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Dynalite - The Lighter Light

By Isaac Stackell

Among the choices of professionals for strobe lighting, the most challenging has always been Pack and Head Systems. These systems have been around for over sixty years. A pack and head system consists of a strobe/flash that gets its power from a box filled with capacitors and switches. You attach the head cable to an outlet on the box, position the head where desired, and adjust the power to the flash head from the power pack, either by a dial, rocker switch, or both. Depending on the number of outlets available, this procedure is repeated three or four times, until all the flash heads that are needed for the setup are plugged in. The tricky part has always been to divide the available power to each head to the levels desired for each setup. Then the power pack begins to resemble an octopus, with long tentacles extending every which way around the setup. That is why Monolights have become a favorite of photographers who work on location, or need to work very quickly. Since the power setting of each light is adjusted on the light itself, lighting levels can be changed directly, and quickly, only if the light is located within easy reach. The trade off is the extra weight of each head, which in turn requires a heavier light stand to support it. Another problem is adjusting the power level of a head in an inconvenient spot.

Pack and head systems are best suited for use in situations where central control of power levels and distribution is desired. For example, if flash heads are mounted way overhead, or behind furniture or a background, it is desirable to adjust their output from a more convenient, and safe location.

All that being said, if the chosen path is a pack-and-head system, the next questions should be: What power? Power needed is determined by the size of your setup, your intended ISO rating, and f/stop requirements. A one-person portrait shot at ISO 100 with a two flash head setup with umbrellas or softboxes does not require more than 400—500 Watt/Seconds of stored power…IF you only need f/4 or f/5.6. But what if you need a larger depth of field? What if the single portrait becomes a family of five? Power requirements can climb to 1000 Ws, or even 2000 Ws.

Next question - How many heads? The answer to that is as few as one, or as many as the power pack will take. It depends on the effects or mood you wish to create, and your budget.

How tricky? All power packs are a little tricky, and require a little patience. But if you need a pack and head system, then learning ratio switches shouldn't deter you.

One of our most popular brands of strobe systems is Dynalite. Since 1970, Dynalite equipment has been manufactured in the U.S.A. with an eye on creating reliable flash equipment with power and performance in a small and lightweight package. Having shot portraits with Dynalite equipment, I'll go through the nuts and bolts and give a quick review of each piece used.

Dynalite M1000WIThe most popular Dynalite power pack is the M1000WI 1000 Ws with built-in radio slave. Weighing in at less than 7 lbs (3kg), the 1000WI belies the fact it stores enough energy to provide a model 2050 bare head f/16.3 at 10' from the subject (ISO 100). I tested and confirmed this. It provides four head outlets with symmetrical and asymmetrical rocker switch power adjustments over two channels. It then allows dial variation of power across the board of up to 6 f/stops in 1/3 stop increments. Modeling light levels are easily adjusted, although I prefer all model lights on full – always have. It helps my camera focus, and lets me spot styling details. I've got my meter to confirm power settings, and I shoot directly to my computer, so I have my monitor for visual confirmation of the balances.

The built-in Pocket Wizard brand radio slave receiver works with any model Pocket Wizard transmitter – old, new, basic or fancy (up to 32 channels, USA frequencies only). Once you turn your transmitter on, this pack finds it. Easy. Nothing to program. No Pocket Wizard? No problem. Use your Dynalite or Wein Infra Red transmitter to wirelessly fire the pack, or use the provided sync cord. If this is your second unit, the optical slave will work in most cases to fire it from the light of your first unit.

Recycling was pretty amazing – at full power, recycling took less than 2 seconds (Dynalite claims 1.5 sec.). There is an audible flash-ready beep, which I turned off after a while. Lower power settings provided even faster recycling. I powered down the pack, shut off the modeling lights, set the camera on "B", manually tripped the strobe, and got some interesting multiple exposures in one frame.

I tested the new 2050 fan-cooled flash head. This is a lighter weight version 2050 fan-cooled flash headof the 2040, with no pigtail. The head-to-pack cable plugs directly into the head. This allows easier storing in a location case, with no chance of a crimped or damaged head cable due to repeatedly cramming the head into a tight spot in your case. The standard head cable has been increase to 18' (5.4m) from 14. A larger match-up mark for the cable plug and head socket would be appreciated.

The modeling light switch on the back now has an 2050 fan-cooled flash headLED for easy spotting in a dark studio. As with the 2040, the reflector is built in, and the modeling light is 250 watts. Accessories, such as grids or barndoors are available. Working with a softbox is awkward – there has never been a speed ring adapter that quickly and securely mounts to this head.

Also impressive is the 1015 head, which lacks fan-cooling, but saves about a half-pound, and has a 150 watt modeling light. The 1015 handles up to 2000 Ws, is quiet, lightweight and efficient.

4040 Studio HeadFor true versatility I recommend the 4040 Studio Head. Designed to be used with a variety of optional reflectors for total control of lighting effects, the 4040 can also be efficiently used in all soft boxes. It has a frosted glass dome for even light dispersion.

Also worth a mention, but not tested, are the 4080 and 4080SP twin-tube head for twice the light output and extremely short flash duration. The NE-2 Bare Tube "Pencil" head works well as an area light. The new 3080 Ring Flash is also exciting.

For my setup, I used a 1000WI pack, 2- 2050 heads with umbrellas for my main and edge lights, a 2050 with my Lowel Omni-Light Barndoor set (yes, it fits!) for the background, and the 4040 with grid for a hairlight. The trickiest part was setting the power ratios I wanted. I was able to plug and unplug each head safely without turning off the pack, or arcing myself across the room. I wish Dynalite would provide a stenciled chart on the pack, like Comet, Speedotron and Profoto do, to help mathematically challenged people like me to find the ratios. But eventually I got it; you will too. And when you get it, write it down, so you don't forget your favorite settings.

The feature that separates high-end flash equipment from the rest is exposure and color consistency from pop to pop. My metered tests show an exposure variance of 1/10 f/stop two times out of ten, when fired at full, half, or quarter power. Color was consistent. The 4040 with its frosted dome had a warmer color (5850 degrees K) than the 2050 and 1015 head (6250 degrees K). Using my Canon 5D, I custom set the color balance to 6800 degrees K – telling it my light source is on the blue side. It's a personal choice. You may want to warm up these lights as well, with your camera setting, 81A lens filter, or Photoshop, for skin tones. And keep in mind every flash tube ages at its own pace. After all is said and done, Dynalite can lay claim to a niche among the top manufacturers of pack and head systems – for design, workmanship, accuracy, and price.

Dynalite RK500-1200 Summer Special Kit

B&H carries many kits – most from Dynalite, some exclusively put together by B&H. Try the RK500-1200 Dynalite Summer Special Kit, or just go to our web site, and type-in Dynalite in the search window, and visit our Dynalite store for the lighter lights.

For a list of all products highlighted in this article, click here.

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