Back when we were choosing a flash system for the studio (way back in the good old days) we sat down and discussed
- What do we want?
- What do we need?
- How much can we afford?
- What experiences have we had with different equipment in different studios?
- What light modifiers are available and what do we want to use?
Between us we had used a few different rental studio with a variety of different brands so we all had a good idea of what direction we wanted to go. It was quickly clear that none of us wanted some cheap "No Name" or "made in China" flashes due to quality control and white balance issues. It was also clear that most of the "No Name" or "made in China" stuff was manufactured with a Bowens compatible bayonet (in fact we already had a lot of light formers with the Bowens bayonet). Although "Alien Bees" started off hight on the list the were soon dropped due to availability, power issues and availability of light modifiers (at the time in the EU). It was soon a clear what brand we would chose, there were only a few real quality manufacturers that made it through the selection. But only one offered real quality at an acceptable price.
Bowen 400/400 twin-head starter flash kit
The Bowens Gemini 400/400 twin-head starter flash kit is made to the same high standard as Bowens' professional equipment. It offers robust build quality, simple easy-to-use design and reliably consistent results. It can be the foundation of a growing studio system, while its portability and the versatility of optional battery power make it a good choice for outdoor location shooting. For your money you get two compact but powerful Gemini 400 flash heads, two aluminium 120-degree reflectors with umbrella mounts, two sturdy metal stands, two mains leads, a camera sync cable and two 90cm silver/white umbrellas with removable covers that can be used as either reflectors or diffusers. The kit comes in a large black holdall bag, and all included weighs approximately 12.5Kgs
We ordered 2 Bowens Gemini 400/400 twin-head starter kit giving us 4 x 400ws as a starting point. This way we could add larger and or smaller Ws flashes in the future if needed. In the last 12 month these flashes have severed our needs fantastic. The performance has not been compromised either with this petite power-house offering impressive flash-durations and recycle times. And precise light control over 5 stops of power using a single simple stepless dial which also controls the 250W proportional modelling lamp. Or you can simply press a switch for the modelling lamp and use it 100% or off . No complicated digital menu systems - 'simplicity' is the keyword here, the Gemini really is a plug-and-go system, that can suit the needs of every user from a first time studio user through to pro work.
The main problems with "No Name" or "made in China" studio flashes that I have seen so far is 2 fold.
- The Quality control leaves a lot to be desired.They pump out as many flashes as thy can as quick as they can and hope people won't return them.
- Irregular white balance. If your flashes have different colour temperatures or a large difference in the colour temperature you may end up with odd looking images or spending a long time in post production.
The Gemini range offers consistency, reliability and quality to ensure stunning results in any environment. As an optional extra there is a battery pack available that allows you to use the Gemini flash heads as a mobile unit. We dont have one yet but who knows what will happen in the future . We recently added one 200w Gemini flash head to the collection. This add more control over our lighting set-ups and depth of field in the studio, I am hoping we can add one more in the near future.
|Gemini 200||Gemini 400|
|Max Power (Ws||200Ws||400Ws|
|Guide Number (m/100 ISO)||54||76|
|Flash Duration (t=0.5)||0.7 Seks||1.2 Seks|
|Recycle Time (100%)||1/1200 Sek||1/1000 Sek|
|DialPowerRange||5 stops, 6Ws - 200Ws||5 stops, 12Ws - 400Ws|
|Modelling Control||Proportional with Power||Proportional with Power|
|Modelling Modes||Full, Off, Proportional||Full, Off, Proportional|
|Colour Temperature (+/- 300°K)||5600K||5600K|
|Voltage Stabilisation||bis 1%||to 1%|
|Flash Inhibit Circuit||Yes||Yes|
|Sync Voltage||5V DC||5V DC|
|Ready Indication||Ready Beep, Ready LED||Ready Beep, Ready LED|
|Operating Voltage||190-250V 50Hz||190-250V 50Hz|
|Built in Slave Cell||Yes||Yes|
|Switchable Slave Cell||Yes||Yes|
|EM Noise Suppression||Yes||Yes|
- Simple to use intuitive controls
- Five stops of power control
- Lightweight & compact
- Travelpak Battery compatible
- Auto Power-save mode
- Robust Metal Construction
- Proportional modelling control
- Recessed switches & sockets
- Huge range of Bowens and 3rd party accessories
- Fast Flash-Durations
- DSLR friendly Low Sync Voltage
About 12 months ago I (Scott) was chatting with Kat Bradshaw from Kat Bradshaw photography … She was talking about her smoke machine that a friend of hers wanted to borrow. As a joke I asked to borrow it, and like the wonderful person that she is she said yes, but lets be honest the postage from Nashville Tennessee to Karlsruhe Germany would be a killer.
Not that long ago we did “The walking dead” shoot , and I thought it would be a great chance to use a smoke machine in combination with a shooting. I asked m-arx organised a rental as he “Knows someone”. The machine was amazing but way to powerful for our studio, so I started to look at what eBay had to offer.
The best deal from a reputable dealer, was a NM040 - 400 Watt Smoke Machine with 5l of fog fluid.
Heating time: circa 7 minutes
Spray distance: circa 6 meters
Fluid capacity: 0.75l
Maximum spray time: 40-50 seconds
Dimensions: (WxLxH) 132 x 242 x 102 mm
Fog Capacity: 57m³/minute
Included in the delivery : 1x 400w Smoke machine, 1x 5M trigger cable, 1x 5 leter Smoke fluid
Price: €40.00 plus €6.50 postage
According to the manufacturer
The NM040 provides a cheap start into professional working with fog machines. In spite of the robust cabinet, the weight is very low. The bracket enables you to flight this device, too. Due to the analogue technology it is very easy to put the fog machine into operation. The inbuilt components were chosen because of their durability, also during heavy-duty.
At first I thought “OHHH NO what have I bought here”. It was tiny could to do the job? I set it up in the studio and tested it a but, and was sceptical (at this point all I was thinking is where the receipt so I can send it back). Before I send it back I did want to give it a real test run (so I had something to blog about). And I’m glad I did….
I contacted Sandra J.K and asked if she would model as a “Rocker Girl” so I can test the “Fog Machine” in a real shooting environment. I tested it with different spray times, and at different heights in the studio. After a few attempts I found what worked for me. I placed the NM040 on a 2.5m light stand and placed it up high right next to a 400w Bowens Gemini monoblock (fitted with a set of barn doors and a blue gel filter). I was using a red background and the resulting colour contrast was fantastic. At this point I really go into the shoot and had a fantastic time.
For the price it’s a great accessory for the studio but you have to know how to use it and its limitation. It needs to be placed high so the smoke can fall into the photo. Using colour gels that contrast to your background will defiantly add that wow affect.
Smoke machine basics
The most common type of smoke machine takes a glycol based fluid that is pumped into a heated chamber. The normal components used are a solenoid pump to push the liquid in, and a fibreglass lagged heater block based on a sandwich of aluminium plates, a heating element and a long piece of copper capillary tubing snaked around between the heater plates. In some units the heater is tubular with the capillary tubing wound round it, but the effect is the same.
At switch on the unit will not pump liquid until the heating block has come up to the correct temperature, whereupon the pump can run and squirt the fluid into the block. When it does, the fluid evaporates very quickly and the resultant increase in pressure not only causes it to form a dense superheated vapour, but forces it out of the front of the machine via the exit port, which can be as simple as the end of the capillary tubing being poked out, or in some cases a small pinhole orifice to make sure that the internal pressure is kept high.
The resultant dense vapour exits the front of the machine and upon contact with the cool air it forms a dense cloud that is a very close relation to real fog.
I have wanted a ring flash for a long long long long time. My original plan was to save for a while and get the Bowens Ring Flash Pro plus a generator. But when i stumbled across the Godox EXR400 ring flash I thought I would give it a test.
I already have a portable monolight from the same manufacturer so the fact that it used the same battery pack was a large selling point for me. I paid €386,05 + €11,35 postage + €22.50 import tax.
The kit contains:
"I have the power" well I don't but the flash dose, it as a lot of power. At its minimum power setting, ISO 100 I had to work at between f/11 and f/16. I was hoping to use a shallower depth of field. Full power at close range will be very uncomfortable for your models. It has the same basic faults as my other unit from the same manufacturer. They need to have a much lower power out put at minimum level, but you can easily deal with this problem by taking an extra step away from your subject and zooming in a bit more. One item that I found very important is the "Power pack bag" as this gives you more mobility, the cable between the ring flash head and the power pack isn't the longest. If you place the power pack on the ground and shoot you wont be able to move around your location a lot. But the power pack isn't very heavy so by using the shoulder bag that is provided, you will be able to adjust your flash easier and move around your shooting location easier.
We have been looking for a decent "Boom Light Stand" for a while. It needed to have wheels for ease of use in the studio and be stable enough for a large 400w Bowens Gemini flash head with a 160cm octobox. After looking at a lot of stuff we settled on Walimex Balance boom stand. We had bought "Walimex Pro" stuff before and sent it back as it just wasn't upto what I would call PRO standard. So I was a bit apprehensive about this purchace.
We paid €300.00 + approx €30.00 postage. Delivery took 3 working days.
It is large (see table below) and stable it is easy to move around the studio. The counter weigh system works well, so its easy to position your light where you need it. The "construction manual" left a lot to be desired, it was a single photocopied page with 1 image that looked similar to finished product. It came with the necessary tools for construction and took about 30 minutes to put together (it is a 2 person job). I'm actually very impressed with it and hope this is a Walimex product that will stand the test of time.
|Max. length||approx. 290cm|
|Height extension arm (min.-max.)||approx. 35cm - 310cm|
|Counterweight||à approx. 2700g|
|Vertical pivoting radius||approx. 180°|
|Connection||5/8 inch spigot|
|Max. load capacity of the extension arm||approx. 10kg|
|Total weight||approx. 25kg|
|Material||metal (frame), rubber (wheels)|
A while back i reviewed the Phottix Velo camera straps. In general they weren't 100% reliable due to very poor quality metal parts, some of which i have to modify to make them usable. The crew at Blackrapid sent me a set of RS DR-1 Double Straps .....
RS DR-1 Test
Like the "Phottix Velo Quick Strap for two cameras" the "Blackrapid RS DR-1 Double Strap" is a designed for use with 2 cameras. They have a list price of about €130.00 and as far as I know there isn't a lot of variation in the price.
They are very comfortable and easy to adjust (as you would expect). The biggest differences between the 2 systems are the carabiner and the way the camera is attached to the carabiner. The blackrapid system uses high strength steel that feels strong and secure.
To put them to the test I used my 2 heaviest set ups. On the right hand side I had.
- Sony Alpha 900 with Vertical grip and 2 batteries
- Tokina 80-200mm 2.8 ATX-PRO (very heavy old lens)
- Minolta 5600HSD with external battery pack
and on the left side
- Sony Alpha 700 with Vertical grip and 2 batteries
- Zeiss 24-70mm 2.8 SSM
- Sony HVL F42AM
I then ran up and down 2 flights of steeps (hoping that my camera insurance was paid up), but nothing fell off. Then i put the blackrapid to a real test. I attached the carabiner to my work bench and pulled on the straps as hard as I could. I'm not a small guy so the stress I was putting the straps through was a lot more then they would be expected to withstand. I am please to say that they passed with flying colours, if they can withstand the "Scott stress test" then a few kgs of camera is no problem.
A comfortable, easy to use, stable, system that fells like it was designed constant use. I would like to see a base plate that is easier to use with a vertical grip but that is only a miner point. Blackrapid have a product that is superior to the Phottis Velo system simply because you can trust it not to fall apart.