Speedlights vs Strobes

Photography just like film has tons of equipment people like to use. Just like in the film, there are certain equipment you must have. One of the must have equipment in the photography world is a strobe light. Everyone want’s to have one, but not every can afford. A good starting strobe light kit can run you about $500 us dollars. That is a decent amount of money to drop, especially if you are starting photographer. But what about speedlights ? For some reason speedlight s have a “bad” reputation in the online community. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between speedlights vs strobes and see what is our conclusion going to be. Before we start I want to point out that this article is not sponsored by any of the equipment manufactures nor I being endorsed. This is purely my personal point of view and experience.

One of the biggest differences between strobe lights and speedlights is the light output. As you can probably guess, strobes are way brighter than the speedlights. That makes a huge difference when you shoot during the bright sunlight. Strobes can overpower the sun, giving you creative freedom. Speedlights on the other hand are extremely weak. Power of strobe lights unfortunately comes with a cost. As I mentioned earlier you can probably pick up a strobe light for a few hundred dollars, but that is not the only challenge you gonna face. First of all, in order for strobe lights to work you need batteries, which is the biggest downside if you’re shooting outdoors. At this point you are probably going to need to have some kind of assistance for your shoot. If you a starting photographer that may be a little problem. Aside from the weight of the battery, you also must have some of softbox and a stand. Which ads more production trouble on your neck. I won’t be describing what size softbox should be, since it’s purely a creative decision.

Now about speedlights, well they are very weak. Unless you mounted speedlight directly on camera or light stand and blasting it straight on the talent, you won’t see any effect of the speedlight in the middle of the sunny day. For the best result just like strobes you are probably going to need to use some kind of softbox. Which is way cheaper than the strobes, but will reduce power output even more from your speedlight. Most speedlights can get you about 120 full power flashes on 4AA batteries, which is not a bad deal. Batteries are way lighter to carry than a heavy battery.

To summarize my points so far: Strobes are great but expensive and the battery is heavy and you need an assistance, speedlights are cheaper, dim and can you manage them yourself. Let’s keep going. Now let’s talk about real usage. You can use speedlights early in the morning, or at dusk, when the sun is not so powerful and get some amazing results. One of the setbacks of that of course is the time issue. You are going to have to make sure you on the clock to get the shot you want.

What you about light quality ? Some may argue, but if you on the budget you won’t see much of a difference in terms of light quality if used correctly. Low budget strobes along with low budget speedlights are pretty inconsistent in keeping same light output, you may notice some little variations from shot to shot using the same settings. Color quality most likely going to be better in strobes.

To conclude the battle of speedlights and strobes, I just want to say, that if used properly both of them can produce some amazing results. For my work I use mostly speedlights. I buy cheap Neewer speedlights, that actually extremely durable and cost next to nothing around $30-50 dollars. If you are looking for get something better than speedlights and keep it functional I definitely recommend Profoto B1. It’s a strobe light with a little removable battery. Which operates just like speedlight but much more powerful. I am going to include pictures in this article that I shot using exclusively speedlights so you can see that they can be used as a studio lights as well. If you have a budget, however, strobes are the way to go no doubt !

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Aram K

Photographer, Cinematographer, DI Colorist at FILM LUT
Fashion, Portrait and Commercial Photographer.
DI Freelance Film Colorist.
San Diego - Los Angeles - WorldWide