).. oh well, it makes sense, but its called a Rip Off!...

Tell me if you find out how!

Hi Samuel. I live in Norway and have the same problem. A solution could be to buy them trough the us site and get them delivered to a adress provided from jetcarrier. I've used jetcarrier for years without problems when it comes to ordering "not avaiable outside of us" products. They receive your product and ships it to you directly either trough flightmail og shipping (Your choise. Flight is way to expensive is my experience.). You have your product within a week.

Because I live in Norway I pay so much in taxes, that it's more beneficial for me to buy them through Paul C. Buffs european shop.. But jetcarrier is a great choise!

Thanks! (Tack!) I will have to look into that!

I'd be careful with the Buffs and not try to import them to Europe: They say that the company has great service and support, but also that you really need that service and support because they are not that reliable and get broken quite often. Good luck in Sweden with that. ;-) Here in Europe I'd go with some European brand like Elinchrom D-Lite or Bowens Gemini with a local service net. These have great bang for the bucks, too. I wouldn't mind importing an umbrella, though.

i have 3 of these units and have to disagree that you really need the support. i have not had a single issue with any of the units. the support is amazing though! i have had some user error stuff that caused me to break one of the glass domes and modeling light, and they replaced both for free after telling them what happen.

Probably they are very very okay, but still: If you break something or need a repair, you're dealing with overseas shipping, a lot of hassle with your country's customs office, taxes, waiting times, and you can add 50 USD of shipping costs to a broken glass dome worth 5 dollars, or pay 100 USD to send your unit in and back for a repair.

The Einstein is quite unique because of it's short flash duration, but if you don't absolutely need that, there are much better options to buy here in Europe.

well yeah bro, the article was written by folks in america, mostly for readers in America. If you choose to fly the equipment across the globe, that's fine but there of course going to be additional costs for that. That goes for any product you ship worldwide.

Correct. My comment was just a hint to the guys who are thinking about doing an import of Einsteins to Sweden or Norway. I didn't mean to bash the Buff products.

In your first reply you say "because they are not that reliable and get broken quite often"

now here you say "Probably they are very very okay"

Can you expand on your flip floppery?

You are failing so hard right now. Alien Bees lights are super reliable and pretty damn durable for the price range. If you're in Europe they might not be the best option due to import costs, etc., but to suggest Alien Bees aren't reliable is a big fail

I've heard the exact opposite. Mine have been nothing but amazing.

The sad thing is that everything from Paul C Buff is soooooo expensive in Europe..

Einstein 640(US) - 500 US Dollars = 387 Euro

Einstein 640(EU) - 912 US Dollars = 707 Euro

ridicilous if you ask me...

Wow that is a huge jump in cost.

Read this to see why they cost so much for international orders.

They're made and manufactured in the US, so its likely an issue of export taxes and such.

I know, but it would be cheaper for us if we can buy again on Paul C. Buff USA and we only pay the taxes in our home countries. But, as a not actual customer, we are banned...

Einstein 640 (US): $499.95
Einstein 640 (UK): £599.99 ($900)

Vagabond Mini 230VAC (US): $239.95
Vagabond Mini 230VAC (UK): £299 ($450)

UK - US: 1350-738 = $612

$738 * 1,38% Hungarian tax: $1019
UK vs US+HUN difference = $331

It's the price of 5 Sandisk 16gb cf card. And yes, it's matters! :)

We, many Europeans really not want too much just able to buy again on Paul C. Buff USA. That's it.

Import VAT + tollage here in Germany would be ~23%, not 80%. It could be the Adobe tax though.

Not just that...PCB in the US is factory direct. In Europe, they added a layer of distribution, so that distributor has warehousing costs, people costs, etc.

Ridiculous? PCB Einstiens are still less expensive than Elinchrom or Profoto monoblocks when purchased in Euros...

I own two of them and absolutely love em. Great for studio and location shooting.

I have three Einsteins and I absolutely love them. For stopping action, you cannot touch what these things can do for under $5k (each head!) with other brands. Absolutely no regrets from these babies.

I'm struggling to see how a honest review can have no negatives to it.

have you ever used Paul Buff/Alien Bees lights?

There aren't many negatives when compared with other options in the price range

I have, there are always negatives to products... For instance Einsteins build quality is fairly poor, also the LCD is nearly impossible to read in direct sun. I'm not saying Einsteins are bad but they do have negatives, like all other products.

I can easily say that the quality of the light and ease of use of the Einsteins make them the clear winner overall in the bang for your buck dept. Coupled with the Vagabond Mini and PLM, the combination is an amazing set of tools, and an amazing deal. I sold my Elinchrom kit, bought an Einstein kit, and haven't looked back.

I'm a big fan of Paul Buff, but as a long time user have found a couple negatives not mentioned in the review. First, new users should be very careful of over tightening the swivel adjustment handle since the body and the swivel point is constructed with a single molded plastic piece, unlike the metal of the previous Ultra, Zap, and X Models. Over tightening can crack the main body of the unit. And that adjustment handle is designed very tightly against body of the unit making it somewhat hard to loosen and adjust. Also not a big fan of the CyberSync receiver design. The units themselves are great, I rarely have a misfire, but the pin connections seems delicate. Don't discard the little pink foam that they come shipped in. One wonders why couldn't it have been a more stable USB connector or since its only $30, why couldn't it have been fully integrated into the unit as a standard feature.

Just thought I'd point out that the CyberSync really isn't the Einstein lights. I use the Pocketwizard Flex/Mini system with my E640's and have full remote control.

I would have to agree about the delicate pins on the receivers. I have two of the PocketWizard PowerMC2 receivers, and am always afraid of the pins getting bent. No problems yet, though, in over 2 years of use.

This strobe is a strong alternative for the big brands not just in U.S. but in EU also. Too bad when you want to buy this from the EU website, one Einstein 640 + Vagabond Mini costs you 1350$. :(

It would be cheaper to buy from US and pay the tax in my home country. BUT, I can't order from Paul C. Buff USA because I was not an actual customer in the past...

From their Q&A Page

Instead, we have recently set up a primary global agent, Colin Smith (1st Line Digital Pty Ltd/ First Line Europe Ltd), who maintains limited stock and service repair facilities in Australia and Europe. But since our pricing does not allow for the traditional 40% dealer/distributor discounts, we sell to 1st Line Digital Pty Ltd at only a 0% to 10% discount. He must add the cost of consolidated air freight shipment, import duties and taxes, and the cost of maintaining local service facilities, advertising and, of course, a gross markup of about 30% in order to be able to profit from the venture. Added together, this results in a typical export user price of about 150% to 200% of USA prices. Thus, our export customer prices are similar, but typically less than the cost of similar quality products from competitors. This relationship is still a work in progress and has yet to reach the volume needed to significantly reduce the end user costs that may eventually be realized by ocean container shipment and other economy of scale benefits we enjoy in the USA.

Sadly, export customers sometimes suggest that we are price gouging, when in fact we actually make less profit on international sales than on USA sales. It is simply the reality of global business.

I own five of these heads with a ton of different Buff modifiers and I can't find anything wrong with any of it. I shoot several times a week for hours at a time and I've never had any issues (bought them a year and a half ago). I particularly like the Action mode when shooting dancers in motion or water. They can even completely stop a high velocity fan.

Great gear at a great price.

This weekend I shot with my Einstein for the first time. LOVE IT! I used it in a 28" Mola with the sock, positioned very close, just out of frame for some portraits. What I love the most is the 9 stop range, so I was able to shoot strobe-lit portraits at just F2.2 for a great shallow DOF.

On an adjacent set I had a Peter Hurley head shot set where I was using 4 Dynalites 4040 heads in Chimera strip boxes and in order to reach F2.8 there I had to throw on a Singh Ray Variable ND and swivel it to about -7 stops to cut the light. Even with just 1 Dynalite head I on the lowest pack setting I can only get down to about F5.6-ish at most (single baffle softbox usually about 3 feet away).

I have the PLM Vagabond too, so I'm looking forward to a warm season of portable location shooting a la Emily Soto with the Einstein, socked Setti Mola, and a Vagabond.

We hope to see them in Asia soon. But with a more affordable price. Its a big big market in Asia... when the price is right.

Technically, what they don't want you to know, even though Paul C. Buff explicitly says on the website, is the light units are rated for i.e. 800w/s but only put out 320w/s ! The way to achieve the ~800w power is to attach a reflector, which is cheating.

If you have a i.e. Speedotron powerpack rated at 1200W/s then you will achieve ~1199 watts when you fire a head at a full power. Thus, Paul C. Buff's lights are cheaper because they cannot attain their "rated" power outage without a modifier, which renders them less capable than their competitors.

That's for the B800 is 320w/s no the E640. The E640 is 640w/s without a reflector. Check the stats yourself, http://www.paulcbuff.com/e640.php

I own 3 Einsteins. For on location portraits I shoot with 1 Einstein and a Kacey Beauty dish and use the sun as a rim light. For my automotive shoots, I bring all three out. I can shoot any time of day and I get excellent results! I love them. You can't do that with speedlights. And one head costs about as much as the 580EX II.....no brainer. Although speedlights do have their purpose, for the most part I prefer my Einsteins.

On a total photography gear overhaul we bought 4 of these through the local Australian distro with the aim of service in the event of an issue with the gear. Have had two failures in one year. Both were an Einstein failing and one made the CSXCV fail along with it. We have had generally stellar support through the local distributor and I would make the same move rather than importing.

What the post above didn't mention was the Cybersync system that people like Profoto tout that their gear is superior, however the Cybersync system is unsurpassed in abilities. The remote even has a lightmeter in it, come on! Great range, amazing configuration abilities. You just can't beat it for the money!

Nick-picking, I suppose, but I really hate the use of 1/8-inch jacks for sync. There's plenty of space on the unit for a standard 1/4-inch jack. Using an adapter from 1/4-inch is adding another link that can fail. The remote receiver should already be built-in too, considering it's cost it could probably have been incorporated for $15-20 additional to the unit price.

the Einstein show above has a built-in spot for the brand name radio triggers...

Einsteins can be triggered optically, via 1/8" jack, via cybersync, and my favorite:
PocketWizard PowerMC2, which allows high speed sync, and remote power control

As someone who in the past laughed at the Paul Buff offerings as being crude and incredibly low-tech, and a guy that regularly uses Profoto equipment (Acutes, Pro-7, Pro-8) I can say without pause that these crazily inexpensive strobes are probably the best investment you can make in lighting gear today! The Einsteins are a stunningly great product. Any minor 'flaws' are just that...minor! There is nothing else available at this price that comes close in performance or reliability...period! I'll be buying 6-8 more very soon to augment my already stacked lighting kit.

The problem with the Einsteins are that they are damn ugly :)

That's why you keep them out of the frame.

Brad Trent is Damn Ugly, Jared :)

Then the models you shoot will be more interested in you then, rather than the strobe :) Its just a light, it doesnt matter too much. Performance matters.

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