I have a problem with Christmas. It's not that I'm a grinch or anything like that... it's usually that everything I want really bad is really expensive. Every year I have to rack my brain for things that are actually reasonable for somebody to purchase.
This year, I put some small pieces of lighting gear on the list, so as to round out my mix. I'm still mostly following the Strobist philosophy because it gives me a lot of freedom at a low price.
The Quantaray MS-1 is cheaper than the Sunpak Digital Flash. It's also more reliable. The Sunpak's trigger circuit is totally unreliable, but the MS-1's trigger circuit is totally reliable. The MS-1 feels a little funky (e.g. the flash capacitor is still charged even when you shut it off) and it takes AAA batteries, but it's great in a pinch. I find myself keeping it near my Canon A95. I can hold the MS-1 in one hand and the A95 in the other and get great angled lighting indoors.
I'm actually considering getting a second one, just because it's cheap and tiny and comes in handy.
The muslin background is a smidge too transparent for general purpose use, as is, so I will probably need to get something to put atop it or behind it that's more opaque. And since I didn't think to buy an even more absurd number of yards of it, if I double up the background, I don't have nearly enough shooting room. So I had some problems when I use the muslin against a wall that's not rather white. My usual home studio wall is fine, however.
The biggest disappointment ends up being the mulsin. If I light the backdrop adequately to get a full-body shot, it ends up causing too much spill and requiring too much power. Also, it ends up crinkled on the floor. I spent some time trying to "fix it in photoshop" and then I realized it was just not working like that. I think the end result is that the mulsin is going to get an interesting home dye job.
I got another 383 Super and a silver Wescott 45" umbrella for Christmas, which ended up with me picking up some other bits just so that I could actually use my new toys. I opted for future slaves to be hotshoe slaves instead of pocket peanuts, so when I got a second 383 Super for Christmas, I went out and purchased got the least expensive Wien that would fit on a hotshoe. I don't think I'm going to buy any more Pocket Peanuts, not because there's anything actually wrong with the way they are made, but because I hate dealing with halfway-functional PC connectors. I wish that my 383 Supers had PC plugs on them, not the mostly-proprietary miniplugs they have.... either way, the hotshoe slave is quite reliable.
As far as I can tell, the problem is that the exact and precise size of the PC connector isn't fixed. One connection is the ring on the outside and the second connector is a pin on the inside. The problem is that the outside ring can be too big to reliably connect, and the pin on the inside ends up being too small to reliably connect the socket it needs to fit in, so I'm continually bending the inside pin to the side. And it's flakey, so I tend to use the Sunpak Digital Flash to fire the flashes off of my RB67 because it's the most likely to work without complaining.... which is fine because otherwise it kinda sucks.
Update:Don't buy Wein!
The Westcott umbrella replaces the piece of white paper I was using as a reflector. I feel like I get more control and a softer light source, but I still think that my initial setup with a piece of paper reflector and a foamcore reflector is hard to beat for cheap off-camera lighting. Strobist seems to indicate that anything bigger than 48" or so is going to be wasted with a flash and that a silver umbrella is going to waste the least amount of light. I don't have a basis for comparison, but the umbrella is rather nice.
So, with the post-Christmas set of gear, I was generally doing key using an umbrella and one 383 on the light stand, a fill light with the other 383 on the floor against a piece of foamcore, and the MS-1 as the backlight. The fill 383 uses the Pocket Peanut, which means I end up dinkering around with it before a shoot. The MS-1 ends up determining the power for the rest of the flashes, given that the power isn't adjustable.
I've found, now that I can control the light better with the umbrella, that I really love Rembrandt-styled lighting, where the fill light is to one side and elevated.
There's still at least two more articles to be written in the future in this series. Note that I'm talking about Christmas and now it's April. :)
This series is a time-lagged chronological journey through my off-camera lighting. I write about stuff that happens months after it really happens so I can get it organized, to make sure that I don't writing a glowing review of something that turns out to be a piece of crap later on, and also so that I have time to digest what I just learned.
My goal with my off-camera setup is to be inexpensive (but not cheap) and portable and easy to deal with. It also has to work with my largely film-centric lifestyle.