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.
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).
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)
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.
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.