Moving to Off-Camera Flash (OCF) using a Strobe Lighting System
The most popular question I get from photographers elevating their practice to use professional studio lighting:
“What’s the best strobe lighting system for off-camera-flash?”
I’ve got good news. There is no best system. Light is light! Every professional has their bias and their preferences based on their experiences and the type of photography they shoot. The best solution will always be what works for your art and your budget.
However, after years of shooting with studio strobes, I have developed new criteria for considering professional studio strobe lighting that may help your thinking and your lighting selection.
Portability versus Mobility in Studio Lighting
Phottix Professional Studio Lighting System
I use Phottix Indra500 strobes and Phottix Mitros+ speedlights for my studio and on-location lighting system. The studio strobes and the speedlights work with a single remote trigger and my handheld light meter. I have plenty of light sculpting modifiers to use with my Indra500 strobes and adapters to use the same modifiers with my Mitros+ speedlights. This allows me to build unique lighting setups and lighting recipes for all types of portrait photography, product photography, and commercial photography. Additionally, the Phottix Indra500 and Mitros+ can run on batteries or AC-power to be truly portable. This degree of flexibility and creativity has been fantastic for my studio, on-location work, and my professional lighting workshops.
Portability gives you creativity wherever you want to shoot. The Phottix Lighting System gets aces for portability. For those reasons, I love my Phottix lighting. It’s a great investment with outstanding ROI for my studio.
Profoto Light Shaping System
One of the lighting systems that I considered in my initial market research was the Profoto lighting system. If former Apple chief designer Johnny Ive’s designed professional studio lighting systems, it would likely be Profoto. It’s a comprehensive system highly favored by professional photographers the world over. Almost all of my photography business mentors use Profoto lighting exclusively. Profoto is a benchmark in the professional studio lighting space.
However, I passed on Profoto. I shoot with Sony mirrorless cameras. When I researched Profoto, their lighting system for Sony mirrorless cameras required me to purchase a new camera to get full support with Profoto. My Phottix system worked with the camera gear I owned. Secondly, I wanted the flexibility to shoot on location with a battery and/or all-day in studio with AC power. Profoto didn’t have an single option that could do both. You had to choose between a battery-powered portable monolight or an AC-powered studio monolight. Those two objections killed the deal for me.
Profoto has continued to innovate and address customer concerns in its products. With that in mind, if I were building my lighting system for 2020, I would get the Profoto B10 and B10 Plus. Profoto finally addressed the power issue. Now, you can use batteries on the go or shoot with flash while charging on AC-power. The best thing with the B10/+ is that Profoto made pro studio lighting mobile. The Profoto B10/+ can be easily handheld with modifiers attached. You can literally hold it in your hand (no C-Stand/monopole BS) and your camera in the other. This frees you up from looking like a camera bag lady/man dragging gear or worrying about theft.
Mobility Is the Studio Photographer’s Dream
There are portable OCF systems and there are mobile systems. My Phottix is super portable. I can take it anywhere and shoot, Additionally, I can run it on AC power in my studio or on battery on location. However , the Indra500 studio strobe is not mobile. The light requires additional gear for one-person shooting on-location. If you plan on shooting at multiple sites on-location, you will need an assistant to help move the gear or extend the duration of the shoot to setup, tear down, pack up, relocate, repeat. In my usage, the Profoto B10/+ is the best truly mobile OCF strobes system available. You can literally run around a city with a studio strobe in one-hand and a camera in the other. No stands or assistants needed. Additionally, the B10 is light enough to mount in a tree with a Joby Gorilla Pod.
I know a lot of people balk at the price of Profoto gear. They are legends at catering to the upper-end of the market. In my view, the Profoto B10 price is the cost of an assistant to watch your gear and hold a light for a year. If mobility is an important consideration I would encourage the B10/+ .
If portability/power are your main things the Phottix lights are fantastic! Phottix is not cheap either. However, a Phottix lighting system is significantly less expensive than Profoto.
Understanding Professional Studio Lighting and the Innovator’s Dilemma
Is Godox a Worthy Professional Studio Lighting System
There has been a lot of innovation since I bought my Phottix lighting system across the entire industry. Some companies have gone out of business, while new companies have garnered significant market share. One of the companies that has the photographer community all a buzz is Godox. Godox didn’t meet my criteria for my first investment and wasn’t considered. However, they have been a fast mover in the studio lighting space and one to watch. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with different Godox lights and even mix Godox and with my Phottix Indra500 strobes for some powerful combinations. Godox is a prime time player today and deserves serious consideration from all photographers looking for the best studio strobe lighting system for their work.
I want to provide a final note on Godox for anyone that considers the brand less than ready for serious professional lighting. Read the Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen!
Godox may be the cheap, good-enough alternative today. Godox may lack a few features of the Profoto or Phottix families. However, they are winning a market that Profoto treats as only hobbyists and serious enthusiasts. That market is growing. As a result, it’s fueling broad innovation for Godox. I fully expect Godox to be on par or eclipse Profoto in every meaningful and measurable dimension in the next decade. Good enough eventually becomes the benchmark. So, do you want to join the revolution or protect the old guard?
The Revolution Will Be Photographed!
Let me know your thoughts, objections, and discoveries in the comments below. I would love to hear from you and understand if mobility, portability, or stability is a criterion in your selection the best studio strobe lighting for your photography.
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