Paul C. Buff Dies At Age 78

From Paul C. Buff Inc.:

With great sadness we announce that our founder, Paul C. Buff, passed away this week at the age of 78. He has been living with his beloved wife of 16 years, Deborah, and their extended family in their secondary home in Mobile, Alabama for over a year and passed away in this home with his family around him. Those of us who have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Paul have lost an invaluable mentor, an inspiring leader, and a treasured friend. The world has lost one of its most creative and adventurous pioneers.

In the coming weeks, we will celebrate Paul’s unique and extraordinary life, giving customers, employees, and friends the opportunity to share their tributes and memories. But first, we must take time to pause and grieve the loss of a man who had such a great impact on us all. If you wish to offer condolences in the mean time, we invite you to email them to

For years, it has been our mission to advance Paul C. Buff, Inc. in the spirit of innovation and originality upon which it was founded. With gratitude for everything that Paul has taught us, we honor his memory by continuing to serve our customers with the outstanding products, support, and Golden Rule standards that he initiated.

Paul C. Buff, Inc.™ was formed in 1980 as a research company, with Paul as the sole stockholder, as he is today. He is known as a maverick who marches to the beat of a different drummer and is highly qualified as inventor, engineer, marketing trendsetter, philosopher and staunch defender of his customers and of the Golden Rule. His roots are depression era where necessity is the mother of invention.

Following his numerous gold records as a maverick audio recording studio owner, he evolved into manufacturing professional audio equipment. He remains widely recognized in the audio community for his wildly inventive gadgets and is known as the father of modern computerized recording console technology. Peers, customers and a few key works include Frank Zappa, Ray Dolby, The Beatles and perhaps 50% of other top new age artists from the 60s and 70s, Wipe Out, Incense and Peppermints, Green Eyed Lady, Carole King and Barry White to name a few.

His Pal Recording Studios was recently recognized by the California State Legislature and a plaque stands near the site (Cucamonga, California) crediting Pal studios as a birthplace of the Surf Music revolution. Paul was also awarded an honorary lifetime fellowship in the prestigious Audio Engineering Society by then-president Ray Dolby of Dolby Sound Labs.

In 1980, Paul turned his attention toward studio photoflash. His premise was that the equipment of the day was reserved for very few who could afford it, and that the state of the art was industrial/dinosaur technology, inefficient and inaccurate, and packaged in gigantic black steel boxes and sold at way-inflated prices. One of his peeves was that, by the time equipment arrived in the hands of the customer, it had gone through many levels of middlemen, each adding to the price and isolating the customer from the manufacturer. He reasoned that hundreds of thousands of photographers would welcome a practical and affordable studio flash and the many advantages it offered over the ubiquitous camera mounted speedlite.

In 1981, Paul introduced his $139.95 White Lightning™ 130 as a super simple but fully featured studio flash with accuracy and versatility beyond the almost non-existent $1500+ offerings of the day. Emphasis was placed on direct-to-customer marketing and direct access from customer to manufacturer and to Paul himself. So 2011 is considered our 30-year anniversary.

By 1986 Paul had learned the ropes of the industry and felt the need to offer “the ultimate monoflash” in the form of the technologically trend-setting White Lightning™ Ultra Series. Extremely compact, high power, short flash durations, very wide and accurate range of power control, remote control capability, deadly accurate voltage regulated modeling lamp control and other features previously unheard of in the industry. This catapulted Paul C. Buff, Inc.™ toward the top of the U.S. photoflash market almost overnight. It is said that most monoflash competitors today can trace their roots to the White Lightning™ Ultra system.

Throughout the 1990s, Paul worked diligently toward creating means of battery powering of AC studio flashes for location work, and of controlling them via radio remote control. Both goals were realized in the form of the Vagabond™ and Radio Remote One, and Paul became the de facto father of both technologies. Competitors took notice and began the process of copying Paul’s innovations, typically coming up with me-too products five to ten years later. However, all competitors continued with old-school distribution and customer service methods, and none were able to seriously compete on the basis of price/performance, or to come close to Buff’s now-legendary level of customer service. Paul refers to his customers as “the world’s largest cult” – numbering in the 500,000 range. When he wants to talk about himself in second party language, as here, he often uses the name Luap C. Ffub. This reveals a good bit of what Paul is all about…tongue in cheek, but dead serious about his work and company.

By the year 2000, Paul recognized the onset of the digital camera explosion and the pending new market segment. He also realized photographers were becoming younger and hipper, and had less money to spend than in the past. So he launched, as a separate company, AlienBees™ in 2001 (later folded into the Paul C. Buff™ corporation). Using tried and true White Lightning™ technology, he created a smaller and more compact consumer friendly package, at a still lower cost, and marketed it in an extremely radical, tongue in cheek manner, directly to the growing hoards of eager young customers. Pushing further away from industrial look and feel, AlienBees™ were introduced in a choice of neon colors, while still offering traditional black for purists. But the direct sales and absolute customer satisfaction/communication aspects were retained and enhanced. AlienBees™ sales were not limited to young entry-level customers however, as fully half the sales went to top professionals and onto a high percentage of images appearing in fashion magazines such as Vogue and others.

Within a year, Buff’s percentage of the U.S. studio flash market rocketed to an estimated 60%, while many previous competitors faded into obscurity. This approximate market share remains today and it can safely be said that more photographers use Buff products than all other brands combined.

In recent years, Buff’s innovations have exploded, in a repeat of the 1986 White Lightning™ Ultra phenomenon. The core of the new technology lies in the Einstein™, CyberSync™ and Cyber Commander™ products, and in the revolutionary Vagabond Mini Lithium™ portable power system and the PLM™ (Parabolic Light Modifier™) systems. There is little question that Einstein™ and Cyber Commander™ represent the highest technology available anywhere in the world, at any price.

Because camera stores, dealers, distributors, representatives and other middlemen have no profit-access to Buff products, there is a predictable constant drumbeat of negativism toward the company from these sources and on many internet forums where they lurk in disguise. But the daily streams of praise and loyalty from our customers render this moot. Ask a dealer about Buff and they’ll tell you it’s cheap junk and Paul is a con man. Ask a customer, and they’ll likely tell you Buff is the best in the industry and that they are a customer for life.

At this point, Buff has a number of further innovations in the pipeline.

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