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Nikon SB-900 vs Einstein w/Vagabond Mini or....

MBPhotoMBPhoto Member
edited August 2011 in flash & lighting
Hello, I'm considering investing in a new flash units, I have a SB-900 and SB-800. I'm considering investing in a another couple of SB-900s or maybe going with an Buff Einstein with the Vagabond. Using mainly for environmental portraits, weddings and such. Not planning on studio work right now, but would be nice to have the modeling light of the Einsteins. Any thoughts on using an Einstein, is the more capability with the Einstein over the SB-900's. Is there another lighting system to consider with under $1000? Thanks, Doug


  • Doug,

    With 2 great SB's already, going for the Einstein & vagabond mini is a GREAT idea. You'll need to learn manual flash if you dont already - but its pretty easy.

    I have 2 AlienBee's and they are lifesavers. Anything outdoors during the day time - I take them over the small flashes (its a heavier system - but SO worth it).

    Do yourself a favor and invest in a good ND filter and a pair of cybersyncs (if you dont already have PW's). A 3 stop ND is great - then you really dont even need shade most of the time - just put the sun behind your subject(s) so their face is in even ambient light, use the big light in a softbox of sorts as a main. You can shoot at 1/250sec ISO100 at f/4 and still have balanced exposure and blue skies.

    The SB's are still used for everything indoors or when I need to be extra mobile - but the big AB's get used for room lights sometimes too.

    hope that helps... or you've already ordered your lights and you're out shooting :)
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited September 2011

    Although I don't own an Einstein yet [on my list], as Russ said, the Einstein/Vagabond combo should be fantastic, I have been researching them for a good while now and they have not long become available to me.

    Here is a great little calculator on the power using different combos of light modifiers.


    Simply choose the type of reflector you may want to get and see the end result.

    All at 100 ISO and at 3 metres [10ft].

    eg: Using a Softbox you can expect to get f8 + 7/10ths of a stop, almost f11 output.

    Bump up ISO to 200 and that should equate to around f16

    But, if you use the 7 inch Silver Field Reflector, expect f11+ 9/10ths [almost f16]

    As Russ said, with an ND filter you can get the wider aperture to work with also.

    New PocketWizard MC2 Receiver for the Einstein:



    EDIT: Initial REVIEW before 2010


    REVIEW AFTER NEW 640 RELEASE October 2010:


    Quote: For years, Paul C. Buff has been synonymous with affordable no-frills lighting that works. The goal for the Einstein 640 was to add the frills, and then some. As of this writing, you won't find a competing studio monolight with the Einstein 640's breadth of features and capabilities, from any other maker at any price. - ends Quote.
  • JoshuaJoshua Member
    edited September 2011

    I have recently added the Einstein 640 with a Vagabond Mini to supplement an SB-800 and SB-900. The results and experience have been very satisfactory. Additionally, coupled with the PocketWizard Flex system for the SB units and the Einstein it is a very powerful combination.

    Obviously, the units can be used separately and without the PW radio triggers. The real power comes in being able to control TTL and Manual lights at the same time, which is why I highly recommend the AC3 module for the PW Flex system.

    here are the main factors that influenced my decision to buy the Einstein over additional SB-900:
    1) Cost, the Einstein with PowerMC2 radio trigger and Vagabond is only slightly more expensive then an SB-900, External power pack, and FlexTT5.

    2) Power! There are two facets of power, flash power and cycle reliability.

    Flash power is obvious the Einstein can reliably deliver more power.

    With the external power pack the cycle time of the SB-900 is decent, however, it isn't sustainable. The thermal protection has come on far too often with what I consider to be moderate but sustained load.

    With the Einstein it is rare that full power is needed and you can just shoot and shoot with reasonable cycle time. Please note that with the Vagabond the cycle time is longer then when plugged in to the wall. However, it is certainly usable for a good length session but I wouldn't use it as an all day thing without extra batteries. But you can just plug it in if there is an outlet available. In truth I use the Vagabond Mini less then anticipated. Good to have but is not a staple of usage, at least for me.

    3) Flexibility. The Einstein has a modeling light, very wide power range, plays nicely with TTL systems in slave or as a manual zone using the PocketWizard system. Runs on vagabond mini for true location work or can be plugged in for rock solid usage.

    4) Compatibility. It was very important to me that the an external light such as the Einstein work with the PocketWizard System. Once you start remotely adjusting power levels you do not want to go back.

    In short adding one or two Einstein units to your kit gives you more options and new capabilities due to the increased power available.

    The are only a few negatives that sort of come with the territory. The Einstein is bigger and heavier then an SB-900. so plan on having a good stand. It is possible to use at the end of a pole with a VAL but it is a bit riskier.

    It is manual only so If you are dependent on TTL this will not be a good choice. But I Stand by the usefulness of having Manual and TTL zones playing nicely together.

    The reflectors from PCB are aluminum. This makes them light weight to carry around but they dent and bend more easily then I would like. You will have to take care of your reflectors.

    The Einstein used with the PW flex system is limited to a six stop range from full power in 1/3 stop increments. To use the full range or 1/10th stop increments you would need to use another triggering method but there are ways to do it and still use the PW flex system just not not as easily.

    You may also need to update your modifiers such as softbox and beauty dish to work with the mounting system of the Einstein. Not a big deal but something to consider.

    FYI I was also considering the Quantum Qflash but they don't play nicely with the PocektWizard Flex system, at least for TTL and a Qfalsh and Battery cost as much or more depending on model then the Einstein setup. (This is not a knock on the QFlash, there are times I wish I had a pair and will consider renting them for certain jobs)

  • i like my b800 much better then the Einsteins b/c of the sliders to change power
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