Choosing flashes for a home studio

Apparently I have also been the victim of a hype: that of building a home studio. Last year was a very bad year regarding my photography. We had so little light in Switzerland we should actually call the hobby scotography (forgive the pun): just 109 hours of light reported between November and April. A disaster. Most of my photos are, well, snow. So this year I decided I want to make the light. No more available light and stuff. I also thought I might want to consider going more professional with my photography and concentrating on people. So I started looking into flashes. I already owned an SB-700 and an SB-28 from the film days but thought that these would not be enough for a home studio. Thus I started considering buying studio lights. I saw Steve’s at The Strobist advice a day too late…

The requirements

  1. A reasonable budget: I found myself adding and adding to that…
  2. Reasonable power: Can be used for a full body at f11 at ISO 100, that means around 400Ws
  3. A good power range: being able to reduce the power to at least 1/16
  4. A reasonable modelling light: should be bright enough but not too bright!
  5. Remote control possibility: note the trick here, with some lights you can control the power but not trigger or vice-versa
  6. Reasonable range of accessories: buying the light is the least concern. Finding the right modifiers is the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. Also choosing the correct mount means you can find plenty of cheaper 3rd party modifiers to play or just branded ones.
  7. Some warranty: this is important, it’s a first set of lights and you don’t want your money to go down the drain

The options

Elincrom D-Lite RX 4 Set To Go

My purchase first. At first I thought I would go with a Chinese manufacturer due to lower prices but it turned out that Elinchrom has a good balance here. For around $850 I got 2x400Ws lights, two sturdy Manfrotto stands, two softboxes, a remote and a USB trigger, with the ability to adjust power whether from the camera or from software. I will be reviewing the effectiveness and usefulness of the software. The flash heads are not made in China but made in India. They are medium quality and the mounts are less sturdy than what I would expect. But definitely not dissapointing. Elinchrom has a range of accessories and you can find some third party modifiers, however I am not sure if it makes sense to get them. At least you should know what they are good for. The Elinchrom set came at a promo price with a 2 year warranty. Not bad.

The major downside of these flashes is that they are too strong and you can only go down to 1/16th of power. Normally this should be 1/32 and this can be a reason to buy the larger and more expensive siblings. The more I use them though the more I find a way to cut a stop or some thirds there and this is good enough. I am thinking of buying (later in life) a third head with lower power.

Bowens Gemini 400Rx

That is another good option but could not find them reasonably priced in Switzerland. Bowens is a legendary name and a widely used accessory mount. There is a huge amount of modifiers you can buy for these. They look sturdy and neat. What I did not like about them is the rather inconsistent specs between web pages and pdfs and the inability to control the power… That last one is a major failure, it does not make sense not to be able to remotely control the power of the flashes…

Jinbei DPSIII series

Jinbei is a flash with a good reputation. It satisfies all requirements and has better T0.5 and T0.1 times than the other flashes. The main problem is that, the flash heads are pretty cheap but in order to put together a set with stands, modifiers and everything you end up paying more than Elinchrom and getting no warranty. However, if I had already some lights, I would definitely get them! Actually I think the third light might be a Jinbei.

Walimex

Walimex offers a wide range of flashes and heads. However, again, their kit prices are high compared to what you get with the Elinchroms.

Other Chinese manufacturers

I looked at a lot of other Chinese manufacturers. There are really a lot of flashes there. But I think it makes little sense if you do not have accessories and some local, reputable dealer, able to meet a warranty.

Epilogue

As said, I got the Elinchroms. I am pretty happy with them and learning to use them. If your usable space is not large enough though, consider a combination of 200Ws and 400Ws. For spaces like 3mx3m or even 5mx5m, 2x400Ws may be too much…

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