Why I Sold My Studio Strobes in Favor of Exclusively Using Small Flash

Why I Sold My Studio Strobes in Favor of Exclusively Using Small Flash

I began my journey as a portrait photographer quite obsessed with the premise of blasting large studio strobes through giant modifiers. It was my workflow for years. In studio, I'd usually be washing my model with giant waves of light and on location I'd lug big, powerful strobes along with huge lengths of extension cords so that I could plug in and not bother with heavy battery packs. About a year and a half ago I stopped using my big strobes completely and eventually ended up selling them in favor of completely switching to small flash.

Small Flash Is More Convenient

I imagine this more or less goes without saying but lugging around big strobes is somewhat of an annoyance. It also means lugging around heavy stands and significant weight in sandbags to ensure that they don't topple over. My standard big strobe kit contained three strobes and rolled around in a large bag. My entire speedlight kit contains five lights and weighs less than even one of those original strobes. 

Furthermore, my need for for assistance or running back and fourth to strobes to adjust light power has been replaced with a small commander unit on top of my camera which really isn't a feature that the big strobes offer until you edge into the higher priced range. 

Small flash works just fine for creating the "studio look."

Small Flash Is Universal

Fairly early on I switched from Impact strobes to Alien Bees. That switch meant all of my modifiers were suddenly obsolete and needed to be repurchased. Meanwhile, speedlight modifiers generally require only a hot shoe. It doesn't matter if I'm rocking Nikon, Canon, Yungnuo, Godox, or any other brand of speedlight, my modifiers are all going to work just fine. This universality allows me to invest in a more diverse range of modifiers that I know will last until they wear out (years) and won't need to all be completely replaced if some other company comes out with a new ground breaking light that I feel compelled to buy.

Gelling Small Flash Is Much Easier

Of late, I find myself using more and more gels to add creative mood or even just to balance mixed lighting. Gelling a speedlight is much easier than trying to gel a large strobe. And with the the help of tools such as MagMod or the gel holders created by ExpoImaging, gelling has become even easier than before.  Back when I primarily shot strobe I avoided gels as they added a giant headache to attach to the light, especially if I wanted to also modify the light with a softbox. Meanwhile, small flash empowers me to use gels with almost no effort.

Small Flash Is Cooler

A few years ago I was shooting a costume designer in a full suit of armor in studio blasting him with a set of three strobes. The armor was quite warm to begin with but with the help of the heat released by the big lights the set of armor quickly turned into a furnace. About halfway through the shoot I was worried that my model was going to face heatstroke. Even with the help of an air conditioning unit aimed directly at the model I often found that hot summers made for awfully uncomfortable shoots thanks to the heat generated by large lights. While small flash does create some heat the impact that it has on ambient temperature is trivial at best.

The studio eclipsed 110 degrees during this shoot.

Conclusion

I loved my studio strobes while I had them and there is a certain magic to being able to fire away like a machine gun with full recharge in a second or two, but ultimately I decided that the benefits of small flash vastly out weighed the benefits of large studio heads in almost all situation. Thus, going forward, I have decided that if I do need tremendous flash power for a specific shoot I can always rent a set of large strobes, but for that vast majority of shoots my small flashes are certainly the way to go. Ultimately, moving to small flash has had no discernable impact on image quality which would have been the only factor that truly would have changed my mind. If you don't believe me head over to my Instagram and try to figure out exactly when I made the switch. Good luck.

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Anonymous's picture

Me too!

I have norhing against my Elinchrome gear, and if moderate use of modelling light there are no heat issues. As I have low end models I can not leave it on for extended time, fuse blows with bulb:)

I even have ELB 400 kit. So far it is more powerfull then I want, same goes for my 400 ws monoblocks.

To me the most attracitve gear are the Godox 360, as well as the AD 200 coming up.
I belive this is potensialy a great way to go. I suppose I would keep my studio rig but for location the AD 200 fits me. Pluss a led light as modeling light.

Jay Jay's picture

I have 3 ELB 400 kits and i love them (Though they are way overpriced, just like everything they put out). They're small, and very light, even with the battery packs. Godox and similar manufacturers are making cheaper less expensive versions of things offered by Profoto and others, but with a good amount of quality, and in some cases, identical quality to their more expensive counterparts. The only problem with these brands is, what happens if it breaks? I was looking the other day for godox (i believe they're rebranded as "Flashpoint" for Adorama stores) repair centers, and there doesn't appear any exist, in the United States anyways.

Well in the US Godox is sold by Adorama under Flashpoint brand. I am sure they service what they sell. Godox only sell white label to us as well as uk.

Godox AD 200 is cutting edge with ttl and hss, wery portable. I think it is a "perfect" design.

I had the Godox 360 and hoped that would be the perfect, lightweight solution on location. Unfortunately it couldn't handle more than 8 to 10 shots in HSS mode before it went into overheat protection mode and required me to wait 10 seconds or more between each shot.

When you are on a run & gun on location setting outdoors, on sunny summer days, with only a couple of minutes to nail a quick portrait – that's when the Godox became useless to me. I bit the bullet and went for Profoto B1, and wish I did that long ago. Clearly the most worry free flash system I've used for my kind of work, which mostly is editorial portraits on location.

I have several speedlites as well, and have been travelling with those for years, but after the two B1s came in, I rarely ever use the speedlites – because the B1s means much less hassle, a lot more power and always consistent results.

Again: It's not about making one tool the one and only. It's simply about what works best for what you do, within your budget range. I felt I almost couldn't really afford the B1s, but it's probably the best deal I've ever done.

That said: The Godox AD200 sure looks promising, if the build quality is on point.

I bought two V850 and two V860 speedlites from Godox two years ago, and LOVE the Li-Ion battery pack concept, but the build quality aren't much to write home about. One short-circuited, one smashed to pieces in a fall to the ground (can't really blame the unit, but it seemed more fragile than my 580EXIIs), and one somehow had the hotshoe metal plate bent so much out of shape that it doesn't fit into the camera anymore (not that I use it on-camera, but it still bugs me). That, plus two dead batteries (replaced under warranty). I hope they have improved, because the AD200 idea is brilliant.

Sounds like my expectations are to big :(
I suppose you get what you pay for.
Still I am tempted by size and surly want to test.
Profoto is good stuff and more sutable for pro use.
Sorry to hear Godox is bad, many brags they are solid.

Matt Owen's picture

You're right, there is no service. Warranty "repair" is send a replacement unit and toss the broken one. Once the warranty ends, well, buy a new one or get friendly with an electrical engineer.

I too use flash exclusively, mostly for the convenience factor. To get more power outdoors, I have 4 flashes on a quad flash bracket on a monopod with an umbrella. So I still need an assistant to hold the monopod, but I too am not enthused by the thought of lugging studio lights around outdoors when chasing after small children during family sessions!

Dan Howell's picture

are you really saving that much weight with 4 speed lights and 2 or 4 battery packs compared to a Profoto B1 or B2 system or Elinchrom Ranger? Does that savings trump recycle speed and power? Lack of modeling light? Or even the new Interfit S1 is 500ws and only 6lbs.

Andre Goulet's picture

Or even cost, when things like this exist. In US dollars, this is cheap compared to 4 speed lights and all the surrounding gear: https://strobepro.com/collections/strobe/products/strobepro-x600ii-ttl-b...

Anonymous's picture

Looks pretty good. Have you any experience with it?

Chris Adval's picture

I agree, I was going to get the bees but with their mounts, not really. Since I already have impact bowens mount strobe, and mods, I'll be getting a strobe that could do more power and HSS with a battery pack inside it. And not not a profoto (which would be nice) an XPLOR 600. At least one, maybe sell the other strobes or keep'em for exploring studio setups on personal projects. But I agree, I'd rather use speedlites, especially for location work, just in combination of one strong strobe I don't see as a bad thing either. My biggest mod honestly right now is the 48" para softbox and 70" umbrella.

Spy Black's picture

LED modeling lights greatly reduce heat issues in the studio, so the thermal issue is greatly reduced.

I started out with monolights and switched over to speedlights simply for their portability. However to date speedlights still don't have modeling lights, which is sometimes a pain. I tape led flashlights to compensate, but really, why not just put LEDs right next to the damned flash tubes?

I really like where Godox has been going, and I really like the new fairly lightweight battery powered monolights with the same radio system as in my Godox speedlights. I can now expand and contract my lighting needs as needed, and control them all independently with one transmitter. I will be picking up some their monolights to augment my speedlight arsenal and dumping my old AC monolights. I get my Godox units locally in NYC via Adorama, which re-brands the Godox gear under their Flashpoint brand. The Godox gear is very versatile, affordable, and practical.

I had originally picked up Yongnuo RF 605s when I first switched over to high frequency radios, and I can still use them because they can control my camera remotely as well if I need to. So I just stack the Godox transmitter on top of the Yongnuo transceiver and have full control remote control of camera and lighting, all for peanuts. It's a great time for gear if you do any studio and/or portable studio photography.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I agree, though I'd actually prefer a hot shoe modelling light that turns off when the shutter is pressed rather than one directly on the lights. Plenty of companies make hotshoe video lights, but no one makes on that actually detects a shutter press and turns of the LEDs. I've seen a super complicated DIY accomplish it but no one has tried to create such a product.

Spy Black's picture

I'm not sure what the advantage of that would have. You can have the modeling lights in the speedlights and they could even turn off when firing if you wanted to, although it's not really an issue if they stay on. The entire arrangement would be simpler, more compact, and portable as well.

Ryan Cooper's picture

My desire for a modelling light is only as a focus lamp when shooting in conditions too dark for autofocus to work. Also, in these situations I'm often dragging the shutter to expose the background (say city lights) so any modelling light that stays on would actually impact the exposure. Also my camera is always pointed at the subject, while the speed lights may often be bouncing or being used in an angle where a built in modelling lamp would not be effective.

Spy Black's picture

So other than a focus assist lamp, you just want a fill light. My point was to have a light in the same position and direction as the flash so I can set up lights, whether they're bare or with a modifier. I do that now with led flashlights taped to the speedlights which, while it works, is rather clumsy and crude-looking.

Spy Black's picture

BTW, this guy carries his hashish on his chin?...

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

I..hate my speed light lol. That thing only surfaces when capturing an event.

Hans Rosemond's picture

+1 for the godox and the LED modeling lights. I'm slowly replacing my einsteins with godox/flashpoint. Being cordless and working with LEDs and HSS is awesome.

Jay Jay's picture

The reason i bought strobes from another manufacturer is because i got tired of waiting for Buff to come out with new or improved gear (namely, strobes that incorporate a battery like Profoto's, and HSS). They simply don't innovate or improve and seem to be content selling the same models, year in and out, while the Chinese and everyone else is coming out with amazing tech.

Brian Schmittgens's picture

"Furthermore, my need for for assistance or running back and fourth to strobes to adjust light power has been replaced with a small commander unit on top of my camera which really isn't a feature that the big strobes offer until you edge into the higher priced range."

Einsteins are far from the higher priced range, and I have complete control over them with my CyberCommander

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Are you using AA or HV power packs with the speedlights?

Ryan Cooper's picture

I use enloop pros in the flashes. No external powerpacks. The Enloop pros are far far far superior to normal AA batteries. I never have a problem with them at all.

Anonymous's picture

ALL OF YOU ARE WRONG - natural light is the only way to go!

;-)

Personally I hate when I have to wait on my speedlights to be done recycling for another blast of flash. Most annoying thing ever.
But your article has some goofy undertone to it, lot of controversial aspects lol.

Spy Black's picture

Get yourself Godox speedlights. They sell in the NYC area under the Adorama Flashpoint name, but they sell everywhere under Godox or other brand names. $100 for manual, $180 for TTL models. HSS capable. They have 2000 mAh batteries that give you instant 1.5 sec recycling at full power until the battery has been drained by it's rated 650 flashes per charge. No slowing down. Needless to say, they recycle even faster at lower power levels. No waiting.
https://www.adorama.com/fplfsmzl2.html

Ryan Cooper's picture

Ha, thats no mistake. :) Controversy inspires discussion. :D

Get good batteries. The difference in performance that my speedlights have when using Enloop Pro or a standard Duracel from the drug store is night and day. With cheap batteries I often experience as long as 10 second recycle times which I'd also define as annoying and terrible. With the Enloops, its more like 1-2 seconds which is fine, I don't want to shoot any faster than that.

Hey Ryan, could you tell me how did you achieve the shot of the girl in white background. This can't be done with speedlights! Or can it? Unless you set up two behind her and bounced them off the huge reflector with the hole in the middle for the camera. Right?..... Naaaah, the catchlights aren't circular so must've been some other reflectors but still.... :)

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