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New PLM-series umbrellas from Paul C. Buff coming later this year  
Saturday, July 16, 2011 | by Rob Galbraith
Paul C. Buff is gearing up to release new additions to its line of Parabolic Light Modification (PLM) umbrellas. The additions incorporate two significant changes, relative to the existing PLM v2 models: an 8mm straight shaft version that allows for standard umbrella mounting without the need for a PLM speedring, and a new material type, which the company is calling Soft Silver and is intended to be considerably brighter than the existing PLM White fabric version but provide wider coverage than the PLM Silver (which is being renamed Super Silver).

The new models do not replace any of the existing PLM v2 offerings. Going forward, the PLM system will be comprised of the following:
  • Both 8mm straight shaft and 7mm removable shaft + speedring mounts
  • 51-inch, 64-inch and 86-inch sizes
  • White, Super Silver and Soft Silver surfaces
All sizes and surfaces will be available for each of the two mounting types. All existing accessories, such as the White Front Diffusion Fabrics, will fit the new models.

A release date has not been set for the new products, though it's unlikely to be before September. More information is in a post by Paul Buff on the company's technical forums yesterday:

The reason for this pre-production announcement is that I don't like to be like other companies like Apple that let you buy something today, then suddenly introduce a new version the next day at a lower price. So I try to balance letting you know what's on the the horizon and give you some idea of what to expect when.

I wanted to test the final production samples and make sure the products were real and working as expected before I made any serious announcements. Just finished two days of testing in the studio. The products are real, work sensationally and we have been quoted 30 days production time for first shipment. You have to add shipping time across the sea (we use Fedex air freight on initial shipments, and have to allow for unknowns, so I'm not going to state an absolute ETA yet, and we aren't going to take pre orders until we have a date certain.

So here comes the cat out of the bag:

We are releasing 12 new versions of PLM™, in two categories. The first category is a straight 8mm shaft version that opens like an umbrella, without speedrings or the more complex setup of the present PLM™V2. This makes it easier to use, but results in slight off center placement, which actually has little effect on the real world performance. Sorry Elinchrom users, it won't fit the oddball 7mm umbrella mount. The shaft is much shorter than V1 and the knockoffs so it won't hit you in the eye! The shaft only protrudes a couple of inches behind the light. The shaft also has an internal reenforcing shaft so it won't sag.

No, this is not a repeat of V1 in any form. We made considerable changes to the arc shape from V1 to V2 that result in more even coverage, higher output, better catchlights, smoother shadows and better overall performance. The new PLM™ 8mm umbrella style models produce exactly the same superior patterns as the present V2 and use the very same fabrics, front diffusers and black outer covers.

All the knockoffs simply copied V1, have poke-you-in-the-eye shafts, have inferior patterns and output, and the white knockoffs (Westcott, Adorama Flashpoint) we have tested fluoresce horrible and produce blue/magenta light. The Viewfinder (UK) actually pirated our original PLM™V1 from the factory we gave our designs to for manufacture exclusively for us, and even have "BUFF" engraved on the sliders.

The next big deal:

As PLM™ users are aware, there are vast differences between the bright silver and white versions. The bright silver has won the hearts of many shooters for it's extreme output, narrow grid-like coverage and distinctive specular-yet soft result. The white versions have very wide coverage, much lower output, the need for spill control, and low contrast - very soft results.

I felt the need for a fabric that retained the best features of white and silver. Working with our exclusive vendor (Who is not a conventional umbrella vendor and will not supply to competitors) we developed and had specially manufactured, a fabric we designated "Soft Silver".

It has a black outer surface so doesn't require outer cover for spill control, retains the controlled beam spread of the bright silver, but with a considerably wider area of coverage and less severe, feathered pattern cutoff, exhibits the desirable specularity of silver, but with less severity than the bright silver, produces absolutely perfect patterns without any anomalies and easily provides full body coverage from 8' to 12' distances without the need for critical focusing. It's output is higher than white umbrellas or softboxes but lower than bright silver PLM™s.

Most important, it is designed to be used direct, without front diffuser or outer black cover. When thus used, it produces approximately the look and splill control of a gridded giant OctaBox, but with about twice the output, easier mounting, less stand weight, and the added punch of the soft silver fabric. The catchlights are nice and round and essentially spoke less and the shadows are soft and free of multiple shadow effects.

Adding the optional white front diffuser results in perhaps the most even of all soft boxes and soft lighters, in the desirable essentially round shape, very wide, low contrast coverage and output comparable to soft boxes and white umbrellas.

We are still doing product and coverage angle shots for publication and will announce firm shipping dates soon.

So the 12 new products are:

8mm straight shaft umbrella style PLM™ in 51", 64" and 86", in White, Super Silver and Soft Silver (nine products), and PLMV2 speed ring on-axis style in the same three sizes available in the new soft silver fabric. All current PLMV2 models remain available. All accessory fabrics are interchangeable between the speed ring and straight shaft versions.

Prices will remain approximately the same, with slight adjustments of about $5 up or down for the different models. The Soft Silver 86" 8mm straight shaft version is $69.95 and can be used with or without the optional PLM reflector or Spill Kill for elimination of side spill. (Back spill, lens flare and forward spill control is inherent in the design.)

So if you want to pay $100 for an inferior knock off of early Paul C. Buff, Inc. designs, endure inferior color balance and general performance and poke your eyes out, be my guest.

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