Lighting is the key element in any photo, but getting that perfect light when on the road or working or indoors is sometimes very challenging.
I’ve done my best to solve the problem with off camera Speedlight flash units, but there is a limit to what they can achieve due to small size and lower power. After some research, classwork, youtube lighting review binging, and work in a studio space with several flash systems to experiment with, I’m leaning toward adding a strobe system to my “gear bag”.
Features – What I need for what I shoot
The ideal system for me is usable for event shoots (frequently indoors in lighting challenged spaces), outdoor portraits (wedding, corporate, or other), and some studio work (portrait, creative). There are many potential features of value, but here’s what I decided was most important for me:
- Mobile – can be used in areas with or without dedicated AC power – ie. outside – and is rugged and portable enough to travel with in my Mini Cooper :-). Related, the units should be easy to handle – the fewer cables the better, the smaller/lighter the better
- HSS (High speed sync) – allows shutter speeds up 1/8000 sec, which allows strobe to be used to enhance outdoor lighting while shooting with aperture wide open.
- Wireless – RF remote system to trigger flash in areas where there may be obstructions or where optical triggers aren’t practical
- LED modeling lights – keeps units cooler, demand less battery, less fragile
- 2 strobe mobile system that scales to the studio – key and rim lighting for mobile use, optionally add less powerful 3rd and 4th strobes in the studio for background and hair lighting
- 4 stops or more of power adjustment – based on experience in studio
- TTL – ability to use TTL system in camera to quickly adjust lighting without meter (I’m on the fence about whether this is optional or required for me)
- Sony support – still in love with the results from my amazing A7rii full-frame/mirrorless
- Budget – would love to get a Profoto unit, but have to watch the $ spend. That said, strobes aren’t cheap.
- Works with existing flash units I own (Sony HVL20 and HVL32). Optional.
- Don’t forget a light meter!
So, where did that lead me? I broke down my evaluation into the wireless systems and the strobe systems, though there are some strobe systems now with decent built in wireless support.
Wireless – RF, not IR!
- Phottix Odin II – The Odin II transmitter/receiver system is well regarded, not too expensive, and supports a wide variety strobes. Some of the new Phottix strobes and flashes have built in receivers that work with the Odin II, eliminating the need for a separate receiver unit. The Odin was consider “low priced” when it hit the market because it was significantly less than equivalent unites from Profoto, Nikon, and Canon, but now there are less expensive options.
- Pixel King or Yongnuo YN-622N – super budget HSS TTL flash remote systems. These hit market at very low price about 2 years ago, have native support for Canon and Nikon TTL, now support Sony, are well reviewed, works with a variety of strobes. Pixel makes a wide variety of flash trigger add-ons that I’ve been happy with in the past. There are many review comparing these two. I found this review to be fairly balanced.
- Godux X1 Tn/Flashpoint R2 – Flashpoint is the Adorama in-house branded version of the Godux flash system but with slightly better accessories and support from Adorama. Flashpoint R2/Godux X1 Tn well reviewed and priced in between the Pixel/Yongnuo and the Phottix. I’ve always been happy with Adorama – prices are virtually identical to B&H (whose labor practices are horrible) and have never had service issues. (Additionally, I rented a couple of specialty lenses from them during a recent trip to NYC and they are super pro in how easy they make it to pickup and return rental gear).
Profoto Air – full featured, full price. Recently added Sony A7 support.
- Other – Neewer N1t N are budget priced, but quality varies.
Strobe System – Monolights with the extras
- Phottix Indra 360/500 – covers the full set of features I am I interested in, for significantly less money than the Profoto (see below). It’s a bit of a bet that given the quality of the Odin II that these will be high quality and problem free.
- Flashpoint XPLOR 600 / RoveLight 600(or Godux equivs) – these have the features I am looking for. Priced lower than Phottix by enough to make them worth considering. Online reviews for these are numerous and very solid.
- Profoto B2 – If the price doesn’t concern you, you won’t be disappointed with the features or quality – top notch. There’s a premium you are paying for the brand here, IMHO, but sometimes that’s what you need to do.
- Impact (B&H in house brand), Wescott, Elinchom, Other – I had a tough time finding other strobe systems that met all of my requirements. Mobility, in general, is an add-on feature, that some manufacturers support better than others. Elinchrom monolights look great, but pricing made them less attractive.
- Sekonic – All models are solid, so it’s just a question of price and what features you need beyond the base set in the classic Sekonic L308S-U.
And the Winner Is…
As of this moment I haven’t decided. The Flashpoint system has everything I am looking for and is priced less than other systems so it’s probably where I will end up.
The light outside is gorgeous on the snow at the moment so this is where I end… 😉
(Disclaimer: Many of my Blog posts are simply notes to my future self in case I forget how to do something or why I made the decision that I did at the time. I make no attempt to provide the most detailed write up on a given subject, though you are welcome to contact me if you have questions or comments)