Bowens Bites the Dust After Inability to Compete With Chinese Brands

Bowens has been reported as being into liquidation and will cease all operations. It seems as time goes on, technology gets better. This is normally a good thing for innovation and the end user. But if often leads to the end of things as we know it.

Another One Bites the Dust

We are at a point in time where technology is so good that it's "too easy" to make something that works really well, especially in China, and undercut the "big boys." I'm sad to hear of the passing of Bowens, just another in the growing list of major names falling.

Awhile back, Aurelius, a company that claims to specialize in "bringing back companies on the road to success" according to their website, had purchased both Bowens and Calumet. Now it seems that Bowens has gone into liquidation and will cease operations. No official statement was available at the time of this writing. As with any liquidation, this will likely leave users wondering about parts and repairs, and only time will tell in regard to how this will be handled.

The Chinese Effect

People have mixed feelings about certain gear, and I know photographers in general (including myself) are very finicky about brands, gear, and quality. As a long time Profoto user, I have never been a fan of the Chinese brands. That being said, items like the XPLOR HSS TTL are proving their worth, and it's difficult to argue how well they work. At a price point that is significantly less than Profoto, Bowens, and Broncolor, these lights are powerful, self-contained, offer TTL, and in my opinion the biggest thing, HSS. Just grab the camera and shoot at any shutter speed you want. No, you don't have Bowens or Profoto or Broncolor's quality but you can buy several of these for the cost of just one. The big brand names were playing catch up on some of these features, relying on their reputation and brand quality to carry them. Which you can only do for so long. Bowens was rumored to be developing new products to compete with Yongnuo and Godox but were just too late to the game most likely. 

To many, these new brands are wonderful news, overwhelming reports of incredible reliability with super long battery life, flash power, and not having to have a battery pack dangled from your light stand make this incredible. But like with any industry, cost of operations and such can affect the profitability and therefore price to end users. Photographers are notorious for DIY and trying to save a buck anywhere we can, because hey, gear is expensive. I admit, I own XPLOR products myself and have never had one misfire or issue, they just work, and work even better than the big brand names such as the B1 from Profoto.

So it really is a double edged sword, we are currently in a great era of new tools available to us, but we can't be surprised when a longtime staple such as Bowens falls due to it as well. It's really not that different than an old-school photographer going out of business due to new and more "modern" competition at a better price. Which we have all seen happen too many times.

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34 Comments

Adam Milton's picture

A good chunk of their success can be attributed to low prices, which are mostly possible by stealing IP. Lot cheaper to sell something when you can just take someone else's functioning design without consequence.

I can't say I dislike having cheap gear available, but it's kind of a tough spot morally.

Motti Bembaron's picture

And where those US companies got their tech? From the Japanese. And what was the Japanese source of inspiration? Germany, France?...Everybody copies from everybody, there is no moral problem here more than there is in the car industry.

Besides, I bet some of the "brand" name flashes are made by Godox or Yongnuo.

I also have Paul Buff Einsteins and although they are amazing lights, I can't wait to replace them with the Godox AD600. With a built in tiny battery (500 pops) , built in radio (and an excellent one at that), very accurate TTL and HSS, those lights are a dream.

One Einstein, a battery and a radio that needs to be bought separately and connected manually are a bit more expensive than one Ad600...and that's without TTL and HSS.

I have Godox for more than two years now and I love them. They work every time and they work great.

Companies have to get with the program.

Why should they be ashamed? They are doing what the US did for long time through the 19th and the 20th century, coping ideas from Europe and making them better. Not to mentioned European countries donig the same. Why is it OK for you but not the Chinese?

It seems to me it's now the Chinese that make everyone else catch up.

Adam Milton's picture

I'm all for innovation and advancement, but if you compare a Yongnuo 560 to a Canon 580...they are extremely similar. One can innovate without ripping off someone else's R&D. I'm not talking about using the same idea, I'm talking about copying someone else's design almost verbatim and undercutting them by selling it cheaper. That's not innovation, that's plain theft.

That said, there is also real innovation happening, so it's not all bad, but it's hard for me to harp on the importance of copyright protection for photographers, and also defend the right of the Chinese or anyone else to completely ignore the IP rights of equipment manufacturers that are getting ripped off.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I agree, I do not know why they would copy the interface design exactly as Canon's, it's quite childish. There was no reason for that.

Saying that, that's not the reason the flash is so popular, it's its quality that sells it. I personally do not like the Yongnuo flashes but a colleague of mine loves them and has been using them for years.

However, I also wish they stopped copying a silly thing like an interface and come up with their own. If they know how to make flashes they obviously know how to make their own interface.

Alex Cooke's picture

Intellectual property.

Bill Larkin's picture

Agreed, and morally I've always had an issue with the Chinese in general. The running joke is they think "copyright" means "right to copy" LOL

They do rip off people's designs all the time and produce for cheaper, and in the past it has felt like the product was way cheaper. Today, items like the XPLOR are, I hate to say it but they are very reliable, and work very well. This is what makes it tough for a company like Bowens. It may be sad to see a company like this go away, but... we must realize that change such as this is inevitable, and by boycotting the Chinese products, we aren't stopping them or changing anything, because 100% of the people will never agree and get on board with a full boycott, so we may as well take advantage of the prices and the products and leverage all the advantages they offer.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Why do you hate to say that the XPLOR (or Godox) is very good? Would you hate to say that the Profoto is very good? Why the double standard?

Godox innovate on their own merit and came up with some firsts in the industry. First Li-on battery in a speed light, first mini strobe (AD200) and more.

Of course there are design ideas stolen, it happens a lot, I know. But to just generalize 'Chinese that' and 'Chinese this' is worse than being unfair.

James Davis's picture

Over 300 billion dollars in stolen IP by China from the United States alone isn't a generalization. It's a fact. And spare me the everybody does it argument. Are we then to assume that you'd be ok with someone stealing your photographs and making a profit off your hard work? I highly doubt it.

Bill Larkin's picture

Exactly James, most generalizations come from some form of fact, and this in particular is well-documented. SO that is why I hate to say that. Now, as I said the Godox products work really well. So it is a moral catch-22. Since there's nothing that we as individuals can do, most choose to take advantage of the benefits, regardless how we personally feel about it.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Don't know who came up with those numbers but we are a bit off topic here. Bowens went under because the company that took over did not plan on making it a go, they were more interested in the Calumet line.

As for photography equipment, prices and availability, I for one am very happy I can get excellent quality gear for a price that MAKES SENSE.

For years we have been paying through our noses and frankly had no choice. Today even the brand names make their stuff in China but their prices still go up. Five years ago the SB-910 cost around $500. Today the SB-5000 is almost $600. Salaries and overall income for most of us did not increase by 20%.

If you feel that you still want to be loyal to those companies, by all means, I respect that. I, on the other hand, will always try to find the best equipment with the best value.

I don't know who do you think Godox stole from but their product line is by far better than most out there and their prices make sense.

Looking at what they do, I would say they are very much innovators.

And if we are on the subject of intellectual property theft, let's be fair, the US has its own long history of doing so.

Here is text from a great article I found with just one click of my mouse (read the last sentence)"...But the Americans had no respect for British intellectual property protections. They had fought for independence to escape the mother country’s suffocating economic restrictions. In their eyes, British technology barriers were a pseudo-colonial ploy to force the United States to serve as a ready source of raw materials and as a captive market for low-end manufactures. While the first U.S. patent act, in 1790, specified that "any person or persons" could file a patent, it was changed in 1793 to make clear that only U.S. citizens could claim U.S. patent protection.."

here is whole article:
http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/12/06/we-were-pirates-too/

or this:
https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2013-02-01/piracy-and-fraud-prop...

You might believe that US citizens had moral higher ground to steal from the UK but in reality Germany and France lost a lot of their intellectual property to the young and growing US.

James Davis's picture

Motti, there is no excuse for THEFT of patents, copyright, trademarks and other forms of intellectual property by anyone, regardless of national origin. You brought it up, so it's not off topic. And you are still trying to rationalize criminal activity. Enjoy your affordable flashes.

Motti Bembaron's picture

No, I am not trying to rationalize any criminal activity,

There are billions in IP theft all over the world, including from the US, every year. It happens as we speak.

The Iranians are trying to steal from Israel, China from everyone, the US does it, Germany, France, Russia and everyone who has the capacity and the know how.

Why being high and mighty morally? Everyone is involved in industry espionage.

China is just much more aggressive at it.

But it all started when people bashed China for Bowens closing doors so, yeah, I brought it up because it is a conversation that always comes up. As if China cannot make anything without copying,

Nonsense.

And I talk about Godox in particular, they are innovative and I give them my money and vote.

And why shouldn't I enjoy my affordable flashes?

Sergio Tello's picture

Profoto and PocketWizard are next.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I have to agree about Pocket Wizard. I had a set of their radios and they kept misfire constantly. I finally bought the SMDV FlashWave III and they were amazing. Two sets of two receiver and one trigger cost me as much as two PW units!

I use them with my Einsteins and they worked like a charm.

Since buying the Godox system, I now also use their radio system and again, they are fantastic. A set of a trigger and three receivers cost less than $100 CDN, try that with PW.

As for Profoto, I am not sure. We can all see how they aggressively push their product through known Youtubers. How many video instructors start by stating that they use Profoto. Every shot of the umbrellas and the soft-boxes have the Profoto logo in front..coincidence? I think not.

Meanwhile the likes of Godox, Yongnuo, Phottix and LumoPro are quietly evolving to offer amazing product at even more amazing price point.

gabe s's picture

I have Phottix and LumoPro gear and it is amazing at a 1/4 of the price of other stuff. My Phottix triggers work a lot better than my PW gear did, again at a fraction of the cost.

Robert Nurse's picture

I definitely see a hard road ahead for Pocket Wizard (PW). With all these monolight offerings with HSS coming, I hardly see the need for their radios unless you're trying to hang on to older lights. I stopped bothering with them to achieve HSS, bit the bullet and got a Siros L and I love it! If I want to include speedlights, PW can help. But, again, tough road ahead for PW.

Brian Schmittgens's picture

PocketWizard, probably. Profoto, I wouldn't rule it out, but I'd be pretty shocked if it happened anytime in the near future.

Mick Ryan's picture

A few years ago I upgraded from my cheap Chinese lights (I live in China) to better quality lights and seriously looked at either Bowens or Porfoto. I went with Profoto as I thought they had a better product and that while the Bowens had great tech they were very clunky looking and very similar to the Chinese lights. I think Profoto are doing a great job of continually innovating and do they have the edge. This is necessary today. I understand the temptation to go with cheaper lights but remember a lot of Chinese companies (not just photo related businesses) don't do RnD they just steal the designs from foreign companies.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Did you see the latest AD200 from Godox? No one has lights like that. It looks like others will steal their R&D, lol. No need to paint everyone in the same brush.

zeissiez lee's picture

The claims that the Chinese can't innovate and that their products are all imitations.... are so.... yesterday. There are so many Chinese innovators on the rise, DJI, Godox, Auralic, Hifiman, just to name a few. The next century will see Chinese companies leading in innovations. Why can they achieve that? Firstly they have the market to support. So they are not afraid to fail in 1 of their 10 products. Secondly, their cost of production is always cheaper than the West. Thirdly, they simply work much harder. The ones gone down were either charging too much, failure in meeting customers need, or simply too complacent and lazy. Don't blame the Chinese.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Well said.

Mick Ryan's picture

Not sure who you're rant is aimed at as I never claimed that all Chinese companies steal and that none innovate. But it's still widespread over here that the way to get ahead is to steal RnD and copy and hits is still rife in the car trade, white goods trade etc. And it does put hard working and innnovative companies and innovation itelsef in danger. As I mentioned I live here so I see it almost everyday. I'm sure you're not even nearly exposed to the extent of it in the West.

Kurnia Lim's picture

Well, broncolor rebranded Godox X1, also Elinchrom take ttl hss from Phottix. From Company perspective this is cheaper than add more money to R&D. So I don't agree with stealing IP, not all of them. Godox, Phottix, Jinbei produces good stuff with low price. So Who's innovating now?

J Cortes's picture

Always tough to see a company go under as it means lost jobs. However , I think American & European companies could be better about competing in the market place. The premium brands such as Broncolor and Profoto should be safe as long as they continue to offer excellence in performance and reliability. I personally own two Interfit S1's and I''m very happy with them.

Nick Dors's picture

Godox AD600 are just too good.. Have 3, absolutely love them. Sold all my Elinchrom heads/packs and bought adapters for my Elinchrom light modifiers, which are still amazing. Godox's built is quality good and preformance is fantastic. If Bowens could match that and a little bit more solid built quality and design for 1000 bucks, I would've bought Bowens.. RIP

Josh Leavitt's picture

Have to agree with you there Nick. The AD600 is probably the best value monolight on the market. It even gives the Profoto D1 a run for its money in every way except color temperature consistency. But if Godox can engineer a new version that maintains a consistent +/- 150 kelvin temp across the entire stop range, then the established brands are really going to have something to worry about. Broncolor, Profoto, Elinchrom and the lot should be paying attention to the downfall of Bowens.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I will not be surprised if they (Godox) achieve color consistency in the next version. For me personally it is not that important. When doing events and even portrait session having a all-in-one unit with TTL and HSS is way more important. Their color consistency is excellent for what most of us do.

Godox addressed what is most important to most photographers, I am sure they will come up with even a better unit next.

The one thing Godox has to address is customer service. If they construct a good customer service department they will be getting many more clients. The thing is, it is more expensive and will no doubt be reflected in the price.

However, I heard the B&H is starting to sell Godox products in their store very soon. If Godox can recruit B&H as their US rep that will take care of all customers needs, they will have an amazing base to work from.

Dallas Dahms's picture

My first set of studio lights were a pair of Bowens Esprit 250W. They were nice, but underpowered. Setting up the softboxes required a degree in mechanical engineering and the strength of Hercules.

I sold those and got a pair of 600W Broncolor lights second hand. They were old but obviously very well made and did some good service for me. The problem for me was that buying modifiers was like parting with your limbs. Hellishly expensive.

After a few years I sold them and then didn't have any strobes for a while, until a job required me to invest in some. I decided to get a couple of Menik 500W units which are imported from China by a local company. They also use the Bowens mount and the same company imports an abundance of really affordable modifiers for them, including pop-up softboxes which take no more than a couple of minutes to set up. Literally like opening an umbrella and then attaching the baffles.

These Chinese lights have been fine. They are a bit noisy, but they work and at the end of the day light is light. It doesn't matter where it's coming from.

Sad for Bowens, but I suppose any company must adapt or die.

Jim Tincher's picture

My Bowens Gemini lights have been fantastic for studio work. The consistency in color and overall performance I've been quite pleased. On location was a challenge due to bulk and getting power but they always performed well and did everything I had ever asked.

The new Generation X lights seem to be really great and I wanted to buy them but they seemed just a little pricier than I was willing to spend and unlike my Profoto they require different triggers for the studio vs the portable version. That was a deal breaker.

Very sad to see them go. Hopefully someone will pick them up during the liquidation and correct a couple of these issues. I have four of the Gemini Series of strobes and have never had a problem with them or their modifiers. Quality throughout!

Lee Morris's picture

haha love that featured image

Eduardo Francés's picture

This is turning into a political discussion without reason... Bowens suffered one big problem: their Gemini line (which was the horse they were riding) received little to no update and suddenly not just chinese manufacturers, but every other manufacturer started to add features and the Gemini line got a bit outdated.

The XMT500 came late to the party and price wise it was too near to the Profoto B1X (and given the choice I would have picked Profoto/

There's no doubt there are lots of manufacturers lacking any kind of ethic regarding IP laws, however brands like Godox and Jinbei aren't in that group as an example, and they are chinese manufacturers.

Yes there's Yongnuo (speedlite cases like Canon's) and Phottix (Pocket Wizard Lawsuit) and others who are known for their poor reputation, but saying everybody in China is like these two brands it would be like saying all the people in the USA are like the Kardashians or Paris Hilton... Silly.

Again sadly Bowens decided to rest on its laurels on the Gemini line in a time when everbody else was doing their homework, brands like Bron, Profoto, Elinchrom and also other manufacturers around the globe.

If we go the route "cheapie killed the market" are we to blame Paul C. Buff's lighting gear too for making cheaper and accesible gear ???

Surya Chataut's picture

I wanted to buy RRS Pocket pod with a small ball-head. I added the items to the cart (close to $300 with S&H and tax). Since I needed the Pocket pod for occasional use only I could not justify the price tag. The next day while searching for a cheaper pocket tripod I found an identical product for only $50 total (inc. S&H). I would have happily supported RRS if it was priced reasonably but close to $300 for a pocket tripod is just outrageous (even with R&D). Copying someone's design is certainly wrong but it's hard to support companies here when the difference is $250 for a pocket tripod. Funny thing is - right after I bought the cheaper version I got a survey from RSS and it was about "Would you buy RRS products if it was cheaper but made in China" etc :)

Ronnie Dai's picture

Godox has better quality than Bowens, I hate to break it to you but Godox AD600 almost out performed Profoto in any spec. As of quality of light, I dare you a blind test and you are not gonna find the difference. The strobe lighting market need this disruptive force. Just like Canon and Nikon started as cheap copy cats to Germany cameras, give the Chinese brands 10 yrs and they will come out with much better stuff.

Anatole Klapouch's picture

What can I say, I own a bunch of Yongnuo gear and it's great quality stuff.
Here in Brazil everything photography related is really expensive, Yongnuo gear costs 1/3 of a "brand" gear and delivers.