What to Know Before You Strobe Shop
BY STEPHEN R. VALE, DIRECTOR OF ENGINEERING, NOVATRON ON
Each type of strobe is engineered for a specific job. In today's market, you can find models with power ranges from a few watt-seconds, such as those found on small cameras, to power packs with thousands of watt-seconds that can light up a car or an aircraft carrier.
Understanding this and other variables can often make the difference between an efficient working situation and a really tough day.
Location, Location, Location
Equipment choices for locatioin shooting are the same as for studio work, except that the quantity and the weight of equipment used in a studio is typically greater.
Wherever you shoot, your strobes have to satisfy your criteria in the general areas of power output, color temperature, weight, toughness, flexibility, convenience, and possibly cost.
For location shoots where lighting must be brought to a site, weight and complexity are primary concerns. For ease of travel, lighterweight systems are usually preferred. The fewer carrying cases the better, because the less likely you are to need carts and helpers to set up.
If the site is well controlled and running cables is not a problem, the most cost-efficient lighting setup may be something like a Novatron Complete Kit with packs and heads. Novatron supplies kits for up to 4 heads, a power pack, stands, and umbrellas in a tough carrying case . . . with room to spare for extension cords. For
example, with two 6801 kits, one man can haul a full setup with up to eight flash heads and many accessories to a site in a single trip.
Go, Go Power Ranges
The single most expensive piece of flash equipment you will purchase is the power pack. Unless you can afford to buy multiple packs, try to minimize your costs by selecting the smallest pack powerful enough to handle your biggest assignments.
Remember: you can almost always use large packs for small jobs.
Available features vary. Packs such as the Novatron 1000VR and 1500VR have fixed output power steps and are very stable with regard to color temperature and output power. Newer power packs such as the V400 (which is optimized for quick recycle) and the V600 allow for infinitely variable output power adjustments, which can be especially useful in tight spaces where adjusting flash head position is difficult.
While weight may not always be a consideration when choosing a pack, power output and functionality are. Another factor when shopping is to make certain your flash equipment is digital-ready.
Many current production power packs and monolights, including Novatron's, are fully compatible with today's newest cameras. In addition, most older units can be upgraded.
In heavily trafficked areas where cabling must be kept to a minimum, monolights are a great option. Monolights have a higher per-light cost than pack-and-head combinations, but offer self-contained power pack and flash head in one box, plus the means to "dial-down" the output power.
Monolights offer simple setups and a single cable along with a built-in device to slave to other flash units. Most models (such as the Novatron M300 and M500) have an impressive range of power adjustment, but be careful.
Color temperature can become an issue with some brands of monolights, and some variable power packs, as their white light may really not be all that white after all.