Photoflex is well known for their high quality light modifiers and continuous lighting systems. Until recently, the company did not offer a monolight strobe flash unit. The all new Starflash strobe system is the company’s first entry into the monobloc market. The Starflash 650 is a 650 watt-second version of the new strobe. The 650 is the mid level power unit between the Starflash 300 and the Starflash 1000. The following review will detail the features and qualities of this product.
|Output (WS)||650 watt-seconds|
|Dimensions||15.5″ x 5″ x 5.5″|
|Power Range||5 stops|
|Modeling Light||250 watt|
|Sync Type||1/4 inch to PC|
|White Balance Setting||5600K|
|Recycle @ full||2-3 sec|
|Flash Duration||1/1700 sec|
|Sync voltage||3.8 volts|
|Flash Bulb Durability|
What’s in the box
Your Starflash 650 requires only a small amount of assembly before taking your first studio photo. The Starflash unit comes standard with the main unit, a 15 ft power cord (120V or 220V), 1/4 inch sync cord, modeling bulb, lamp protector, light stand adapter and user manual. The unit is pre -assembled with flash tubes in place but requires the modeling bulb and stand bracket to be attached. The unit is designed to receive a standard Photoflex speed ring in order to mount your favorite Photoflex light modifier. The swivel stand mount accepts a standard umbrella shaft. You may also purchase 6 inch or 7 inch bowl reflectors as accessories.
Quality and Ease of Use
After a brief assembly, and the attachment of your optional modifier, the Starflash 650 is ready for service. Attaching the unit to the swivel mount is achieved by sliding it onto the bottom rail of the aluminum body and tightening the mounting knob. The stand mount can be attached to a standard light stand easily. The units controls are intuitive and clearly marked making it more likely that your first studio session will be a stress free event.
The Starflash main unit casing is manufactured from extruded aluminum coated with rubberized paint. The main unit weighs 7.1 lbs and has a very sturdy appearance. All connectors seem quite durable, tight fitting and manufactured to high standards. In general the Starflash has a rugged feel to it and our test unit has held up to expectations for quality that are associated with the Photoflex name. The Starflash has a one year manufacturers warranty.
Design and Style
The Starflash 650 is a moderately large unit compared to some competing models that we have tested. This gives the unit a sturdy feel when handling the unit but does not seem to be a problem for a normal weight light stand when a medium softbox or large umbrella is mounted. The design of the swivel mount allows the unit to be positioned along its bottom rail at the point that gives the best balance with mounted modifiers. This came in quite handy when attaching very large boxes to the Starflash . The unit also has a molded handle on the rear of the unit which helps in transport as well as positioning. Modifiers lock in place by inserting them into the front receiver and twisting until the accessory lock snaps in place.
The Starflash is painted with rubberized paint which varies in color among each of the Starflash models. The Starflash 650 is blue with a gray rear panel. All of the control switches and knobs are very robust providing great tactile feedback and are placed in a way that makes the controls easy to reach without crowding or confusion. The main unit weighs 7.1 lbs and measures 15.5″ x 5″ x 5.5″.
The Starflash is mounted on a standard light stand (studs up to 5/8″) using the provided light stand swivel connector. The swivel connector includes a large handle which allows a 170 degree tilt when loosened. This allows the light to be positioned easily in most cases with just one hand.
Storage of the Starflash is simple as the included plastic bulb protector does a great job of guarding the glass from accidental bumps. The bulb protector locks in place with the modifier mount. The swivel mount can be easily removed if the Starflash is to be stowed in a tight space. We found the handle of the swivel mount to be slightly in the way when left attached to the unit as it does not tilt into a flush position with the main unit.
The provided (120VAC) power cord is 15 feet long and provides plenty of room for positioning your light in the studio. A sync cable (1/4″ to PC) is provided for firing the unit directly from a camera. The Starflash is also equipped with a light sensitive slave trigger giving it the ability to be triggered by any other strobe light source. The sync connector and slave sensor are located on the back panel of the unit. The optical slave sensor is located at the top rear of the unit and can be switched off to avoid accidental discharge from other lights. Another very useful feature is the audible beep which sounds when the unit has recycled and is ready for the next shot. As full power recycle times in our tests were between three and four seconds, having an audible recycle indicator allowed us to waste fewer frames between flashes.
The 250 watt halogen modeling lamp provided with the Starflash provides a good approximation of the final strobe light quality. The modeling light can track the power of the flash power, showing to be more dim when the flash is set to low power. The modeling bulb is encased in a glass enclosure which allows it to be touched without causing premature failure due to skin oils. Always allow the modeling lamp to cool completely before touching it for removal or replacement.
Operations and Controls
All controls for the Starflash are found on the back panel of the main unit. All controls are intuitively located, feel solid and provide positive tactile feedback. The following can be adjusted from the back panel of the strobe:
Power output is adjustable via a knob for a range of five stops. The power can be set from 1/8 power through full in incremental steps. The Starflash 650 is adjustable at 12 steps which is a notable difference from the larger Starflash 1000 which allows continuous stepless power setting.
Model Lamp (off, track, full):
The behavior of the modeling lamps is controlled by a three position switch. The on switch turns the modeling lamp off, allows it to track the with the power of the flash or to remain at full power.
The flash test button allows the flash to be triggered manually. This is useful for metering or checking operation. You can also use it to dump the charge rather than waiting for the flash to drain itself when lowering the power setting. There is an amber lamp (CHARGE) which is lit when the Starflash is charging and a green indicator lamp (READY) which indicates that the flash has recycled and is ready to be discharged.
This button toggles the audible recycle indicator which emits a beep when the Starflash is ready for discharge.
In addition to the controls for the light, the power connector, main power switch, sync connector, slave sensor, and slave sensor switch are located on the back panel. All connectors are clearly labeled and located in logical order. The main power switch is the largest control and is easily located in low light environments. There is also a replaceable 10 amp fuse door next to the power connector.
The Starflash 650 is a very powerful light source with several features that stand out as unique. First of all the Starflash line is competitively priced allowing advanced amateurs and emerging professionals to work with a premium monolight. The wide range of top class Photoflex light modifiers and accessories means that you are buying into a family of products that will continue to deliver quality as the photographer adds equipment to their studio.
The Starflash uses highly durable parts and bulbs which means that it will stand up to somewhat heavy use while maintaining a consistent output. The rugged housing and controls are combined with innovative features like the swivel stand adapter to create a versatile addition to any studio. In addition to the quality of the product, Photoflex is dedicated to educating their customers and backs up that notion with a comprehensive companion web site full of lessons and tutorials called webphotoschool.com
When compared to products from other manufacturers in their price range the Starflash strobes hold their own. Many professional features have been included while keeping the price of the strobe at a quite reasonable level.
You can read more about the Starflash 650 and see a tutorial from the manufacturer on their web site.
The Starflash 650 produces a tremendous amount of light. It is rated by the manufacturer to produce 650 watt-seconds. We put the Starflash 650 through our tests to show what that means in a typical studio setting. Please note that light meter readings can vary due to studio conditions or meter manufacturer differences.
Our test for strobe lights 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 set at ISO 100 and using a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. The results of the test for the Starflash 650 set at full power with a seven inch reflector in place are as follows:
Center of Beam
The results show strong readings in the most important subject zone. They also show a very consistent fall off as you move out of the center.
The Starflash 650 uses a high quality German flash tube which is color balanced to 5600K. We recommend the use of a gray card for proper white balance readings. The Starflash recycled to 100% in three to four seconds at full power and faster at lower power settings during our tests. Flash duration is 1/1700 second. The modeling lamp is a 250 watt halogen bulb.
Cooling of the Starflash is handled by its aluminum housing. The flash stayed cool and extremely quiet during all of our tests.
There are several accessories available for the Starflash 650. Two styles of reflectors are available, a 6 inch umbrella reflector (#SB-SF6UR) for use with photographic umbrellas and a 7 inch standard reflector (#SB-SF7SR) for standard strobe use. Some universal Photoflex accessories, such as soft box adapter ring and light stands are fully compatible with this product. Mounting standard studio umbrellas does not require any additional accessory.
I have put the Starflash through a number of real world portrait and commercial studio situations and I must say that I have been very impressed. The ease of use and rugged construction are the two things that stand out most for me. I have also enjoyed the massive light output that this unit provides when I’ve needed to fill large light modifiers consistently. The high output does come with a bit of a cost in terms of recycle time, however. I was not used to waiting for my lighting equipment to recharge and that resulted in some missed shots and a few dark frames at first. Once I got used to it, however, the three second recycle time actually gave me time to think about my composure and steady my shot which ultimately resulted in better images. During sessions I found myself listening for the audible alert before releasing the shutter. This delay was much less noticeable at lower power settings. I also wish that the monolight shipped with a standard reflector.
I like the swivel mount that is being provided with most Photoflex light products including the Starflash. The ability to move the light around without dealing with nuts and washers is a great thing. I also think that the placement of the slave sensor is superior to many that I have seen and seemed to be able to receive a trigger signal much more readily.
The bottom line for me is that Photoflex has entered the market quite powerfully (pun intended) and they have proved that they can deliver a professional quality monolight at a very reasonable price.
It’s nice that there are more players in the affordable strobe market. The Photoflex Starflash has a nice build quality and I was impressed the first time I held it. It’s very solid and has a nice “heft” in your hands. I like the tilt handle and the grip on the back of the unit for easy positioning.
There were a couple of other features I thought were nice additions. For example, the power dial is a notched adjuster so you know you’ve clicked down a setting. The positioning of the photo slave (on the top rear of the unit) seems like a better position for picking up a signal then flat on the back of the unit. And I liked the audible signal to let you know you are ready to shoot again (although, I did turn it off after a while. On a long shoot, that could get annoying!) I love the quality of the Photoflex light modifiers, so buying into this system is a nice touch, even though you can fit other brand modifiers to most other strobe systems.
One area I was a little surprised at was the recycle time. It seemed at full power that it took a little longer then what I’m used to with other lights. It could be from the extra w/s from this system, or it could be a difference in flashes.
Overall, If I were buying strobes today, I’d put this system in my”final short list” of systems to be looking at.
(Taken with single Starflash 650 fitted with a Photoflex Ocatadome)