After solely working with my monolight kit for a long time, I’ve finally decided to invest in a more lightweight and even more mobile solution: speed lights.
Speedlighting – My Weak Point. And Problems Faced Recently…
Until now, I do not really have any profound experience in shooting with speedlights. The non-use is somehow based on a latent, irrational fear. There’s not really a logical explanation for it but I have constantly avoided these pieces.
Find a few more hints about my weird “fear” in “What’s in my camera bag”.
I used the flash for some event stuff (mainly at family gatherings or other non-job related events) but when it comes to model photography I always relied on my monobloc lighting kit. I consider the model light as most useful and indispensable because it provides me with a good guidance when I am working on my light setup. With that being said, I used this fact as an excuse not to busy myself with the topic of speedlighting for a long time.
Well, recently I repeatedly kept running into some trouble with my traditional lighting gear: on location space limitation! Monolight head too big, stand’s footprint to large, no space for movement – simply horrible. Unfortunately, I do not always get to shoot in large rooms in big palaces. I also have to work in rather small junior suites and other cramped situations 😉
And, more surprisingly, on some shoots (with limited distance) the monolights were just too strong. I could not reduce the power to the point that would allow me to only create this slight touch of light that I was looking for!
Last but not least, I simply need a very mobile kit when doing snaps outside. When wandering around in the city looking for great spots to create some awesome quick pictures, it is just the model and me. Meaning, we can’t be carrying around heavy equipment and stay flexible at the same time. So a mobile solution was literally screaming for my attention! And I was finally ready to listen…which ended up with me investing in a more mobile lighting system.
Walimex Pro Light Shooter 180/360: Decision in Favor of Bare Bulb Flashes (+ the BEEP!)
I could have gone with original Nikon units (I Am Nikon)… Or Yongnuo or any other brand. But the thing is that I want to have a basic light that is as unadulterated in its character as possible. That’s why I decided to invest in a bare-bulb system (all other flash units have already a Fresnel panel built into the housing).
Pro: No systemic light alteration, just a naked flashtube that can be replaced in case it gets busted.
Con: These units have no TTL functions at all. But thinking about the circumstances that I need my gear for, I easily forego TTL measuring. But hey, the last few years I already used to set up my model-shoot-lighting and controlled output manually all the time. So not a big issue for me!
What actually is the most important feature on these units is something as simple as a beep tone!
I get an acoustic signal when they are reloaded and ready to fire again. This tiny little function makes for a very big advantage: I can fully concentrate on directing the model and shooting.
Once I hear the beep(s) I know: Next shot ready! Wonderful!
My New Units: Versatile & Worth the Price
I bought my Walimex branded gear in Europe, the sets are named Pro Light Shooter 180 & 360.
They are originally manufactured by Godox (I guess) and they call their units WITSTRO. Identical systems and built are available under several different brands: Godox WITSTRO AD180/ AD360, Walimex Pro Light Shooter 180/360, Cheetah CL-180/CL-360, NEEWER AD-180/360, Calumet Genesis, Bolt VB, Flashpoint Streaklight and some other copies.
Surprisingly, on a negative side, they are not cheap at all. Although lacking any TLL function – well, they actually do not come with any sophisticated electronic at all – they make a rather large dent in most people’s budget!
One set costs about EUR 500 (USD 560) (flash unit, battery, standard reflector). I paid around EUR 1,200 (USD 1,350) for my full equipment (2 sets & light modifier kit). That’s quite a bit but I am expecting them to be tireless work horses with a longevity that justifies this investment.
And when adding the thought of getting a comprehensive, fully equipped lighting kit that offers the freedom of lightweight traveling, it’s definitely worth its price (at least for me).
Strong, Durable Power
Power: I chose 2 different power units: 180 WS and 360 WS. Each of them is more than strong enough for my shooting purposes. I decided to go with two different power intensities because I want to be flexible and have the ability to reduce the power of the 180 unit further down if needed. On the other hand, I also want to have the option of pushing the 360 to its limit. Both units offer 1/1 – 1/128 power levels in 1/3rd stop adjustments and seem most fine-tunable. I guess that this combination is good yet future shoots yet have to proof me right.
Durable Batteries (with overheating protection): Though I’ve not shot excessively until today, I can absolutely confirm that the battery packs deliver very durable and constant power. I flashed-off over 800 snaps in a production day and the battery-packs were still half-full. It seems that they just won’t die. That makes my heart rejoice!
What about Modifiers?
Thanks to the strobist crowd, speedlight modifiers have been getting more sophisticated in general over the last few years and this system offers all basic modifiers (with a specific mount) one needs. I purchased a kit and got the following modifiers:
- 2x Standard reflector (included in the set)
- 1x Snoot
- 1x Octo w/Grid, Ø45cm/18”
- 1x Beauty Dish w/Grid, Ø30cm/11”
- 1x Shoot-Through Umbrella, Ø100cm/40”
It’s just that I’m not yet used to the quality of light! The original modifiers for this system are naturally much smaller (in diameter/front surface) than I am used to and therefore they create a much more limited and harsher light. Even the octobox (Ø45cm/18’’) appears to be quite scary when used as a key light indoors.
Small Units: Still Educating Myself & Practice like a Madman
With my year long experience shooting big strobes, I notice that the basics don’t really seem to be too different. Light direction, quality and shadow sculpting stay basically the same. Yet the units are smaller; smaller buttons, laborious manipulation, smaller modifiers… – I have to adapt my workflow a bit, especially when it comes to setting the first light of a production site.
I need to think more, imagine possible light placement in my mind first. I am still missing the modeling light but starting out with concentrating on my imaginative set plan already leads to quite acceptable results.
In order to boost my knowledge, feel more secure and act based on an educated guess, I delved into books my colleagues wrote and every one of them has some different approaches and useful tips.
That’s not meant to come across as a sales pitch here but I could imagine that these eGuides might be quite informative for one or the other of you guys:
- The Art of Boudoir Photography with Speedlights Zelbel
- Location Flash – Shoot Awesome Portraits Combining Natural and Artificial Light
In order to give you a first impression of the different light modifiers, we go with a few test shots supported by the attendance of the lovely, dressed, unretouched Jenni Czech. I decided to convert the images into black & white so we can fully concentrate on the light quality and character.
Conclusion: Full Speed Ahead
I will most definitely have to enhance the modifier palette (3rd party generic brands) as I am not really happy with the light quality yet. It’s too harsh, so I need to invest in bigger formers. I can’t just use the shoot-through umbrella as it’s impossible to control the light direction/spill.
But anyhow, from now on you can expect more shoots done with this mobile lighting kit: studio, indoor & outdoor locations in the genres glam, nudes and a b/w-artsy-approach.
I will continue with just the 2 units purchased and if outdoors (well, probably indoors also) put an additional disc reflector into play to create extra fill-ins & volume.
Also there’s no way of avoiding further self-education about high-speed sync. This additional knowledge will soon allow me to shoot some decent outdoor photos under nature’s blue sky. This is my goal and I will do what’s necessary to achieve it! Even overcome my “biggest fear”…. 😉
But for now this post here is the first step I am bravely taking.
More to come!
- Li-ion battery-powered camera flashes
- Powerful 180ws / 360ws – GN 60m / 85m (ISO 100, standard 28mm reflector)
- 900 Full Power Pops – with the Lithium Pac
- Fast Recycle Times 0.05 – 2.6 seconds
- No Overheating – Fire many consecutive flashes without overheating
- Wireless Remote Manual Power Control – (with optional FT-16 Radio Triggers)
- 1/1 – 1/128 power levels in 1/3 rd stop adjustments (22 adjustments)
- Accurate colour temperature output 5600K +/- 200K
- Flash duration 1/300 to 1/10,000
- Focus Assist Light
- Built in Optic Slave
- Sound Prompt Beep (recycle ready etc.)
- Lightweight and Compact – just 550 grams – Lithium pack 540 grams
- Modifiers available to attach directly to the flash head bayonet mount
- Removable and replaceable bulb
My Complete Set
Get a Detailed Review Here
As mentioned in the very beginning, this article is not a review but rather an explanation of my very personal reasons “why I decided to go with this kind of equipment”.
For those of you curious to get more tech info read a detailed review about function & data (Godox version) here: http://flashhavoc.com/godox-witstro-ad180-ad360-review/