LED Modeling Lights In Studio Flash

It's not about the watts!

With the announcement of the new Honey Badger studio flash from Interfit Photographic I've seen some comments about the brightness of the modeling light in these flash units. I think the confusion comes from using the term watts to describe the lights. Watts is a measurement of energy used and doesn't tell us anything about the brightness of the light. Please note that this discussion is about the modeling lamps, not about the flash power (which is even more confusing, but watt-seconds is a topic for a different post). I picked the Einstein for comparison because it uses a typical 250-watt modeling lamp and I had one available when I decided to write this. You can substitute just about any other light that uses the same 250-watt bulbs. Paul C. Buff has also recently released a new Alien Bee lamp head that uses an LED modeling lamp that has the same advantages as the Honey Badger.

The Honey Badger and the Einstein

The Honey Badger and the Einstein

LED modeling lamp on the left, quartz modeling lamp on the right

Mr. Heat Miser

In the past, studio strobes have used tungsten modeling lamps that could range from 25 watts to 300 watts or more. Some units use standard household bulbs. Higher end units use quartz halogen lamps. These share some common features. They are on the warm end of the Kelvin scale at around 2500 to 3200 degrees Kelvin (yellowish compared to daylight color). They are also very hot to the touch. I measured the 250-watt quartz modeling lamp on an Einstein flash with a laser thermometer and got a reading of 210 degrees F on the 7" reflector and above the scale on the bulb itself. You don't want to touch the reflector when the bulb is on or for a while after turning it off.

The cool kid on the block

The Honey Badger comes with a 60-watt LED lamp. The key here is LED. LED lights are much more energy efficient. The 60-watt LED puts out as much light, actually a little more, than the 250-watt quartz light.

Daylight balance LED Honey Badger on your left, tungsten balance quartz Einstein on your right. You can see that they are similar in brightness, but the Honey Badger uses 60 watts and remains relatively cool to the touch vs the 250-watt bulb that will burn you if you touch it or the modifier.

Daylight balance LED Honey Badger on your left, tungsten balance quartz Einstein on your right. You can see that they are similar in brightness, but the Honey Badger uses 60 watts and remains relatively cool to the touch vs the 250-watt bulb that will burn you if you touch it or the modifier.

Here are my comparison measurements of the Honey Badger and the Einstein:

250-watt quartz halogen modeling lamp
Tungsten white balance
Temperature over 200 degrees F (93.3C)
Modeling lamp metered at 39" (1m) = 1/15 second @ f/6.3 at ISO 100
Flash metered at 10-feet (3m) f/20 (640 watt-seconds)

Honey Badger
60-watt LED modeling lamp
Daylight white balance
Temperature 86 degrees F (30C)
Modeling lamp metered at 39" (1m) = 1/15 @ F/9 at ISO 100 (brighter than the 250 watt  quartz bulb)
Flash metered at 10-feet (3m) f/16 (320 watt-seconds)

Why LED?

Some advantages of the LED technology include the mentioned fact of it being a lot cooler and safer to work with (yes, I have had a small softbox catch on fire from the heat of the modeling lamp). It is easier to change modifiers without getting burned. You don't have to worry about accidentally touching the modeling lamp (even when it is not on) and causing damage to the lamp from the oils on your fingers. You can use the modeling lamp for a longer time period when using modifiers that enclose the light, such as a snoot, barn doors, or grids. You can use the modeling lamp for video without heating up the room. And on the Honey Badger you can turn the flash tube off via a switch on the back to make sure it doesn't accidentally flash when you are doing a video session. The lower overall operating temperature of the unit should help prolong the life of the internal components of the flash.

Get a discount!

If you are interested in purchasing Interfit lighting equipment I urge you to visit your local independently owned camera store who really needs your support. However, if your local dealer cannot get these for you, as an Interfit Creative Pro I can offer you a 10% discount if you order directly from Interfit by using the code CORNICELLO10 (all caps) when you order.  And yes, I do get a small commission if you use this code, thanks!


It Is More Than Just Size

More than just the size, it is what you put into it

A big rage the past couple of years has been a proliferation of low cost 7' "parabolic" umbrellas from various manufacturers. I'm not going to get into the arguments of who created the first one, or who stole who's design. My concern is more with how they are being used.

By now we should all know that the size of the light relative to the subject determines the quality of the light. Large lights give a softer, less-shadowed look. Smaller lights give a harder, more contrasty look. So, the immediate thought about a 7' umbrella would logically be that it is a very soft light. And it is. Or at least it can be. But it also to depend on what light source you use with the big umbrella.

I see a few kits offered with the 7' umbrella and a  bracket to use your speed light/lite with it. Speed lights are normally a small and hard light source. So, if you bounce it into a gigantic umbrella it should become a big and soft light. Makes sense, no? 

Maybe not!

Below is a set of images of such an umbrella with a speed light attached and bounced into the umbrella. The flash is a Canon 430EX II in manual mode. The three images across the top row were taken with this combo. In the first one, the flash was set to the 105mm zoom position. There is hardly filled any of the umbrella. Yes, the light will be larger and softer than direct flash. But probably not what you were expecting. So, for the second image the flash was zoomed out to the 24mm position. Uh-oh! That isn't all that much wider than the 105mm position when the umbrella is so close to the flash head. Additionally, we see that the flash bracket doesn't come close to pointing the flash into the center of the umbrella. What to do?

The third image was taken with the flash head's built in diffuser panel popped out and over the flash. It does a much better job of filling the umbrella, but I had to open up 3+ stops to get enough light into the umbrella. And it still doesn't quite fill the umbrella evenly, note how dark the bottom portion of the umbrella is.

I imagine that a bracket to hold 3 or 4 speed lights with the umbrella shaft centered around them would be a big help, but also a big expense. Unfortunately, I only have one speed light and a single bracket, so can't test that one out.

Just as a way of comparison, I took two more shots using a studio flash head, a Speedotron 202VF. The first of these images has the standard 7" umbrella reflector. Even with this combination, the umbrella isn't quite filled by light, but overall it is much more efficient. To get the umbrella to fill with light, for the last image I took the reflector off the strobe head. With the bare tube the umbrella is finally filled. It is not quite as bright. And you need to be a lot more careful if using the umbrella rig off to the side that direct light from the bare tube doesn't hit your subject causing very distracting shadows.


Take from this what you may. I just wanted to make sure you understand that just having a super large light modifier doesn't mean that you have a super large light source. I encourage you to do a similar test with your own lighting equipment to see what it is really doing.


PS: I also tested out a silver 7' parabolic. You can see those results in this post.

PPS: I then pulled out all the modifiers I could find around the studio and compared them all in action in a new post.