This was a recent dilemma I faced. I currently have older Bowens strobes in the studio and while there is nothing actually wrong with them, the recycle time was too slow and I had found they were continually misfiring with my Sony a7R III. I also have an older Nikon Speedlight, which was quite serviceable, but I wanted something that did High Speed Sync and had a much faster recycle time.
So, what did I get?
These days photographers can create many (but perhaps not all) similar type of images using either a speedlight or a strobe. Using that brief burst of light that can freeze movement, as well as light a scene similarly.
Where the lighting equipment differs is in its power, portability, flexibility, speed and cost. So let’s take a little look at both.
So what is a speedlight? Also known as a flash, hot shoe flash or flashgun. Traditionally these sit on top of the camera and connected via the hot shoe.
But there are so many more options these days. In fact, I never put mine on top of the camera. I use them as rim lights or extra fill light. With an off-camera flash, you can also use gels and light modifiers with them as well, just like you can with strobes, but they’re mostly on the smaller side.
They are (in general) controllable and you can alter the settings quickly and easily. Speedlights are also lightweight, durable, run on batteries and are very portable. They are often considerably cheaper than strobes as well.
So what is a strobe? Strobes also create a short burst of light, and are used mostly for studio lighting and not mounted on a camera. They are larger and far more powerful than a speedlight.
Often these use an external power source, but these days come with a power pack or batteries. By design, they are adjustable, allowing you to control the intensity. They’re frequently used with light modifiers like softboxes, beauty dishes and umbrellas, including really large modifiers as octoboxes and barn doors too big to use with a flash.
Strobes also have a modeling light, which is useful for working the direction the light is facing, focus, etc. By their very nature they are bigger and bulkier (sitting on light stands or dollys) and require power or larger bulky power packs. They are also much more expensive than a speedlight.
So which way did I go?
Even with each type, there are so many options, but after some investigation and talking to other photographers I actually did a little of both. I was lucky and picked up some bargains during the sales at a really good price. In the end, Godox was my brand of choice, as it has had so many great reviews.
I opted for the Godox AD400Pro (B&H | Amazon) over the AD600 as my studio is quite small. There was also a price consideration, as I bought two units. It’s just the way I like to set up my studio lights — one with a large Octobox and one with a beauty dish (as seen above).
I still had a nagging thought in the back of my mind about using my old Nikon Speedlight, so with the sales I also opted for the Godox AD200Pro (B&H | Amazon). I could then be confident that everything would communicate and be similar in the setups. All had High Speed Sync, and the AD200 also came with a traditional flash head or a bare bulb flash head. This made it the perfect companion for my strobes.
I can also pack the speedlight up and use it on location as it is lightweight and compact, but also quite powerful.
So I guess I can say I got the best of both worlds. But if your budget doesn’t quite go that far, decide if you want purely studio or on-location lights. How many do you require? Could you start out with just one? Do you want something small and compact, or do you need more power in a larger studio situation?
Consider what your subject matter is. Product photography would possibly be more suited to a speedlight (or two), but portraits in a studio is better suited to strobes. If you shoot portraits outdoors in natural light, then a portable speedlight might be quite serviceable as well, just as a bit of a kicker.
Always buy the best you can afford, but always do your research first. Buy the lights that best suits your needs and budget, that way you can eliminate any buyers remorse.