Getting started in studio photography is an expensive business, particularly if it's a hobby and you're looking to add some lighting to a newly purchased DSLR. Enter the Bowens Esprit Gemini Studio kit, which packages inexpensive lights with brolleys and stands. What you get are two 200W Gemini monolight flash heads, two support stands, two 90cm umbrellas, two 120 degree dishes, power leads and a synch cord. The flash heads also come with a modelling light.
- Power: 200W
- Guide Number: 50
- Recycle time: 1.3secs
- Flash variation: ¼ power to full power, covering 2 f-stops, stepless
- Model lamp variation: Off, half power, full power
- Model lamp power: Up to 250W
- Ready light: yes
- Audible recharge: yes
- IR remote control: no
- Sync voltage: 5v
- User replaceable flash tubes: BW2032 (UV), BW2030 (clear)
- Width: 170mm
- Length: 130mm
- Weight: 2.3kg
The Bowens Gemini Studio-in-a-box kit 200 costs around £429, which pitches it against elinchrom's D-Lite 2 Twin Head Kit at around £399. The Bowens kit is slightly more powerful, but has a slower recycle time and comes with brolleys rather than the D-Lite's softboxes.
Modes and features
1. 120deg reflector dish with mounting hole for brolley.
2. Power control dial.
3. Ready light and test fire button.
4. Attachment release switch.
5. Slave flash receptor.
6. Carrying handle.
The first thing that's apparent about the Gemini 200 heads is that they are small, and so quite portable if you need to either take them places, or can't leave them set up. They aren't as light as D-Lite 2 head though. Everything is packaged neatly into the box and padded with foam and it has a carry handle for you to lug it around. This is worth noting because, while the brolleys come with little bags, the stands and lights don't. With a guide number of 50 you'll be able to get apertures of f/16 at around 10 feet, if using the light without any diffusion, but bounce it back from the brolley and the power will drop off a lot more. It's still a decent power output from a small head, but where you do have to compromise is with a recycle time of 1.3secs to get back up to full power. In practice, this won't be a problem for most shots, you just can't go flash-happy.
The controls are pretty basic, with a power dial that runs from 1 to 3 in a stepless fashion, which is a good thing, but the lack of any real identification as to what power you are using can be a little disconcerting. The modelling light, which can be up to a fairly powerful 250W, either works at full power, which is quite bright, or half power, or it's off. It works automatically, so can't be adjusted independently of the main light setting. So, while not accurate, it does at least let you position the lights for shadows.
Around the back of the flash unit is the standard power lead socket, the on/off switch and flip-buttons for the modelling lamp, the ready beep, and the cell receiver. This latter items means that if another flash goes off, the receiver will see it and trigger its own flash. There's also an input for connecting to Bowen's battery packs for when out and about. Plus, there's a standard, large 6.3mm jack socket for the sync-cord, which will stand up to more use than the smaller ones.
Build and handling
Well it's an entry-level kit at a shade over £400, and compared to more powerful kits at around £600, you can see that features have been chopped out to keep the price down. That said, it has a better look and feel that the elinchrom D-Lite 2 heads. There's no fan inside, so it does warm up, and I wouldn't really recommend leaving the 250W modelling light on as that puts out quite a bit of heat. Otherwise, it has a quality build to it that belies the price tag. It comes with a reflector dish that is mounted on the front, and this holds the 8mm wide hole for the umbrella which is a standard size. The two stands are lightweight, with decent quality locks, that extend to around eight feet and have a brass mounting post which has a screw thread on the end, making it more flexible than systems which don't.
Whether you like brolleys or prefer softboxes is down to personal preference. The brolley's here are well made, with a white interior but a secondary black exterior, which can be removed if you want to fire the light through, rather than reflect it back.
The lights performed well, and snapping off a series of identical shots showed commendable consistency of the output. Bowen's claim that the colour temperature of the lighting is 5300K, which is slightly lower than the 5600K that is standard for daylight, but that it can vary by +/-300K. Certainly in the shots I took it looked clean and white with no discernible colour variation. The beeping for the recharge indicator might annoy some, but it can be turned off. I found it useful so I knew when the flash was ready to fire again, and with a modest recycle time of 1.3secs this was a good feature to have. The modelling light did get quite hot, but then it's a bright and powerful 250W, but the lights worked on regardless. The flash tube is user-replaceable, but the process is a little tricky. The only thing I wasn't overkeen on was the use of brolley's rather than softboxes, but that would have bumped the price up.
A standard studio shot using both lights with brolleys at 45degs on either side of the subject.
A more creative shot, using the brolleys below head height, firing upwards to create a sense of danger.
Using the lights without diffusion means you can create retro looks like this 1940s style image.
Although the Gemini 200 heads are lacking in features, this is to get the price down. What hasn't been compromised is the build quality which is high and looks better than rival elinchrom D-Lite heads. That explains why they are twice the weight of the D-Lite 2 heads. I was impressed with the consistency of the light and the kits represent good value for money. You might gripe over the lack of a carrying bag for things, or the basic power control, but for the money, you get a very nice quality set of kit that will let anyone get started in the world of studio photography.
Small and portable
Stepless power control
Powerful modelling lamp
Standard size screw threads and holes
Decent power output
Power indicator rudimentary
Modelling lamp only two settings
Kit comes with brolleys not softboxes
The Bowens Esprit Gemini Studio-in-a-box costs around £429 and can be purchased from the ePHOTOzine shop here.