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Stopping action with the Paul C. Buff Einstein 640 monolight - Continued
The 22 inch Retro Laser and another reflector option

On the previous page, we made the point that indoor sports can be lit with a handful of medium power monolights, even in venues big enough to hold a few thousand fans. For this to be true, the right reflector must be paired with the flash.

A good sports reflector will put the light where you want it (on the players) and keep it away from where you don't (half-empty stands, for example). It should also corral as many photons coming from the flash tube as it can, then project them forward in a bright, even beam. Shooting indoor sports with flash requires that you strike a delicate balance between flash power and flash duration while also trying to eliminate ambient from the exposure, since the existing light will introduce blur and contaminate the colour. The right reflector can make a big difference in achieving this balance.

In the Paul C. Buff lineup are two of the nicest sports reflectors we've ever used, the 11 inch Long Throw and the 22 inch Retro Laser. The latter is super bright and isolates the players from the background like no other. It puts out a bright and narrow shaft of light (coverage is adjustable from about 11 to about 30) and features ultra rapid falloff outside its coverage area.

The photos below show the Retro Laser setup we used for both basketball and volleyball practices, as well as several examples of this reflector's ability to isolate the subject, even when 50ft/15.2m - 80ft/24.4m away.

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Separation: Views of the Retro Laser setup and examples of the isolating characteristic of this narrow coverage reflector. Click photos to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The background very nearly disappears in most frames, thanks to the rapid and complete falloff provided by the four Retro Lasers in use. This is a look we really like, and the Retro Laser delivers an ample supply of it.

That said, this reflector's coverage area isn't sufficient for basketball in this particular gym, even when configured to 30 (its widest setting). When players wander into the sweet spot in which all four lights intersect, the result is sweet. But the narrowish beam and steep falloff, combined with the light placement options afforded by this venue, will rule out the Retro Laser for most basketball here because we can't light enough of the playing area that needs to be lit. No two buildings are the same, though, while catwalks - which this gym doesn't have - allow for greater flexibility in flash placement, so your experience with the Retro Lasers and this sport might be different.

Thanks to volleyball's much smaller court, the Retro Laser reflector's coverage wasn't a problem and they worked wonderfully. This was at a practice, and now we can't wait to try them when competition resumes in a few months. But again, your experience might be different, it just depends on where you're able to position the lights. The Retro Laser reflectors can probably deliver a brighter, more isolating beam of light than any other sports-type reflector out there, but at the expense of versatility. These reflectors will be just right for some sports applications, and way wrong for others.

If you like the dark background style of indoor sports pictures, the Retro Laser will give it to you. But be prepared to both aim them carefully and also to bail to a different reflector if the Retro Laser's tight coverage is leading to unacceptable dark zones where you need to photograph.

A cool name and an even cooler design means the Retro Laser is going to get all the attention. But there is another Paul C. Buff reflector that offers a more generally useful combination of brightness, coverage, stackability and travel compactness. Called the 11 inch Long Throw, this longtime member of the company's product line underwent a smart redesign in 2009. It's no longer prone to easy denting, while the edge falloff is surprisingly rapid given how short it is for a long throw reflector. It's also bright, trailing the Retro Laser by only 2/10ths of a stop in the centre when the latter is configured for widest coverage.

Reflector coverage comparison

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Shine On: From left to right: Dynalite Long Throw Reflector, Elinca Elinchrom High Performance Reflector and Paul C. Buff 11 inch Long Throw Reflector. Reflectors in thumbnail view above are shown to scale with each other. Click photos to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The series of photos that follows shows the coverage and falloff of several different reflectors from Dynalite, Elinca and Paul C. Buff, including the Retro Laser. The distance from the front face of the reflector to the wall is 25ft/7.6m. These photos illustrate how focused and even the Retro Laser's output is, especially when set to 11.

Reflector coverage comparison

Reflectors
Elinchrom
11LTR
Dynalite
Retro Wide
Retro Narrow
The table below lists the centre brightness of several Paul C. Buff modifiers on the Einstein 640, relative to the company's 7 inch Standard Reflector. The 22 inch Retro Laser leads the pack in brightness, followed fairly closely by the 11 inch Long Throw. Note that the revised version of the PLM umbrella, shipping later this year, is expected to be quite a bit brighter than the original version we measured.

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If you're thinking of the Einstein 640 for sports, the characteristics of the 11 inch Long Throw make it the reflector you're likely to attach most often. But, the 22 inch Retro Laser's ability to separate the players from the background is unmatched, as is its brightness. We own both now, and for smaller gyms we'll almost certainly go with the 11 inch Long Throw. Shooting partner David Moll does a number of jobs that require the lights to be hung with difficulty in the rafters, and the 11 inch Long Throw should be the perfect reflector to use for that.

If money is no object we'd recommend both, even if you only use the Retro Laser strategically, because of the quality and intensity of light it produces. Also note that Paul C. Buff may eventually release Retro Laser mounts for brands other than their own, though the company hasn't announced which other brands or when. More information on the Retro Laser is in a previous article.

Continued on the next page...
Next Page: Surprising CyberSync and a surprise from Dynalite
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