Indoor/Outdoor Flash on a Budget

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by anneka_sanghera, Dec 31, 2013.

  1. I'd like to invest in just one flash head on a stand with a beauty dish that I can use both indoors and also take outdoors from time to time. I have a budget of £200 for this equipment - what would you suggest?

    Thanks :)
  2. I have seen a number of possible options that might work for you, but given your budget limitations, in the end you may want to save a few more pounds. What lighting equipment do you have now? I have done a few quick searches for beauty dishes for speedlights (electronic flashes) and found a number of them -- they all appear to be made of plastic--which may or may not be bad for you. They would be light in weight, but also susceptible to cracking. Of course you'll need a light stand and bracket (if the beauty dish doesn't come with one). With a speedlight, you'll get the portability you are looking for (indoors and out), but not necessarily the power you could get from a strobe. (For some great information on what you can do with speedlights I would suggest looking at Of course if you don't currently own a flash, you'll need to include the cost of that as well. Although I have not used them personally, I have seen them used and read (generally) good comments on Yongnuo YN-560 II Flash Speedlites which go for about $60 or so.
    Another option -- and I don't have a clue as to what shipping/taxes/voltages are involved in getting these overseas, but Paul C. Buff sells some highly regarded strobes at very good prices (at least in the US). In particular, here you could get an Alien Bee 800 strobe for $279 and a 22" beauty dish for that strobe for another $79. Add a light stand (which you could pick up where you are) for about another $40. You'll need some sort of triggering mechanism -- which could be as simple as a synch cord for about another $10 or so. That takes you up to about $440 -- about 265 pounds. The Alien Bees can be found at
    Any reason you are set on a beauty dish?
  3. The only type of flash that'll fit your budget and be useable away from mains power is going to be a hotshoe or hammerhead type 'speedlight'. A battery pack alone for a studio monolight is going to break your budget.
    I can thoroughly recommend going for a used Nikon SB-25 - regardless of which camera system you have. This flash offers great control of its output in manual mode and also has a very reliable Auto-Aperture mode. Its recycle time is a maximum of 4 seconds using NiMH cells, and it 'zooms' from 24mm to 105mm coverage. It's as powerful as any modern hotshoe gun on the market too. Expect to pay anywhere between £30 to £60, depending on condition and where you buy from.
    You'll also need a good heavy stand for outdoor use, and these start from around £25 for a 2.7 metre version. Don't bother with a lightweight stand, it'll just blow over outdoors unless you carry a sandbag or similar. It's always best to peg or weigh down a stand outdoors anyway.
    The beauty-dish is going to be problematic. Most of the ones designed to fit a speedlight are too small to be of any use. Personally I think you'd be better off looking at a small octa, or a small silver or white umbrella. A small satin-silver umbrella will give a light almost indistinguishable from a beauty dish, as will a small octa. However the octa will be more versatile since it can be diffused like a softbox. If you go for an octa, make sure it's one that erects like an umbrella, otherwise you'll spend all your time trying to poke struts into sockets.
    Triggering: Just get a cheap radio trigger kit. Most of them are pretty reliable except the ones that try to double as an umbrella holder and tilt adapter. Get a separate tilt/stand adapter for the speedlight.
    All the above quickly mounts up and you'll have to shop wisely to stay under your 200 quid budget. Good luck!
  4. Hi, thanks for the helpful responses - very much appreciated.
    I have one speedlite (Canon 430 EX ii) and after reading what you said here I started finding beauty dish brackets for speedlites. I've used a beauty dish before on a studio shoot (studio was hired) and I loved the results, hence why I want one.
    I watched a youtube video by Karl Taylor - - I like the idea of using more than one flash gun or taping them together for extra power. I'm going to invest in:

    - A second flash gun
    - A bracket for flash gun with S fit
    - An S fit beauty dish

    I also need a radio triggering system (like you said). I know you say go with a cheap one, but I spoke to Wex Photgraphic and they suggested this one:
    ... I do self portrait work and use an infrared remote control to trigger the camera. I was thinking the Phottix Strato 2 would be a good solution. What are your thoughts?

    Really I'd love to buy an Elinchrom Quadra Ranger, but I spent a huge amount of money on a 5d 3 last year and I'm not made of the stuff!

    Thanks for your help and input, and I take on board what you've said about the octa diffuser. I think getting an S fit bracket will be a good investment, I can always buy a few different diffusers and see what works.
  5. Anneka:
    For exterior use, a minimum of 400Ws (Watt-seconds) is usually preferred, since 400Ws is usually powerful enough for many (but certainly, not all), daylight applications. Camera-branded Speedlights top out at about 80Ws, and often don't have enough output for exteriors other than for some fill for singles or very small groups. Between Speedlights and AC monolights, there are the Quantum Qflashes at about 150Ws (200-400Ws with special, extra-pricey power supplies), but these solutions are in the $1,000+ range. But for under $1,000, you could afford a 400Ws AC monolight, and a portable AC inverter. Other DC-powered options with similar power output, as you've already gathered (e.g., Quantum, Elinchrom, etc.) tend to be very expensive. Here's a suggested AC monolight/inverter package:
    1. Elinchrom D-Lite 400Ws RX4 (3.3 lbs.); $394.99:
    2. Elinchrom RF transmitter which works with above's built-in receiver; $119.99:
    3. Vagabond-Mini Lithium AC inverter/battery (3.5 lbs.); $239.95:
    This system is a bit more than your £200 ($300USD) budget, but it's a solid system with built-in RF triggering, and an AC monolight which operates with voltages as low as 90VAC (a good feature to have when using AC inverters). Both the strobe and the inverter are very lightweight--important for location/portable use. The Vagabond should be good for several hundred full-power pops, and extra batteries can be bought for only $89 (I'm testing one of my Vagabonds right now with a Dynalite Uni400Jr, 400Ws AC/DC monolight). The Vagabond's battery snaps on and off very easily, and takes only a second or two to change. Vagabond Mini-Lithiums are considered by many, a huge bargain, when compared with competing portable power systems.
  6. A slightly less expensive solution, with impressive capacity, is the Impact-brand LiteTrek 400Ws portable system for $649.99. Still more than you £200 budget, but another solid, 400Ws location system (however, you would still need to invest in an RF triggering solution, e.g., Phottix, PocketWizard, etc.):
  7. And, if you really can't swing more than £200, you could go with a used 150Ws Quantum Qflash (e.g., Model T), and a used Quantum Turbo high-voltage power supply. Not quite enough "oomph" for daylight exteriors with modifiers, but still almost twice the output of a Speedlight. Look for these on Ebay for about $100-$150 USD. Note that virtually any used Quantum Turbo battery can be re-celled with a brand new battery for less than $20 USD (Power-Sonic PS-832), and it'll recycle like new. Quantum Turbos use SLA (sealed-lead acid) batteries which are inexpensive and easy to maintain. Newer Turbo models use different battery chemistries (e.g., Ni-MH, Li-ion,etc.) which aren't as easily, or as cheaply, replaced. Look specifically for a Quantum Turbo (not a Turbo SC or III, etc.). Good luck!
  8. Thank you so much Ralph. There's a lot of info in here but it's all very good.
    I've just bought myself a Phottix Strato 2 transmitter and receiver today, they had great reviews online and seem reliable. At least now I can get started with my ocf.

    I think I'll also get my hands on a 400w flash head, I'll make sure it has infrared slave cell to save me buying more Phottix receivers.

    - Sadly I can't get the Impact Lite Trek over here in the UK - but yes it does look really good.
    - Also can't get any of the Paul C Buff stuff over here! (Unless someone wants to sell me one on Ebay?)

    Looks like my only outdoor option is going to be speedlights. I'd still look for a 400W strobe though for setting up my studio.

    Will any AC battery pack work with any strobe? If so, that's all I suppose I need for an outdoor shoot? Some of them have control units I've noticed but I'm not entirely sure why those are necessary. All I want is something I can wire my strobes into.

    Appreciate all of your help.

    On second thought, don't know if I've made a mistake buying the phottix. If I want to use more than one speedlite on the same bracket they won't be able to see each other, so I'll need transmitters for all. Are there any cheap transmitter-receiver options out there that anyone recommends?
  9. Sorry, I forgot that you can't buy from B+H or from Paul C. Buff from the UK. However, I believe you can buy a product identical to the LiteTrek 400Ws strobe where you live, under the Phottix brand, called the Phottix PPL-400:
    You can check with Phottix UK [] for further sales information. They appear to have a decent dealer network in the UK, even though the parent company is located in Hong Kong:
    Note that the PPL-400 is a DC-unit only, meaning, you can't power it from an AC source--only from its battery. If you want an AC monolight to use in your home studio, you should get a "normal" AC monolight like the Elinchrom D-Lite or similar. As far as triggers go, if you can afford RF (radio-frequency) instead of IR (infra-red optical) triggers, that's a much better way to go, since RF triggers are far more reliable, and do not require line-of-sight to operate. I've never tried these, but the Cactus v5 RF triggers have gotten good reports by its customers. However, the Phottix triggers are reportedly very good, so if there isn't a significant cost-savings with the Cactus triggers, I'd stick with the Phottix triggers you've already ordered.
  10. Anneka said:
    Will any AC battery pack work with any strobe?
    If referring to AC inverter/battery packs (which are different from high-voltage DC power packs like the LiteTrek/Phottix batteries), for the most part, yes. Photogenic makes an AC inverter/battery almost identical to the Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini-Lithium unit, except that it sells for almost twice the price:

    So, yes, with an AC inverter/battery system such as the Photogenic Ion ($399 USD), Dynalite XP800 ($999 USD), or other pure sine-wave inverter, you can power virtually any other manufacturer's AC monolight within the inverter's rated capacity (note that only pure sine-wave inverters are safe to use with photographic strobes). As for high-voltage DC battery packs (not AC inverters), although there is some interchangeability among brands (e.g., Quantum-Lumedyne, etc.), generally, portable DC power solutions tend to be brand-specific, and will only work with the same manufacturer's DC strobe (e.g., Elinchrom Ranger Quadra, Bowens' Travelpak, Impact LiteTrek/Phottix PPL-400, etc.).
  11. Anneka said:
    I have one speedlite (Canon 430 EX ii) and after reading what [someone] said here I started finding beauty dish brackets for speedlites.
    Anneka, I haven't found a single beauty dish for Speedlights that works as advertised--the reflected light is either odd-shaped, un-even, or has a "hole" in the center of its light pattern. Beauty dishes on standard strobe heads (e.g., AC monolight) work well when used very close to your subject, delivering a crisp light, with a more rapid fall-off to shadow, interesting for close-up beauty work or fashion. But, otherwise, they resemble a hard light when used further away since the source becomes increasingly smaller as you move the lamp away from your subject. You'll likely find more pleasing results with an umbrella (which are very inexpensive), or an octabox.
  12. Anneka said:
    I think I'll also get my hands on a 400w flash head, I'll make sure it has infrared slave cell to save me buying more Phottix receivers.​
    I would keep your Phottix RF triggers, since they're considered by many to be decent, pro-quality triggers. Just to clarify, Speedlights transmit/receive proprietary IR triggering/TTL control data, but AC monolights do not. No AC monolight that I know of has a built-in IR receiver, but the vast majority do have visible-light receivers to enable simple optical triggering from another flash. Note that this method works only if using your Speedlight in manual-power mode--you won't be able to use your Speedlight to trigger another monolight if you're using the Speedlight's i-TTL mode, since your Speedlight uses pre-flashes to gauge its output, which will result in the pre-flashes triggering the optically slaved monolight too early (i.e., its output won't be recorded).
  13. "I haven't found a single beauty dish for Speedlights that works as advertised--the reflected light is either odd-shaped, un-
    even, or has a "hole" in the center of its light pattern. "

    Ralph, once again I suggest you try the 22-inch Chimera Octa2 Beauty Dish ?

    You've worked in the TV production business where Chimera products are standard tools of the trade, yet for your still
    photography you keep trying products that sometimes cost more and sometimes cost less than the Chimera products
    which produce equal if not superior results. I don't understand that way of thinking.
  14. Yes, Ellis, Chimera softboxes are the industry standard in film/TV production. But most (if not, all) of the Chimera Super Pro Plus softboxes cost hundreds more than their Photoflex or Profoto counterparts. In fact, my Profoto 5' octa ($359) was even less expensive than the Photoflex 5' octa ($403). But aside from that one example, the rest of the Photoflex line offers terrific value for the money. Also, recall that I'm juggling softbox sizes to match other vendors' less-expensive fabric eggcrates.
    I admit, the Chimera Octa 2 is a neat product, which I wasn't aware of until you mentioned it in another thread recently. It looks pretty cool, but I'm up to my ears in small octas and beauty dishes right now (I mainly mentioned that for the OP's benefit--I'm not looking for a beauty dish for a Speedlight, personally). Perhaps I'll get one for my Quantum Qflash someday.
  15. Ellis, I finally did just order this Chimera small lantern-style softbox I've been wanting. I think it's perfect for shooting small groups in dark venues, pole-mounted, assistant-carried, without being too unweildy:
  16. 160 Watt-seconds for <$100:
    While not as powerful as the Ranger Quadras or LiteTrek/Phottix units, I was still impressed with this Impact-brand, 160 Watt-second AC unit selling for only $84.95 at B+H. While it doesn't accept a speedring, it has holes to accept their own small softboxes: a 50cm x 50cm (19.6" x 19.6"), and a 50cm x 70cm (19.6" x 27.5"). The softboxes are also inexpensive, at only $38.95 for the small square one, and $49.95 for the rectangular one.
    At 160Ws, this Impact unit is about twice as powerful as a Speedlight, and a bit more than a standard Quantum Qflash. Benefits include a lightweight design at only 1.5 lbs., and an energy-conserving LED modeling lamp. B+H customer feedback comments indicate a recycle time of about 1.5 seconds. Only two power settings, however: full- and half-power. Another drawback: it has a very small built-in reflector. But, marry this small strobe to an AC inverter, like the Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini-Lithium, and you have a very portable, Qflash-like package for about $325 USD:

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