Sunday, July 12, 2009

He Drives! He Scores!

It was stupid hot in L.A. today. I mean stupid hot!

Got up and decided to drive to Pasadena where it might or might not be a tad cooler. I also went there for the monthly Bargain Camera Show.

I've been to this little gathering of photo-goods buyers and sellers a bunch of times before. More often than not, I've come home empty-handed. Not that there hasn't been plenty of stuff I wanted to buy, I just couldn't haggle a good enough price for the stuff I coveted.

The sellers at these shows are hawking everything from vintage camera gear to new stuff and everything in between. It's the kind of place where many photo-enthusiasts who are (most likely) long-time, card-carrying members of the Cult of the Photo Vest gather.

I brought enough cash with me to cover most anything, within reason, I might be moved to purchase. There are more than a few sellers at these little photo-flea-markets who take plastic, and ATMs are always nearby, but on-hand cash speaks so much more eloquently when you're haggling negotiating.

Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was the parking lot was packed! They hold this monthly show at the Pasadena Elks Lodge: A big, old, three-story, white-painted wooden building which looks like it's been sitting there for a century or more. Anyway, the parking lot was packed and it probably has spaces for a hundred vehicles or more.

"Whoa!" I thought. "Looks like a few people had the same idea I did today."

Usually, when I've gone before, the parking lot has been half-full... or half-empty, depending on how you look at it.

I found a parking space, parked, walked in, paid my $2 admittance fee, and started browsing all the photography wares laid out on tables throughout the show's two, big rooms.

The joint was definitely packed: Not just with buyers but with sellers too. More sellers, in fact, than I can remember ever seeing there.

As I moved up and down the aisles, nothing really caught my eye. Yeah, there were hundreds of cameras and lenses, from vintage to new. Maybe even thousands of them! And boy! If I ever want to buy some used sticks, screw Ebay and Craigslist, this is definitely the place to shop. There were used tripods everywhere. I also noticed plenty of sellers trying to off darkroom gear. Good luck, guys!

I came on a table where the seller had two, Alien Bees carrying bags. Naturally, I figured there were some Alien Bees inside them.

"How much for the Bees?" I asked.

"Oh. They're not Alien Bees," the seller responded. "They're Zeus heads," he continued. "I have the whole kit, the heads and the Zeus power pack." He pulled out the heads and also showed me the power pack, a Paul C. Buff Zeus 2500WS. "I bought this stuff a while ago and only used it once, for 45 minutes."

I examined the gear: It looked brand spanking new! Not gently-used or barely-used but like-new... like it just came out of the freakin' box! I couldn't find as much as a fingerprint or a smudge on this stuff, much less a scratch, a ding, or whatever.

"How much?" I asked.

"I paid about $1500 for this stuff," he said. "You can have it for $750."

Before I could say, "Lemme think about it," the seller added, "I'll also throw in this brand new Paul C. Buff, folding, medium, soft box." He held up the soft box, in a PCBuff carrying bag.

"I gotta think about it." I said. "Let me walk around for a bit and see if there's something else that catches my eye."

The truth is, I wanted this gear. And I figured the price was right. Maybe more than right. Plus, having once been a buyer and seller of vintage, antique, and collectible things at flea markets, antique shows, and elsewhere, I knew a desperate motivated seller when I saw one.

I walked away.

I went to the other room, found a seat, sat down, and pulled out my iPhone. I went on the web to look up the retail prices for this stuff. In a moment, I realized the power pack and heads were, indeed, about $1400 new. Add to that the soft box, which retails for about $120, plus the carrying bags at $17 each, I was looking at a kit that cost, new, around $1550. (Plus shipping from Chez Buff's in Tennessee.)

I then read some online reviews about these products. This comparative test, reported at, comparing the Zeus with Broncolor, Dynalite, Profoto, and Speedotron gear, heightened my interest in buying this Zeus stuff.

I went back to the table where the Zeus seller was at. When I arrived, I spotted an adjustable scrim holder on his table. It looked new as well. I picked it up and toyed with it. (I'm always a sucker for interesting grip gear.)

"How much for this?" I asked, rather nonchalantly.

"You know what it is?" the seller asked.

I nodded.

"If you take the lights," the seller said, "I'll throw that in."

I looked up and studied the seller for a moment. This guy definitely needed to go home with some cash in his pocket. The scrim holder was probably worth about $25 or so.

"I don't want to insult you with a low-ball offer," I shrugged. "You're already selling this stuff for a bargain price."

"Make an offer," he challenged.

"Okay. $600. Cash. For all of it."

The guy neither flinched nor hesitated. "I had to rent a car just to get here today and make some money." He confessed. "Give me $650 and it's all yours: The pack, the lights, the soft box, the carrying bags, the scrim holder."

I smiled appreciatively and pulled out my wallet, counted out six Ben Franklins, two twenties, and a ten-spot, handed over the cash and the gear was mine.

"You just made my day," the seller told me with a smile.

Yep. I suppose I did. And he made mine as well. I scored!

BTW, when I got home I set it all up. Everything works like a charm. The reflectors hadn't ever been removed from their sealed plastic bags. Used once for 45 minutes? I totally believe that. In fact, this stuff doesn't look like it was even used once!

The Paul C. Buff power pack and 2-heads I bought today can be seen on THIS PAGE. I snagged the Z2500 Power Pack and two, Z2500SH Standard Flash Heads.

The pretty girl at the top is Cytherea from 3 or 4 years ago. Shot in my studio on a day when I was feeling slightly artsy.


Frank Wise said...

As an AB user and fan, I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the new Zeus gear. I too have the large folding softbox, and what a cool design.


Rick said...

Just remember, Jimmy. I'm here if you need me. ;)

Ed Araquel said...

Whoa...2500W/S nice find!

Like we were talking earlier, you can never have too many lights. And it's cool that they're compatible with Dyna-lights as well.

We have a similar show here in Vancouver but it's only once every April but that's where I found my Fuji 617 for cheap and was able to get rid of my Nikon F5 and some darkroom equipment, oh so many years ago.


Bill Giles said...

I've got two of the zeus 1250 power packs and two of the ZRM1 ring heads. I have a bunch of Norman LH500 heads and some LH500+ heads. It's relatively easy to make adapters for the Norman heads to the Dynalite plugs, so I've made about five of them from used Dynalite D to M adapter cables. I'd like to have one more Zeus pack. I've thought about buying a used Dynalight pack, but they sell for almost the price of a new Zeus pack, so why bother? The only real down side to using the Norman heads is that the Paul C. Buff modifiers won't work with them. I had a couple of old Balcar heads that I couldn't use, so I modified them to work with the Norman or Zeus packs. I just don't want to spend $300 for a head when I've got something laying around that I can use. The nice thing about having the Zeus packs is that they will work together and can use the wired remote that works with the Bees or the White Lightnings.

WillT said...

Sweet deal! The cool thing, though, is the on-the-spot research made possible by your smartphone.

jimmyd said...

@Bill Giles,

I'm thinking about taking the ring light plunge. I'm not a huge fan of ring lights but now that I have the Z2500WS, I'm more than half-way there, to Ring Light Land, if I add Buff's ZRM1 to my kit. (For $299)

Since we're scheduled to begin actual production on the PGS DVD in two weeks, I'm thinking adding content using a ring light would be appropriate and informative. Add to this gear my ExplorerXT, which should power the Z2500WS w/out a problem, and I'm fully mobile, i.e., A/C free, with a ring light as well as my entire Zeus setup!

BTW, you're right: The folding soft box is a very clever design.

Anonymous said...

You did got a GREAT bargain here buddy!! and you sure made someone happy!! I bet it was an awesome day!

And I´m seriously thinking on adapting PCB softboxes and octas to my gear (changing the ring insert), I´m a one man army and I don´t find amusing to be pulling rods on speedrings and battling with them...all the time...

2500ws + Explorer XT = the world is yours :D!

My best wishes Jimmy!


Lou said...

That's one hell of a deal, Jimmy! Well worth the drive out to Pasadena, I'd say. :D

John said...

Congrats on the purchase - and nice shot.

Pete Surrette said...

Jimmy, there have been some deals out there and in these economic times CASH IS KING ! I read your tweet a few days ago about picking up grip gear. I have been doing the same thing, moving old stuff I do not use and picking up new grip gear and even some WL strobes. Now is the time to find those deals, its just nice to be on the shopping side of the deal and not the one needing the cash to survive these times.

jimmyd said...

@Pete Surrette,

I don't want to misrepresent myself. I'm perpetually up and down income-wise. The term "feast or famine" is very apropos as applied to me. Lately, tho, it's been a feast. Leastwise, for the past 3 months or so. I don't live a lavish lifestyle and that's an understatement. But when I've got the dough, I'm always putting it back into gear. When things get tough, I can always figure out what I don't use too much and, if I need to, sell it and recover my investment in it. Generally, good photography gear retains its value nicely. (Except for camera bodies.) So, you're right. CASH IS KING! And right now, it reigns supreme!

Greg McKay said...

I saw you just tweeted that you ordered the RingLight to go with your new Zeus gear! Congrats. Can't wait to see some P.G. photos taken with it.

Ken said...

Can I say I'm jealous? Yow....

Looking forward to how you think about the gear compared to your other stuff...