We have been shooting with Bowens lights, on and off, for about 8 months now, and although they were not spotless, they performed quite well.
The lights are not small. They are big and bulky and side mount on a swing arm. Personally I hated this design and could fathom the reason until I started using them with a giant Octo and the 1.8m umbrellas. When using standard smaller light modifiers (like umbrellas and smaller 3’ soft boxes) any light will mount happily straight on a light stand, but a giant Octobox is just that… huge! It’s big and heavy and has a lot of leverage. The side mount means you can now remove a rubber washer from the mount, and it leaves the light with ratchet teeth. Perfect to stop the head from slowly slipping to a downward position!
So, a great idea for large light modifiers, but it means all your cases will be bigger.
The units can be triggered through a built in light slave cell (one light triggers another) or standard PC sync cables. It also has the option to add the modular radio triggers into the light, but we have opted to stay with the tried and trusted PocketWizard radio triggers.
We have generally found that a trigger to close to the charging and discharging electronics in a light or generator pack tends to interfere with the radio trigger signals. This causes misfires (not end of the world, but bloody irritating!) Increasing the power of the radio trigger can solve this to a degree, but the simplest and most effective way is to move the trigger a few centimeters away from the source of interference. The pocket wizards have a 500m range, and can hang 10cm away from the actual light… Best of both worlds!
The lights are pretty fast. They recycle fast and have all the standard bells and whistles like a variable modeling light, variable analogue control (via two dials) audible beeps for recharge complete, and visual confirmation via an option for the modeling light to stay off until the flash is recharged. I prefer to switch it off as it plunges the setting in darkness for a few seconds after every shot.
Exposure is pretty consistent through a shoot (as you can see from the example above, 7 shots in a row, shot between 1-3 seconds apart), and we couldn’t really pick up much of a colour shift over the duration of a shoot. We tend to shoot RAW and after every lighting change we shoot colour charts from where we do our adjustments for colour, exposure and white balance, so it’s not really something that we would notice in any case.
These lights will work pretty hard, but they are not designed for intense and long shooting days. On more than a few occasions, we have been forced to take a 30 minute break when one or more lights would go into a forced cool down. I have not found this listed as a feature anywhere, but that’s what the lights do.
I have to be honest and say that it happens after a few hours of consistently shooting multiple models or subjects with only the shortest of breaks in between (on a day like this, shooting 2,000 to 3,000 images is quite normal) – this is a problem for most mid-level midrange, medium price point lights. Some lights from other brands will shut down, some will catch fire, others will explode – we have had all three happen. If you are going to work your lights really really hard, pay the extra money. That said, the Bowens have surprised us and fared better than most lights in the price range.
Very good value for money! We have shot portraits, we have shot performing artists, and we have shot kids. They recycle pretty fast and give you what you need. We had no problems shooting beauty and the ability to take massive light diffusers makes it a light we enjoy.
Any gripes? Well sure… The “shut down” when we push the lights too hard is a pain, but better than them exploding! The size is big, but not much bigger than similar 500watt lights. My biggest gripe? The guy that thought about the big strong swing arm configuration was not on the same team that worked on the umbrella attachments.
For some reason, the only way to attach an umbrella is by attaching the small reflector. The umbrella attachment is attached to the, very light and bendable, reflector, which means any heavy umbrella or even a mid size umbrella caught in a bit of wind or a bump will bend the reflector… And/or break the umbrella attachment. Not the best design in my opinion.
One more thing to mention is that the slave cell may, in certain conditions, not trigger the light. If it struggles to see the changes in light, this will happen, and because the cell is located on the barrel of the light, if you are shooting in a location with “down lighters” it may happen that it will not always trigger. This is not a big issue for general use though, and a piece of card shielding the cell sorts out this problem.
For the rest… Works as advertised.
I will recommend them without to much hesitation for any beginner or mid size studio that does mainly short to half day shoots.
By Sean Nel
All Images Copyright Sean Nel and Luba Nel