# How do you compare hotshoe to studio flash in terms of light produced?

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by daniel_p, Sep 17, 2011.

1. ### daniel_p

Obviously hotshoe is better all around...
What is the math to convert guide numbers to ws? Or how can I compare them in terms of light produced that's on a relatively equal playing field?

2. ### lornesunley

Just use an incident light meter to measure the output ....

3. ### daniel_p

what if you're comparing a light you have to a light you don't?

4. ### bob_sunley

Most studio type units have a published guide number when using a standard reflector. Depending on who makes the hot shoe flash, the GN may be at max zoom for a tele lens or at midrange for a normal. Both are usually optimistic.
Both guide numbers assume reflected spill gets to the subject, which is why you get underexposed images outside in the dark.
There is no simple math to convert ws to GN, the conversion depends on reflector efficiency, flash tube efficiency and other factors. Probably no complex math either.
WS is the input power to the flash tube, not a measure of light output.
As Lorne said, you need an incident flash meter, everything else is a WAG.
Not a true statement, "Obviously hotshoe is better all around..." I've got a couple of potato masher style that will melt the cases off a SB900.

5. ### frank_skomial

There is No math. Guide numbers are determined experimentally for a specific light reflector or modifier, and hopefully published by the flash maker.
You can determine Guide Numbe for a flash yourself, with a flash meter, or without.
"what if you're comparing a light you have to a light you don't?" - perhaps you need to expain this better ? If you do not have a light ? - how can you compare?

6. ### lornesunley

There is no real way to convert Watt-Seconds to a Guide Number without a meter. The WS measure is just the amount of stored power in the capacitors. The output light will vary based on the discharge rate, the reflector used, and any other modifiers.
This guy did a comparison on a few http://newschoolofphotography.com/lighting/22047-strobe-power-comparison.html
(Everyone else posted while I was typing ....)

7. ### Mattman944

From a recent thread we concluded that a high-end hot-shoe flash stores about 50-70 WS of energy. But, like the others have said, this is not very useful. Hot-shoe flashes have a very efficient light modifier, and some even have zoom lenses to focus the light to match the lens focal length. Studio flashes have many modifiers, some efficient, some inefficient.
Comparing Guide Numbers is a better way, Paul C. Buff has a nice GN table for various modifiers.
http://www.paulcbuff.com/output.php

8. ### fotografz

What is the purpose of the comparison? Application of lighting has everything to do with choices of equipment.
If it is to know whether studio strobes offer more output than a speed-light ... the answer is yes.
If it is to know whether a studio strobe offers more ways to modify the light ... the answer is yes.

9. ### acedigital

Studio strobes produce way more light than a hotshoe flash, you would need several hotshoe flashes to compete with even a small studio strobe. Again, why do you ask? Hotshoe flashes are more convenient,but what you should use depends on the application.

10. ### Mattman944

Studio strobes produce way more light than a hotshoe flash​
Yes, if you exclude the wimpy 50 WS cheap setups. Unless you have a tiny studio, I wouldn't recommend a studio flash with less than 160 WS.

11. ### bob_sunley

One thing to think about when comparing, if you want more light, you need to double it to get a 1 stop change in exposure. If you need two stops change you will need four times the light or watt/seconds. a GN change from 80 to 110 is one stop more light, 110 to 160 is also one stop difference.
So this string of guide numbers are one stop apart, 56, 80, 110, 160, 220, 320, 450, 640. The Sunpak 622 is 125ws powerpack, with a GN of 160 with the standard head and a GN of 40 with the ring head. Flash tube type and angle of coverage make a huge difference.
So, based on the efficiencies of a Sunpak 622 flash unit, a GN of:
160 = 125 WS
220 = 250 WS
320 = 500 WS
450 = 1000 WS
640 = 2000 WS

12. ### daniel_p

Thanks Y'all.
Obviously hotshoe is better all around...​
This was a bit of a joke, so I hope noone took it too seriously.
For location photography, I'm using a couple of wireless hot-shoe flashes shooting through an umbrella. biggest problem is that the guns keep overheating.
I've seen people use arrays of flashes... like 6 flashes on one stick to get the light, in which case it would be cheaper to get a portable studio strobe.
I'm looking to purchase a couple of einsteins, and wondering how i can best justify it.

13. ### Matt Laur

Get the Einsteins, try them, and take advantage of Buff's willingness to take them back. They're willing, because you'll
very likely keep them. Great lights.

14. ### eric merrill

I've seen people use arrays of flashes... like 6 flashes on one stick to get the light, in which case it would be cheaper to get a portable studio strobe.​
I routinely use two at a time. Cheaper isn't necessarily the reason. I can slave multiple hot shoe flashes and have a lot less weight to carry than with a monolight, especially if you factor in carrying a battery for the monolight.
Eric

15. ### daniel_p

@Eric, do you know how roughly how many shots you get, and what your recycle time is. Do you have an issue with overheating?

16. ### bob_bill

6 sb 900's at \$500 each on one stick? 3 grand! And end up with one light source. Hope they are sponsored by the mfgr and get them free. Great if light weight and portability is the critical factor. Eric, Denis Reggie does the same and sells a bracket that holds 2 strobes, receivers and a battery pack and shoots through a small sbox. More light, lower power settings and faster recycle. When I do use 2 through a shoot-through umbrella, I just hang the second upsidedown attached to the umbrella shaft with a second umbrella/flash holder.

17. ### eric merrill

This is what I use. I highly recommend it. No connection to the company other than a happy customer:
http://www.brewerbracket.com/el-doble-dual-flash-umbrella-bracket.html
I like this because of how it positions the umbrella relative the flashes.
Daniel, I don't know how many shots I get. I change batteries before I really need to. One set has more than enough juice to get me through formal pics at a wedding. I probably use two more sets during the reception, but I'm guessing I could get by on one set. When there's a break in the action, I change whether I need to or not. I'm also not using them for every single shot. Recycle time is measured in fractions of a second. When it approaches a second, I change batteries. I've never overheated my flashes, but I tend to use the flashes sparingly.
Eric

18. ### eric merrill

Here's an example of two flashes on one stand, and then another flash on the camera:

19. ### fotografz

I still do not quite understand why people insist on beating the snot out of their expensive speed-lights to do off-camera lighting.
It'd like sending a kid with a pea shooter to a tank battle.
I get the "lazy" part ... been there, done that myself. What happened is that when the going got tough the speed-lights went on strike ... and it took 15 minutes before I could use them again. By the time I added enough speed-lights to one modifier to take the stress off each individual one so it wouldn't shut down, I was up to \$2,000.+ in speed-lights ... so I just got a Elinchrom Quadra which has heads so small I just leave them on their stands, so set up is super fast.
We aren't just talking about a dark wedding reception where you can jack up the ISO and drag the shutter to make it work half-way decent with a speed-light. What about large coverage, or shooting outside with a background and sky lit by a nuclear sun? That happens at weddings all of the time because we are at the mercy of the Bride's schedule.
There are all kinds of very portable 400 w/s mini strobes that are just as easy to carry and set up as a multiple speed-light kit, and they will last you a lifetime without stressing out your speed-lights to the max. Plus, they can be used to shoot other stuff requiring different modifiers.

20. ### picturesque

I thought one of the reasons for ganging speedlites was the use of high speed sync, which you can't get with most studio strobes. Maybe I'm wrong.
Also, the ability to zoom the reflector in speedlights changes the guide number.
It all depends in the application. More powerful battery powered flashes are also useful. While Einsteins are definitely cool, if you are on a budget, you can buy old Norman 200 and 400Bs, and Lumedynes, and old Quantum Q flashes...

21. ### zack_zoll

I agree with Matt ... the Einsteins are without a doubt the best affordable lights I've ever used. They're better than some lights that cost a lot more too.
I usually assume that the guide number (which is measured at 50mm, assuming your speedlite maker is on the up-and-up) is about half of the wattseconds you would get. This isn't exact math by any means, but it's close enough to make a purchasing decision. I find that if you're comfortable shooting 400 ISO with a digital 35mm-style camera, speedlites are generally just fine. If you want to shoot at a lower ISO, or you use medium format or something else that basically requires a smaller aperture, than you need some powerful studio strobes.

22. ### fotografz

"I thought one of the reasons for ganging speedlites was the use of high speed sync, which you can't get with most studio strobes. Maybe I'm wrong.
Also, the ability to zoom the reflector in speedlights changes the guide number."

As you know Nadine, HSS significantly reduces the effective output/reach of speed-lights even when ganged ... and places even more stress on the units while draining the batteries even quicker. You can't increase the maximum output level of a speed-light when it is set to manual ... it is what it is. So, it would take a lot of speed-lights set to HHS to put enough light out far enough to mean anything.
In darker ambient conditions, it is the duration of strobes that determines the light no matter what shutter-speed is used up to the sync speed ... the HSS in effect is a fast flash duration ... by cutting the level of a strobe to half on a 400 w/s box you get a much faster duration but still 200 w/s ... enough light to be effective.
Some strobe systems have various reflectors to effectively work like a zoom reflector on a speed-light.

23. ### picturesque

Marc--thanks--I just didn't know. Then, I've heard that flash duration with speedlights is different from flash duration with studio strobes. Could that be one of the reasons to gang speedlights?

24. ### fotografz

I know Nadine ... sorting through the different information isn't very easy, when and if you can find accurate information. Plus most specifications do not indicate effectiveness when using a light modifier ... even a simple umbrella configuration let alone a soft-box ... which is where strobes tend to be even better because of the round light configuration.
What I could find (for example) was that the Elinchrom Quadra with an "A" speed head plugged into the B channel outlet can deliver 1/6000th of a second duration at minimum settings ... and about 80 w/s @ 1/3,000th.
A Canon 580 EX-II manually set to 1/2 power equals 1/2,000th of a second duration @ about 35 to 40 w/s ... and 2 heads in tandem @ 1/2 power equals 1/2,000th duration @ 70 to 80 w/s. Four 580 EXs set to 1/4 power would jump the duration to 1/4,000th but the total output would still be about 70 to 80 w/s.
The main thing is available levels of output: I've seen direct test shots between the Quadra and Nikon SB-900 both set to maximum output using the same Photek Softliter-II modifier at the same distance to subject, with the same camera & lens set at the same ISO ... and the Quadra produced almost 3 stops more light to the subject. A correct exposure using f/8 and the SB-900 required f/20 with the Quadra (or I assume any other 400 w/s kit, like the Norman, Lumidyne, or Quantum 400 w/s unit).
Three stops is a lot when the distance to subject grows, or you are outdoors with a bright background. Or, would allow the use of a significantly lower ISO.
The financials are also pretty revealing: a one head Quadra kit is \$1,400. ... about the same as 3 Canon 580EX-IIs not counting the hardware needed to mount them in tandem. 400 w/s verses 210 to 240 w/s output for the same money.
In fact, in many cases commercial shooters use 1,200 w/s units like (among others), the Hensel 1200 Porty L which can deliver @ 1/8,100 duration at minimum settings ... and can put 150 w/s of light out at about 1/3000th ... but, the kicker is the Porty can do 450 pops, and recycles in under 1 second @ 1,200 w/s! Even more pops and a blazing recycle speed @ 600 w/s. Plus you can control the light level remotely for up to 1,000 feet and run them non-stop with no shut downs to contend with.
However, these are expensive units, which is why they are popular as rental lighting.
In the end, applications are the determining factor ... what, when and where you tend to shoot ... and how often.

25. ### frank_skomial

" So, it would take a lot of speed-lights set to HHS to put enough light out far enough to mean anything." - seems like this person does not use the HHS (or FP in Nikon) mode?
How is 20 meters, or 10 meters long enough for portraits ? (66ft, 33 ft).
There is no need to guess, or even no need to shoot test pictures with Nikon SB800/SB900 and Nikon FP compatible DSLR camera. The flash will show max range for you in any mode, any settings.
As an example of day light, partly cloudy day with sun, set D700 to ISO 800.
Set SB800 to iTTL/BL/FP, Set initially shutter to 1/250 FP but in Aperture prioriy it will go faster, and that is OK for FP. Set lens aperture to f=2.8 or 4.
Then remove the flash diffuser dome, and aim the flash head directly, not tilted, not bounced, no reflector, no wide angle panel.
Activate the camera focus, and the flash will get activated, and will tell you efective max FP range in the iTTL/BL/FP mode that is about 20 meters, or can drop down to 10 meters, depending on the sun shine. This distance is usually long enough for outdoor portraits with the sun and the FP mode single flash.
Vary your shooting parameters, and see the max range on the flash, without even taking a picture. Make sure that the flash stays in the iTTL/BL/FP mode.
Since I usually use negative flash compensation (.e.g -1.3EV), the max FP distance is possible between 10 to 20 meters in most day light lighting conditions.
Adding more remote CLS/FP flashes would allow you lower ISO, and more closed aperture, since you could place remote CLS/FP flashes very close to the subject.
For the conditions I mentioned, 1 SB800 flash is good up to 20 meters(66 ft). This distance is also the max effective automaticn flash exposure distance for the iTTL/CLS commanding and the remote FP if any used with SU800. (10m, 33ft with SB800 used as a commander/CLS/FP).

26. ### zack_zoll

Frank, you're missing two things here. (A) the flashes' distance scale only works without any diffusers or bounce. While you alluded to that yourself, the fact is that it will generally be used with diffusers or bounce. (B) the scale tells you how far the flash will reach, but not how useful it will be when it gets there. Yes, an SB800 set to full power will reach 66 feet, but my experience is that you've got something like 1/16th of 1/32nd power by the time it gets there, so it may not be terribly useful.
Rather than going off the scale, the best thing you can do for yourself is practice, and become familiar with the lights.

27. ### ilkka_nissila

High speed sync uses a longer flash duration, not shorter. People use it to allow wide apertures to be used with flash in conditions where the ambient light level requires a fast shutter speed. Because of the extended flash duration, the power is weak, and multiple units can be used to increase the power to a useable level. If you use a 400 Ws flash then you can do this but may need to use a thick ND filter which may mean you cannot focus or compose ... (assuming you want a large aperture).
Other reasons to put multiple speedlights on a stand include the fact that you can retain the use of TTL (if you are doing a portrait and like to take quick variations in the position and direction of light, TTL can be useful, though I mostly think the accuracy is insufficient to use as key light, it's very good for fill), and simply to limit the total amount of equipment to carry if you do not have someone to lug around equipment. Since you need a speedlight for bounce shots and shots that you do with window light, and a backup for it, you always have at least two speedlights even if you also use a larger flash.
As to shooting large groups (with multiple rows of people within the depth of field), and especially groups in bright sun, a portable studio flash seems like the tool of choice. I think in almost all cases where I shoot groups they will be in that kind of light that speedlights are sufficient for fill. For indoor situations the powerful flashes might not allow retaining the feeling of the location without complicated lighting setups to "simulate" the ambient lighting.

28. ### ilkka_nissila

" So, it would take a lot of speed-lights set to HHS to put enough light out far enough to mean anything." - seems like this person does not use the HHS (or FP in Nikon) mode?
How is 20 meters, or 10 meters long enough for portraits ? (66ft, 33 ft).
If you're in direct sunlight and want to use FP sync through a diffuser you'll have to use quite many SB's in FP mode to compete with the sun.

29. ### fotografz

"High speed sync uses a longer flash duration, not shorter." -Ilkka
FYI Ilkka, HSS is not a longer flash duration ... it is a large number of short bursts in sync with the moving first and second shutter curtain slit that happens when you exceed the camera's maximum native sync speed. The native sync speed is the fastest shutter speed that both curtains are fully open ... or anything less).
I agree that speed lights have their place as secondary fill when using a simple strobe lighting scenario. I use one in the hot-shoe set to TTL for fill in concert with my Quadra off-camera key light ... like this:
Camera right, higher up: Quadra on a mobile light pole with shoot through umbrella set to 320 w/s (the equivlant of 4 speed lights into one umbrella). Metz speed-light set to TTL on camera with +1 stop compensation. I wanted to use a smaller aperture to obliterate the distracting background which was very busy ... thus I stopped down which required more light on the subject.

30. ### frolickingbits

I still do not quite understand why people insist on beating the snot out of their expensive speed-lights to do off-camera lighting.​
Finally, somebody said it! I'm always a bit amazed when I see people using 2 or more \$550 flashes, plus bulky umbrella mounts and a pile of AA batteries, when you could get more power and durability out of an old Norman, Metz or Quantum system as Nadine mentions. I have a Sunpak 555, and it beats the snot out of any hotshoe flash, for a fraction of the price.
As far as high speed sync, the new PocketWizard Flex system with its HyperSync to allow HSS with just about any flash with a slow enough flash duration looks pretty incredible.

31. ### jcuknz

I recently got a YN560 flash and reading the manual it is claimed that it is possible to use up to 160 units
Since light falls off at the inverse square of distance I can see a definite advantage to using a number of lower powered lights rather than one huge whopper. Also for creative reasons as we have seen over the years in movies. Or perhaps the 'creativity' is created by the situation of limited light power.
Logic tells me that to use High Speed Flash the 'sync point' needs to be as the first curtain starts to open the shutter rather than as it reaches the end of its travel ... fast sync rather than slow sync ... zero sync rather than second sync etc etc. Whatever one calls it am I correct? I have yet to get the compatible equipment.

32. ### fotografz

JC, it sounds like you are confusing first and second shutter sync with High Speed Sync (HSS).
You can sync the flash to fire the moment the first shutter has opened all the way exposing the full film gate opening (revealing either a frame of film or a digital sensor) ... or it can fire just before the second shutter closes.
At higher shutter speeds up to the maximum native sync speed (usually 1/200th or 1/250th), it doesn't make much difference, but with slower shutter speeds, second shutter sync keeps secondary ambient light trails from subject motion behind the subject rather than over the front of the subject.
Once the shutter speed exceeds the native sync speed, the film gate is never fully exposed to light because the second shutter starts closing before the first one has completed its travel. In effect it is a traveling slit. That is the only way a shutter can accomplish shutter speeds like 1/4000th or 1/8000th of a second.
High Speed Sync is accomplished by firing a quick burst of flashes to cover each step of the slit's travel. It is so fast that the human eye cannot detect it. The reason HHS is weaker in output than full sync flash, is because the flash unit is dividing up the available power into small increments for each of those steps.
Hope this helps,
-Marc

33. ### ilkka_nissila

FYI Ilkka, HSS is not a longer flash duration ...
Oh, I thought it was done that way. It seemed to me that repeating the flash many times would result in uneven exposure to the frame. You'd need at least sub-microsecond syncronization between the flashes and the curtains to make that work. And considering how uneven exposures from my Nikon flashes are in single flash mode I would have thought similar variations across the frame would be considered a bad thing. But I'm not saying it doesn't work, obviously they've made it work if people use it ;-)

34. ### fotografz

Ilkka, the effect is like a motion picture ... there are 30 film frames a second but the effect is so fast that we do not see the flicker from one frame to the next. Some regular lighting is like that ... fluorescent bulbs are flickering even when they are working correctly, we just can't see it. TV scans do the same thing ... if you try to photograph a TV screen with a faster shutter speed you will see the scan lines ... but we normally can't see it.
On HHS, the flash is flickering so fast it seems like one stream of light ... but it isn't. However, the effect on the digital sensor is as if it were one stream of light.

35. ### zack_zoll

If I'm not mistaken, most hotshoe flashes only technically have one or two output settings, and they fire repeatedly. This is why you might be able to sync at 1/8,000 at minimum power, and 1/500th at full power. The old thyrister flashes used to gauge how much light bounced off the subject, and stop firing when it was enough. Basically they just went nutters until that circut cut it off.
Studio lights work this way too. In fact, most everything other than flash bulbs work this way. I can only assume that this is why they are called strobes.

36. ### fotografz

Zack, to my understanding speedlights have one output ... always full power. It is the duration of the flash that determines exposure. How long the flash stays on, not how much light there is.
Think of a water faucet ... turn it on full blast for a short time and a little water goes in the bucket. Turn it on full blast for a longer time and the bucket gets more water.
When the duration is very short, very little of the stored energy is expended, so recycle is also very short to bring it back to full power. The longer the flash duration becomes the more light that strikes the subject, and the longer it takes to restore the energy and recycle the flash to full level.
To our eye this feels counter-intuitive because if we cut the speedlight to 1/32th level it appears weaker than when set to 1/1 level. But it has nothing to do with output level, it is the 1/32nd shorter duration that creates that weaker light visual effect.
You are right in thinking it is a stroboscopic effect that makes HHS work ... the very rapid firing, at short durations, as the shutter slit scans over the digital sensor, (or frame of film) when the shutter speed of the camera exceeds the native sync speed.

37. ### zack_zoll

Marc, that was basically what I said
You did clarify though; I was under the impression that flashes must have two different power levels to their 'pops' based on the math involved in taking my SB-800 from full to 1/128th power and how that relates to the flash duration. But not being a math guy, I should know better than to try and rely on it.

38. ### picturesque

OK, so why do people gang multiples speedlights? What are the benefits?

39. ### zack_zoll

It's WAY lighter than a studio strobe with a power pack. There are other reasons, but that is by far the best one. It also allows TTL use (less of a selling point now that some RF triggers do this), supports a higher shutter speed - especially in TTL(albeit with a much lower output), and runs on AAs, which you can easy carry a case of on a shoot. If you need to be wireless and your power pack runs out of juice, you're done shooting.

40. ### fotografz

Nadine, The primary reason people gang speed-lights is to increase the output level in multiples ... mostly because they are so weak in the first place. The efficiency of speed-light reflectors is a moot point when used with a light modifier ... the more efficient tele setting of the flash head's zoom reflector can't be used.
So if a speed-light delivers 80w/s at full energy, you can double that level to 160w/s. The other direct benefit is that when less than full energy is required, the burden on each speed-light is lessened ... if you gang two speed-lights at 1/2 power, you could deliver 80w/s total, but each flash is only putting out 40w/s of energy, therefore recycles faster, and is less likely to overheat and shut down than if using just one at 80w/s full energy.
If 160w/s does the job for your applications it is a viable option. For many others who use off-camera lighting, especially outdoors, or to shoot with lots of DOF, or to use a much lower ISO for better image quality, 160w/s is simply too weak and inefficient.
IMO, the weight/convenience/cost factor argument is a fallacy. To deliver the energy of some smaller 400w/s battery units would require 4 speed-lights, radio triggers for them (two, using a split feed), and the rigging required to mount them in a light modifier.
The battery life aspect is also a fallacy. As you decrease to energy setting on a battery driven unit the amount of pops increases exponentially. Set to 160w/s my battery unit will run all day long. I never have run short on a shoot, because I have a spare clip-on battery which is pretty small and I don't have to pull a bunch of speed-lights down and change batteries in 4 units. I just don't have the time for that.
In all honesty, TTL is highly over-rated for off-camera use. You will spend more time compensating different flash heads on different channels to get the ratios you want than it would take to do it with a manual strobe head and wireless controller.
The last aspect that is often overlooked is the quality of light from 2 or more speed-lights in a soft-box or other light modifier ... or I should say the lack of quality of light. As you know Nadine, the quality of light from your 120J fired into an umbrella is nicer due to the bare-bulb design and even distribution of light ... whether using the parabolic reflector set to wide angle or not. The strobe concept is the same only far more powerful and versatile if and when needed.

41. ### zack_zoll

Marc, I disagree about the 'quality of light' concept. I never use more than two speedlights together (because at that point I'd rather use a monolight), but I find that speedlights into an umbrella work just as well as a strobe, albeit generally at a much lower output.
The advantage of TTL isn't just the automatic function. The advantage of TTL is that, since the camera and flashes are now talking to each other, the flashes can be controlled remotely. Again, this is much less of a benefit now that some RF triggers do this.
One thing you can do with multiple speedlites that you can pretty much never do with monolights is put them wherever you want. Back when I was shooting bands, I used to show up to the venue early with a ladder and tape up speedlights and battery packs around the room. Using the TTL setting, I could vary the flash output from my camera; which is good, because once they were up there they were up there. Unless the venue is cool with you drilling holes in their ceiling and installing hardware, studio lights don't do it here.
That said, when shooting digital (and ONLY when shooting digital) they are indeed lighter and more convenient. If I'm at 400 ISO and f/5.6, they're more than sufficient, and are lighter/smaller/cheaper than studio lights, and I can put them almost anywhere. If I'm shooting film, or if I'm doing something more structured and 'professional', then you are correct: the amount of speedlites you would need is ludicris.

42. ### fotografz

So, we agree to disagree Zack.
You feel the quality of light from two speed-lights is as good as using a strobe with a center round bulb and umbrella reflector ... and I think speed-lights are okay used this way if you don't need a lot of light, and are okay shooting at higher ISOs ... but the light isn't as evenly distributed ... and this is especially true when using soft-boxes.
As I said, if the use of speed-lights meets your needs, knock yourself out. If there is a need to spread out a bunch of lights all over the place, then the speed-light option is viable. My issue with that is the key light can never be greater than 80w/s (unless doubled up), and the remained non-keys have to less. That's pretty weak lighting ratios to be working with.
Can't agree with your price opinion either ...
An Alienbee B800 is \$279. and a Vagabond Lith battery is \$239. So, for \$518. you get 320 w/s in a unit that recycles to full power in 0.5 sec and won't shut down on you like a hot speed-light will.
In comparison, a Nikon SB900 is \$480. delivers about 80w/s, and recycles in 4.5 sec using LithiumAAs. To boost the performance, a SB900 with a Quantum Turbo SC battery costs \$980. ... and it still recycles slower, and still only delivers 1/3 the light that the Alienbee does.
To equal the output of the B800, you'd have to buy 3 SB900s @ \$1,440. ... and to get more stable power and faster recycle you'd spend \$2,940.

43. ### picturesque

Thanks, guys. Its a head scratcher for me.

44. ### zack_zoll

Marc: SB-24s are about \$40 on eBay, and have PC sync jacks. You can buy ... I dunno, something like six of those and three Cybersyncs for the price of the B800 and the battery, and even get stands and umbrellas to boot. No TTL of course, but there's no way to get that from the B800 either.
If you really want to break it down price-wise, I'm pretty sure that a two-light setup (4+2) will give you much better light quality for the money than a 1 light setup. If you have an entire room to light, three lights of lower power will distrubute light more evenly than one light cranked up. If you're doing a wedding reception, three lower-power lights giving you low aperture or high ISO images is much more condusive to consistency and thus sales than one light that gives you perfectly exposed low ISO images in the middle of the room and over- or under-exposed images on either side.
I'm not saying speedlites are better. If anything, they're my Plan B. But they are tools, and just like the metric allen wrenches in your toolbox, they have a purpose. For instance, every image in my portfolio (except the very last) is lit by speedlites. The girl with the calipers is lit with speedlites for the kickers and foreground, and monolights for key and fill.

45. ### fotografz

"Thanks, guys. It's a head scratcher for me."
I think it all comes down to three words Nadine ... application, application, application.
For anyone thinking about off-camera lighting ... it tends to sort itself out if you have a clear grasp of your personal applications for supplementary lighting.
For some, stretching the capabilities of speed-lights, beyond what they were intended for, can meet enough of their applications ... a factor that is heavily promoted by the makers of the equipment .... not to just sell more speed-lights, but to promote their brand's system capabilities over other system choices.
For others, based on their applications, there is no substitute for more light and a better quality of light. Their choices are determined by the more demanding applications they have to deal with, not the least demanding. Frankly, there is a huge list of "more demanding" lighting applications that rule out speed-lights.
In reality, quite a few photographers use both. My largest application of off-camera lighting is the use of a more powerful mobile source as directional Key (Quadra 400w/s with Skyport radio adjust of levels at the camera), and a speed-light on or near the camera for fill, but ...
Sometimes I need a LOT more light ... try lighting these ISO 100 f/10 shots with speed-lights : -)

46. ### picturesque

Thanks, Marc. Yeah--just got through reading (on another forum) a debate about using 2 speedlights to go up against bright light as opposed to battery powered lights like Alien Bees (now with the Mini Lithium battery), Lumedynes, Q-flashes, etc. Got quite heated.
I know what I like, and what works for me. I just wondered why, re the ganging multiple (more than 2) speedlights. The other applications--like using multiple speedlights at various parts of a room--I understand.