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3.2 Types of Flash

The two types of flash available are speed lights and studio strobes. But how are they different, and which one is the best to use? You're gonna find out the answers to those questions in this lesson. Speed lights are a battery powered flash that uses a hot shoe mount. These can be used on camera or off camera with a light stand adapter, or another type of mount. When it comes to flashes, the maximum output of the flash is an important factor. In speed lights, you use something called a guide number to describe their maximum output. A guide number equals distance times the F number. For example, let's say you have a flash that has a guide number of 58 at ISO 100, usually guide numbers are listed in meters. So this would be around 190 feet. This means that if your subject was 17 feet away, you would have to use an aperture of F11 to get a proper exposure when this flash is on maximum output. If the subject was 150 feet away, you would need an aperture of 1.2 to get a proper exposure. Although you would probably have to use a telephoto lens to pull that shot off. So the bigger the guide number, the more output the flash should have. Manual speed lights are very inexpensive, and you could find quality units with very good output for around $70 USD, like the Yongnuo YN-560IV version four or even the version three. Studio strobes perform the same job as a manual speed light, but often they are much more powerful. Studio strobes come in two basic types, a mono light and a pack and head. A mono light has the flash head and the power supply all in one box. You adjust the power and all of the controls right on the back of the unit. A pack and head set up uses a flash head and then a separate power supply called the pack. These packs can often control more than one head, and the controls for the flashes can be made right on the pack. Between the two, mono lights are the most simple and the most cost effective. Studio strobes describe their power output in watt seconds. The strange thing about watt seconds is that it describes in energy potential. In other words, how much electrical power the flash can dump from its capacitors. It isn't necessarily a description of the actual light output, but you can make a rough estimation of the light output from these numbers. For example, a 400 watt second strobe from one manufacturer will probably be similar to a 400 watt second strobe from another manufacturer. But it won't be exact. And usually manufacturers will have some kind of chart or table which will give you an indication of what to expect with certain camera settings. So, maximum output on this flash would be F32 at five feet in ISO 100 or something like that. Like I mentioned before, unlike speed lights, studio strobes have modeling lights which allows you to see what your light is doing before you take the shot. Many studio strobes also have modeling lights that track with the output of the flash. So as you turn up the flash, the modeling light gets brighter. This is a great feature to help you see how your lights are interacting with other lights. Some studio strobes come with a battery pack, but it's usually an extra option for most of the studio strobes out there. Another thing that can separate speed lights and strobes is recycle time. Recycle time describes the amount of time between when the flash is discharged and when it's ready to be discharged again. On a speed light, this recycle time is relatively slow, and as your batteries drain, it can get slower. Because studio strobes run off the mains, the recycle times are much faster. Some studio strobes allow you to shoot using your camera's high speed continuous drive mode when the strobe is on a lower power setting. On a speed light, however, you can actually superheat the head and melt it if you fire off too many consecutive flash pulses. I partially melted the very first speed light I ever bought. I was shooting in an underground cave that was in almost complete darkness. And all of a sudden I smelled that very distinct burning electronics smell. Luckily it wasn't that bad, and the flash still worked just fine. Modern speed lights will often have heat sensors that will shut the flash down when you get to this point. Studio strobes are more expensive compared to a basic manual speed light, but they are also available in much higher outputs. Now there isn't a standard conversion from guide number to watt seconds. So you'll just have to trust me here. A high power speed light with a guide number of 60 meters might be comparable to a 150 to 200 watt second studio strobe roughly. The only way to know for sure is to meter them, so let's look at an example. So just to show you that there is a pretty big difference in the maximum output from your standard speed light to a basic studio strobe here, I wanna do a little experiment. So I have my light meter here. It's set up to ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second. And I'm gonna it hold here and take two meter readings. First, I'm gonna fire off the speed light. And I get a meter reading of F25. Now I'm gonna fire off the studio strobe. And I get a meter reading of F45. That's a big difference. Another thing to factor into the equation is light modifiers. Because the size in the shape of this speed light is generally the same across most of the manufacturers out there, the light modifiers for speed lights are much more universal. The studio strobes, it's a different animal. Some modifiers will be universal across studio strobes, like umbrellas. Things like soft boxes are not. Each studio strobe maker has a different mount for their heads. These mounts fit something called a speed ring. The speed ring is a solid metal ring-shaped disc which is used to attach a soft box to a studio strobe. So when you're looking at a soft box, you need to make sure that it will fit your head. If not you will need to buy a separate speed ring adapter which will adapt your studio strobe to that particular soft box. If you buy the soft box from the manufacturer of the head, there's no trouble. But sometimes there are better values out there with third party accessory makers. In this case is going to need a speed ring that will fit your strobe. For example, I have Alien B's studio strobes. If I wanted to get a Pro Photo soft box, I would need to get the soft box and a separate speed ring to fit my Alien B's head. So which is better? Studio strobes or speed lights? The answer is both. They're both very, very useful tools, but it really depends on what the job is. For product photography, you're often getting the lights in close to the products, so you don't need a tremendous amount of power. You can easily use manual speed lights, even with larger light modifiers. You might have to bump up the ISO to ISO 200, but that isn't the end of the world. I have both, and I use both all the time. Strobes are nice because they recycle fast, and they don't need batteries, and they have lots of power. Speed lights are nice because they're very light, they're super cheap and they can be used with inexpensive light modifiers. If you're just starting out, and you need a recommendation, I would look at the Yongnuo brand of speed lights. If you're using them in the studio, go for manual flashes like the YN560 version 4. If you're going to occasionally use one of them on your camera, get one TTL flash like the YN568EX2, and fill the rest of your speed light needs with 560s. If you want to get into studio strobes, I would look at AlienBees or Flashpoint strobes. Both are a fantastic value. AlienBees is a brand from the Paul C Buff company and they're only sold direct through the Paul C Buff website. The cool thing about AlienBees is they have a collection of really fantastic light modifiers that are good quality and a really good value. Now that you know the difference between studio strobes and speed lights, you're ready to move on to the next lesson, where you're going to learn about how to trigger these flashes.

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