First Time in the US: Gulf Photo Plus is Coming to Seattle.

Einstein is In The House

Well, my day just got rearranged. Moments ago, the UPS guy just dropped off a hot-off-the-presses Einstein monobloc from Paul C. Buff at my doorstep.

First impression: This ain't your father's AlienBee. Lots more after the jump.

Okay, this is gonna be in rapid-fire mode, as I am putting aside my considerable to-do list to get something out pretty quickly.

Short version: If you are a WL or AlienBee shooter, you want one. Or, you know, maybe three or four.

Good Things Come in Small Packages

I almost thought it was not an Einstein at first, due to the small, skinny box. This because (a) it is a little skinnier than an AlienBee, and, mostly (b) that it does not come with a reflector.

No big whup on the lack of a reflector, either. IMO, the reflectors in the Paul Buff line have not been of the greatest design. And frankly, that was a big factor in pushing me towards Profoto. But that's another post, later.

More to the point, Buff has been busy redesigning his entire line of reflectors, adding much versatility to his flashes. The PLMs, which are still mostly out of stock, are simply amazing quasi-parabolic umbrellas. And there is a new reflector brewing in the Buff Skunkworks Department that is giving crazy efficiency numbers at long range. I've seen pictures.

UPDATE: Rob Galbraith now has a preview of the very Death Star-looking upcoming Retro Laser Reflector. And those nighttime-looking photos are shot in the afternoon, folks.

Lots more new in the PCB light mod range, too. Short answer: The Einstein does not come with the standard cone you probably would not have wanted anyway. There are better options.

Eye in The Sky

Finally, the slave eye in on top. This makes it omnidirectional, and, well, actually useful. Not the case outdoors, for the most part, when the slave pointed away from the other lights in the past on the WLs and ABs. Thank you for that, Paul.

Modeling Light and Tube

Tiny, powerful and unified with a glass dome that is smaller in person than it looks in the photos. Triple aces here.

Modeling light is fricken' bright, too. Fully and easily controllable, too.

Again, it looks a little like an AlienBee, but has very little in common with it. Kinda like in the movies when the aliens change their form factor to look like humans, but they can really still jump over houses, run 60 MPH and probably want to eat you for dinner.

On the Outside

Case is ABS, but feels a little more solid than an AlienBee. Maybe because of the compact size and extra weight. The name panel plastic inserts jiggle around a little, but at least they are no longer stickers. Heavier (just a little) due to the metal inserts in the mount. Mount is a little further back, too, solving some beauty dish tilting problems. No worries overall on build quality.

The mod mount is standard White Lightning / Balcar, but re-engineered. Diagonal spring sliders on the side are pretty highly leveraged and move the four mounting clips very easily. They have come a long way since the thumb-killing White Lighting Ultra knurled screws back in the day.

The controls on the back panel are fabulous. They are intuitive, and fast to learn. With one layer of submenus, you can access a lot of variables very quickly. There is a reset button to get you back to standard settings, too.

Right out of the box, you will not even need to read the instruction manual to be off and running. That's kind of a point of pride for us guys, I know, and it frequently gets us into trouble.

While you do not need to read the manual to decipher the controls, you probably should read it anyway. There is a lot of good info in there -- especially in the profiles of the two completely different flash personalities contained in the Einstein shell.

Under the Hood

"Four on the floor and a fifth under the seat," as they used to say about the moonshine runners' cars -- which saw a lot of use back in the day in Paul Buff's state of Tennessee.

Imagine a flash that can go from full to 1/256 power in 1/10th-stop increments -- with quick, intuitive controls. That's 640ws down to 2.5ws. Which is to say that at full power it is stronger than 10 speedlights, and at low power it delivers less than a speedlight at 1/16th power.

And here is where the Einstein really shines, with two distinctly different personalities: Constant Color Mode vs. Action Mode.

In color mode, the emphasis is on color consistency, long a knock on the AlienBees. In action mode, color takes a back seat to action-stopping speeds that get downright insane as you drop power a little.

The charts in the instruction book really tell the tale: In color mode the Kelvin temps are maintained to near constant by a built-in processor that manages both the shutoff time and the voltage to compensate for those pesky laws of physics and how they affect flash pulses.

In action mode, the relatively all-in "t.1" measurements start at between 1/500th and 1/600th of a sec at full power and quickly head north from there. At half power they are already under a 1/1000th of a sec. Three stops down they have already passed 1/3000th of a sec en route to a crazy, 1/13500th of a sec at low power.

Doc Edgerton, white courtesy phone, please.

So, you can have rock-steady color or jaw-dropping speed, but you can't have both. (Well, you can, but not at this price.) And looking at the charts, the color shifts in high speed mode look respectable. It's just a matter of your priorities and it is nice to own a convertible on a sunny day.

First Impression: Worth the Wait

Getting a little ahead of myself here, as I have been in the process of switching to Profoto for the last coupla months. But suffice to say that I am familiar with both camps. And Paul Buff fans now have a no-excuses flash that they can be proud of -- at any price.

You'll see and hear a lot more, from a lot of places, on the Einsteins in the coming days. But those are some quick, first impressions for those of you on the wait list for delivery.

Remember, they reportedly will be announcing price increases (from the present $439.95) within a couple months. So if money is an object, I would not waste time getting in line. Those of you on the wait list, sound off in the comments with your impressions when they arrive.

Oh, and you might want to think about beating the flood of AB's and WL's to eBay, as it is definitely gonna happen. And if you are tight on budget, the next few weeks may present you with some stunning deals on used White Lightnings and AlienBees.

Whole lotta crazy goin' on.

Link: Einstein Product Page


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Blogger Barry Sherbeck said...

Thanks for the early review. Love to hear more after you've shot some images. Do you have a "commander"? I am waiting for my Einstein pre-order ping from PCB.

Dude, you are a fine writer even in a hurry. :)
"pesky laws of physics"
"nice to own a convertible on a sunny day"


April 16, 2010 7:39 PM  
Blogger IsaacMTSU said...

Yep! Nicely written on the fly!

April 16, 2010 8:14 PM  
Blogger Calvin said...

Can you use the RadioPoppers JrX system with them? I don't think it has a sync option except for the PCB proprietary system.

April 16, 2010 9:17 PM  
Blogger David said...


JRXs will sync with these, but studio models will not remotely control the power level. But there is a 1/8" sync Jack on the back in the upper top left.


April 16, 2010 9:45 PM  
Blogger Stormin said...

that adjustable laser reflector is a great idea...

putting on my Einstein wig and thinking cap to fab a front-firing adjustable set-up for my Canon580's


April 16, 2010 10:27 PM  
Blogger Dean said...

Such a pity we in the UK cant get these at a decent price.
Any chance you can load a couple of suitcases up when you come over David :)

April 17, 2010 1:48 AM  
Blogger tyger said...

Thanks for the shotgun review. Just got my PCB Einstein "ready to ship" email (preorder #51). wootz! Can't wait.

April 17, 2010 2:57 AM  
OpenID greywolfstudios said...

Pics or it didn't happen :)

Congrats and have a great time using them.

April 17, 2010 4:13 AM  
Blogger Marnix said...

Hi David,

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and that of others.

To contribute as well here is a video on my strobist photoshoot of a bachelor party; make-up session, jumping on trampolines, catwalk, theaterclothes:

Kind regards, Marnix (

April 17, 2010 6:31 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

David, as you said in your previous posts, many people rave about how pretty the light is form Elinchrom or Profoto. How do the Einsteins rank in that department?

April 17, 2010 8:41 AM  
Blogger Eric Doggett said...

Hey at least they put a dome over the tube. I don't know how many times I've broken one, my assistant has broken one, I've broken the modeling light and shocked myself, etc.

So in a way, it has money-saving features.

April 17, 2010 10:10 AM  
Blogger Myron said...

Do these run on DC packs also?

April 17, 2010 1:25 PM  
OpenID Case said...

Great early review of a mythical unit!

I have a question in regards to the mounting bracket, i have a really heavy 6 foot octobox, i'd like to put on one of these. This is the type that is mounted on the front, not directly on the stand... So it really Hangs off the flashes.

The octo is something crazy like 100 pounds heavy, would it rip the mount right off ?

How does the front mounting bracket feel ? How does the stand bracket feel ? All nice heavy duty metal ? Or plastiky ABS?

April 17, 2010 7:11 PM  
Blogger David said...


If your Octa weighs 100lbs, I am not going to vouch for this or any other mount. The mount feels solid to me, but I would wait for feedback from others before hanging something huge on it.

FWIW, mounts were one of the reasons I ponied up for Profotos -- they are solid and versatile. But a huge octa is stressful on any system.

April 17, 2010 9:55 PM  
OpenID Case said...

Fair enough.

I am currently in the elinchrom camp, but its so expensive to add units, that if these are half what they are supposed to be, might be worth a switch.

If they can hold up their end of the weight chain that is.

I guess i'll hold off for now and wait on further comments.

April 17, 2010 10:21 PM  
Blogger Kurt Shoens said...

I have White Lightning X1600s and the mounts hold a 150cm octabox pretty securely. I don't know if that would scale up to a 6 foot octabox though.

On the throw-in 7 inch Alien Bees reflectors, I agree they aren't pretty but: they fill a 60 inch umbrella nicely, they hold grids just fine, you can gel them, etc. I'd replace them with something nicer if I knew what I was missing.

Also, DH, were you able to execute your exit strategy from Alien Bees before the Einsteins eroded the used pricing?

April 18, 2010 12:36 PM  
Blogger Neuffy said...

I've got a 7-foot octo, and it can't weigh more than about 5-10 pounds, tops.

100lb for a six-footer isn't anywhere near reasonable. I'm inclined to say it isn't even possible. All but one of my light stands (a giant crank-stand for a boom - Manfrotto 087NWB) would topple over when extended to full height and not sandbagged with that much weight out front, and just lifting it would suck.

April 18, 2010 5:19 PM  
OpenID Case said...

I did not even realize it, but thats a typo.

10 pounds...

Man i wished my paychecks got an extra 0 every now and then.

10 pounds is still pretty heavy mind you, it might not sound like much.

April 19, 2010 3:06 AM  
Blogger Logan365 said...


what's the skinny on these Einsteins and remote triggers? Radiopopper and Pocket Wizard compatible?

April 19, 2010 8:35 AM  
OpenID restaurantouring said...

Sounds awesome. Can't wait for the post on Profoto, but will you explain why you decided to not go with Elinchroms?

April 19, 2010 11:18 AM  
Blogger Daniel Shirey said...

I was looking at getting WL 1600s (which I think are a true 660 WS) this summer to pull double duty as my portrait and arena lights (lighting an NCAA Div I school's arena, not comparable with speedotrons or anything but WAY better than ambient) for next basketball season. Do you think the Einstiens would hold up and do as good of a job? The 1.7s recycle time is really tantalizing. A friend of mine questions the durability and suggests I still go with WLs, so I was just wondering what your thoughts were. Thanks!

April 20, 2010 2:48 AM  
Blogger Boicutt said...

Hey! If you plan on selling them anytime soon to budget your Profotos, I'm your man, right here ;)

April 20, 2010 5:54 PM  
Blogger Rob Oresteen said...

Well, I couldn't wait for the Einsteins and went with a pair of AB 800's and the 22" silver beauty dish. I figure the AB 800's will be a decent "location" light while the Einsteins (or Elinchroms) would eventually be the main strobes in the studio.

I have *heard* about the color issues with AB's. Does the consistency of an AB change after "X" amount of firings within a specific time frame? I know this is slightly off topic so can anyone point me to a post in Strobist or elsewhere that covers it?

Thank you. I'm also waiting on a 5 ft. Octa from Westcott. Hopefully , I will have a decent set up to start my portrait work...

April 22, 2010 7:57 AM  
Blogger Rob Oresteen said...

Well, I couldn't wait for the Einsteins and went with a pair of AB 800's and the 22" silver beauty dish. I figure the AB 800's will be a decent "location" light while the Einsteins (or Elinchroms) would eventually be the main strobes in the studio.

I have *heard* about the color issues with AB's. Does the consistency of an AB change after "X" amount of firings within a specific time frame? I know this is slightly off topic so can anyone point me to a post in Strobist or elsewhere that covers it?

Thank you. I'm also waiting on a 5 ft. Octa from Westcott. Hopefully , I will have a decent set up to start my portrait work...

April 22, 2010 7:59 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

AFAIK, there are no consistency issues w/ AB's as long as you stay at or above 1/8 power (what most other mono lights give you).

And the JrX Studio does *not* remotely control power of the Einstein...I've been mentioning this since last September so I'm surprised there are still people that ask :-P
It can be used to sync like a PW, obviously...

April 22, 2010 4:24 PM  
Blogger Frederick said...


So much happening in the lighting world these days: Chinese lights, Einsetin, possiblity of a new light from Canon, etc, etc,etc. A post on your Profoto migration would be really timely. Could be that the high cost to play for Profoto turns out to be a good value over a 5-year timeframe. Since the way you work -- portable and studioish -- is similar to what many of us do, your Profoto configuration might be a good benchmark. Know what I mean, Vern?

April 26, 2010 1:29 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

For those interested in how fast orders are going out, I put my pre-order in on the first day available back in Jan. (So I wasn't from the earlier ABMax group) Last friday I got my email and it turns out I was in the 400 range. I ordered at the end of the day, and this past Monday (May 3rd) everything shipped.

I'm happy to say I already have everything in hand, and I'm very impressed. This is my first set of strobes I've purchased (used others in the past, but never owned any for myself) and I made the dive to get 2 Einsteins, 2 8-inch reflectors, and an octobox to start. The only negatives I see so far is that the name plate on the side rattles a bit and probably could have been done a little better, and the lack of a handle on the back to adjust the aim.

Otherwise, this is an incredible value! The controls on the back are a breeze to use, the build quality is solid (minus that name plate).

Fun times ahead!

David, I'm looking forward whatever else you may share with everyone around these lights. I'm sure you've given them far more of a workout than I'll be doing anytime soon. Plus your opinions on how and when you may see yourself using these instead of your new Profotos, or if you stick only with the Profoto equipment even after giving Einstein a try.

May 05, 2010 8:36 PM  
Blogger David said...


For reasons that will become more apparent Monday, I have not been putting them through very heavy use.

Any reader feedback on the Einsteins (and yours tracks pretty closely with mine) will be much appreciated.

May 05, 2010 8:52 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Cool. Looking forward to it. Seeing as how you make the mention about light modifiers too I'd been wondering if that is what you'll be talking about.

The PCB Light Modifiers are certainly interesting. The 8.5" reflector and Medium Octabox I just got seem nice, but I can't help but wonder how they'd compare to a Profoto for example. Even on the same light - say you took a profoto softbox and attached it to an Einstein, how different would the light quality be.

For the cost, these Einsteins certainly seem like a good pair for me to get my feet wet and I'll have no regrets there. However, in order to maximize the value in them I'm interested in what light modifiers (PCB or otherwise) will give me the best quality of light possible. A bonus of course is if the modifier can move with me if I step up in lights over time. I'd be willing to invest more in good modifiers if I know I could use them with other systems in the years ahead with just a speedring change.

So far I have yet to see any negative press on the Einstein. Instead I see tweets like Dustin Snipes liking his initial ones so much that he placed an order for four more!

May 06, 2010 11:20 PM  
Blogger Lu said...

I noticed you use target=_new on your HTML links in this article. You should really be using target=_blank. More info here:

It caught me by surprise when I was trying to follow the links to Paul C. Buff and Rob Galbraith in separate tabs but instead had one reload over the other.

May 13, 2010 9:59 AM  
Blogger SV said...

Got my Einsteins last week and wrote a little review of them here on my blog.

May 13, 2010 7:26 PM  
Blogger rovingrooster said...

Hey David,

I've been reading in Fred Miranda's forum that there are some having EMI interference with Pocket Wizard's Plus 2 with Einsteins. Paul Buff was able to reproduce it, and acknowledge the problem. So far, they are still working on it. Did you encounter any triggering issues? It's very concerning to me as I'm fully invested with Pocket Wizards. They're supposed to be the industry standard. T.T

Here's the link to this thread:



May 17, 2010 8:17 AM  
Blogger David said...


No, had not heard that -- very interesting. I have not tried my Einstein with a PW, and am away from home for a couple weeks, so will not be able to. (I had been using with a sync cord.)

Wonder if it is firmware-fixable? They ahve already issued an update -- very smooth process with MicroSD card.

May 17, 2010 8:29 AM  
Blogger diegonyc said...

and just an FYI for those using an einstein out in the field with the default settings.

make sure you turn the slave off in the menu. I had it on and the thing kept rapid firing like a disco strobe. It just needed to be disabled in the menu and all was well.

May 20, 2010 12:49 AM  
Blogger FotoVogue said...

Hi put my money down and my name on the list for a Einstein and a Vagabond.
But I cant stop smiling when I remember how optimist was Mr. Paul Buff about releasing a Einstein flash unit that will work in the field even when powered by a couple of C batteries that can be fitted in the flash housing :D
That reminds me of the title of a song: words, don't come easy....

May 29, 2010 2:19 PM  
Blogger Rajiv Sarathy said...

You think your Einstein enables motion stoppage? Femto-photography is around the corner:

July 26, 2012 5:11 PM  

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