Since I started my travels in photography world I have always liked the use of flash in daylight. The extraordinary feel that it gives the viewer because he or she doesn't directly understand what he is looking at, amazes me.
I have tried various kinds of ways to bring flash outside. At first I tried strobes, but actually never liked working with them. I wanted to go bigger so I bought myself a big battery to use studio flash kits outside. This heavy thing weighed about 15kg, so wasn't really pleasant to bring along to shoots.
The build quality was also not that good, and it broke down after using it for a couple of months.
I kinda pushed away my love for daylight flash, because of lack of good, affordable solutions. Years later another photographer pointed me at the extremely good price/value - performance of the flashes he was using, the asian built foxflash. 600 w/s (studio like) units with a built in Lithium-ion battery, that lasts about 300 flashes at full power. These monsters only cost around 600,-. An eye opener. I have been using two of these units for a lot of my work in the last year. Downside of these flashes is the lacking of straight output temperatures and the recharging time of around 4-5 secs on full power.
While looking at the downsides of these two baby's, and the amount I use them for almost all of my work, obviously I started looking at alternatives in higher segments, price and quality wise. I soon realized that for me the only actual option was the ProFoto B1. Perfect beasts to be used in a lot of different environments. I had talked to my camerastore Cameraland about lending me a demoset. I then waited, and waited. For the sole reason I actually already knew that I was going to like it. But hey, for the 2000 dollar price tag you gotta love it. When I finally decided I was up to the resistance part, I went to Cameraland to talk about it some more and see when I could start testing them.
Then he told me about the Broncolor Siros L, that was just released. Wow, only a bit more expensive, but a lot better built quality , and broncolor light. I didn't hesitate, and skipped the testing of the B1's and went straight for the Broncolor Siros L.
Transcontinental was so friendly to lent me their demo set, for a weekend. And I got on with it.
Lets start off with a brief look at the specs, which are truly impressive. Broncolor decided to go for two versions, the 400 w/s and the 800 w/s.
The flash has two modes, eco and normal, which define the recharging time and flash intensity.
-- eco-mode: 0.04 – 1.9 s
-- normal: 0.03 – 1.2 s
Number of flashes per battery charge: 440 at full energy , and 220 for the 800 w/s.
The set is delivered with a nice trolly, which fits two heads. The set included a softbox, umbrella and a standard reflector (not the one you want). Triggers are optional.
The trolly itself is really nice. Very good quality, sturdy. Getting the flash unit out immediately feels like your actually have a peace of artwork in your hands. It's build quality is just amazing. Everything feels like it can handle pretty rough day to day work without falling apart. The unit weighs 4,5 kg, including the battery. So it is quite heavy.
I do lots of different work, so I wanted to test it for different stuff. Starting with a portrait studioshoot on friday evening. In the studio I usually work with Bowens 800's, which I'm quite ok with.
Shot with the Sony 90mm f2.8 mounted on a Sony A7rii. Eventually I ended up using the bowens as a backlight.
I tried the location-dish, didn't like it. Tried the umbrella, didn't like it. Tried it, ironically, with the ProFoto deep umbrella (190cm) and ... loved it.
I also used it outdoors, also side by side with my Foxflash 600,- competitor. Next to the obvious conclusions of the lack of recharging speed and output temperatures of the Foxflash it also gave me a new insight. Because of the position of the flashring on the Broncolor, and the diffusor in front of it, the way the light spreads gives it a more natural feel in comparison to the Foxflash. Using flash, but when used right, not directly seeing it as flashlight. Nice!
During the shoot, I was reluctant. I wasn't sure the difference was so huge it was worth paying over 3 three times more than my current flashes. Yes, it is fast. Yes, the graphic geeks show only minor abbreviations in temperature. But i want to actually SEE better photos!! Directly after the shoot I uploaded, and checked, and the jawdrop that I didn't expect to happen, happened.
I got home, and couldn't resist shooting more. These were taken with the 55mm zeiss mounted on the A7rii.
In my humble opinion, when testing something unique for the first time, its quite hard to actually grasp what is different. When using the Siros L my Sony A7Rii comes to life under any given circumstance. Subjects pop out, the 40MP do their work by really showing the optimal clarity in all the fine details. The brilliant diffuse light makes the 14 stops of DR blow you away. And for me, this shows especially in the eyes.
A big part of the work I use my external flash for, is during weddings. I shoot roughly 40 weddings per year. During the photoshoot I use flash on a regular basis. I do not just always use the flash, I let it depend on the location, weather and preferred style.
I was shooting the wedding of Annelieke & Mark on saturday, they wanted to go to an industrial location for the shoot. Good opportunity to put the Siros to the test. For most of my wedding shoots, the use of flash is primarily fill. I usually do not like to give the photos an unnatural look. In Holland the weather usually is quite unpredictable, because of this I only rarely use natural light. When I use external flash, i can guarantee 100% sharpness, nice skin toning and very usable DR in the portraits.
Second shoot location was under a freeway, at the underpass. With only natural light a quite impossible location. Good spot to actually use the full power. For both of the following shots I decided to bounce the flash of the underpass in the direction of the subject. Obviously bouncing made it look a little less "flashyphoto" and delivered a nice drop shadow underneath the car. because it was broad daylight, and the distance from the underpass (which I was bouncing from) to the subject was around 10m, I really needed every bit of the 800 w/s to keep the background from spiking.
On sunday it was time to recharge the battery. It took me about two hours to fully charge, and get going again. During the sunset we decided to take some final test photos. I realized I had gotten used to using the Siros and adapted my shooting style, in only two days time. Where i normally only shoot every 3 or 4 seconds when shooting with flash , I started shooting way faster.
It makes you realize at what level you get used to your gear and change the way you work accordingly. Because a lot of my work is done with flashkits that are not remarkably fast, I tend to always shoot quite slow (wether i'm using flash or not), opposed to a lot of other photographers that have a different style and shoot multiple frames per second.
The trigger also easily controls the flash intensity. So without actually walking back and forth towards your flash unit, you can radically change your shot in seconds, to give it a dramatic look. Broncolor also released an App which controls flash intensity aswel. Especially when using multiple units this is a very welcome feature. During my testweekend I did not use the App. Obviously the app is a very welcome tool when shooting with multiple lights.
The next shot was actually taken only seconds after the above one. Giving me total flexibility in the kind of image I want to produce. Obviously changing the shot (when shooting with flash) is always possible. But in my experience the walking back and forth to change this radical in shooting style most of the times is not something I choose to do. Mainly just because I feel there isn't enough time.
On monday, I returned the Broncolor Siros L demo unit to Transcontinental. And I started wandering about a conclusion.
A few things come to mind quickly.
It is breathtaking fast. Shooting portraits hardly will bring you to situations where you are actually going to use its recharging power constantly. Are you going to use it for shooting action (sports) or moving fashion, then this is the speed you will love. The Siros will always be by your side, a speedy friend you can always rely on. The psychological part of actually never having to doubt about the speed, works well in the mind of any photographer.
It's light is always the friggin' same. Every photo, every time.
The battery life is ok. 220 flashes at full power is not a lot. Obviously you will not always use it's full power, but still, 440 flashes at half power, it's still not always good for the day. So you will probably need an extra battery to be safe.
It is expensive. I use a second light a lot. The beautiful kit with two heads costs 4000,-.
But, most of all, it is just breathtaking beautiful light. It's quite hard to back this up with figures, graphs, scientifical facts. When you're looking at any photo shot with the Siros, when lit properly, you'll stay. And look. And say. Wow. This.. Is unbelievably beautiful.