The complete test kit arrives in two knee-high cardboard boxes with plastic handles. Though these would be cumbersome to carry over any distance they don’t take up much boot space in the car. The gear comprises two Strobeam EID500 studio flash units, a DL D4 battery pack and associated cables, all of which will fit neatly into a small holdall or backpack. An optional carrying case is available.
The flash units themselves look to be all plastic construction and, though not rugged, do not feel cheap or flimsy. They feature the S-bayonet which is nearest to an open standard in the world of studio flash and each is fitted with a hard plastic cup to protect the fragile flash elements in transit. The rear control panel is uncluttered and easy to master with a large LCD to show current settings.
A single dial controls most functions though there are dedicated buttons for the modelling light and activating the on-board flash sensor etc. Power output can be adjusted within eight stops from full power down to 1/128. A second multi FP firing mode allows for use with the camera set to continuous drive. Power output drops so shooting range is limited but you get a great many continuous flashes.
The strobes use IGBT circuitry, which is an incomprehensible way of saying the adjustable flash power works the same as standard flashguns. This means the duration of the flash reduces as you select low power settings, rather than a simple reduction in voltage, as is used on conventional studio flash. IGBT circuitry also means that if you adjust power say, from full to 1/8 output there is no need to wait for the unit to dump the excess energy.
As studio units the Strobeams are decent, capable and easy to use, but the potential of the kit is only realised when twinned with the DL D4 battery pack. The pack is about the same size and weight as a Canon EOS 5D MkII body and fully charges from the mains in around four hours. The two strobes hardwire to the battery pack using dedicated cables and at full stretch can be around five metres apart. The kit is supplied with a hot-shoe flash cable that connects directly to one of the units, whilst the other can be set to fire by sensor. A cable extension or a radio trigger would allow the photographer more freedom of movement, but neither is included here.
Lastly and, for some, most importantly, the kit is supplied with a very handy remote control unit from which you can control output power, modelling lights and firing mode of each unit separately. Speaking to the importers, there will be a more advanced remote control-cum-trigger later this year.
The size of the strobe units means the whole rig is less portable than two or three flashguns and triggers, but the power, recycle times and versatility more than make up for it. The ability and simplicity of taking a lighting set-up like this outdoors is a breath of fresh air.
The small battery pack is a key feature. Battery life seems never ending as it provided over 500 flashes on a four hour shoot and still continued for subsequent testing and tinkering. You can buy additional batteries to fit the pack, but as far as I can tell you’d have to be on a very demanding shoot to need an extra one.
I found the length of cables between the battery pack and the strobes to be restrictive on a location shoot where it was almost impossible to place one strobe in front and one behind the model. Also the coiled hotshoe trigger cable meant I could never be more than around two metres from the nearest strobe. A workaround for these would be a dedicated battery pack for each strobe and a radio trigger on the camera, but obviously it all has to be paid for.
When two strobes are connected to the battery pack they both receive 100% power, rather than the 50:50 split you might expect.
Recycling time of the units at full power is around two seconds, but dialled-down some magical things happen. My Canon EOS 5D MkII can manage just under four frames-per-second in continuous shooting mode and with both strobes set at 1/8 power the Strobeam gear could keep pace. Admittedly this was only up to six frames, but for short bursts this is awesome.
An extra feature of the battery pack is that optional cables to fit the Nikon SB-800/900 and Canon EX 580/550 flashguns, giving them two second recycle times and vastly longer life than they’d get with even the best AA batteries.
For fast moving location work such as a wedding or outdoor fashion shoot, the battery pack and a single unit is a very useful solution.
If you don’t need the power of these 500 joule heads, or if your budget is limited, 200 joule and 400 joule heads are available. The one-head 400 joule kit comes with a carrying case too and sells for £646.
A compact flash outfit that’s at home in the studio and on location
This is a genuinely superb flash kit that is easy to get accustomed to using. The main benefits of using studio flash units outdoors over camera flashguns are the higher power and faster recycle times.
As someone who regularly uses flashguns for location lighting, would I be tempted to buy this kit? I’m definitely interested, but mainly as I’d want to use the extra power from the strobes with full-sized softboxes, all of which is going to end up making my kit very bulky.
While testing the kit I liked using the single strobe set up with additional radio triggered flashguns to add fill-in and background lighting. By using the single strobe I had fewer worries about the reach of the cables, which can be a bit of a problem when using two.
Overall handling is very good and the rear control panel (as you can see from the image to the left) is clearly laid out. The LCD information panel is worth a special mention for its excellent legibility.
Keen strobists should definitely consider the battery pack as a hugely superior power source to AA batteries, so if you regularly find yourself using Speedlite-type flashguns at full power and suffering from slow recycle times then the Strobeam unit could be just the solution you’ve been waiting for.
Taken from the October 2010 issue of Advanced Photographer magazine