For the best combination of quality and price, it is hard to beat AlienBees studio lights. I’ve been using AlienBees in my studio for over 15 years, and like so many other photographers, I’ve been singing their praises. It would be hard to find the same quality for less money.
First posted December 20, 2011. Update and re-posted November 9, 2019.
There are less expensive lights out there, but at a big drop in quality. There are high end, superb quality studio lights for a lot more money (a Profoto B1 studio light costs $2095). So AlienBees are right at the sweet spot of high quality at a fraction of the price ($225 – $360).
AlienBees are designed, manufactured and sold by Paul C. Buff who also makes the much praised White Lightning professional lights, and more recently the high end Einstein lights. All lights are sold directly from the manufacturer. Customer service is superb.
There are three AlienBees models, the B400 for $224.95, the B800 (twice the output of the B400) for $279.95, and the B1600 (twice the output of the B800) for $359.95. They come in several colors, so I color code mine by power output. You can find all the Alien Bees studio lights here.
I rarely have the B800 lights more than 10 feet from my subject (usually bounced out of an umbrella). With my camera set to ISO 100 and a lens aperture often set to f/8 or f/11, the B800s are rarely set higher than 1/2 power so they have all the power I need and then some. For a small studio, B400 or B800 lights are all the power most photographers would need.
The white power lever on the back of this B800 is set to 3/8 power. The continuously variable power output can be set anywhere from full power to 1/32 power. You aren’t limited to a fixed set of positions so you can get exactly the amount of power you want.
AlienBees have a built in optical slave so I trigger them with a shoe mounted flash set to 1/128 manual power (and pointed away from my subject), but you can fire them with the included sync cord, or a variety of remotes.
If you are looking to buy your first studio lights, I highly recommend AlienBees.
If you ever outgrow your AlienBees, you can always move up to the Einstein lights, made by the same company.
If you aren’t sure if you are ready to use studio lights, you can always rent one or two units and try them out (link below). That will tell you whether or not studio lights are for you.
AlienBees plug in to a normal household wall outlet. Just set them up on a stand, plug them in and you are ready to go.
If you want to use an AlienBees away from from an AC outlet, you will need a portable battery pack like the Vagabond Mini-Lithium which sells for $239.95. Fully charged, it will provide 400-500 full power flashes for a pair of AlienBees B800 flashes.
Another alternative to studio lights is to use off-camera speedlites, the same kind of flashes that go in in your camera’s hot shoe. I cover some of the best options in this article.
All prices in this article are accurate as of the most recent update: November 18, 2020.
Alien Bees Links
Rent studio flash units at LensRentals.com. You can rent an AlienBees B800 flash for $32 for four days (plus shipping). To really learn what these lights are capable of doing I would suggest you rent two and use one as your main light source and the other for the fill light.
Article Links: Off-Camera Flash Series
“How To” Series: Off-Camera Flash – Series Introduction
Putting Together a “Studio in a Backpack”. Everything you need to take a small, portable portrait studio on the road. And you may have some of the items already.
To learn more about flash, off-camera flash, studio lights and a whole lot more, read Digital Photography Exposure for Dummies, one of the highest rated photography books at Amazon.com. Learn more here and order it here.
Read the article Excellent “How To Photograph People” Books for the best books on people and portrait photography.
This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest are here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.