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Review: Paul C Buff Einstein E640 and Vagabond Mini Battery Pack

by Chris Gampat on 01/19/2013

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (1 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

I’ve been an owner of the Einstein E640 for a while; which made me in turn purchase the Vagabond Mini battery pack for it followed by the Umbrella Reflector. The Einstein is used by many very famous photographers and is noted for its super fast flash duration, color consistency, rapid firing abilities, and just how powerful it is for the price. When used with the Vagabond Mini and Paul C Buff’s own Cybersync radio controllers, it can be really quite the killer light combo.

 

 

Pros and Cons

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Pros

- Extremely powerful light output

- Very color consistent, but not absolutely color consistent

- Very durable

- Simple, modern digital interface

- Amazingly light and portable without the reflector

- The Vagabond Mini is super light

- Works spot on with a Light Meter providing that you set it to correctly not see any ambient light

- Does an awesome job with Fujifilm Instant 3×4 film.

Cons

- The Vagabond Mini stopped working on me after a couple of months

- The Einstein E640 has a very loud fan

- The recycle audible tone is a little low; no way of adjusting it

Gear Used

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (25 of 33)ISO 400

For the duration of the review, we used various cameras, lenses and setups. We used the Olympus OMD EM-5, Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95, Olympus EPL5, Canon 5D Mk II, Sigma 35mm f1.4, Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L USM II, Sony A99, Impact 60 Inch Convertible Umbrella, Sony 50mm f1.4, Sony 85mm f1.4, and Sony 135mm f1.8.

Every single camera could not have been set off if it were not for the PocketWizard Plus III triggers.

The fact that we used it with so many different cameras is a testament to a saying that we often preach and that this site’s existence clearly shows: it’s the photographer that takes the images, not the camera.

Complete Listing of Posts

Using the light at NY Comic Con

Impact 60 Inch Convertible Umbrella Review

Olympus EPL5 Studio test

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L USM II Review

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the manufacturer listing page.

  • 9 f-stop power variability (2.5 Ws to 640 Ws)
  • all-digital control from enormous LCD display
  • global plug-and-play from 95 to 265 VAC
  • adjustable in precise 1/10 f-stops
  • action-stopping up to 1/13,000 second (t.1)
  • color consistency +/- 50° at any power
  • bright, voltage-controlled 250 Watt modeling lamp
  • frosted dome cover reduces UV emission
  • audible and visual recycle indicator alert options
  • “Easy Set” button for quick return to default settings
  • complete remote control capability with CyberSync™
  • 60-Day Absolute Satisfaction Guarantee
  • 2-Year Factory Warranty
Einstein E640
True Wattseconds 640 Ws max. at full power; 2.5 Ws min. at 1/256 power
Lumenseconds 28,000 Ls at full power
Power Variability 9 f-stops (full to 1/256 power)
Recycle to 100% 1/10 to 1.7 seconds
(may be fired before 100% recycle for speed shooting at reduced power)
Flash Duration (t.5) 1/2,000 second at full power
Flash Duration (t.1) – in Action Mode from 1/588 to 1/13,500 second
Flash Duration (t.1) – in Color Mode from 1/588 to 1/8,000 second
Power Requirements automatic power switching from 95 to 265 VAC, 50/60Hz
(no lamp change or user attention required)
Average Current Draw initial recycle surge current of 16A;
tapers down to 5A during the recycle period
Sync / Trigger Voltage less than 5 volts, safe for use with digital cameras
Modeling Lamp 250 Watt, 120VAC bayonet-style quartz bulb
(no change is required when operating from 120 or 240VAC)
Flashtube 12mm single-ring flashtube (UV-coated)
LCD Display back-lit, high resolution color LCD
320 x 240 pixels; 2.4 inches
Stand Mount fits stands up to 5/8″
Umbrella Mount accepts poles up to 23/64” (approx. 9mm)
Standard Reflector none supplied (8.5HOR recommended)
Weight 4 pounds, 5 ounces (without the power cord)
Dimensions 4.8″ height x 4.8″ width x 5.7″ length
(body dimensions without lamps or mounting hardware)
7″ height x 5.4″ width x 7.8″ length
(overall dimensions with lamp, tube, dome and shipping cover as well as mounting hardware)

Ergonomics

Einstein E640

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (2 of 10)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

Meet the business end of the Einstein E640. The light unit doesn’t come with the umbrella reflector over the light, but it does come with that little protector light softener inside that houses the flash bulb. It also comes with a metal cap to protect this.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (5 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

To put the reflector on, you’ll need to get something that is Balcar mount. That means that only Balcar mount speedrings and modifiers will work; such as the Buff reflector.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (3 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

Buff did the interesting design aspect of putting the Umbrella holder on the top of the unit vs on the bottom where most companies usually build it into their light stand attachment. In practice, I’ve found the top loading philosophy of Paul C Buff to work really quite well. I’m an Umbrella fiend (I own four) and I’ve so far never seen a major problem with top loading. Bottom loading, on the other hand, requires much more work.

See that little white bulb next to the umbrella slot? That’s the optical slave.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (4 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

And that brings us to the command center for the Paul C Buff Einstein E640 review unit. The back is characterized by a giant and brightly lit LCD screen, a function button, adjustable arrow settings, a sync port, a test button, a power button, a fuse, and an AC input. Here is where lots of controls can be set: power output, modeling lamp output, sound, color consistency/action priority, slave control, etc.

Editor’s Note: The Vagabond Mini came back from the shop and it works just like new again.

Build Quality

Chris Gampat Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L II USM review photos of Matt (4 of 11)ISO 100

The Einstein E640 has flown with me in planes, tumbled down conveyor belts, fallen on my head during Hurricane Sandy (causing me to go to the hospital), travelled with me for engagement shoots, shot with me in studios, and has kept on working. This light works as hard as you do.

As for the Vagabond Mini, it did the same. I purchased my Mini on October 4, 2012, and today is January 14, 2013 (the date I’m writing this post). It has only now stopped working for a reason I can’t quite figure out. The battery itself is charged, but the compartment may be at fault right now. I’ll need to wait until tomorrow to contact Paul C Buff about it.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (10 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

The Einstein E640 is incredibly simple to use due to the fully digital display; which takes a bit of time to get used to but after reading the manual a bit and playing around, you’ll figure it out.

In the photo above, the light is configured to action priority vs color consistency. Action lets you fire your flash faster and sacrifices color consistency for that.

If you have the Paul C Buff Cyber Commander, you can control the entire light from the remote that stays on top of your camera.

However, everything by Paul C Buff is nearly proprietary.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (9 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

You can also adjust the modeling lamp to be whatever output you may choose. The area in blue though is the flash output control.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (8 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

The area in blue above is the modeling light control, notice how it can be dialed down much further below the flash.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (7 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

Of course, both the modeling lamp and the flash can also be right on par with one another for a much easier time when shooting. Note though that it isn’t recommended that you use the modeling lamp with the Vagabond Mini because it will fry it.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Paul C Buff Einstein E640 monolight (6 of 10)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 2.8

The function button can be pressed a number of times to also see another diagnostics menu screen.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (7 of 33)ISO 400

The Einstein E640 delivers images that have an extremely clinical and beautiful look to them. Studio photographers and on-location portait shooters alike will all fall head over heels for the Paul C Buff Einstein E640 for many reasons.

I was a strobist: I loved using speedlites and to this say still own four of them. However, the cost difference is light and day. An E640 is much more affordable than four speedlites. If you’re a wedding photographer, then speedlites are the industry standard with no question. Sure, they also still do have their uses. But if you want to overpower the sun without going through the hassles and batteries that High Speed Sync cause, then a true monolight is the way.

Then you’ll need to factor into the equation another variable: light modifiers. I used 60 inch and seven foot umbrellas; and they require lots of power to use them effectively. The Einstein E640 does the trick for sure.

Color Consistency

I’ve tested the color consistency of the Einstein E640 on many accounts and with different cameras. To properly test this, I needed to manually set my white balance and constantly shoot with the E640.

In our months of shooting with the unit, we have to say that Paul C Buff is almost there with his claim of consistent color for every image. When using the various, the colors were within four to five degrees off while on location: but thats where a whole nother set of problems occurs–such as ambient lighting color. In the studio, we saw a margin of error of around two or three degrees depending on how fast we shot in the color consistency mode.

With that said, the color consistency is still mostly there and can very much so easily be fixed in Lightroom 4 with the sync feature when you’re shooting subjects over and over again: such as jewelry, portraits, etc. In the end though, it still isn’t absolute.

Power

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L II USM engagement portraits (1 of 4)ISO 100

During New York Comic Con, I shot with this light on a 6 foot light stand at full power and pointed toward the ceiling; which was probably 30 feet up. I was able to achieve images at F8 and F11 while doing so at ISO 200. It quite literally lit up any hall or room that I entered.

That’s 640 Watt seconds of power for you. Mind you, this was being done with just the Umbrella reflector.

I’m a photographer that’s all about specular highlight, and this light can surely hit home on that front.

I didn’t get to use the light with the Cybersync Commander; but I had no real issues using it with PocketWizards. Whenever I needed to control the power output, I walked right over to it or had an assistant do it.

As for the Vagabond Mini, all that there really is to it is a, on/off switch.

Here are other images I’ve shot with the light.

Chris Gampat Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L II USM review photos of Matt (6 of 11)ISO 100

Chris Gampat Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L II USM review photos of Matt (8 of 11)ISO 100

 

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (31 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (27 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (28 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (22 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (23 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (21 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (19 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (15 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (14 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (12 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (11 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (10 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (8 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (9 of 33)ISO 400 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (4 of 33)ISO 200 Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (2 of 33)ISO 1600

Conclusions

The Einstein E640 monolight is a godsend for me. It is powerful, portable, consistent enough in terms of color output, and simple to operate. It is also built like a tank while staying light. I haven’t had a single major complaint about it over the past couple of months.

As for the Vagabond Mini, it also served me quite well until the recent problem that I encountered. Hopefully it will get fixed soon.

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