"Be careful what you wish for..." A couple of years ago I started thinking that it would be a good idea to supplement my traditional photography business by adding video services for clients. The idea was that I'd be able to offer a turnkey solution so that we could efficiently do photographs as well as video on various assignments. The job acquisition and actual shooting/directing/editing/photoshopping is going well but I wish I had given more thought to the packing and production end of the hybrid photo/video idea.
It's all very well to say that we'll use LED lights for everything since we have a bunch of LED lights but sometimes reality bites you on the butt and makes you realize that there is no "one size fits all" strategy when it comes to shooting photographs. Much as I would loveto be able to light everything with the expensive LEDs I bought for videography there are still plenty of times when I need to freeze action, overwhelm existing light or go toe to toe with the sun.
In the best of all possible worlds I would show up with a truck full of lights. LEDs, big flashes, a range of HMIs.....you know...just the right light for any occasion.
The reality is that I'm doing many of these assignments solo and many of the assignments are on locations that require air travel. I am trying to limit myself to two cases of gear and one carry on (the cameras!). If I brought along the traditional monolights I've used in the studio and around town (for years) I would need one more big, checked bag and it would tip the whole enterprise into a big enough production that I'd need to add another person to the payroll and the project. With budgets as tight as ever the extra expenses (you have to consider plane fare, hotel, meals, worker's comp in the budget) would many times push the budget over what the client wants to spend.
Recently I revisited the first photo book I wrote. It's all about using small, portable flashes to do the kind of work we used to do in the old days with big power packs and heads or beefy monolights. When I wrote the book there were no flashes that used their own rechargeable lithium ion battery packs and there were few that were coupled with very flexible radio triggers in a package with affordable enough pricing to allow for making the rationale to move from multiple monolights to a bag full of speed lights. That's all changed entirely now.
I've been buying some flashes from Godox recently that have big lithium ion battery packs and come with really good radio triggers for somewhere in the range of $150-$180. They recycle quickly, put out a good amount of light and are a very familiar form factor. Most have some limitations and those limitations are mostly in the amount of power they can put out (very useful in full sun or in big soft boxes...) and how many exposures you can take at high power settings before the units over heat.
Recently I saw a unit that Godox makes called the AD200 and it seems to answer my hesitations at tossing the rest of my plug in the wall monolights and once again downsizing (literally) the lights I take along with me to work. The AD200 is a very basic unit that looks like a black brick with a fresnel flash head at one end and a simple control panel at the other end.
The unit has passive ventilation at the flash head and again in places along the body of the unit. This reduces the heat load during use. The three things that intrigued me about this unit were the impressive power output, the small form factor and interchangeable flash heads. You can use the normal (looks like a speed light) head and it works fine. The regular head also provides a weak LED modeling light. But if you really want to lay down a bunch of full power flashes in a row and put the light into an umbrella or soft box and still get strong exposures, you might want to put on the bare bulb head. It's rated to give you 60 full power flashes before it slows down from heat stress. Move to 1/2 power and get over 120 full power flashes in a row before the possibility of an overheat signal happens.
And, if you are shooting into a soft box, octa box or umbrella box you'll find the super wide light distribution of the bare bulb head makes each of these modifiers that much softer and smoother.
Mine came yesterday. I popped the chunky lithium ion battery into its charger and went back to editing video. When the charger showed "full" I sat down with the owners manual and carefully went through each and every setting; step by step.
I can buy a trigger that gives me full TTL automation on my Sony cameras but I'll get around to that in the future. Today, on the flash's maiden voyage, I just used its built in S1 slave mode to fire when triggered by the other flashes I was using in tandem.
I had the AD200 firing into an inexpensive 47 inch umbrella box and I shot several hundred images on location at a downtown law firm, at half power, with no misfires and no fumbles. When I got back home I was delighted to find that the battery level indicator hadn't move from "full."
The AD200 is well built and feels dense. I've purchased but not used a Bowens adapter for the unit which will allow me to use Bowens speed rings and reflector on the flash. The AD200 unit, with the two heads, comes out to $300. The savings for me is in the space and weight that this light affords me over a similar powered, conventional monolight. I can pack two of these, in their natty cases, along with four Godox V866 flashes and all the peripherals into a Think Tank rolling case and be ready to light up anything I would normally have used the monolights for. Alternatively, I could pack a couple of these units in the case with the LEDs and get to locations ready to shoot a wider variety of photo images beyond the limitations of the constant lights.
My test run was perfect. I like the unit. I like the bare bulb head. I'll buy the second AD200 this week. Goodbye traditional studio gear.
An LED that came along for the ride.