View Full Version : Alien Bees

09-28-2006, 04:50 PM
OK, anyone got any experience with these jobbies? I'm looking to pick up one light for some work at home (kid's portraits, among other things), and I keep coming back to these guys. I'm looking at either the AB800 or 1600, leaning towards the 1600.

Even looking at an SP Systems Excalibur kit up on B&H for about the same price as the AB kit. Anyone got experience with these lights?

09-29-2006, 08:27 AM
I have two of the Alien Bee 800s. Been using them for three of four years now. I love 'em. Most of my studio work that you have seen was done with these lights. Come on down and play with them if you'd like.

09-29-2006, 08:37 AM
...watching this thread intently...

09-29-2006, 09:00 AM
Thanks Scott - I might just do that!

I'm actually kinda leaning towards the SP kit (light, battery, charger & stand) at B&H right now. Looks like the same output as the AB800, but it comes with a battery pack for about the same money as the AB800 kit (light, stand, umbrella & light case). Might come in handy trackside... :D But that may change when I play with the ABs....still thinking.

09-29-2006, 09:07 AM
Tom I have a pair of them too... the AB800s. They are a great value, and over the last several years they continue to come up as the most recommended strobes for people getting going. I don't use them much anymore since I bought several Novatron setups for our "mobile studio" work. I keep these in case I need monolights though. I would not hesitate to by Alien Bees. I've also noticed used ones on sale several times in the last month on FM, so that is also an option.

I bought the DigiBee kit which came with two AB800s, two stands, two umbrellas, and cases for the Bees. The Bees are upgradable, so if you bought the 800s and later decided to go to 1600, you can send them back and have them upgraded. If you intend to use them for night shoots on trains, then I'd probably get the 1600s... otherwise the 800s are more than powerful enough to do just about anything imaginable.

The only thing I wasn't too happy with was the light stands. They work fine, but aren't the best build quality... now that I've seen some other stands. It cold be that I didn't upgrade to their air cushioned stands... all my other stands are air cushioned and I highly recommend that upgrade.

I also bought from them their set of modifiers that alter the throw in degrees... forget what they called them... diffusers I guess. They work great for creating focused light as with hair lights. And, I bought a small softbox and boom from them as well. Both are functional, but not at the high end of the build scale. I've since bought a larger Photoflex softbox that is made a lot better, but also cost a lot more.

If you just get a single Bee, make sure you also get a good reflector and some sort of stand to hold it. In absence of that, you can also go to a craft store and buy some sheets of white 2'x4' fibercore board. Then just take packing tape and piece them together to make larger ones. I made up a foldable 8' high board that would stand up like a room divider. I could then position it to provide fill light for portraits. You can do a lot with one light.

A light meter is also a necessity for this stuff if you don't already have one.

09-29-2006, 09:36 AM
Thanks Mike! More of what I was looking for...

Actually, believe it or not, but choo-choos isn't the primary intended use for the light. I'll be using it mostly for portraits of the kids and more stuff indoors (in my elaborate studio - aka the living room). Of course, the trackside part is a side use for it... :D

09-29-2006, 09:40 AM
OK, well the 800s will be more than enough... in fact the 400s would work fine for that. One thing to think about. You can do a lot with one light, but there are other things you'll ultimately want more lights for. For portraits, you generally want a key on one side, and a fill on the other. You can also use reflectors for the fill, but you have a little less control (read... harder to do, but you learn from it though). I found that I needed a background light pretty quickly after that... to give some separation from the hair. I initially used a Nikon SB800 for that, but you could use a Canon flash too if you got an optical slave for it (they call them peanut slaves I think). The final one is the hairlight. You could do that with a canon flash too, but it would be tricky. You'd need to make a snoot out of cardboard or something and then find some way to mount it. But, you can certainly get going with one light and some reflectors. The only thing you really can't do without a reflector is the background light.

09-29-2006, 09:47 AM
I've got 3 hotshoe flashes now - A Canon 420EX, Sunpak MZ440AF and an older POS. Got one optical slave - just need to grab a couple more, so I can use all that for fill & other stuff. I just wanted to get one primary light, plus the budget is a bit tight on this one, so I can't go the 2 light route, even though it would be ideal. And since I was thinking of using it outdoors also, I'd go at least to the 800s. I'm still on the fence between the AB setup and the SP with the battery pack.


09-29-2006, 09:49 AM
the "strobist"

09-29-2006, 09:51 AM
A lot of people only ever use one light... and they do fine. Most people say to always start with just one light and reflectors, as its a lot easier to learn how to manipulate the light in that way... the complexity gets a lot worse as you add more. And, a lot of people by a 3 light kit and just dive in with no meter and get horrible results. I would probably recommend getting a meter before a second light. The biggest frustration you will have though, is that its hard to manipulate the reflectors to control the light without buying stands that allow you to control the position and angle of the reflectors. By the time you buy a reflector and a stand like that, you are almost up in cost to another Bee... so that is why I ended up getting more than one.

09-29-2006, 09:54 AM
Here's a pair of 1600s on FM for sale... http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/455777/0#3909808
and a 400/800 pair... http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/455710/0#3909187

09-29-2006, 10:16 AM
good reason to go with AB's

Customer service is 2nd to none. I have 2 AB800's and like mentioned before, I only need one at a time, but my "studio" is teeny

09-29-2006, 08:53 PM
I own two B800's (trying to save up for a third) and I've had them for years, and I've never had any issues with them at all. I let a friend of mine play with them, and after about seven hours of messing around, he went out and bought two of them. I really love them. And they are nice and portable as well.

Pick up one B800 and a softbox, and go nuts!