The Strobeam DL250 MkIII is one of a newer breed of portable flash lighting that's meeting the needs of strobist photographers by providing studio style lighting with Speedlight portability.
The flash is available in a variety of kits, including this single head kit that retails for just under £600, comprising:
1 x DL250 Mark III 250watts flash
1 x DL4 battery pack
1 x 3G Multi ID remote control
1 x Parabolic mini spill kill reflector
1 x 80cm Umbrella softbox
1 x 3m Aluminium lighting stand
1 x 105cm Parabolic umbrella
Strobeam DL 250 Mk III Features
The Strobeam DL 250 Mk III is a portable flash with a separate battery power pack and weighs just 885g. Unlike studio lighting it doesn't have a modelling lamp, but its battery pack is capable of delivering up to 20,000 flashes from a single charge. The head can be mounted on a lighting stand or tripod and has an umbrella mount with a shaft diameter of 7-9mm. The mounting bracket allows the head to be tilted up or down through 180 degrees so, without a brolly attached, it offers versatile lighting position.
The DL250 is not much bigger than a Speedlite, but considerably smaller than a studio light.
Key Features of the DL 250 Mk III flash unit
7 stop power control from 1/1 to 1/64
FP high speed mode
1/9600sec flash duration
0.2 to 1.9sec recycle time
5500k colour temperature
Less than 5 Volt trigger voltage (safe for modern cameras)
Sets the flash unit to one of two groups - A or B.
Sets the ID of this flash within a group. between 1 and 16 (this needs to be the same as on the transmitter for settings to be adjusted).
The LED display is large and clear.
Push in and spring lock plug on cable that's attached to the battery pack
Dial to adjust settings - push in to change mode
Test flash button useful for painting with light where several exposures are required on one frame
On off button for built in slave unit
Brolly clamp lock
The flash tube is user changeable - it simply pulls out. The web site spec says it will last around 75000 flashes and a new one is £72. The parabolic reflector that surrounds it can also be removed, but is not a standard size, so other brands of accessories won't fit.
The battery pack is the meaty bit of the kit and the item that costs the most. It has four red LEDs to indicate power remaining, to the LED's side are sockets to connect two flash heads and in between is an on/off button. It's supplied with a carry case and shoulder strap and weighs less than 1kg. A cable connected to the head plugs into the top of the pack and there's an optional cable available (£30) to connect a Canon or Nikon Speedlite flash to the pack allowing faster recycle times.
The pack splits in half - the battery taking up the lower half. So a spare battery could be switched without having to disconnect the flash cables. Spare batteries cost £114.
The remote control is a clever gadget that sits on the camera's hot shoe and provides a flash wireless trigger that's effective up to 100m. But it also allows full control of the flash, so you can test fire as well as set any of the seven stop power settings and switch between flash heads when more than one is being used. It's powered by a rechargeable lithium battery.
The brolly supplied in the kit is a huge 105cm diameter shoot through version in its own pouch case. The 80cm umbrella softbox has a front diffuser panel that attaches using a Velcro style fastening.
The brolly shaft slots in below the unit on the stand bracket, so the flash is positioned off center. As a result, less of the brolly is utilised at the bottom. Some systems have a bracket going through the reflector so the flash illuminates more evenly.
The stand is a heavy duty aluminium model with dampened extension sections, listed as 3m - we measured it at a slighter shorter 2.8m when fully extended.
Strobeam DL 250 Mk III Handling
The Strobeam head didn't come with an instruction book, but it was all fairly straight forward, especially as some of the controls are covered in the booklet supplied with the remote control.
The battery took around four hours to charge. It connects to the head using a cable that has a din socket on the pack end. This is marked for alignment on the pack. The flash end is a 3 pin connector that locks in place with a spring release. The connector has what appears to be a screw securer. This would have been good to give it a firm lock, but there is no thread and the ring just pulls back to release the connector.
There's a large, illuminated LCD panel on the back of the unit with huge power numerals so it's easy to see.
The power setting is adjusted either by rotating the dial or from the push button controls on the wireless remote.
The head is fitted with a parabolic reflector that's easy to remove but more fiddly to fit back in place. It's all a bit crude, but does provide a good spread of light.
The head's stand mounting bracket is fixed to the underside of the head and has a locking angle adjustment. It allows 180 degree range, but this is restricted when the soft box or brolly is attached. It attaches to any lighting stand with a post of 17mm diameter or less.
The 80cm softbox brolly is a standard brolly with a strip of Velcro running around the inside to attach the diffuser panel that turns it into a softbox. The head faces the back of the brolly so light bounces back to the diffuser panel.
When the brolly is put up you can then slide the head onto the shaft and lock in place and then attach the diffuser over the front of the brolly. It Velcros in place to provide an octagonal panel.
At 105cm the brolly is one of the larger types, but is fairly solid and, like the softbox, attaches using the shaft clamp on the flash tripod adaptor.
Strobeam DL 250 Mk III Performance
To get a sense of the flash power it was measured using a Minolta Flashmeter V. The head was placed two meters away from the meter and an incident light reading was taken at each power setting and ISO100. The meter is capable of measuring in one tenths of a stop so the readings below show the 10th stops after the /. The test shows a fairly low power guide number of 22 (ISO100/M)
DL250 MKIII output:
With a flash that proposes to keep up with a camera shooting at 14fps the first thing to test was this aspect as it's one of the most unique point about the kit. I soon rustled up a willing assistant - Cameron, a teenager with an ability to do flips. We went into the street to see what the flash could do. The most I could get out of the flash was 8fps and this gradually faded to a max of 5 fps which I began to realise was a result of the reduced battery charge. I mentioned this to Strobeam a few weeks ago and, at the time of writing, the web site still states an incorrect 14fps!
Also as the flash isn't that powerful, illumination falls off quickly and meant a wide f/5 aperture was needed
This flip by Cameron was recorded using the Sony Alpha A57 - a camera capable of 12 frames per second. The flash was about 1 meter away from him and as there was no background or walls to reflect from, the light falls off pretty quickly. The camera was set to 1/30sec to allow some ambient light without causing blur streaks on the body. The light was set to FP mode and an aperture of f/5 was necessary.
Eight of these frames were recorded in a one second time frame which was the fastest we could squeeze out of the flash. This is excellent if you're wanting to shoot action and don't want to miss the best moment. The aim was to catch Cameron mid flight with this sequence and I can pull out the seventh frame as being one that might have taken many attempts to catch in a single shot.
Keeping on the theme of high speed I then went indoors to try freezing a balloon burst and a party popper explosion. The flash fired at between 6 and 7 frames per second for these sequences.
Flour was placed in the popper and balloon to create the dust explosion.
Below is an 8 frame sequence of a driping kitchen tap.
It became apparent that the flash duration might not be fast enough to freeze high speed subjects well enough so the dripping tap was used to test flash duration.
Flash on 1/64
1/200sec f/5.6 ISO200
Flash on 1/32
1/200sec f/8 ISO200
Flash on 1/16
1/200sec f/11 ISO200
Flash on 1/8 power
1/200sec f/11 ISO100
Flash on 1/4 power
1/200sec f/16 ISO100
Flash on 1/2 power
1/200sec f/22 ISO100
Flash on 1/1 power
1/200sec f/32 ISO100
The water starts to become blurred from 1/8 and is far from still at full power - showing the flash duration is not as fast at the higher power settings.
A quick break to look at the aluminium stand. The more I used the flash set up, the more I liked the stand's dampened column. Seeing the stand glide closed is just like the feeling you get with those kitchen drawers that have cushion soft closing, even if you try to slam one shut.
A still life was taken using the softbox to see how the DL 250 Mk III performed as a standard light. The dried daffodil was placed on the kitchen worktop in front of a small sheet of background material. Below left shows the set up and below right is the result. The brolly softbox has the same issues as others in that the stand goes through the side of the brolly which means you can't tilt the light downwards, only up slightly. I prefer the traditional softbox designs where the flash is at the back shooting through the box. You have much more control.
That said, the light from the box is even and it produces lovely soft light.
Next a portrait of Alex taken in the living room, again using the softbox. The light was just over a meter away. To angle the light down the diffuser panel was un-Velcroed at the bottom, giving space for the stand to poke through.
In this shot the softbox was placed to the side, quite close to my face for a self portrait. I've included the light in frame so you can see the position. It's quite a pleasant light.
The three shots below were at the same exposure of 1/80sec at f/8 (ISO 100) to show how the flash covers a larger area when the large 105cm brolly is attached. It delivers a good spread of light when used as a shoot through. Although you do need space to use it for room shots. It's included in this sequence of shots so you could see the spread and affect of the different lighting set-ups.
Strobeam not used
Strobeam standard reflector
Strobeam with brolly
Using the softbox with the diffuser cap over the flash reflector resulted in a two stop light loss. Similar light loss was measured using the brolly as a bounced light source and just one stop as a shoot through.
To test colour temperature a white artificial rose was placed against some white material as a background. The white balance on the Olympus PEN E-P2 was set to flash. I compared the output with two other flash options. Each flash was pointed through a white Photax Interfit 32in brolly, positioned approx one meter away to the right. The Strobeam went first with its diffuser panel attached and power set at 1/4. The exposure was 1/125sec at f/11. The white balance is perfect.
Next the Elinchrom D-lite 4 (£223). The power needed reducing right down to the 1/16 setting and even then f/13 was needed. The result is a slightly red light which can easily be corrected when processing the RAW file. So a much more powerful output, but the Strobeam is cleaner.
The third photo is with an old Sunpak GX24 manual flash (£5). This was at full capacity but has delivered a decent result although slightly yellow in colour (again easily corrected). It just goes to show you don't have to spend much to get decent light.
Rose with Strobeam
Rose with Elinchrom
Rose with Sunpak
So overall a good performance from this flash. The colour balance is excellent, the flash coverage is good, the accuracy of the various power setting is fine and the performance from the battery and wireless controller were great. The wireless controller was tested at 100m and it fired most times.
The only complaint I had was a dodgy connector from the battery cable to the head which occasionally caused the flash to switch off. And intermittently (about three times throughout the test) the flash didn't fire even though it was lit up and the controller hadn't gone into sleep mode. It needed the flash and controller to be turned off and back on again and the cable wiggled to reconnect.
Value For Money
For this kind of money you could have a top spec Canon or Nikon Speedlite with full TTL exposure control along with a large softbox from the likes of Lastolite and a Quantum QLink to control the flash from the camera. Or you could opt for a powerful auto flash from the likes of Metz / Sunpak for half the money. Or buy an old powerful hammerhead gun off eBay for a tenth of the cost. The key selling point isn't just the flash though, it's the battery pack and the remote trigger. A similar spec battery from Quantum is £500 alone. So overall it's a good value bundle, that will keep firing when all other systems have exhausted batteries.
Strobeam DL 250 Mk III Verdict
With a guide number of just 22 (ISO100/M) the Strobeam DL250 MK III isn't very powerful - just twice that of the modern SLR camera's built in camera flash and less than most hot shoe mounted flashes. So don't expect to be able to light up a hall with one head, but if you're shooting in the 1 to 3 meter range it's fine. The key thing is you can go out with a battery charged and get up to 8 frames a second and for up to 20,000 shots, which would take quite a few sets of AA batteries to compete!
The other advantage is the wireless remote with its 100 meter range, making the scope of this unit far exceed your standard portrait shoot. It could be good to illuminate a wildlife set or more complex lighting where several heads are used to provide pockets of light in a scene, all controlled from the camera.
The dodgy connection on the lead and the mysterious intermittent disconnection from the remote from time to time lost it a point in performance, but that could have just been our review model.
Strobeam DL 250 Mk III Pros
Superb battery life
8fps possible when battery full
Good colour balance
Great wireless controller
Strobeam DL 250 Mk III Cons
No modelling light
Guide number is just 22 (ISO100/m)
Not 14fps as advertised
fps reduces as battery life reduces