Best studio strobes for beginners and advanced photographers in 2024

Best studio strobes for beginners and advanced photographers in 2024

Best studio strobes for beginners and advanced photographers

Strobes can be a difficult topic to master for a seasoned photographer, let alone new photographers. You know you need more light, but which strobe do you get? Do you need just one strobe, or a full arsenal? What type of photography flash should you get? How much power do you need? What are modifiers, and which ones are relevant for you? Do you really need to spend all that money on an expensive strobe, or will the entry-level ones do the job? (I am going to use the terms Flash and Strobe interchangeably, so don’t hang too strongly to either one).

All of these questions and more can make it pretty overwhelming if you’ve never used Flash before. And if you are just starting out with studio photography, then there re probably a million other questions as well. So, in this guide, we’re going to try to answer some of them. We’ll take a look at the variety of different photography strobes and flashes on the market. Also, we’re going to try to help you figure out what light or lights you might want to get to start your neverending flash journey. Finally, we’ll show you how different types of light might be better suited to different genres of photography.

Why you need a studio strobe?

One of the big questions for newer photographers is, “Do I need a flash?”. If you are just starting with a studio, answering this isn’t always simple. While there are natural light studios with big windows, using sunlight alone can be pretty limiting. Both in the time of days that you have “good light”, but also in the type of photography you can practice.

At its simplest, flash simply adds light to a scene. On a deeper layer, you can use strobes to control not only the amount of light, but the shape of it (hard or soft), the color, and even the amount of movement you would have in your shot. That might not make much sense just yet. But the more you experiment with flash, the more you’ll figure out how to use it and where its use is advantageous.

Considerations for buying a new studio strobe

When I started using strobes, I was overwhelmed. There are just so many features, buzzwords, and acronyms that it can be quite a mental overdrive. Especially if you’re unclear about which features are important for the kind of photography you do. Let me touch on the top three most important topics on the top, share some best-in-class strobes, and then, I’ll share a list of features that may be more specific.

Power

Strobe power is measured in Watt-second, and the more, the better. I mean, more light is why you were looking for a strobe in the first place. Typically, more wattage means more versatility. Remember, it’s easier to dial down a powerful light than to wish for more watts. Plus, higher-output models adjusted to lower settings can be more efficient, stretching your battery further, and getting faster recycle time, while ensuring precise control over your exposure with fractional stop adjustments. For now, let’s just say that you can get almost anything between 100ws to 2,400ws, with the most popular strobes being in the 400-600 watt-second range.

Budget

Budget is the flip side of the coin from power. Top-tier strobes with high watt-second ratings, and fast recycle times, but they can be pretty heavy on the wallet. And the rise is not linear. A decent strobe at 300WS may cost less than half of a 600WS strobe, while also being lighter, smaller, and easier to handle. I would recommend not breaking your back over getting the highest output strobe, but the one that strikes a good balance between performance and budget.

Flash Triggers

The last factor that goes on the top of your list is flash triggers. Flashes are like camera systems. Just like Nikon cameras want Nikon lenses for friends, and Canon cameras want Canon lenses, a similar thing is happening in the strobe industry. There are a few main systems of radio control, and each system plays nice “inside the family” and does not play at all with other brands. All the strobes that I will share here have a solid system with multiple types and power ranges, so you will not be limited to which one you choose. That said, the main systems are:

  • Godox X 2.4 Ghz
  • Neewer Q 2.4 Ghz
  • Profoto AirX Blutooth
  • FJ Wireless 2.4 Ghz

For the most part, all four systems can also use TTL with most camera brands: Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic Lumix, and Olympus

Best overall studio strobe: Godox AD600 PRO

Best overall studio strobe: Godox AD600 PROBest overall studio strobe: Godox AD600 PRO

There’s a reason why the Godox AD600 Pro has quickly dominated the studio strobe marketplace: it’s simply that good. With its hefty 600-watt power, it’s more than capable of adequately lighting anything from the sleek lines of a sports car, the soft features of a portrait, or even stand-in as a basic video light in a pinch. The AD600 pro has been in the market for over five years (we review its predecessor, the AD600), and there is a lot of social proof going for its build quality. The AD600 Pro is an ideal choise for choice photographers who want a battery-powered strobe with dependable quality without shelling out for the price of brands like Profoto or Broncolor. 

Yes, the AD600 Pro does come with its own set of challenges — its considerable weight being one. The portability of a full set is another. Yet, when you balance this with its extensive compatibility with various accessories, including an extender to ease the burden on your stand, it’s hard to deny the benefits it brings to the table. The AD600 Pro’s super short flash duration has a full set of features including High-Speed Sync and quick flash durations standing shoulder to shoulder with much pricier brands. If you’re a photographer looking to push your creative boundaries without draining your wallet, the Godox AD600 Pro combines affordability, adaptability, and high-performance — a triple threat in the world of studio strobes. (FYI, you can get the same strobe over at Adorame under the name Flashpoint Xplor)

Main Features

  • 600Ws, 1/256 to 1/1 Power Output
  • 1/8000 Sec High-Speed Sync
  • Wireless: 2.4 GHz Wireless X System
  • Power: Li-Ion Battery (360 full pops)
  • Flash Duration: 1/220 to 1/10,100 Sec
  • 38W Modeling Lamp

PROS

  • Best 600Ws flash in the market today
  • Fast flash duration and recycle times
  • Powerful modeling lamp

CONS

  • Heavy and requires heavy support
  • No direct AC power mode
  • It could be a hefty investment for beginners

Best new studio strobe: NEWER Q4 400Ws strobe

Best new studio strobe: NEWER Q4 400Ws strobeBest new studio strobe: NEWER Q4 400Ws strobe

The Neewer Q4 (reviewed here) is a game-changer in the world of photography, ranking high in both studios and out on location. It deviates from the traditional cylinder shape, and it’s a cube-like strobe, resembling a sturdy square hardcover book. If you are a photographer on the move, this is something you’d appreciate. This design simplifies the transport and storage process but also shines in tight shooting environments where traditional strobes take up more space. Beyond its structural ingenuity, the Q4 kit matches stride with high-performing strobes through its 400 Ws power output, capable of competing with brilliant sunlight or lighting up large softboxes effortlessly. It extends its versatility with a Bowens mount, enabling easy attachment of different light modifiers. This broadens the strobe’s potential to skillfully meet a wide range of photographic requirements. 

My fondness of the Neewer Q4 goes beyond its physical design. It brings to the table features geared to fit in with the progressive needs of modern photographers. Its ability to manipulate power across nine increments ranging from an impressive 400Ws down to a subtle 1.5Ws gives photographers a diverse lighting control spectrum, from overpowering harsh sunlight to providing gentle supplementary lighting. It includes the High-Speed Sync (HSS) capability, opening a creative gateway for photographers to employ wider apertures for that elusive shallow depth of field even under the glow of bright lights. The quick recycling times enhance your workflow’s consistency, allowing the strobe to pace up with accelerated shooting scenarios. In addition, its 30W LED modeling light, while perhaps not the strongest, offers a valuable selection of control options, including TTL, Manual and Stroboscopic modes. These help visualize the interplay of light and subject, coupled with a user-friendly interface. With these features, the Q4 unmistakably rises to the challenge for photographers wanting robust, adaptable, and straightforward lighting equipment.

Main Features

  • 400Ws strobe, down to 1.5Ws
  • 1/8000 Sec High-Speed Sync
  • Wireless: 2.4 GHz Neewer Q
  • Power: Li-Ion Battery (500 full pops)
  • Flash Duration: 1/209 to 1/10,989 Sec
  • 30W Modeling Lamp

PROS

  • A great 400Ws strobe
  • Unique, portable form factor
  • Compatible with Bowens modifiers

CONS

  • Bag can be better
  • Smaller ecosystem than other brands
  • No USB-C charging

Best Profoto strobe: Profoto B10X Plus

Best Profoto strobe: Profoto B10X PlusBest Profoto strobe: Profoto B10X Plus

The Profoto B10X Plus sets the gold standard for what a premium monolight should be, combining a sleek design with unparalleled power. It’s incredibly compact – think zoom lens size – so it’s a dream for photographers on the move. Boasting a robust 500 Ws output, this strobe is more than capable of taking on the sun, providing that crucial extra light or creating the perfect ambiance for any shoot. What sets it apart is not just its portability but its fast recycling time and consistent performance, ensuring that photographers can keep pace with the dynamic nature of their shoots. The addition of High-Speed (HS) capability means you can freeze the action, blending seamlessly with natural light to enhance outdoor shoots with organic-looking highlights.

However, the B10X Plus is not without its drawbacks, notably its battery life and the steep price point, especially when considering the need for additional batteries or the air remote, which are sold separately. Despite these concerns, the strobe’s variable color temperature modeling lamp and the power output it delivers make it a versatile tool in any photographer’s arsenal. Its ease of use, thanks to a simplistic interface and intuitive controls, ensures that setting up and adjusting the light is straightforward, whether in the studio or on location. The continuous light LED feature adds another layer of utility, acting as a powerful fill light for both indoor and outdoor settings. While the initial investment might be significant, the Profoto B10X Plus’s performance and the quality of light it produces justify its price for professionals looking for reliability, consistency, and the creative freedom to execute their vision without compromise.

Main Features

  • 500Ws, 10-Stop Range
  • High Speed (unspecified timing)
  • Wireless: Profoto AirX
  • Battery powered: 200 Full Flashes
  • Flash duration: 1/1,200 s (500 Ws) – 1/6,000 s (1 Ws)
  • BiColoe modeling light (no Wattatge data)

PROS

  • Incredibly portable
  • 500Ws in a tiny form factor
  • Profoto has a long track record

CONS

  • Steep price point
  • Small Battery
  • Proprietary modifier mount

Best battery/AC hybrid studio strobe: Westcott FJ400

Best battery/AC hybrid studio strobe: Westcott FJ400Best battery/AC hybrid studio strobe: Westcott FJ400

The Westcott FJ400 was announced near the end of 2019 and was the first “serious” strobe from Westcott and as the name suggests, the flash power is 400Ws. It’s one of the first strobes to feature a dual AC/DC hybrid power option, so it’s a great fit for both studio and on-location work. Just like most other 3rd party strobes, it’s compatible with all major camera brands and camera models, so you get both HSS and TTL.

A full battery will last over 480 full-power pops on a single charge. This means its capable of handling a quick headshot session but also an extensive all-day event. It can even charge while shooting (if the battery is above 25%).

Main Features

  • 400WS over 9-Stops 
  • 1/8000 Sec High-Speed Sync
  • Wireless control: Westcott 2.4Ghz
  • Power: Ac/DC hybrid (480 pops per charge)
  • Flash duration: 1/800 – 1/8500s
  • 20W LED modeling lamp

PROS

  • Run on AC or an Included Battery
  • Can charge and shoot at the same time
  • Remote is FJ and Canon RT compatible

CONS

  • Westcott only has three strobe ecosystem
  • Cnosdered expensive for the kit

Best entry-level studio strobe: Godox MS300V

Best entry-level studio strobe: Godox MS300VBest entry-level studio strobe: Godox MS300V

The Godox MS300V has quickly become a standout option for those venturing into studio photography without wanting to drain their wallets. At an astonishingly affordable price of around $110, this light packs a surprising amount of power, making it an exceptional value. The light’s compatibility with the Godox ecosystem means that as your photography needs grow and evolve, the MS300 will continue to be a valuable component of your lighting setup. Its 300 Ws output, coupled with a 10-watt modeling lamp, provides ample illumination for a variety of studio applications. The MS300’s design also includes a versatile Bowens mount, which is the de-facto standard for modifiers today.

Functionality-wise, the MS300 doesn’t skimp on features despite its low price. The strobe offers a broad spectrum of power adjustments from 1/32 to full power, allowing for precise control over your lighting with 50 steps of adjustment. This granularity ensures that photographers can dial in the exact amount of light needed for any given scenario. The unit’s 1.8-second recycle time at full power is not the fastest, but its also pretty impressive for the price point. Additionally, the MS300’s flash duration ranges from 1/800 to 1/2000 of a second, not the fastest, but good enough for moving people. This combination of affordability, versatility, and performance makes the Godox MS300 a compelling choice for photographers looking to explore studio lighting or expand their existing setups without breaking the bank.

Main Features

  • 300Ws over 50 steps
  • No HSS
  • Wireless: Godox X system
  • Power: AC (120V/220V)
  • Flash duration: 1/2000 to 1/800 Sec
  • 10W modeling lamp

PROS

  • Can’t beat the features for the budget
  • Lightweight
  • Good start into the Godox ecosystem

CONS

  • No battery
  • Slow sync speed
  • Slow recycle time

Best micro studio strobe: Godox AD100Pro

Best micro studio strobe: Godox AD100ProBest micro studio strobe: Godox AD100Pro

The Godox AD100Pro stands as a remarkable tool in the realm of studio photography, especially for those seeking a compact, yet potent lighting solution. Despite its 100Ws power, which may not seem overwhelming at first glance, this micro studio strobe punches well above its weight class. Its size, slightly larger than a soda can, makes it an ideal companion for photographers on the go, blending portability with the capability seamlessly. Unlike most strobes, which use a Bowens mount, the AD100PRO uses a proprietary V1 mounting system. This means that you can use smaller modifiers and remain portable, but it also means that you will not be able to use any Bowens modifiers you already own, unless you buy a V2 to Bowens adapter.

The Godox AD100Pro’s design incorporates a small 1.8W modeling light, elevating it beyond mere flash functionality to serve as a dual-purpose lighting instrument. The ability to adjust the LED modeling light’s intensity adds another layer of control, allowing for the fine-tuning of lighting conditions to match any shooting scenario. Despite its modest wattage, the AD100Pro excels in providing sufficient illumination in high ISO or open aperture setting, or it is a great fill light. This blend of compact size, functional versatility, and thoughtful design makes the Godox AD100Pro a standout choice for photographers whose prime focus is a lightweight and portable lighting solution.

Main Features

  • Power: 100Ws in 9 Steps
  • 1/8000 Sec High-Speed Sync
  • Wireless: 2.4 GHz Wireless X System
  • Power: Li-Ion Battery (360 full pops)
  • Unknown flash duration
  • 1.8W modeling lights

PROS

  • Tiny strobe
  • Extremely portable
  • Part of the Godox X ecosystem

CONS

  • Not very powerful
  • Uses proprietary V1 mount
  • High Dollar/watt ratio

Best studio strobe in a speedlight form factor: Godox AD200Pro

Best studio strobe in a speedlight form factor: Godox AD200ProBest studio strobe in a speedlight form factor: Godox AD200Pro

The Godox AD200Pro (tested here) emerges as an exceptional choice for photographers looking for a studio strobe with the form factor of a speedlight, blending power with portability in a way few other lighting tools can. Notably, the AD200Pro is compact enough to carry easily, yet it packs 200Ws of power, challenging the notion that high output is reserved for bulkier studio equipment. This unit’s versatility is further enhanced by its ability to switch between different heads—a traditional Fresnel, a bare bulb option, and even a round head or LED light head for varied lighting effects. However, the light from the 60 LEDs in the LED head might not impress those seeking robust continuous lighting solutions, hinting at areas where the AD200Pro could be better.

Moreover, the AD200Pro’s design features, such as an intuitive LCD screen, logical controls, and a durable flash holder for versatile mounting, underscore its user-friendly appeal. The inclusion of a high-capacity 2900mAh lithium battery supporting over 500 full power flashes per charge means photographers can shoot longer with fewer interruptions. Despite these strengths, the AD200Pro’s reliance on external triggers for control, rather than direct hotshoe mounting, might limit its spontaneity compared to traditional on-camera speedlights. Additionally, while the unit provides ample power for most scenarios, those requiring the very highest levels of light output for overpowering the sun in broad daylight might find the 200Ws slightly limiting, indicating scenarios where a more powerful strobe might be preferred. Nevertheless, for its blend of power, portability, and price, the Godox AD200Pro stands out as a leading option for photographers who value flexibility and performance in a compact package.

Main Features

  • 200 Ws in 1/10-stop increments
  • 1/8000 Sec High-Speed Sync
  • Wireless: 2.4 GHz Wireless X System
  • Power: Li-Ion Battery (500 full pops)
  • Flash Duration: 1/220 to 1/15,380 Sec
  • Swappable LED “head”

PROS

  • Proven track record as a great strobe
  • Comfortable form factor
  • Swappable “heads”: Bare bulb / Modeling Lamp / Fresnel

CONS

  • Steep learning curve for the full AD200Pro system
  • No hot shoe connection despite the form factor
  • Low built-in modeling light

Best power pack for studio strobes: Profoto Pro-11

Best power pack for studio strobes: Profoto Pro-11Best power pack for studio strobes: Profoto Pro-11

The Profoto Pro-11 stands as a titan in the realm of high-power studio strobes, boasting an impressive pedigree that combines robust build quality with unparalleled performance. It is not so much a full monoblock strobe, but rather a power pack that you connect other strobes into. So you would still have to get one or two Proffoto strobes. Crafted from thick metal and rubber, this strobe is engineered to endure the rigors of professional use, making it a lasting investment akin to buying prime real estate. Despite its heft—a significant 29.8 pounds—it remains surprisingly compact for its power output, a testament to Profoto’s design expertise. However, the unit’s weight and size may not make it the ideal choice for on-location shoots requiring a nimble setup. Additionally, its limited two-socket configuration can restrict photographers accustomed to more complex lighting arrangements, signaling a missed opportunity for Profoto to incorporate more versatility into this otherwise formidable device.

On the feature front, the Pro-11 dazzles with its integration of AirTTL and AirX technologies, enhancing creative flexibility and simplifying the shooting process. TTL automation allows photographers to focus more on capturing the moment rather than tinkering with settings, while AirX opens the door to advanced connectivity options, including seamless firmware updates and smartphone control—a boon for managing multiple units in busy studio environments. Yet, the Pro-11’s omission of strobe functions and user presets reveals areas ripe for improvement, underscoring the potential for a more feature-rich offering that caters to a broader spectrum of creative needs. Despite these quibbles, the Pro-11’s formidable output, rapid recycling times, and consistent light quality underscore its status as a top-tier tool for high-stakes productions, albeit with a price tag that reflects its premium positioning and capabilities.

Main Features

  • 2400Ws from 2 Outlets, 11 Stop Range
  • Wireless: AirTTL
  • Over 500 full-power flashes per charge
  • Flash Durations as Short as 1/80,000 sec
  • Modeling Lamps up to 500W

PROS

  • Unmatched build quality
  • Over 500 full-power flashes per charge,
  • Rapid recycling speeds

CONS

  • Heavy and cumbersome to move around
  • Exorbitant price point
  • Still requires buying flash heads

Your guide to Flash features

Congrats, you made it to the end of our list. As more strobes are hitting the market every year, we will keep this list always updated, but if you want to understand some of our considerations, and what features you should look for, here is your full guide to flash features.

TTL metering and High-speed sync

Consider if you want your new strobe to come with Through The Lens (TTL) metering and High-Speed Sync (HSS) capabilities. TTL allows the flash to communicate directly with your camera, automatically adjusting the power for a perfectly exposed shot. Conversely, HSS lets you shoot at shutter speeds faster than the camera’s typical flash sync speed, helping you control the ambient light. 

Flash duration

Rapid shoots demand a fast flash duration. The flash duration dictates how long the burst of light from your strobe lasts, and for quick movements, you’d want this to be as short as possible. Conversely, if your subjects are relatively stationary, this may not be as vital a consideration

Modeling light

Modelling lights allow you to see the effect of the light and shadows before the actual strobe flash happens. It’s indispensable for finessing your setup and testing different effects quickly on the fly. Old strobes used to have an actual replaceable incandescent light bulb in the center of the flash tube, but today’s strobes usually have a COB LED with a fixed watt rating. You are looking for a bright LED, and hopefully dimmable as well.

Recycle time

Flash Recycle time is the time a strobe takes to recharge between flashes, and the number typically indicates the time between two full-power pops. If you’re into fast-paced photography, like fashion shoots or action sports, you’d want a strobe that recycles quickly. Choose a unit with a recycle time of two seconds or less

Mounts and ports

If you are getting a studio strobe, there is a good chance you will want to fit it with a modifier like a softbox, an octabox, or a snoot. Most strobes (and modifiers) use a mount called Bowen mount, named after the company that made it. Some bigger strobes (and some smaller strobes), will have a different, nonstandard, mount. If this is the case, make sure that you can either use a Bowens adapter, of feel comfortable using a proprietary mount.

Battery size

The battery size impacts the number of full power flashes a single full charge will get you. Obviously, larger batteries will have more capacity. Just remember that stronger strobes need more power per each burst of light, so a bigger battery on a bigger strobe could still produce fewer “pops” than a medium battery on a less powerful strobe.

Conclusion

Choosing the right studio strobe is a journey that marries technical specifications with creative aspirations. Whether you’re swayed by the rugged reliability of the Profoto Pro-11, the versatility of the Godox AD200Pro, or the compact power of the Godox AD100Pro, the perfect strobe is out there waiting to light up your photographic adventures. Remember, the best strobe is not just about the brightest light or the highest price tag; it’s about finding the tool that complements your workflow, enhances your creativity, and brings your visions to life. As technology continues to evolve, so too will the capabilities of studio strobes, promising even more exciting possibilities for photographers of all levels. So, keep shooting, keep exploring, and let your choice of strobe illuminate the path to your next masterpiece.