There are a couple of strobe packages on Ebay that I'm looking at. We have a budget, but don't want to have buyers remorse either.

The question is between getting three 250W strobes or three 180W strobes.

The application is in our basement (which doesn't have amazing lighting to begin with), but is in an enclosed area, so the light will be focused.

Do you have any suggestions?


Here is the Ebay Item that I'm looking at. Since budget is the majority shareholder in this decision, unfortunately we can't be spending thousands on this.

  • At $400, it's too pricey to recommend. Have you considered a strobist based kit in conjunction with ebay triggers? – Alan Feb 7 '11 at 19:25
  • I haven't considered much since this is our first "studio" type setup, and I really have no idea what to look for. What is this "strobist based kit" you speak of :-) – Chase Florell Feb 7 '11 at 19:30
  • Also, $400 is about our max right now. – Chase Florell Feb 7 '11 at 19:33
  • strobist.blogspot.com is a good place to get started, especially his lightin 101 and 102 series. Basically he talks about using smaller flash strobes to mimic the behavior of studio strobes. --upon further research, the cheapest strobist 2light kid is $500... :( But the concept is the same. – Alan Feb 7 '11 at 21:44
  • We do already have an SB-600 and an SB-800. These are both really great flashes. We just don't like the battery consumption. – Chase Florell Feb 7 '11 at 22:05

Can you give us an idea of your budget, and what you're looking at?

You get what you pay for holds true for strobes.

There are a few caveats to strobes, which makes this a difficult question to answer.

  • Not all wattage ratings are the same. Just because a strobe is rated at 250W doesn't mean it actually is. Especially when buying from Ebay only companies, there is no real way to verify the claim. If you plan on doing simple bang-bang shooting, you may find that 250W occurs only after a waiting a while.

  • Color consistency. Cheaper strobes will not offer consistent lighting color from shot to shot. This makes it very difficult to take studio shots, because for each shot you will have different light, which makes post processing more time consuming.

  • Dangers of cheap equipment. Many of the cheaper ebay only items are made in china with very little safety oversight. Strobes use a lot of power, and shoddier ones may present a major fire hazzard.

Just for reference, I have 3 AB800's which are rated at 320 W/s which I use in my basement studio, and while they can get bright, there are some settings in which they can't get bright enough. Generally speaking, the more wattage you have, the further away you can move your strobes. For close placement strobes, 250 might be okay, but if you use a softbox, and/or move your strobes behind your camera, that wont be enough to illuminate your subject at low/iso, higher apertures. You can always bump your ISO levels up, but I really try to use my camera at the lowest possible ISO for my studio work.

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  • Thanks for the great detail. I Edited my question to show what I'm looking at. – Chase Florell Feb 7 '11 at 19:20
  • +1 - I hemmed and hawed about the AB800 versus the AB1600, but went AB800. So far, working for me, but it does make you wonder if it's just better to go to top strength and dial back as needed. Well, I can always get those if I really need. – John Cavan Feb 8 '11 at 0:37
  • @John: I think I'm going to buy a single AB1600 just for the pure output. My understanding is that the AB1600 is the only AB that can outlight the sun outdoors. – Alan Feb 8 '11 at 1:07
  • I haven't had to do that yet, but worth remembering. I'm super happy with the Alien Bees lineup, so they will get more business from me one way or another. – John Cavan Feb 8 '11 at 1:12
  • "if it's just better to go to top strength and dial back as needed". It depends on your needs. If you are shooting a moving object and reduce power on heads like the White Lightning and Alien Bee, your lights will put out less light but will also have a longer duration, which can cause motion blur. It's better to figure out what duration you need, then find the lights that deliver it. I have six WL1600 heads, which have a 1/4 power switch that cuts the power without making the duration go nuts. Six heads at 1/4 power are bright, and recycle very fast (1/4 second) w/ 1/1600 sec. duration. – Greg Feb 8 '11 at 7:30

Not knowing what you are looking at doing, all I can do is refer you to this article: http://www.digital-slr-guide.com/studio-strobes.html

I'm thinking, based on the information in that article, that you'll want the larger 250W strobes.

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  • The plan is to do portraits of infants and small families. My wife also likes to do a little bit of fashion. The room is only about 12'x 20'. – Chase Florell Feb 7 '11 at 19:21

That system, if real, represents a metric craptonne of bang for the buck. We're talking about "sounds too good to be true" territory -- not that it is too good to be true, necessarily, but there's some grain-of-salt stuff to go over.

The first thing to notice is that the lights are rated at "250W". That's 250 Watts. The guide numbers they state (45 in feet at ISO 100 without a reflector) fall in line with what you'd expect for a monolight rated at 100-150 Watt-seconds (joules). There is a chance that they are merely using very inefficient flash tubes, but it's a lot more probable that the rating means exactly what it says: the lights draw 250W while recycling (180W or so of recycling power, plus 70W for the modelling lamp). For comparison purposes, I had a couple of Elinchrom 250RS monolights a few years ago that had a true 250 Ws (joule) flash power, and I could only use one of them on any given household circuit -- they drew nearly 1800 watts while recyling (they could recycle to full power in just under half a second). They also had a bare-bulb guide number closer to 100+; I can't recall using them at anywhere near full power except in a large softbox or reflected from a full sheet of foamcore at my usual shooting apertures (they saw most of their use as auxilliary lights, though -- I tended to use the 500 and 1000 units for main lights).

So maybe you don't need a true 250Ws, and these will do just fine in terms of their actual output. Now consider that they're giving you three lights and throwing in two softboxes, two umbrellas, three stands, barndoors, gels, a case and a wireless trigger for that price. That gets my Spider-sense tingling. Okay, we'll accept that anything with the word "photographic" in the product name is going to come with a bit of a mark-up, but there's a point where you really have to start wondering how much can be saved in materials and labor without compromising the product. Are the lights electrically safe? (Is the CE sticker real?) Can the stands actually support the lights when extended? Do the lights stay at the angle you set them? Do the barn doors stay where you put them? Can you adjust the barn doors without ripping them off the frame? What about the softboxes and umbrellas -- do you really want the equivalent of a dollar-store bumberchute? How reliable can the wireless trigger be?

Don't take that as a "don't buy it" directive -- it's just stuff to carefully look at right away if you do decide to buy it. Take a good look at the vendor's return policy in any case. You never know, this could be one of those rare real bargoons in life, but you want to be covered in case it isn't.

As for the original question, a GN of 45 tells me that you want the higher-power version of the lights. They'll give you f/5.6-8 for most real-world shoots at max power and at a distance where the softeners actuall soften. (A softbox only gives soft light when set close to the subject -- within twice the diagonal at the most. Beyond that distance, the highlights start to become specular, like you'd get from a normal hard reflector up close.) You can always turn a light down for a wider aperture, but it's really hard to turn it up past the max if the light needs to be further away than 4-5 feet or you need more depth of field.

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