Slecting Strobes

The past couple of months I have had a tremendous amount of e-mail asking how to select a studio lighting systems. That is simple with an unlimited budget, for the rest of us careful consideration must be taken to use our money wisely and get the most Bang for the Buck… In photography lighting is everything and everything is the light.

All studio strobes have specific characteristics and preference curves – usually effecting white balance and the consistency for the flash itself. Better, high-end systems have minimized these inconsistencies, but carry a price tag for the added quality. You should find and look up these special characteristics on the manufactures website. As a rule of thumb; you want as much light as you can afford. Personally, I feel a three strobe kit would be the absolute minimum. A “nice” set of light modifiers is also going to be required; reflectors, softboxes, umbrellas, etc, as you wish. I hate to recommend a specific brand (my LOVE for Alien Bees is common knowledge all over this website), but I have used or owned many outstanding systems in the past 40 years. Norman’s are hands down the best. Speedtron’s Rock! I owned a Dynalite 3 head system that preformed perfectly for over 25 years – at all power settings. I have friends who own; Calumet’s, Broncolor’s and White Lightning, Mono light’s and I can tell you for a fact They are Exceptionally Sweet!!

I use Alien Bees 1600’s, in the studio or indoor locations. At f-8 or higher the strobes are exceptionally stable, the consistency and purity of light is assured every time – White Balance and Flash Intensity. I can get by on f-5.6, below that I am seeing a shift in white balance – towards magenta. A friend of mine and I have both noticed a different white balance between the edge and the center of the photograph at apertures of less then f-3.5. Yikes… I’ve learned never to go there… For any other brands/models you will need to do your own research. In large metropolitan areas you can often rent a verity of systems before buying, talk to your friends, rent different equipped studios to try out a lighting system. Or just run over here and buy the Busy Bees package deal 🙂 Don’t forget to upgrade all of the strobes to 1600’s.

Never expect a “cheapy” set off e-Bay strobes to preform with any degree of consistency. If you are faced with buying cheapies or nothing at all, then buy nothing at all! You would be better off going Strobist with a high-end or two speedlight.

I can give you tons of reasons why not to buy the cheapies, but here are the two reasons I hear all the time:
1.) The strobe is not delivering a consistent amount of light – measured light. A friend of mine fired a set of e-Bay lights into my flash meter 50 times. Every single flash was + or – 2 full stops from the setting. Even after allowing 30 seconds recycle time.
2.) A different white balance with every flash. I can imagine how frustrating it must be to have 50 different white balances from one studio shoot.

I hope this helps!!


  1. This is a comment to the webmaster. I came to your “Selecting you first set of quality Strobes or Mono lights | Portfolio” page via Google but it was hard to find as you were not on the front page of search results.

    • Hi Henry, I hear this all of the time, including from my best friend who is looking for a set of strobes for his wife as a Xmas gift.. Those JVC (or whatever) you see all over eBay are total junk!! You fire them once and they are 20 units to magenta. You fire them again and there 2 stops under, etc and so on all day long…

      The Cheapest “Strobes” I recommend are Alien Bees 1600’s. 800’s are OK I guess, but remember a AB 1600 is NOT 1600 watts. its true wattage is 640ws. I have no clue how 800’s are rated, but 300 something??? That is just to low for me. 400’s would be out of the question!

      If you really want to go cheaper than AB 1600’s, go down to the Home Depot and buy Hot Lights. $8.00 to $20 each, otherwise IMHO you are just wasting your money… Or waste it, I’m not going to argue on this. I realize money is tight for everyone these days but that junk on eBay is not going to make you happy or give you the ability to shoot anywhere near a professional level – or advanced hobbyist level as far as that goes. – IMHO…

      Good Luck!

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