Nov 02 2009

Low Cost Strobe Lights For Photography.

Published by at 4:51 am under Equipment

The number one question by beginner photographers is about lighting. Light is the key to quality photography and can run from $25.00 to tens of thousands for top professional name brand equipment. If you have several thousand to spend then almost any known brand you want to buy will be of good quality and last for many years. Most beginners waste money trying to purchase a low cost unit that just does not work.

Light Options

  • Well Made Case
  • Mono Light
  • Digital Power Adjustment
  • Compact Size
  • Head and Power Pack

May go to Ebay for used equipment but Craig’s list is local and you can see whatr you are buying so that is a good place to look. Since quality lights usually last a long time you may find a lot of very old units. Some will be higher voltage than what can be safely connected to new digital cameras . Most can be used but you would need a voltage converter to reduce the power to a safe level. With those same older units most did not have brightness adjustments and were basic one brightness flash. All adjustments would be made in camera or with additional filters and compared to new adjustable units would be very hard to use. I would not suggest purchasing old flash units.

Both new and old units come in 2 variations. They are both strobe lights for photography .The first is a Head and power supply. The head is nothing but the strobe light without any power. The power unit is required to supply power to the strobe. Several heads can be connected to the power unit depending on the watt seconds required and model of the power unit. The heads can be much less expensive than self contained Mono light units. On the other hand the power supply unit can get expensive and must fit the head you purchased. Most start around $500.00 and quickly get over $1000.00 and as much as $5000.00 for top of the line power supplies. Before you buy a head make sure you know the cost of the power supply required to use it. Mono units have a built in power supply and require no additional attachments for use.

Modern flash units with low voltage connections and adjustable output are the units you would want to look at. If you look on Ebay you will find dozens of sellers offering dirt cheap continous lights and strobe units.The low cost continous lights found online usually don’t have enough power for photography. I would say at least 2 units at a minimum of 2000 watts each. Most of the time they will cost more than a good quality entry level strobe light. Strobes start at under $100.00 and go into the thousands.

Many love a brand called Alien Bee which is made in the USA and sold online. It is a quality unit and will work as described. For about the same money I really like a brand made by Camulet Photo called Genesis. They come in both 200 Watt Seconds
(WS) and 400 WS. The 200 Watt unit is a Mono Light so it is totally self contained. Simply plug in a AC outlet and it is ready to use. They sell new for under $175.00 each and provide consistant light output, digital adjustment and even color (White Balance).If you are looking for lights for action photography then these would not be a good choice. You would need a faster light burst to freeze fast moving objects.

How much power is enough? For portrait work I find 200WS more than enough. For lighting platinum jewelry or any rings that is more than enough. I use from 1-4 lights depending on the look I want. I seldom use the lights at full power. 95% of the time I am under 75% power or less. In a large room shooting for a auto dealership I needed a lot more than what the 200watt units could provide. A 600 watt unit I have did not even make a difference. I could have used at least 4-5 of the 1000watt units for that one job to even out the bright outside light with the inside light .Renting would have been an option but I had time for a totally free option. My solution was to use 6 lights and wait until the exterior light reduced to a point my lighting would be bright enough. Sure if you purchase1000-3000 watt units you would have more light just in case you ever need it but may find you cannot turn the power low enough for some creative applications where a wide open lens is wanted. Too much power may not allow a mix of strobe and natural light or room light from a lamp to enhance the photo.

I would start with a quality brand Mono unit and spend a good amount of my budget on light modifiers. That is where real light control happens and the more options you have the better light control you will have. A $1200.00 strobe with a $10.00 unbrella will not give you as much light control as a $200.00 strobe with a good quality Soft Box and grid cover. Remember lighting for photography is not all about power, it is about control of the light.

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