I had Dynalites for over ten years, and never had a problem.
They are not as silky as Profotos, but they get the job done.
I wish I could afford the new stuff out now.
The White Lightning series IS the upgrade path from Alien Bees. Light is light, but the WL series are built more substantially for heavy use. WL monolights are black with basic white lettering. I don't have any AB's to compare them to, but the WL's have very strong attachment points for speed rings. One of my 2x4' soft boxes is quite heavy compared to the Buff accessories and the WL has no problem holding is securely. I wouldn't hesitate to hook a 7' octobox to it if I had one.
They fetch a better used price than old Normans or Dynalights, for sure. You can still find a few used deals if you're patient. Buff does support them well with in-country repairs (if you're in the US) at a reasonable price.
The slippery slope is the stands and modifiers. You can never have too many different types of either. I just picked up an awesome RedWing cantilevered boom with 18" and 48" extension rails on Craigslist for $100.
Right now, through a lot of horse trading and breaking up kits and reselling the extras, I've managed to assemble two identical kits in medium Lightware cases: two each of a Dynalite 500xl plus two 1015 non-blower heads, plus a Paul C. Bluff mini-Lithium battery and a pair of Pocket Wizards Plus IIs, Minolta Auto-Meter IVFs, various cords, slaves, and analog syncs. Plus a set of grids, a bare tube head, spare flash and several modeling tubes, four umbrellas up to 72-inches, eight newer Lowell stands, a boom, and set of Manfrotto Auto-Poles, plus a collapsible backdrop. For $2450 total, but there was a lot of time put into trading and the batteries only work with certain combinations of Dynalite gear.
But... With that I can do most anything I can think of on location, at least for single-twin portraits. I set up on battery the other day and got f/45 out of the silver giant Buff umbrella at full-length distances, so I can easily drop the background a couple of stops even with the slower sync speed of a focal plane shutter, even more so with a leaf. (I shoot ISO 400 and prefer wider apertures so if I was shooting 8x10 and needed depth of field I'd need four times more light.)
I own a bunch of Buff accessories and they perform great but they are also weakest links in my kit. It is bizarre because they sell a nice giant umbrella for under $100 and the Profoto is $1500... But the Buff has plastic ribs. Why they don't add a little quality and charge $200 for something that won't fall apart is maddening - there is a big gap in the market. Still... Their Mini-Lithium batteries are brilliant, even if the attachments are crap.
I agree with the assessment of the Paul Buff accessories. I have one of their soft boxes and it's not nearly as sturdy as my others. It works fine. I'm pretty gentle on my equipment anyway, but I don't knock it around.
I believe the Alien Bees are good lights targeted to an affordable price point that forces some compromises in heavy duty applications. The White Lightnings will stand up to pro use on a regular basis. I'm not a working pro, but I like the sturdiness of the WL line for attaching large modifiers.
A friend's old brown Speedotron kit seems to have achieved immortality---it was old when I was young!
I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
Hey, for very basic still life, and maybe some portrait work, what is recommend for under 5 bills? I see a lot of cheap kits on eBay... are they just garbage?
500xl packs and 1015 heads. No longer made but they show up on eBay occasionally.