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Einstein 640 v2 successfully addresses short PocketWizard range and more  
Monday, October 18, 2010 | by Rob Galbraith
The Paul C. Buff Einstein 640 v2, a reworked version of the innovative 640ws monolight that's now shipping, successfully addresses the key problems we'd encountered with the original Einstein 640. Here's a summary of what we've found in testing of revised units over the weekend.

Old and New: The Paul C. Buff Einstein 640 v2, left, and original Einstein 640. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The Einstein 640 v2 addresses four things: short range with LPA Design PocketWizard wireless radio remotes, occasional excessive heat buildup when the modeling light is used, a somewhat wonky front accessory mount and mount mechanism and problems related to 230VAC operation. The Einstein 640 v2 has only been here a short time, but so far we've been able to figure out the following:

Test Drive: Range testing the Einstein 640 v2 and PocketWizard MultiMAX. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
The PocketWizard range problem is solved. The earliest Einstein 640s were capable of no more than about a 30ft/9.1m reliable line-of-sight trigger distance in our testing with both Plus II and MultiMAX wireless transceivers (U.S./Canada 340-354MHz version).

Paul C. Buff made a rolling change within the original Einstein that extended the line-of-sight working distance to perhaps 90ft/27.4m or so, but this was still well short of the distance PocketWizard devices are capable of, owing to RF noise emitted at PocketWizard frequencies by internal Einstein components.

The Einstein 640 v2 fixes this completely. Now, the maximum line-of-sight trigger distance in both Plus II-to-Plus II and MultiMAX-to-MultiMAX testing is 850ft/259m, which both matches what we've measured with other PocketWizard RF-clean monolights, including the AlienBees B1600 and Elinchrom Style 600, and is also the practical maximum that can be measured in our outdoor test area.

The aerial graphic below depicts how substantial the range improvement is. Illustrated is the PocketWizard line-of-sight triggering range we achieved with an early Einstein 640 v1 and the Einstein 640 v2.

einstein_v2_range.jpg

Using the MultiMAX's Noise Sniffer mode, which detects RF noise levels within the frequency band used by PocketWizards, we can see the Einstein 640 v2s 340-354MHz emissions are so low as to barely register, and in fact are slightly lower than both the B1600 and Style 600. We've had zero real world triggering problems with PocketWizards and these AlienBees and Elinchrom lights, so the fact the Einstein 640 v2's RF emissions are a touch lower suggests it will be smooth sailing with PocketWizards and the new Paul C. Buff monolight from here on in.

Based on all this information, we're calling the Einstein 640's range problem with PocketWizards a thing of the past.

Top Loader: A prototype of the PowerMC2. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
The only range check still to be done is of a full production version of the upcoming PocketWizard PowerMC2 remote power control module. A beta unit of the module that we included in this weekend's testing, one that has neither final firmware nor an antenna that has been properly tuned, is already delivering a reliable working distance of several hundred feet.

This distance is expected to grow considerably when the PowerMC2's software and hardware is completed, and will perhaps come close to or even equal the range offered by the Plus II and MultiMAX. More on that when we have a finished PowerMC2 to try.

The adjustment and on/off buttons have a less spongy feel. These buttons have been recessed further into the back of the Einstein 640 v2, which gives them a more positive feel. This was at most a minor quirk of the original Einstein, but the improvement in the v2 model is nevertheless noticeable.

The accessory mount mechanism is smoother and inspires more confidence. The levers are easier to disengage but also more positively re-engage when released (no more binding), the reshaped gripping fingers put a tighter hold on an attached reflector or speedring plus the wobble of the front plate is gone.

Update, October 25, 2010: Oops, we spoke to soon. While the above paragraph is true, we didn't notice at first that the redesign of the fingers, while keeping the mounted accessory held tighter against the front plate than either the Einstein 640 v1 or an AlienBees B1600, introduces a drawback too: some accessories can actually fall off, as happened here yesterday when a medium softbox, angled downwards on a boom arm, let go and fell to the ground.

You shouldn't have a problem with typical reflectors, including the current 7 inch, 8.5 inch and 11 inch ones sold by Paul C. Buff. All three of these hold fast even when really trying to work them loose. The falling softbox incident at first seemed more likely to be the fault of the speedring itself, since it's ancient and well worn. But in subsequent testing we were able to get the Paul C. Buff Foldable Stripbox free from the mount not so much by pulling its speedring away from the light but rather by applying moderate pressure on the back of the speedring, between it and the mount. Doing so causes the nearest mounting finger to give way and with only slight additional pressure the stripbox was off.

The same is true of the Paul C. Buff speedring designed for the PLM v2 umbrellas and the Retro Laser Reflector. In fact, the well-worn speedring we initially pegged as the source of the problem actually holds in place slightly better than the Paul C. Buff speedrings.


We've tried manually securing the mount mechanism's levers in their engaged position, to see if that would prevent a speedring from coming off in the manner described above, but it doesn't seem to make a difference. And while we no longer have an Einstein 640 v1 here to compare to, we tried the same mount grip tests on a B1600 and were unable to pry off any of the speedrings or reflectors, even though they all jiggle and wiggle slightly more on the AlienBees flash than on the Einstein 640 v2.

The Einstein 640 v2's problem appears to stem from the new shape of the mounting fingers. They put a stronger hold on a Paul C. Buff reflector, for sure. And they also make it seem like a speedring, plus whatever heavier modifier you might have attached to it, is being held better too. And probably for most standard uses the mounting fingers will work just fine. But as we discovered the hard way, if the force on the fingers rise past a not very high level, as happened to us when angling a softbox downwards, or alternatively when a small gust of wind fills a speedring-mounted PLM umbrella, there is a genuine risk of the fingers no longer doing their job. The result will almost certainly be a modifier ending up in the dirt.

If you've received an Einstein 640 v2 and plan to use it with a speedring-mounted accessory that has some heft to it, you'll probably want to reinforce the connection between the speedring and light. We're trying to figure out what makes sense for this, but probably a tether between the speedring and umbrella locking screw on the top of the light will be what we'll try first.

We're going to follow up with the company now, to see if there are any other possible solutions.

Update 2, October 25, 2010: Photographer Charles Phillips has pointed us now to a thread on the Paul C. Buff forums in which this problem has been raised by early Einstein 640 v2 purchasers. Paul Buff has responded with the following:

"We are increasing the spring tension and I have just reshaped the fingers for better grip and fit to various accessories. Problem is different vendors have gotten sloppy with the exact shape and depth of the mounting flange.

Also having new spring clips made to hold the domes. Doing a bending operation now in production until we get new parts and the domes seem to be doing OK now. The design was OK but they were not heat tempered as much as specified.

My softboxes and PLMV2s hold solid, but apparently the variations are causing some problems for some users. The worst fit seems to be the 22HOBD flange."

The redesign of the front of the Einstein was also brought on by an instance of the modeling light casting too much heat back into the flash. The original Einstein featured a single layer metal front; this has been replaced by a dual layer metal front that is meant to keep heat from transferring to the housing while also dissipating it more effectively.

Taking the Heat: The revised front mount features a dual-layer design meant to keep heat from transferring to the housing. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

We've not properly compared this aspect of the original and v2 Einstein 640. It's also not likely to be a high priority, since (a) we rarely use modeling lights for other than short periods and (b) have no desire to overheat and potentially damage an original Einstein before returning the set we have to Paul C. Buff this week. So, we're taking it on faith for now that company founder Paul Buff, who sweated the redesign of the front mount, has gotten the job done.

We also lack easy access to 230VAC power here in 115VAC Calgary, Canada, so can only assume that the Einstein 640 v2 will work properly when plugged into wall outlets and portable inverter/battery packs that operate at the higher voltage.

Conclusion

In our review of the Einstein 640 back in early July, we called it the most versatile monolight available whose colour consistency and action stopping capabilities were unmatched in a flash of its type, but whose fine characteristics were marred by a handful of problems that made an Einstein 640 purchase risky until the problems were addressed.

The Einstein 640 v2 tackles all of the problems we described and, from what we've determined so far, does so successfully. Based on this, we're optimistic the real Einstein 640 has arrived, one that delivers a class-leading combination of monolight performance and flexibility. At US$499.95 when purchased from Paul C. Buff in the U.S., it's also a bargain. The original Einstein 640 was a great but flawed flash. The Einstein 640 v2 is shaping up to be simply great, though the redesign of the mounting fingers and the impact it has on the attaching of certain speedring-based modifiers means the new Einstein isn't perfect either.

The first units of the Einstein 640 v2 began shipping last week. Paul C. Buff is sending out Einstein 640 v2 replacements to existing v1 owners and filling Einstein 640 backorders concurrently. If you have an original Einstein now you can expect to be contacted by the company's customer service folks in the days and weeks ahead to arrange the swap. The backlog is expected to take upwards of six weeks to work through.

All Einstein 640s shipping from this point forward are the v2 variety, both from the U.S. and by Paul C. Buff Europe and Paul C. Buff Australia. Additional information is in a notice on the Paul C. Buff website.

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