For the last four years or so I’ve been a user of Bowens Gemini lighting. Bowens was one of the first companies in the world to really start standardising what we now recognise as off-the-shelf studio lighting. Although a global brand, Bowens has been for decades ubiquitous in the UK, used by top photographers but also standard-issue kit for jobbing pros of all levels. The lights have a reputation for being as tough as old boots and just working again and again. These days it may lack the ‘all the top pros use it’ cachet of Profoto or the Swiss chic of Elinchrom but they happily rub shoulders with those brands and in some areas like portable battery power and price exceed them.
Even when working the Bowens Gemini lights hard for a full day of on-site events work, the Bowens Gemini’s fanless design hasn’t put a foot wrong and combined with a gorgeous quality of light.
Before choosing the Bowens I looked at other brands. The options, four years ago, were Elinchrom, or one of the new breed for far-east cheapies. Yes, there were other options like the German Hensel brand but these were both expensive and did not have a wide dealer network the UK.
Although it it was a close call between the then Elinchom BX/RX range and the Bowens Gemini, there were certain advantages to the latter. Chiefly, I love the knob-based power controls which were more tactile and rapid to work with than the Elinchrom with its pokey membrane button controls. Also, the Gemini bracket that secures the light to a stand is much more positionable and can be angled straight down without the need for a boom arm in certain circumstances, which proved useful when I was shooting a lot of small product photography. They also had a more robust look and feel to the Elinchroms but that was a minor influence.
In terms of quality of light, at the end of the day a good flash tube is a good flash tube and both brands possessed a range of high quality reflectors for any situation. Bowens’s Wafer Softbox range are possibly the best on the market, and the Supersoft beauty dish a market leader, but Elinchrom had brilliant modifers too so that was almost a dead heat.
One other advtange to the Bowens system is that the ‘s-type’ fitting for modifiers has become a bit of an industry standard and adopted by other, often cheaper, manufacturers. This means there are loads of inexpensive options to choose from – in some cases the Bowens stuff is worth the money, othertimes an eBay ‘knock off’ could be a shrewd buy.
In terms to quality of light there was no difference but look at well-lit shots online you might say the Bowens had a richer, creamier look while Elinchrom more stark and clinical but that’s really hard to judge – as I said, a good flash head is a good flash head whatever the brand. They pretty much all do the same thing.
Oh, and Bowens is a world-class UK company and while I wouldn’t buy British if there was a much better non-British product, when it’s a near neck-and-neck situation, buying British is a nice little filip.
While I feel no real need to upgrade my Bowens Geminis right now or in the near feature, 2009’s revamp of the entire Gemini range makes the products significantly better and eliminates some of the reasons a Gemini user may upgrade to packs ‘n’ heads or jealously spy, say, Profoto gear. The Bowens ‘R’ range adds the option on an internal radio reciever, either Bowens Pulsar compatible or the PocketWizards, which have become massively popular in the back of the Strobist craze. The ‘Pro’ range gives faster recycle times than previous Bowens Geminis and, most significantly, faster flash duration, which gives the advantage of better motion freezing motion (some suggest ultra-fast flash durations add an extra dose of crispness to any image too, but that’s subjective). Now any current Gemini flash can use the brilliant Travelpak for portable power on the move. It’s fair to says Bowens has the most elegant solution for battery-powered monolights around.
It’s good that Bowens has gone on an innovation drive over the last 12 months and made their products sexy again as for many types of photographer their products continue to be a great choice and for some types of use the very best choice.