Lighting is the most important tool for a photographer, which allows you to create real masterpieces. Flashlight is still the go-to choice for most photographers in the studio: no wonder, since natural window light can be too finicky and unpredictable, and constant light (which we wrote about earlier) sometimes lacks power. In this article, we’ll show you how to choose a studio flash based on your needs and studio size, and take a quick look at a few popular models.
Types of studio lighting for photography
There are three main types of flash lights: on-camera flashes, generators, and monoblocs. Small on-camera flashes are usually not designed for the studio — they usually lack power, and sometimes it is more difficult to use various modifiers with them (more on that below).
You can, of course, use a system of several on-camera flashes. However, to achieve the same power and lighting quality as with larger studio flashes, you will need to spend significantly more money and effort on set-up. The problem of cost, of course, can be solved by using the cheapest Chinese models, but one cannot hope for a high quality of such a system.
A more versatile and simpler option is a monoblock, or simply a “studio flash”. A monoblock is a single housing that houses all the electronics, controls and a lamp. Usually they are equipped with two lamps (a flash lamp for the flash itself and a modeling light for a preliminary assessment of lighting). All control takes place with the help of organs on the body. The main advantages of monoblocks are versatility and low price relative to generators.
The generator light consists of the main unit, which houses all the electronics and controls, and heads with lamps that are connected to it with a cable. Generators boast very high power and a short pulse. However, such light is much more expensive, and in this article we will focus on more versatile monoblocks.
Monoblocks differ in a number of parameters that you need to pay attention to when choosing. We will consider them below.
The first thing to consider is the power of the studio flash. It ranges from modest 100J fill lamps to super-bright 1500J lights. For most applications, the 500–800J range will be a solid starting point. In general, in terms of power, it is better to take devices with a margin. Excess light can always be dissipated, but getting more than stated will not work.
Weaker 200 joule lamps are suitable for shooting small objects (for example, for product photography) and close-up portraits.
For small spaces, such as home studios, you can use lamps starting from 300 joules. For example, the Raylab Rossa RS-300 pulsed studio flash has a power of 300 joules, so it is suitable for various types of shooting in the home studio. The model is equipped with a touch screen and a beginner-friendly control system.
For shooting in larger rooms, open spaces and for large groups of people (20+ people), it is worth using flashes with a power of 600 joules or more. The Raylab Sprint IV RTD-600 has just such a brightness that it can be used in professional photo studios. The active cooling system protects the device from overheating during shooting, allowing you to work for a long time without interruption.
It is worth paying attention to what level of power control the model you are considering offers. The more precise adjustment available, the better. Most modern models can be adjusted in very small increments to fine-tune the brightness. For example, the Rosa and Sprint series models can control pulse power in 0.1‑stop increments, which is enough for most situations.
Related to this is another important parameter — the adjustment range, that is, how much you can reduce the flash power from the maximum. The same rule works here — the larger the range available, the better. This parameter must also be correlated with the power of the illuminator. For example, if you have a 500 joule monobloc that only allows you to reduce the power to 1/4, in some situations it will be too bright. On average, it is necessary to focus on the possibility of reducing power to 1/16 and below.
The next thing to think about is speed. If you plan to shoot not only portraits but also action scenes, choosing a fast recycle lamp is crucial. In order to make fast sequential flashes, many manufacturers add a special mode to their models (commonly called “high-speed mode” or “freeze”), which reduces the power and duration of the flash, thereby reducing the recycling time.
High-Speed Sync (HSS) is also an increasingly common feature, and is especially useful for fast-moving subjects. Flashes of the Luxio series, for example, Raylab Luxio RL-800, have this function. The maximum recycle speed of this flash is only 0.05 seconds (meaning the flash can fire up to 20 flashes per second), so you can freeze even the fastest movement.
But even for normal shooting, you obviously don’t want to take a flash that “thinks” for too long: you take a picture, and after that you look at the model for a long time and languidly, waiting for recharging. Of course, this is a rather subjective parameter, but we would recommend focusing on flashes with a recycle speed of no more than 1 second.
Synchronization of studio flash and camera
Regardless of which model you choose, the camera needs to be able to fire (“fire”) your flash. This can be done with a cable, an optical signal, or a radio synchronizer. The most popular method for modern cameras is a radio signal, which allows you not to tangle in cables and provides a more reliable connection compared to an optical channel. Universal radio triggers for studio flashes are Raylab RL-UT6 and RL-UT7. They allow you to remotely control the power of the pulse and activate several groups of flashes at once. Having multiple channels allows you to avoid triggering flashes from other photographers’ transmitters (for example, when working in large studios with several rooms), as well as combining flashes into several groups to create different lighting options.
The RL-UT7 synchronizer has TTL support — the flash will automatically produce the amount of light depending on the exposure and distance to the subject. If the scene is dark, the flash output will be more intense and vice versa.
The radio transmitters are compatible with all major camera brands and work with flashes equipped with a built-in wireless receiver — Raylab Rossa, Sprint and Luxio. Raylab Axio III is compatible with the Raylab JH-R004 radio synchronizer.
Other monoblocks with built-in synchronizers can be connected using a special external receiver RL-SR via a plug.
Some flashes can be controlled via an application on a smartphone — for this it must be equipped with a bluetooth or Wi-Fi module.
Another feature of various flash models is the presence or absence of pilot light. This is the second lamp with a constant light, which allows you to evaluate the light pattern in advance. Modeling light is equipped with flashes of all Raylab lines. Depending on the power of the modeling light, you can use it as a constant light for video shooting, but standalone LED panels will serve better for this.
Bayonet and accessory compatibility
Finally, the last important characteristic is which mount the monoblock uses. The bayonet is a ring adapter for mounting various accessories such as softboxes. Always make sure that the adapter on the accessory and the mount on the flash match. The Bowens mount is the most common mount for which a huge number of different modifiers and accessories have been developed. Therefore, if you do not want to be limited to branded accessories of any flash manufacturer, you should choose it.
As for the modifiers themselves, we previously discussed them in detail in the article on lighting control. Umbrellas, softboxes, reflectors, and beauty dishes can be used with studio flash to soften the light or create a special light pattern. Most often they are attached to the flash with a bayonet mount or on a studio stand. Many flash models, such as the Raylab Rossa RS-500, are additionally equipped with a special umbrella hole.
When choosing a studio flash, you need to focus on a few basic parameters.
- Flash output should depend on the size of your room. A good start for a small home studio is 300 joules, and for larger rooms and professional studios, 600 joules.
- The ability to fine-tune the power should allow you to reduce it at least 1/16 of the maximum.
- Reload speed. For general shooting, a maximum of 1.5 seconds is recommended, and for shooting fast motion, it is better to choose a model with fast shooting mode (up to 0.05 seconds) and HSS support.
- The flash (or groups of flashes) is most conveniently synchronized with the camera using a radio trigger.
- For broad compatibility with a variety of lighting accessories, we recommend choosing a Bowens mount model.
Do you use studio flashes? We will be glad if you share your experience in the comments.