Studio Lights Vs. Speed Lights & A Mixture Of Both

Posted by on January 13, 2010 in Blog, Equipment | 6 comments

Studio Lights Vs. Speed Lights & A Mixture Of Both

Having the ability to add light to a scene opens up so many creative possibilities to the photographer. We can control the direction of the light, the quality of the light (harsh vs. soft), the colour of light and indeed the number of light sources. So rather than simply capturing the available light we can actually create the light in a scene. When it comes to additive light source(s), there are so many different types of light that we can use, but generally they can be categorised into either hot lights or strobes. Hot lights are a a continuous light source that are turned on the whole time similar to your normal desk lamps or lights in your home. The term hot light stems from the fact that the lights tend to get hot due to the fact they are always on. Strobes (or flash) on the other hand are lights which emit a short burst of light during the period of an exposure. Both light sources have their distinct characteristics, advantages and advantages, but in general the most common form of light used in photography, particularly when shooting people, is that of strobes.

But not all strobes are equal and even within the strobe family, there are further different classifications of strobe. Probably the most common one is that of a speed lights (also known as hot shoe flashes) and the other would be studio flash (known as mono lights). Both effectively do the same thing in that they emit a short burst of light allowing you to add light to a scene, but each has their own advantages and disadvantages over the other. The table below shows a number of different categories which compare the different features of strobes.

Speed Light Studio Light


Power Source Battery Mains/Pack
Weight Light Heavy
Size Small Large


Power Output Low High
Recycle Time Slow Fast
No. Of Cycles Low Infinite


Modeling Light No Yes
On Camera Yes No
Modifiers Few Many

Quite clearly it can be seen that if you want small portable light sources that speed lights are the way to go, but you sacrifice power and a certain amount of creative options (due to the lack of light modifiers) for this portability. On the flip side, if you want power and all the light modifiers in the world, with quick recycle times and an infinite amount of recycles, then the best option is a studio light, but here you sacrifice portability and the ability to work outdoors. Unfortunately it is a compromise 🙁

Unlike a lot of photographers I know, who have run out and bought studio lights under the misguided belief that you need to have them in order to take pictures, I have resisted the urge to invest in studio lights or equipment. Until the day I can afford my own profoto lights (which is a long way in the future) I’m going to hold off on purchasing any studio kit. So my approach to lighting to date has been to go down the speed light route. This approach suits me due to the fact that a lot of my work is location work so I need the portability. By combining a number of speed lights together, this approach also offers me a pretty good solution to the power and recycling issues associated with speed lights. Also speed lights are obviously not exclusively for location work and on many occasions I have used them indoors too.

BUT.. I do miss the power that studio lights offer. Even with multiple speed lights in parallel, there still isn’t a real kick to them. They’re just not powerful enough to over power strong ambient light, which is something I would love to do! One option that some studio light manufacturers offer are battery packs, allowing users to take studio lights out on to location. Whilst this flexibility is really nice, to date, I have yet to see a really good solution. The issue is the studio heads are designed to be power hungry because they are typically run off the mains, so the performance when run off batteries is poor at best (but still better than nothing). Also, studio lights are typically quite bulky and not really built for location use, so that in itself makes them cumbersome to use outside of the studio.


So what is the solution? Well today, my new toy(s) arrived. I purchased the Quadra Ranger kit from Elinchrom. This is effectively a mobile studio lighting kit offering many of the benefits of fully fledged studio lighting whilst not compromising too much on portability and the ability to use on location 😀 It’s an expensive piece of kit but I really am excited about the creative possibilities it opens up to me. A nice feature is that they flash heads also come with a very bright LED modelling light, so the placement of light can be much more controlled than was previously possible with strobes. Here’s what came with the kit:

  • 1x Ranger Quadra pack. This is the heart of the system. It’s the electronics that drives the flash heads. It has two asymmetric ports where you can connect up to two heads. One output (port A) offers a full 400W of power if there is just one light connected to it. If a second flash head attached (to port B), it steps down the power so that port A has a 2:1 ratio over port B, totalling 400W across both ports. It also has a high speed (1/6000) flash output on a light connected to port B. It offers a 6 stop variable range ~ from 8.2 through to 400Ws
  • 2x batteries. In order to power the pack, which in turn powers the heads, the kit includes 2 batteries which attach to the bottom of the pack. In total, per charge, you get approx 2000 flashes at the lowest power or 150 at full power. It charges to full capacity in less than 1.5  hours and the combined weight of battery and pack is approximately 3kg.
  • 2x flash heads (action model) and 2x cables
  • 1x sky port wireless trigger. The pack has a sky port receiver built into it and the kit comes with a hot shoe trigger for your camera. I’ve been a pocket wizard user to date so am a little surprised about the small form factor of this trigger. I haven’t tested it in earnest yet, but one thing I do like is the fact you can adjust the power of the pack from the trigger… a really nice feature 🙂

In addition to this I picked up some additional accessories:

  • I bought an additional pack 😯 It’s a very expensive add on, but it does offer a lot more freedom in that I can now have 2 flash heads at full power and am not constrained by cable length on the placement of the lights
  • I also bought two extension cables allowing you increase the distance between flash head and pack. My understanding is that you lose some power due to the extension, but how much is yet to be seen

So all that’s left to do is find someone to let me try it out on 😉


As a complete aside, Ulorin Vex a model whom I’ve worked with on a number of occasions, is featured by Elinchrom in their Quadra brochures 😀 (Image copyright of Damian McGillicuddy) Class image!!!


  1. Now thats a COOL toy!

  2. Good shooting and tone, high-quality photography, large bravo!

  3. Really beautiful lighting!

  4. Great shot! Nice work.

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  6. Thanks everyone 🙂

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