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EZBuyer's Guide: Studio Flash Strobes

EZBuyer's Guide: Studio Lighting Kits

Strobe flash buyers guide.

It’s no secret that portrait photography is a competitive industry. There is little room for error or guesswork during the preparation phase of starting your business; particularly if budget is a factor.

This reality is even more so when deciding which of the big-ticket items you are going to invest in. Studio flash equipment falls squarely into the big-ticket item category.

Next to selecting your camera and lenses, studio strobes are likely one of the most critical choices you will make. In our ongoing mission to provide photographers with the best tools and information available, we present our buying guide for professional-grade studio lighting.

We will explore what factors make up your needs as a portrait photographer and help you locate the best outlets for those requirements.

Are You Ready for Strobes?

One of the most difficult qualities for many to practice is restraint. The excitement of a new enterprise can cloud the judgment of even the most sensible of aspiring photographers.

It’s very easy to fall in the trap of thinking one needs the latest and greatest gadget in the name of ensuring the best tools are available to you.

For example, a high-end camera like the $7000 Canon 1DX may be the best possible camera for taking pictures. But it may also be true that a simple $500 EOS Rebel will serve your needs just fine until you can distinguish the subtleties of your own preferences.

As this principle relates to lighting, ask yourself, “Can I take a good portrait with a window and a white piece of cardboard?”

If the answer is no, you may benefit from practicing that, and other scenarios. Putting off major equipment purchases until they are needed will increase the likelihood of you making proper choices when the time comes.

If you answered yes to our question, then let’s get on with it.

Continuous Lighting vs. Flash Strobes

This guide assumes that the function of your lighting needs will be primarily in portraiture. If you are considering product photography or still light, your needs may differ from those put forth here.

Not long ago, there wasn’t really much of a choice when it came to portrait photography. Although being able to see the results of your lighting configuration is a seemingly huge advantage, continuous lighting was bulky, hot and consumed massive quantities of energy.

Today, fluorescent and LED lighting has brought practical usage of continuous lighting the average professional.

If budget is the primary factor, you can get a fluorescent bulbs kit for well under $100. While this can be a godsend for the still-life photographer, it can be very difficult to work with the low shutter speeds and diminished output of the lower end lighting systems.

Continuous lighting in the form of fluourescent bulbs.

If you are planning to shoot video as well as stills, then one of the newer low-cost LED arrays may be just what you need. They generally have a better light output than the fluorescents and are highly portable for better versatility. However, you will still likely find yourself bumping into that long shutter speed barrier from time to time.

Continuous lighting in the form of led lights.

If neither of these considerations relates to you, then studio strobe flash units are almost certainly the best choice.

There are many economical choices out there that are fine products. However, you do get what you pay for.

Make no mistake though; if you can shoot a great portrait on a $2000+ kit, you should also be able to shoot a nearly equal quality portrait with a budget kit. That’s not to say the advantages of a well-built kit are not significant. Merely that 90% of what makes good photography comes from behind the camera.

Neewer Studio Flash Kit

A good introductory flash kit.

This is a good introductory kit for someone who is exploring portrait photography. It comes with most things you need in order to get an idea what you like or don't like in a studio kit. At $250 for the three-light kit, don't expect a long-term run.

Bowens Gemini 500R Studio Kit

Bowens two-light kit with 500W.

Bowens is a great choice for the serious beginner. Versatile and expandable with an eye on mobility, Bowens is about balance of features. For your $1300, you will only get two of these lights and only a couple of umbrellas for modifiers. Add at least another light and modifiers to double that price for a solid in-studio set of strobes.

Profoto D1 Studio Air Kit

Profoto D1 Studio Kit.

For when you absolutely, positively have to impress every shutterbug in the room. Let's just save a lot of description here and say that if it's a good thing to have on a professional flash unit, the Profoto Air has it in spades. And with a $5500 price tag, it had better be.

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