The most common question I get is what flash unit to buy. And because I am not aligned with any manufacturer, I rep for no one, nor take bribes, freebies, or gifts, to endorse things, I have a reputation for telling you the things you won’t hear from others. Maybe you don't want to hear it, thats life

This alone tends to sometimes cause folks to have sissy-fits, because the guy on the blog or the salesman at the store told him different. But I tell it like it is and it’s your risk as to who to believe. I have nothing to gain.

I’m going to talk about PRO vs. Consumer (AKA PROSUMER) strobe units both made (labeled) by the big Camera companies and those independents like METZ, YONG-NUO, and others.

This doesn’t require pie charts and extensive statistics so many like to throw out.  Holy Sh*t,  a white paper on a 46.00 dollar strobe written like it's a Harvard Doctorate thing, not worthy of a Pulitzer though.  It either does what it is supposed to do or it doesn't.   

More Teddy bears have endorsed flash units than any real working wedding pros.  When their kid won't sit still for test pictures they bring out the kids Teddy Bear instead of a MacBeth Color Chart, a KODAK grey scale or Gradient TestPro’s Color Wheel.  

And they have no clue as to real readings with a flash meter and enclosure analysis. These commentaries are boring, not real world, no value and mostly written by those who think they got something for nothing or are so very proud of their own personal decision and mediocre accomplishments.  They turned it on. Congratulations!  That’s OK, but when there is reputation and money on the line, it’s a different story. 

What is the value of that fine investment you made in that 70.00 dollar strobe when it doesn't go off just when the Bride did smile?

PRO'S tend to endorse when they get paid for the endorsement. It is called branding. Most of the time they simply reprinted what the manufacturer wrote… I know one who endorsed a brand of cameras, large DSLR's which they gave him several for doing a commercial for them,  and two weeks later they were on eBay being dumped. My buddy won one of them.   Loyalty my ass, follow the money.

Let me be perfectly clear, I love Teddy Bears and being a Board member of a Million Dollar Military Memorial  Organization, I have a special love of military Teddy Bears.

In fact, mine, the collection below who sit in my living room all sing the appropriate song for the branch they represent.  

We use Bears in the Military Hospitals we visit so I take Bears seriously.  The wounded have children and a Bear dressed like Daddy or Mom means a lot to a toddler and to some adults like me too.



RULE ONE:  Manufacturers are there to make money so they make their strobes (and lenses) in levels matching their camera products.  Few buyers of entry level cameras ($499-799) will jump at a full blown GITZO tripod for 800 dollars but the 119.00 SLIK or MANFROTTO will work for them and it is in their space.  Space, the final frontier, these are the….ooops wrong column.  Thats the space in the wallets separating the twenties.

There are three levels of cameras starting with the entry or amateur level, the next is the middle level called Prosumer (to get the “Pro” part in) and full line Professional level cameras and lenses.  Especially lenses, they remind me of the Sears Roebuck product marketing.  Something was Good, Better, or Best and it reflected the pricing and speed ranges which in some  cases were huge. You can get 300 mm lenses for 280 dollars to 6000 dollars. No different with flashes.

Examples:  Nikon strobes, the  models 800, 900, 910 are their pro-level made in Japan high end product.  They are strobes with all the features such as full camera integration and communication, heavier duty construction, stronger boards, protective diodes and so forth as long as you have the current model or willing to lose some features on legacy models.

Their 400, 600 (disc) and 700 series are the Chinese sub units made for the prosumer, and amateurs. Those cameras and lenses, the causal shooter uses, were not really made for the HD pro use.  When you cross the line and go to Weddings and Sports Events on a heavy routine basis, its time to step up.



Know what you really got. Check the guide numbers of the flash against the distance you will be using it at. The SB-800 has a more powerful guide number of 125 feet at ISO 100 and 174 feet at ISO 200. The SB-600 is 98 feet at ISO 100, 138 at ISO 200.  Almost a 25% difference.  Impressive but what do they relate to. Nothing!  What is the quality of that light when it hits the target.

What these corporation idiots don’t talk about in all their comparisons is at what F stop are you needing to shoot, depth of field, width of the beam in relation to the subjects or what is the field of coverage and drop off.  They love giving you numbers that don’t relate. You have to do this yourself.
And you will find "their guide number"  is not what you got.  

Guide numbers usually represented the f-stop at ten feet with an ISO of 100.  And you divided the distance by the f-stop.   If your strobe was f11 at ten feet , it would be  about half or 5.6 at twenty feet and so forth.


TAKE A CALIBRATED LIGHT METER (rec. SEKONIC 358) and place it exactly TEN FEET from the FLASH set for an ISO of 100.  Simple… trigger the flash. It will wind up somewhere between F8 and F11.  That’s your guide number.  Forget all the other dribble.  Let’s say you get 10.5.

With an ISO set 100, F11 at 125th should give you a decent picture.  Too dark, drop it to F8 or F9.2 or whatever.  Adjust the shutter speed for the background within the sync range for brightness.  This is not rocket science.  You are going to find in reality most manufacturers lie or cheat on their numbers. They shoot in a white tunnel in a white room and that will exaggerate and focus the beam so the reflections will give you higher numbers. This results in a twenty percent increase in what they say but it's not real world.

Another factor is the width the beam projects. Many devices like the Vivitar 283/285s are hotter in the center with severe edge fall off.  Thus you get the bride and groom blasted and the bridal party looks like an Al Jolson concert.  Diffusion is the answer here or use the Perfection Double Bracket.

Lots More coming


Do you need an external battery for longer flash use, such as for weddings or extended portraiture shoots. All Nikons 600, 700, 800, 900, 910 can accept external batteries, while the Canon line, the 550, 580, 580 II, and the 430/430ExII accept our packs. Most of these flashes have bounce capabilities so you can bounce light off the ceiling or walls, providing a much more natural appearance to your subject.

By bouncing the flash you achieve a much more diffuse light source, resulting in much softer shadows but the caveat is the flash has longer to travel and the power diminishes so a multiple head flash or two flashes is better.

more coming…..and why you should step up….