Westcott Photo Basics Strobelite Educational 2-Light Kit

Westcott's Photo Basics branded products combine lighting hardware with instructional content
aimed at beginners who are keen to learn on the job.

With this kit you don’t just get the tools necessary to start taking high-quality studio shots, you receive the added benefit of being taught how to get the very best from your new setup. Westcott has identified the need to offer more than just the equipment for those exploring studio photography for the first time. The result is a line of 'educational' kits sold under their affordable Photo Basics brand.

The instructional content includes a DVD that not only offers a step-by-step guide on assembling the kit but walks you through the key points of shooting in a studio environment. A beginner-friendly floor-positioning mat is also included to help you put these tips into practice more easily, showing you exactly where to place your lights, camera and subject. The DVD also covers an array of stylistic techniques covering everything from lighting to posing your subject for portraiture work.

The hardware itself includes a pair of StrobeLites, 43" white umbrellas and 6.5' air-cushioned light stands. Rounding out the kit are sync and power cables plus the floor-positioning mat (which includes its own Guide Card), all of which fits neatly into the supplied carry-case. The 150Ws rubberized, polycarbonate heads are daylight-balanced, sport a respectably mid-range guide number of 39m (117ft) and feature 100W adjustable modeling lamps (with a proportionate ‘variable’ setting) so you can easily preview the effect your lighting setup will have on the shadows and highlights in your composition. The flash output can be finely controlled from 1/4 to full power and each head has slave cell for wireless triggering. All this makes for a comprehensive, cost-effective choice for beginners looking for easy-to-follow instructions for developing their studio skills. 

Bowens Gemini 400/400 Umbrella Studio Kit

This powerful strobe kit manages to fit everything you need to get started in a single supplied hold-all. This makes it very appealing for photographers on the move.

Renowned for the quality and consistency of their products, Bowens is one of the big names on the studio flash scene - and for good reason. Striking a healthy balance between power and portability, this kit provides enough output for photographing everything from table-top subjects to small groups of people in a medium-sized studio environment. The 400Ws heads are also compatible with the Bowens Travelpak portable battery system. Best of all, the whole setup - comprising a pair of Gemini 400Ws heads, wide-angle reflectors, 35" (90cm) umbrellas, air-dampened metal light stands, plus all the necessary lamps, cables and power cords - packs down into one neat hold-all, allowing you to take the lot of it on location.

Other features worth mentioning include a modeling light that can be operated at full power, set proportional to the flash output or switched off (it’ll also turn itself off after 30 minutes of inactivity), as well as an automatic power-dump function that safely dissipates any excess charge when reducing the flash output; a feature that some of the less expensive kits lack. Unlike some of its competitors, Bowens opts for manual dials rather than a digital display. While perhaps marginally less precise than a digital system, many photographers share a preference for this type of interface as it’s quick and simple to use.

While this kit is largely aimed at the amateur studio photographer, its price does represent an investment for the absolute novice. There is, however, a cheaper Gemini 200/200 kit available for those who want these same accessories, but don’t require the output of the Gemini 400 heads. Whichever kit you opt for, experience tells us that you won’t be disappointed with either the feature set or robust build quality of the components. As it stands, we’d happily choose this kit either as a start-up solution for a serious enthusiast or for a professional working in a modest studio environment.