A few years ago, I decided to try my hand at studio photography and looked into purchasing studio strobes. After talking to a few advanced amateur photographers and reading several reviews on the internet, the general consensus was Alienbees were the best low end studio strobes available. After using them on several shoots, I think the Alienbees B1600s are decent lights at a great price.
- Reliable; and
- Acceptable for professional use
- Lack of precision and repeatability; and
- 150 watt modeling lamp.
living with the alienbees b1600
While there are plenty of cheap lights, not all cheap lights are a good value. For example, if a strobe is cheap, but fails to go off or has a color temperature that varies wildly on consecutive shots, it is not particularly worthwhile. After using the Alienbees B1600s for over a year, I will review their shortcomings and also comment on what works well.
things that could be better
One issue using the Alienbees strobes in a studio environment is ensuring consistency from session to session. I currently share a studio and break down my equipment at the end of every shoot. While the output slider on the back of the Alienbees B1600 works fine for setting the power, it is not exactly precise, which increases the time I spend setting up and dialing in the lighting.
A higher powered modeling lamp would make the Alienbees B1600 substantially better. All Alienbees ship with a 150 watt modeling lamp, which is pretty useless at anything less than full power. While the Alienbees have the ability for the modeling lamp to track the output power, I have that function turned off for two reasons. Most importantly, at less than full power, the lamps do not provide enough light for the camera to autofocus without assistance. Second, at the lower power levels it is difficult to see the lighting on the model.
great things about the alienbees b1600
Compared to other monolights, the Alienbees B1600s have an excellent power to weight ratio. This is an advantage in several situations. First, having a lighter weight strobe in the studio increases flexibility for mounting the light. For example, mounting the B1600 on a boom with a modifier and keeping the setup stable is quite easy. Second, lightweight monolights are a breeze to take on location. My plan is to upgrade my studio lighting when Foursevenfour Studio becomes a going concern and then use my Alienbees kit on location. The lightweight design enhances portability and will make setting up on location much easier and faster.
The reliability of the Alienbees B1600s is good, I have used them for several shoots and taken hundreds of shots. Every time, they just work. Color temperature is reasonably consistent from shot to shot. While there has been plenty of discussion on the internet about color temperature of the Alienbees varying at the lower power levels, I have not experienced any issues. It can vary slightly, but the effect is not noticeable in the headshot and portrait work that I do.
The Alienbees B1600s are certainly acceptable for professional use. They work every time, light quality is decent, and they do not embarrass the photographer in front of clients. I would love to have a full Prophoto setup, but for the work I do, equipment that high end is a luxury item. Given the economics of photography in general, and my market in particular, the Alienbees B1600s are cost effective lights that get the job done.
a few words about alienbees power
Alienbees come in four sizes, 400, 800, and 1600, with 400 being the least powerful and 1600 the most powerful. While researching I came across several discussions where people were concerned about buying a flash with too much power for their space.
After working with the Alienbees B1600s for a while, I’ve found there is no such thing as a strobe that is too powerful. I photographed a model standing in the studio doorway with a sunlit background and I was very happy to have all the power provided by an Alienbee 1600 and it was almost insufficient. For comparison purposes, I work in a 10 x 20 foot space with an approximately 16 foot ceiling. I almost always shoot through softboxes, which reduce light output by about a stop