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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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