You've got to love tools and accessories that just get out of the way and let you get on with the job at hand. Shooting the first full dress rehearsal of a live production usually throws up a few challenges in terms of timing, location, stressed performers & egos etc, and the last thing you need to be worrying about as a photographer is equipment. There is precious little time between costume and set changes on a live production run of a show to reset or make changes - you are looking at a 2-3 shot grab of a character and you are done. Needless to say, lighting is critical.
Miss Saigon is a colourful production with some very colourful characters and I knew in advance I would need a red / orange colour palate to pull in the brand and overall feel of the production. I had no opportunity to scout the shoot location and on arrival was shown to a small canteen area with a bright purple upright pinboard as a shoot space - just outside of the backstage changing areas - not especially appealing or practical as a location, but at least provided a place to park my gear.
After carefully hiding my disappointment about the space I had been allocated to shoot in and not uttering the words "did you really think the purple wall through as a backdrop for your Miss Saigon cast shoot" ( I can be a bit precious sometimes). I soldiered on. Just out of shot to the left was a rickety door leading to a street lamp lit alley that looked much more suitable for purpose and Miss Saigony, but it would need to be lit.
All photographers love a good bag and the Mars 3 comes in a great one. I think when they've had a little more time to bed into my equipment register they will find their way into a carefully configured rolling think tank case. There are however some great design touches on the equipment that comes with these kits. The first thing you notice and it's really simple but such a great practical idea is the reinforced canvas loop on the side of the protective cover for the battery pack that lets you hang it straight on the lug of your light stand - genius! this gives the stand a nice weight right at it's central point - really useful if you are shooting on your own.
I'd be using both lights in this set up using only the items that came with the kit. I needed some red on that beige boring wall so attached the gridded barn door on one of the heads with a red circular gel. The barn door unit is well constructed from tough black plastic and clicks straight onto the head - couldn't be simpler. the coloured gels are also really easy to swap out. The barn doors allowed my to get a wider spread on the colour. The grid is also easily removable which I have done here to give a more even spread of light.
The other head had the kit supplied octobox attached. This Jinbei produced modifier also has the same easy click on action, although the connectors on this one were a little tight making it tricky to remove from the head with just fingers, but will likely loosen with use. The output from this octo was very good, I opted to use it here with just the inner baffle only fitted for a little extra crispness. The octo is about 60cm across and in truth a bit tricky to assemble although when broken down will easily fit inside most camera bags so very portable. The materials used are also a step up from the norm and it felt like it could take some abuse.
There is also an outer diffuser supplied not shown in the above image as I wanted the crispness of the mottled silver lining and the extra punch and sharpness. Below is the final setup used. The head and octobox together are extremely light and could easily held for extended periods on a boom pole by an assistant without fatigue.
Above is the final setup I used to shoot all of the images you see here. I was shooting between the light stands with my back to the glass door. The red gelled pack was on 50% power and the octobox on 60%. Camera Canon 5DSR with a 70-200 @ f5.6 / 1/250.
Straight out of the bag as it were, I was hugely impressed with the Mars 3. Really simple to use and intuitive, meaning I was set up and running within a few minutes and able to get great results without having to worry about my gear. The other word that springs to mind is - fast. Even at a full 300 watt pop these things recycle in just over a second. I was shooting at just over half power and it was instantaneous.
I should explain that I stumbled across Jinbei by chance when I moved to Australia last year. Prior to that I was heavily invested in Profoto with D1's B1's & B2's and loads of modifiers. About two years ago one of my D1's failed on a shoot, it was just over two years old so was out of warranty. It had to be sent back to Profoto who I believe replaced the capacitor - long story short the repair was only few dollars off the price of a new D1! That was followed closely by a commercial shoot here in Australia when my Profoto Batpack started smoking and crackling when powered up ( 3 years old ) - I decided to bin the Batpack because as suspected a repair from Profoto would of equalled if not increased upon the cost of a new unit.
I needed something represented here in Australia with quick and easy service and replacement options - Enter stage left Protog in Mitcham. Jeff the owner convinced my to try the Jinbei HDII-600 battery powered strobe. I have to admit I was sceptical to say the least - this cost nearly four times less than a Profoto B1 - how could it be any good. I was sick of repair bills so I gave it a shot, and I'm glad I did.
It's not what you would call a looker, but by god is it effective, built like a tank and reliable to boot. What really blew my away using this light is the battery - it just doesn't quit. I'd recently returned from an expedition to Lo Manthang where I'd taken 2 Profoto B1's and 4 batteries where we would average about 150 pops per battery at fully power through double baffled soft boxes - this thing acheives 500-600! - I've been using it for over a year now and it's not slowed down. Why had I not heard of this light before in the western world - it came out a full year before Profoto released the B1?
That led me to grab 2 HD610's last year when they were released - again, 6 months solid use without missing a beat, consistent colour output, fast recycle time and really well built. 2 HD 610's along with the 2 Mars 3's gives me a portable 4 light setup that all talks to each other seamlessly.
Obviously the Mars 3 will draw comparisons with Profoto's B2 but it shouldn't. The list price in Australia for the B2 is around $2,800 the list price for the Jinbei Mars 3 which offers an extra 50w of power TTL and HSS is only $699. That means for the price of 1 B2 you could get an amazing 4 light setup for the same price.
STOP PRESS: We've secured a deal with Protog to get you a 60cm Octobox / L Flash bracket / Gridded barn doors with gels with your Mars 3 kit for the total price of only AU$769- be quick