Recommendations for cheap (probably chinese) studio flashes
Some of us don't live in the USA, also known as the land of crazy-cheap equipment. We can't buy AlienBees etc, the voltage is wrong (though I could get a transformer... another 5kg to lug) and the shipping cost is nasty. While I'd be happy with some good secondhand Bowens, elinchrom or whatever, the second-hand market here is still pretty inflated. That basically means my affordable options come down to the variety of $200-300-class Chinese monolights on eBay.
I plan to use these lights with decently big modifiers (1-2m softboxes) , shooting medium format and 4x5"; think f/32 kind of levels from the key light. From what I understand, that means I'm going to need on the order of 800Ws - please let me know if I'm wrong there in either direction. I'm not going to be using them professionally; sessions of an hour or so once every few weeks. Very light use though I'd want them to still be working in a decade.
Has anyone personally used any of the chinese brands? Any good or bad experiences? Have you had a chance to compare optical power levels with reputable brands? I know enough to avoid the really cheap ones with only 3 stops of power range.
I was looking in particular at the Menik LD-series lights, though they seem to be unusually small and light for their power rating, which doesn't bode well - flash capacitor technology is what it is and a certain volume is required to contain the specified energy. I suspect they're lying about power ratings and/or not using flash-rated capacitors but don't know that for sure. These advertise as using Perkin-Elmer plug-in tubes, which is a plus. Their CM-series look awesome (wireless remote control of power levels!) but they don't seem to be available yet.
The other option are the older-style huge ones, e.g. eBay 150645212726. They're big & heavy enough to contain the capacitors to fulfill the rating but of course I don't know if they're good ones; a friend has a pair that look similar to these and some of the capacitors shorted out after about 2 years (I removed the duds for him and now the flash works again but max power is down by about 1/3 stop).
... or if someone in Australia has a quality secondhand two-light 1kJ studio kit they'd like to sell for $500ish?
Update... I bought a Menik SQ-600 and SQ-1200 from mkstudio2012 on eBay. They were both dead on arrival; the big discharge resistors had been sheared off the PCBs and were rattling around in the cases; it looked like severe trashing in transit or maybe some very clumsy assembly work. They *look* really good and solid, but they don't work. They're currently on their way back to China to be replaced by (I'm promised) tested-working ones.
Score so far: 0 for me, -1 for Menik/Suncy QA and/or China Post and +10 for customer service (if they do as promised) from Meking Studio (eBay reseller) as they're going to make a huge loss on this sale due to shipping costs.
The SQ-600 has about 500J of capacitance in it and the SQ-1200 seems to have about 800J, depending on what voltage they charge up to. I have my suspicions that the SQ-1200 I received was actually an SQ-800; it has the same PCB as the SQ-600 and more capacitors are loaded, but not all of the footprints have capacitors in them. The power and control PCBs (and cases) are clearly common between all of these flashes, they're just loaded out with more or less capacitance. I noted that the 1200 had a different tube from the 600, so hopefully they're properly rated.
So they're lying on the specifications, but not nearly as dramatically as some other Chinese vendors I've seen where the actual power can be as little as 25% of rated. Interestingly (I had a good look at the PCBs), they're wired for about 600-800V (pairs of 300-400V capacitors in series) instead of 330V, which should make for reasonably short flash durations.
you can buy alienbees in Australia, however they are more expensive.
https://paulcbuff.com.au/cms/ I have experience only with their USA Customer Service, and they were very good. I'm using B1600 and B800
what you may find interesting is output test for different light modifiers. (check last position on the drop down list)
also check their PLM system http://www.paulcbuff.com/plm.php even if won't use their lights
the biggest one is really huge but all very light and priced very good and with front diffuser give very even light across
I'm using Soft Silver but for your output requirements you may need extreme silver.
much more efficient than soft boxes based on my experience
Eh, I like softboxes, particularly because the light is not highly parallel like you get from a reflector like an umbrella. I do have a silver brolly for when I want a few more stops though.
I know what you mean but PLM does not distribute light like a standard umbrella. PLM construction is more "flat". Due to your requirements I thought that this give you much more power from the same monolight than softbox while at the same time providing similar or better soft quality light.
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I bought a set of these cheap 200 W/S strobes off of that auction site to dip my to into the water of studio strobes without spending lots of cash. One of the three was dead on arrival. I disassembled and repaired it (had a cracked circuit board trace).
I was disappointed to discover (when I had it open) that the power rating was only about 120 to 150 W/S (not the 200 advertised. Based on the size of the Caps and the charge voltage) (disclaimer - this can be very dangerous if you don't know what you're doing), but even more disappointing was the fact that the light output was controlled by varying the voltage and NOT the firing time of the strobe. While this method does vary the light output (somewhat), it changes the color temperature too.
Ah well, you live and learn. It still helps me learn studio strobe techniques, so not all was lost.
For the price of cheap Chinese lights, just get White Lightning Ultras.
For the price of cheap Chinese lights, just get White Lightning Ultras.
These lights are still repairable from the factory & practically bullet-proof.
Depending on what format you are using they have 3 different power
lights, to choose from.
The 600 is 300 w/s. the 1200 is 600 w/s & the 1800 is 900 w/s.
The flash power settings are infinitely adjustable.
Start with 2-1200's, ( Main & Fill ) & a then add a 600, ( hair & or background ).
Add as necessary. Total cost, between $600 & $800 for the 3 mentioned above !
Finally, you can always sell these for what you paid for them,
unlike the Cheap Chinese Lights.
PG, I wonder if these people realise that you are in Australia. Unfortunately, with the markup, the Bluff units are not that much better price wise compared to other brands that use the more flexible 'S' ring.
Yeah, Buff is available in AU but not really affordable; I could buy genuine Bowens for the same $$$ and be way happier about it. They're still cheap Chinese flashes with a US brand slapped on them, though at least warranty is theoretically available.
I've had a look at some Buff modifiers (brollies, softboxes) and frankly, the Meking-branded ones I bought direct from China are better-made than the Buff gear.
Have you looked into Yongnou flash systems? They are cheaper than brand names and I have not had any problems at all. The quality is up there too.
good luck 2bits