A Commenter Calls SB BS...
"Joe McNally is a great photographer and I respect his work, however that collection of strobes is absurd. Was that really necessary?
Personally, I think this was an elaborate hoax to see how stupid most strobist readers really are."
Well, yes, actually, they are necessary. Keep reading for the reasons why.
Why the SB-800 Arsenal?
1. You lose power on every step you go up in FP sync. That is because the pulsing nature of the flash loses a lot of light that is merely falling on the black part of the thin slit as it travels across the focal plane.
2. Joe was working right into the sun, which as you might guess is an even higher EV than shooting with the sun as a light source.
3. He also was pushing the flash(es) through diffusion material, which eats up another 1-2 stops of light.
4. Seven flashes are not seven times more powerful, photographically speaking. You double the power (and add one stop of output) when you add the first flash. Then it takes TWO more flashes to get one more stop. Then FOUR more flashes to get the next stop, etc. So Seven flashes gets you two extra stops and change.
And as for the idea that it would be easier/cheaper to just throw up a monobloc and battery pack, that may be true on a dollar-to-dollar basis. But the speedlights with FP/sync allow you to crank down the shutter to control that ambient, which is the basis for the entire photo. No so the monoblocs.
And, for the record, we do not have any stupid Strobist readers. Just ones who may not yet understand a specific lighting technique. Which would, on frequent occasion, include yours truly...