The question we get asked most often here at StudioLighting.net is “What should I buy that will help me get started in lighting”? Though the response to this question depends somewhat on the specific type of photography, there are several to learn the principles of studio lighting without breaking the bank. One of the products available to the emerging studio photographer is the Photoflex First Studio Portrait Kit (DP-FSPTKT). The First Studio portrait kit is a two light, continuous light kit which provides a great starting point for portraiture. The following review covers the components, design, setup, usage and performance of this product.
|Output (WS)||250 watt (x2)|
|Dimensions||8″diam, 5″ d|
|Accessory Mount||rod sleeve|
|White Balance Setting||3200K|
|Recycle @ full||n/a|
|Accessories||45″ b/w Umbrella (x2), Light Stand (x2)|
|Flash Bulb Durability||unrated|
What’s in the box
The First Studio Portrait Kit ships in a single box with only slight assembly required. The box contains two FirstStar light heads with 9 ft power cords, two FirstStar 250 watt lamps, two ADW45 adjustable umbrellas (45″ with white lining), and two 7 foot 2205 LiteStands. Assembly instructions are also included which make it a breeze to get started. The FirstStar unit ispreassembled with an 8 inch parabolic reflector in front. Photoflex also includes a coupon for a free one month membership to webphotoschool.com their online lighting education program.
Quality and Ease of Use
The First Studio Portrait Kit is simple to set up requiring only the attachment of the handle and light stand mount to the light housing. Setting up for a shot requires only the bulb to be screwed in. The light is controlled by a household switch built in to the 9 foot power cord. The swivel base holds the umbrella, allows for positioning of the light and attachment to a light stand. Two adjustable height light stands are included in order to create a complete two light portrait setup. The light stands are made of lightweight aluminum which is sturdy but not heavy. The light stands have 4 sections and can be raised to a height of just over 7 feet or collapsed down to 28 inches.
The First Studio Portrait Kit lamps are a great entry point for photographers that want to learn the principles of light due to their small size and rugged construction. While the power of each halogen lamp is just 250 watts, they provide a smooth continuous light which allows the pattern of light to be seen while making adjustments to position, height and distance from the subject. The 45 inch umbrella provides a classic light shape with a feather edge that can be used in many traditional setups. In addition, the lamps are very easy on subjects who may not be used to the studio setting.
Design and Style
The FirstStar main lamp unit is integrated with its 8 inch reflector making it compact and rugged. The housing and reflector are made of lightweight aluminum with a baked enamel exterior. A small hole in the reflector allows the umbrella shaft to be passed through to the swivel base. There is also a large handle angled out from the swivel base toward the back of the lamp allowing easy positioning of the lamp. The handle is loosened clockwise to allow movement and locks the lamp in place when tightened clockwise. This is a great feature as the lamp reflector can get warm during normal use. All knobs have a solid feel and provide plenty of grip for secure mounting of hardware and accessories. It was nice to see that Photoflex quality was present despite the low cost of this product.
The kit comes with two 45 inch black/white umbrellas for soft creamy light. The ribs of the umbrellas can be removed from the rubber tips and repositioned to change the shape of the umbrella from an octagon to a rectangle or square. The umbrella gets passed through the hole in the reflector and into the swivel base where it is held in place with the locking knob. Illustrated assembly instructions are provided with the kit. Once the umbrellas have been attached, the lights can be angled by twisting the grip handle to the left, positioning the lamp then re-tightening the handle. All kit components are made of high quality materials with a solid look and feel.
In addition to being a complete studio kit, the first studio stands and umbrellas can be used with most standard studio gear. The use of standard stands and umbrellas means that the kit can grow with the photographer by accepting more powerful continuous light sources or by adding the new Photoflex Starflash strobe system down the road. The first studio lamps are not designed to accept soft boxes or modifiers which do not mount with a shaft.
Storage of the first studio kit is a breeze. The swivel base can easily be removed from the lamp assembly for storage. The reflector does extend well beyond the lamp bulb offering some protection, but it may be wise to remove the bulbs for long term storage or rough transport. The first studio umbrellas and light stands fold and stow for easily for storage with the lamp units. Each FirstStar unit weighs about 2 lbs and the total kit weighs about 10 lbs. This kit would make a very handy portable lighting option for the home or small business portrait photographer.
As the kit is a continuous light product, there is no need for expensive replacement flash tubes or second modeling lights. There is also no need for sync cords or slave triggering devices. What you see in the studio is what you will register with your camera. Bulb replacement is also simple as the provided bulbs simply screw into the lamp housing. When dealing with most studio bulbs, handling the bulbs can lead to a buildup of oil on the bulb surface, which can accelerated failure. The bulbs in the First Studio kit are sealed in a glass encasement which allows them to be handled more easily and without causing premature failure – a nice touch.
Operations and Controls
The First Studio Portrait Kit is operated with a standard rocker switch a convenient distance from the lamp housing in the power cord. There is no power level adjustment or other controls. Control of light intensity occurs by placing the lights at different distances from the subject or turning them at various angles to take advantage of the umbrella feather edge. Metering is accomplished using the meter in your camera, or a handheld incident light meter. You do not need a flash meter to get readings in the studio as the light is always on at full shooting power. It is also recommended that you use the incandescent or tungsten white balance setting for your digital capture.
A great benefit of continuous light is the ability to see the light as the camera will record the light. This allows a photographer who is new to studio lighting to experiment with the tools of light without relying on modeling lamps and often without the expense associated with strobe flashes. The Photoflex First Studio Portrait Kit is an excellent example of this type of product.
The First Studio Portrait Kit is able to provide smooth efficient light at a very affordable price. In addition, all of the parts of the portrait kit can be useful in more advanced setups as equipment is added.
Once the First Studio Portrait Kit was set up in the studio and powered on, it was clear that the smooth creamy light source provided by the large umbrellas was going to produce a nice natural skin tone. The 250 watt halogen lamps included in the kit are not as powerful as the 500 watt and 1000 watt Starlite bulbs from Photoflex. The FirstStars, however, make a great light source for a typical head and shoulders portrait. Based on our tests, you may need to upgrade the light source for full figure portraits or group shots.
We put the Photoflex First Studio Portrait Kit through our tests to find out how it performs in a typical studio setting. Please note that light meter readings can vary due to studio conditions or meter manufacturer differences.
First, we wanted to test the power of the FirstStar unit without the umbrella. Our test for a light source involves placing the light on a stand at a distance of 5 feet from a white seamless background. Meter readings are then taken at the center of the beam and out toward the edge of the 9 foot background at 2 foot intervals. The meter is a Sekonic L-358.
For this test, we set the meter at ISO 100 then ISO 400 and used a shutter speed of 1/125 sec and 1/60 sec. The results of the test for the 250 watt FirstStar are as follows:
Center of Beam
Center of Beam
Next, since the product being tested is a kit, we felt it was important to meter the light being reflected from the kit umbrella. The setup was the same and resulted in a slightly lower reading at the beam center as shown below:
Center of Beam
It is clear from these meter readings that the FirstStar will be most effective at close range. The manufacturers example setup shows the main light being placed about 3 feet from the subject. This would yield a pleasing amount of light from the large umbrella reflector. It can also be noted that the umbrella slightly lowers the output at the center of the beam which is expected. The addition of the umbrella softens the feather edge tremendously making it quite versatile as a light source (see photo).
Due to the lower output of the kit, our shutter speeds were lower than they might be when working with strobe lights. As a result, you should use a tripod if possible to eliminate camera shake and blurred photos. An alternative to using slow shutter speeds would be raising the ISO setting on your digital camera or using more sensitive film.
According to the manufacturer, when compared to photoflood bulbs and several other continuous light packages on the market in the same price range, the FirstStar produces a substantially higher portion of light. In the portrait studio, this means more flexibility in light configuration and a more varied selection of usable lenses.
Unlike some studio strobes we’ve tested, the FirstStars are completely silent as there is no need for cooling fans. The housing stayed fairly cool throughout the session. Care should still be taken when handling the unit, and particularly the bulbs, after a shoot as any continuous light source generates significant heat. Do not touch the bulbs or rest the bulb on flammable material until it has cooled completely.
The First Studio Portrait Kit comes with two large umbrellas which can be adjusted to change the highlight shape. Note, however that other sizes of umbrellas would be compatible with the kit as well as nearly any other studio accessory that could be mounted via the umbrella shaft adapter. A full line of compatible umbrella modifiers are available through Photoflex as well as other manufacturers.
I had high hopes for the First Studio Portrait Kit due to my experience with other Photoflex products. The quality and performance of the kit did not disappoint me. It is clear that there has been no sacrifice in quality from Photoflex from the ruggedness of the stands (which, by the way, are the same as the stands used in their other pro kits) to the materials used in the sweet adjustable umbrella. The design that went into the product is evident as well in the twist grip, the protected bulb and the way the umbrella changes shape.
I am comfortable recommending this product to those wanting to learn the fundamentals of studio lighting for under $300. As long as you know not to expect to be lighting a wedding party with this kit, you will surely be pleased with the product. If you do plan to shoot full-length portraits or groups someday, the First Studio kit will grow with your ambitions as everything can be used with more powerful light sources.
Most importantly, we were able to get some great looking images from the kit. I was loving the soft creamy light that the halogen bulbs produced. I have to admit, I also enjoyed the convenience of not having to re-meter each time I changed the light setup or tripping over sync cords. Call me lazy, but I’ve always liked that aspect of continuous light sources. Overall, I think this kit represents a great opportunity for the cost minded photographer – and don’t forget the kit comes with a free one month membership to the Photoflex webphotoschool.com which is a great resource for budding studio enthusiasts.
Being a strobe user, I was hesitant about these lights. I expected to be underwhelmed with them. I had used the Photoflex Starlites in the past for video and tried them with photo and just never really “gelled” with them. So, when I opened the box and picked up the stands and umbrella, they didn’t have the cheap feel like I was expecting.
The kit went together pretty easily and I was shooting in no time at all. The tests left me scratching my head a little and wanting more “oomph” from the lights. I set my meter where I would for my strobes and quickly realized I was going to be adjusting my settings. In general, you can expect to be shooting at higher ISOs and/or longer shutter speeds than you would with a set of strobes. If you are comfortable with making those setting changes… then you will do fine with this package.
Continuous lighting does have a different feel to it and I think I’ve gotten spoiled with the dial on the back of my strobes for adjusting power levels. But adjusting light output on the First Studio is pretty easy, just move it back a few feet. I really was impressed with the umbrella quality. The lining seems pretty opaque, highly reflective and a had a very nice build quality. Even better, you can pop off every other leg of the umbrella and mate them with their neighbor to convert it into a square shape.
Overall, it is a good kit for those watching their bottom line. If you want to expand in the future, you have a nice set of stands (can never have enough of those) and a great quality umbrella set and then you can pop on either more powerful StarLites or even the new/upcoming StarFlash by Photoflex.