Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strobeam DL4 - Summary

Over the last few weeks, I posted my experience of using the Strobeam DL4.  I have combined three posts on this blog into one.  This make it easier for anyone reading this see my obsevations.

1st Post

I've been a Strobist for quite a few years. It is one of the best thing I have done in Photography. In conjunction with joining The London Strobist Meetup group on Flickr in 2009, my portrait photography has come a long way since those early days.

In the early days before discovering off camera flash with Strobist I had a Portaflash kit from Jessops. It was a good kit to get started and I learned the lighting basic with it. The only thing is, it is not much more powerful than portable flash guns and require mains power, so not suitable for location shooting without power. For the last few years, I have been using a combination of Nikon SB26, SB28, Canon 540EZ, 550EX and 430EX as my off camera kit. Used with various light modifiers, I am very happy with the results I get within their limitations. The biggest issue with these portable flash guns is the lack of power. This shows up in bright ambient condition, when you are restricted to 1/250s X-Sync shutter speed and has to stop down to small aperture like F11. I had to set the power of these portable flashes at full power without modifier. This cause problem with heat build up in the flash and long recycle time.

I've been toying with the idea of buying portable flash for a while but never happy to pay the cost. I am aware of Strobeam DL4 for over a year, but it still cost £670. I have seen it been used by other togs and they were easily overcoming bright sunlight with a large softbox. Last week, I saw it on eBay for £455 + £10 shipping. I thought about it for a few days and after asking some questions I ordered it and received it within a day. I unpacked it and charged the battery and did a few test fire.  Here is what you get from the package. It comes with a carry case which is handy.  The battery charger is not shown here.

It comes with an adaptor so I can use my Bowens softbox with it. The head feel quite well made, but I have not used it in a real photo shoot yet.  The battery took 4 hours to charge and is very small.  I will add report on its performance once I have done a couple of photo shoots. Here are a couple of photos of it mounted on my boom arm.

The connection to the side is the power lead from battery and the cable at the back is the sync cable.  It can be triggered optically with the little white switch to the right.

2nd Post

Yesterday I had a photo shoot using the Strobeam DL4.  It went very smoothly.  Here are a couple of observations.  The recycling time was good with a maximum of 2s at full power.  I was using 1/4 power most of the time and recycle time was less than 0.5s.  Very consistent exposure shot to shot.  My experience of portable flashes is that they are not very consistent.  Exposure can vary by over a stop sometimes.

I did notice one bad thing, the supplied bracket is not very strong.  I tried to fit a very larger beauty dish on the head that must weigh 1kg.  It was too heavy, the head just pivoted over no matter how hard I tighten the screw.  I gave up in the end and used a much smaller one.  Most of the time, I was using a 60x90cm softbox.  I was very happy with my purchase and would recommend others do the same.  I will report back when I have done a out door day light shoot.

Here is an image of the flash head in action.

3rd Post

You may remember I used my Strobeam DL4 battery powered mono light for a shoot a couple of weeks ago. I mentioned the supplied umbrella bracket was not strong enough.  To rectify this issue, I purchased a Calumet 026 umbrella bracket.  As far as I can see, its a copy of the Manfrotto 026 bracket.  It is an all metal contraction and is much stronger than the plastic bracket that came with the light.  You can see a comparison of the  difference with the photo below.  The supplied bracket is made of plastic (on the left).  It was not great for mounting on a light stand.  Also not strong enough for heavy modifier.  The Calumet bracket is all metal and is much stronger.  I will trust the mono light will not fall over.

Here are a couple of photos of the mono light mounted on a boom arm with this bracket.

One more observation.  The head has a buzzer which sounds when it is ready to fire.  I have discovered, it only buzz if the power is set to 1/4 power or above.  It may be below 1/4 power, the flash head is always ready.  I guess the buzzer works by detecting a discharge and charge cycle.

I also purchased a 7dayshop 43" umbrella softbox.  It was only £13 including delivery.  It is small when folded and ready to be used in seconds.  Here is a test shot of the umbrella mounted to the Calumet bracket.  The light was quite even without the spill kill reflector.

I tested it with the reflector and the light was  much more concentrated in the centre of the softbox.  I think it is a great investment for very little money.  I think it will struggle if used with portable flash.

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