How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?

Started May 12, 2013 | Discussions
Brent Allen Thale
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How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
May 12, 2013

I've had a Paul C. Buff White Lightning X2400 studio strobe that I've used lightly for a few years and would like to start using it more outdoors where a lot of flash power is needed. In my initial tests, which I expected to show the X2400 was vastly more powerful than my Nikon SB-900 flash, I didn't see the huge increase in brightness I was expecting.

So, I did a side-by-side comparison of my SB-900 and the White Lightning X2400, the results are available here: http://www.wingedmammal.com/daily_emergence/SB900_vs_X2400/sb900_vs_x2400.shtml

Comparing histograms, the 1/8 power X2400 shot plus 1/3 stop looks about the same as the full power Nikon SB-900 shot. So the X2400 is not quite 3 stops more powerful than the SB-900. Does that sound about right? I suppose 3 stops is a lot, but I was expecting a bigger win for the X2400.

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DecibelPhoto
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 12, 2013

Generally speedlights are considered to be around 60 w/s.

I don't think that the standard alien bee reflectors are very efficient, whereas speedlight reflectors are.  This is likely why you aren't seeing a larger difference.

Interesting results though.

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Hugowolf
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 12, 2013

There should be closer to four stops difference, if the 1000 Ws rating of the X2400 is correct. But you have a lot of potential for error. The speedlight Fresnel will be more efficient than the reflector on the Buff. Is the projected circle the same size for both? It could be that the now discontinued X2400 isn’t very efficient with its energy use.

Seems like it would be much easier to test them with a light meter.

Brian A

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Brent Allen Thale
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Hugowolf, May 12, 2013

The lit circle seems to be comparable between the two lights, I think the 7-inch reflector has an 80-degree spread, so the 35mm zoom on the SB-900 shouldn't be any tighter than that, I wouldn't think.

Yes, I should try a flash meter to see if I can repro Paul Buff's numbers here: http://www.paulcbuff.com/output.php

My X2400 is pretty old, I wonder if these lights gradually lose output over time?

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VoxCap
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 12, 2013

Brent Allen Thale wrote:

I've had a Paul C. Buff White Lightning X2400 studio strobe that I've used lightly for a few years and would like to start using it more outdoors where a lot of flash power is needed. In my initial tests, which I expected to show the X2400 was vastly more powerful than my Nikon SB-900 flash, I didn't see the huge increase in brightness I was expecting.

So, I did a side-by-side comparison of my SB-900 and the White Lightning X2400, the results are available here: http://www.wingedmammal.com/daily_emergence/SB900_vs_X2400/sb900_vs_x2400.shtml

Comparing histograms, the 1/8 power X2400 shot plus 1/3 stop looks about the same as the full power Nikon SB-900 shot. So the X2400 is not quite 3 stops more powerful than the SB-900. Does that sound about right? I suppose 3 stops is a lot, but I was expecting a bigger win for the X2400.

Let's see. If I'm not mistaken, according to the results of your test, it would take at least 8 speedlites to match the output of the X2400 - 2 speedlites = X2400 @ 1/4 power , 4 = X2400 @ 1/2 power, 8 = X2400 @ 1/1. And that's just based on the data you presented. It could potentially be 16 speedlites if you really are losing a stop somewhere.

That seems pretty significant to me. What exactly were you expecting?

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Brent Allen Thale
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to VoxCap, May 13, 2013

Well, yes, 2 2/3 stops is a lot, it seems that it would take ~7 speedlights to match that, which isn't very practical. I just expected with a powerful light like the X2400 that I would have vast reserves of power and wouldn't really need to worry about it, but if I'm already at the max for a speedlight, that means I'm within 3 stops of the max for the X2400, too.

As another response pointed out, speedlights tend to be in the 60ws range, and I believe the X2400 is a true 1000ws light, so that would suggest 16 times the power, or 4 stops.

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Clueless Wanderer
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 13, 2013

Brent Allen Thale wrote:

Well, yes, 2 2/3 stops is a lot, it seems that it would take ~7 speedlights to match that, which isn't very practical. I just expected with a powerful light like the X2400 that I would have vast reserves of power and wouldn't really need to worry about it, but if I'm already at the max for a speedlight, that means I'm within 3 stops of the max for the X2400, too.

As another response pointed out, speedlights tend to be in the 60ws range, and I believe the X2400 is a true 1000ws light, so that would suggest 16 times the power, or 4 stops.

Not 100% sure but if I remember right I think the SB900 puts out about 78-82ws. Your saying "Only 3 stops more" 3 stops is 8x more power, a bit of difference

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drh681
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 14, 2013

Compare f stops at full power flash and ISO 100 at ten feet from subject.

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Brent Allen Thale
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to drh681, May 14, 2013

@drh681 You mean with a flash meter. Trying to decide if I should get one, have never used one, since it's my thought it's the results that matter, not the readout on a device.

How would that be superior to eyeballing the results like I did in my test? I matched the full power SB-900's histogram with the closest one from the X2400, which required brightening the 1/8 power X2400 image artificially in Lightroom by 1/3 stop.

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ChrisBurch
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 14, 2013

Why do the specific numbers and stats matter so much to you that you're considering buying a piece of equipment to get more precise readings?  Your 1000W strobe is the equivalent to 12-16 of your speedlights...isn't that sufficient?  What are you planning to do with these stats once you get them?  I'm not trying to be antagonistic, but a lot of people get overly focused on quantitative stats when qualitative evaluaton will be more than sufficient.

On the practical side, you can overpower direct sunlight with speedlights, but you'll need more than one to do it.  There are several multi-speedlight backets available that will allow you to mount up to 4 speedlights to a single bracket.  I've not been in a situation where I needed more than 2 speedlights, but I don't purposefully shoot into direct sunlight all that often.  Once you get into using that many devices, it makes more sense to just use a regular strobe with something like a Vagabond Mini battery.

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drh681
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 14, 2013

Brent Allen Thale wrote:

@drh681 You mean with a flash meter. Trying to decide if I should get one, have never used one, since it's my thought it's the results that matter, not the readout on a device.

How would that be superior to eyeballing the results like I did in my test? I matched the full power SB-900's histogram with the closest one from the X2400, which required brightening the 1/8 power X2400 image artificially in Lightroom by 1/3 stop.

Yes, if you are working with studio strobes on a regular basis, a flash reading light meter will save you a lot of time.

Sekonic's L308s is very a good basic multi-mode meter.

You need to remember histograms are not indications of exposure accuracy. they are graphs of the tonal values of the pixels in your image. A light or dark scene will shift the pixel counts to one side or the other, and the exposure will be accuate. But if you try to "balance the histogram" for a proper exposure it will not make a good image.

An incident reading light meter is its own "gray card". No guessing as to the right exposure; and you don't need to worry about shifting histograms.

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drh681
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to ChrisBurch, May 14, 2013

ChrisBurch wrote:

Why do the specific numbers and stats matter so much to you that you're considering buying a piece of equipment to get more precise readings?  Your 1000W strobe is the equivalent to 12-16 of your speedlights...isn't that sufficient?  What are you planning to do with these stats once you get them?  I'm not trying to be antagonistic, but a lot of people get overly focused on quantitative stats when qualitative evaluaton will be more than sufficient.

On the practical side, you can overpower direct sunlight with speedlights, but you'll need more than one to do it.  There are several multi-speedlight backets available that will allow you to mount up to 4 speedlights to a single bracket.  I've not been in a situation where I needed more than 2 speedlights, but I don't purposefully shoot into direct sunlight all that often.  Once you get into using that many devices, it makes more sense to just use a regular strobe with something like a Vagabond Mini battery.

Uh... we never "over power sunlight".

We under expose the scene and replace the missing light on the subject with the flash.

This is easily done even with a single, low power, speed light.

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Brent Allen Thale
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 14, 2013

Ok, I heard back from Paul Buff support on this. I don't want to cut and paste their response out of courtesy, but paraphrasing a bit, I believe they are saying my results are pretty close to what should be expected. They think the 35mm zoom setting on my SB-900 flash is not exactly matched to the 7-inch reflector on the X2400, and that is likely where I'm seeing a small unfairness to the X2400 (40 degree spread vs 80 degree).

Their guess is that the X2400 would be 11-12 times as powerful as the SB-900 if the test could be made to compare apples-to-apples exactly.

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RobertMartinu
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 14, 2013

Brent Allen Thale wrote:

I just expected with a powerful light like the X2400 that I would have vast reserves of power and wouldn't really need to worry about it, but if I'm already at the max for a speedlight, that means I'm within 3 stops of the max for the X2400, too.

Think of the different reflectors you can use. With a narrow beam/30deg 1000Ws get me to f/22 from 12m+ away, should be enough for most jobs. Compare that to a speedlight!

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bills_pix
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to RobertMartinu, May 15, 2013

FWIW, a friend has several Balcar strobes and I tried his curved (bowl-shaped) 7" reflectors on my Einstein lights since they are a direct fit.  The output using the curved Balcar reflectors was much greater compared to the cheap Buff reflector with the flat conical sides.  We didn't get a light meter out but even looking at the spots on a high ceiling with the modeling light it was easy to see the difference made by the design of the reflectors.

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rockjano
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When I measure flash power...
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 15, 2013

...of different strobes I always put them into a soft box. That is a lot better than any reflector which are not even.

I can put my softboxes on to the speedlight with those special adapters.

I put the lightmeter onto a stand holding it with a clip.

Than I measure and repeat every measurement at least 3 times, I keep the distance and angel of the lightmeter the same from the strobes.

I measured that the strong speedlights like SB800-900-24 or Youngnuo 560 series they have about the power of a 80W strobe. If you put 3 of them into a softbox that is about the same as a weaker studio strobe.

rockjano

Brent Allen Thale wrote:

Ok, I heard back from Paul Buff support on this. I don't want to cut and paste their response out of courtesy, but paraphrasing a bit, I believe they are saying my results are pretty close to what should be expected. They think the 35mm zoom setting on my SB-900 flash is not exactly matched to the 7-inch reflector on the X2400, and that is likely where I'm seeing a small unfairness to the X2400 (40 degree spread vs 80 degree).

Their guess is that the X2400 would be 11-12 times as powerful as the SB-900 if the test could be made to compare apples-to-apples exactly.

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WFulton
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 16, 2013

Brent Allen Thale wrote:

Comparing histograms, the 1/8 power X2400 shot plus 1/3 stop looks about the same as the full power Nikon SB-900 shot. So the X2400 is not quite 3 stops more powerful than the SB-900. Does that sound about right? I suppose 3 stops is a lot, but I was expecting a bigger win for the X2400.

A larger speedlight (like the SB-900) is about 75 watt seconds.  A smaller one (like SB-600) is more like 60 watt seconds.  Each time you double the watt seconds is one stop.

But speedlghts zoom, like from 24 mm coverage to 105 mm coverage or more.  When the light is concentrated into the much smaller beam, it is of course much brighter than when zoomed much wider.  Is it illuminating a spot on the wall, or the entire wall?   This angle of coverage may matter more than power level.

You can only compare them when in the same modifier, like in the same umbrella (and of course, at the same distance).  Same angular coverage is necessary, else you are fooling yourself.  It is more of an "illumination per unit of area" concept.

The speedlight at 24mm zoom covers 78x60 degrees (spec chart in rear of flash manual)

The studio light probably specifies the coverage, but it may be more like 80 degrees coverage.

It definitely takes more power to fill 80 degrees than 78x60 degrees.

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CraigBennett
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to Brent Allen Thale, May 17, 2013

Brent Allen Thale wrote:

I've had a Paul C. Buff White Lightning X2400 studio strobe that I've used lightly for a few years and would like to start using it more outdoors where a lot of flash power is needed. In my initial tests, which I expected to show the X2400 was vastly more powerful than my Nikon SB-900 flash, I didn't see the huge increase in brightness I was expecting.

So, I did a side-by-side comparison of my SB-900 and the White Lightning X2400, the results are available here: http://www.wingedmammal.com/daily_emergence/SB900_vs_X2400/sb900_vs_x2400.shtml

Comparing histograms, the 1/8 power X2400 shot plus 1/3 stop looks about the same as the full power Nikon SB-900 shot. So the X2400 is not quite 3 stops more powerful than the SB-900. Does that sound about right? I suppose 3 stops is a lot, but I was expecting a bigger win for the X2400.

Your results are what I would expect.  If you really want to compare, put the strobes on a stand and go bare bulb.  Get a lightmeter to make your measurements.....typically 10' away.  If you put the diffusion cap on the Speedlight that will be very close to a bare bulb studio strobe.  They become comparable then.

GN=f*Distance.

If we only talk about energy, then let's compare the Speedlight:

The SB800 has a 1400μF capacitor and the normal charging voltage is 330V. The stored energy is 0.5CV^2=76.2J  or 76WS.  I have a repair manual, but I can not see the value of the cap.  Since the SB-900/SB-910 are about the same GN and the voltage is the same, I assume the capacitor is the same....1400μF.

So at 76WS max energy delivered to the flashtube, it is fairly weak flash system by itself, but since it is going into a housing that concentrates the flashtube's power, it becomes more effective.  Light modifiers, room dimensions all have an effect on flash readings.  Rest assured, your X2400 strobe is far more powerful than your Speedlight....by about 13 times as much under the same conditions. 1000WS/76WS.

It is all about how much energy is delivered to the tube and how you modify the light output.  I own 3 Speedlights, several monolights, and I just received an Einstein (E640) with a Power MC2 and the Vagabond Mini.  I took light readings today comparing SB-900/SB-910 (76WS), Flashpoint 2420 Monolight (1200WS), Flashpoint 1200 Monolight (600WS) and the Einstein E640 Monolight (640WS).  I will post the numbers here after I put them in a better format.

I use a tri-socket for up to three Speedlights into an umbrella, though at that point, with pocketwizards and external packs for the speed lights, it becomes more of a pain than benefit.  Would rather use my Einstein setup at that point and have three times more workable power to control.

Regards,

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ranalli
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to drh681, May 17, 2013

drh681 wrote:

ChrisBurch wrote:

Why do the specific numbers and stats matter so much to you that you're considering buying a piece of equipment to get more precise readings?  Your 1000W strobe is the equivalent to 12-16 of your speedlights...isn't that sufficient?  What are you planning to do with these stats once you get them?  I'm not trying to be antagonistic, but a lot of people get overly focused on quantitative stats when qualitative evaluaton will be more than sufficient.

On the practical side, you can overpower direct sunlight with speedlights, but you'll need more than one to do it.  There are several multi-speedlight backets available that will allow you to mount up to 4 speedlights to a single bracket.  I've not been in a situation where I needed more than 2 speedlights, but I don't purposefully shoot into direct sunlight all that often.  Once you get into using that many devices, it makes more sense to just use a regular strobe with something like a Vagabond Mini battery.

Uh... we never "over power sunlight".

We under expose the scene and replace the missing light on the subject with the flash.

This is easily done even with a single, low power, speed light.

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You're not overpowering the sunlight but your strobes must be more powerful than the available sunlight hitting the subject if you plan to underexpose the surrounding ambient sun.

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photomy
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Re: How much brighter are studio strobes than speedlights?
In reply to CraigBennett, May 24, 2013

CraigBennett wrote:

....

It is all about how much energy is delivered to the tube and how you modify the light output.  I own 3 Speedlights, several monolights, and I just received an Einstein (E640) with a Power MC2 and the Vagabond Mini.  I took light readings today comparing SB-900/SB-910 (76WS), Flashpoint 2420 Monolight (1200WS), Flashpoint 1200 Monolight (600WS) and the Einstein E640 Monolight (640WS).  I will post the numbers here after I put them in a better format.

I use a tri-socket for up to three Speedlights into an umbrella, though at that point, with pocketwizards and external packs for the speed lights, it becomes more of a pain than benefit.  Would rather use my Einstein setup at that point and have three times more workable power to control.

Regards,

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I would love to see the numbers posted when you get a chance.

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