After a lot of option-weighing and review-reading and re-reading, I eventually made the plunge on my first studio lighting kit: a pair of 400W/s strobes from Elinchrom, complete with two soft-boxes, and featuring their EL-Skyport Remote System. If you are thinking of buying a lighting kit, either now or in the future, and aren't sure where to begin, perhaps the following will be of help to you.
After quite a lot of landscape and nature photography, my interests have been drifting more and more towards portraiture recently. I'd worked outdoors with natural light on a number of occasions, and was pleased with the results (especially during the golden hour), but I wanted the freedom to stage scenes and models, and play with creating dramatic lighting.
Amazon's slew of cheap (for lighting), no-brand kits had me quickly losing a sense of perspective. The prices were often all over the place between kits that seemed essentially the same. For many, it was impossible to gauge from the reviews, which were usually split evenly enough between glowing and scathing, and the sheer amount of FREE ACCESSORIES included with some of the kits had my eyebrow drifting skyward. I checked on a few other retail sites, but trying to make sense of the sheer number was like attempting to navigate in a blizzard. After starting to feel a bit snow-blind (or should that be strobe-blind?), I looked up a few photography blogs and reviews for advice on buying a first kit. It quickly turned me off the idea of these cheap kits - they were not mentioned favourably, if at all. Perhaps they work for some people, and that's fine, but I was looking for a kit that would conceivably see me through a few years of shoots, and that would be easy enough to upgrade and buy accessories for. A few hundred euro might seem like a good deal, but for me it's too much to throw away if the kit packs in after a few months, which seemed to be a common complaint from what I could tell.
I checked around the camera shops in Dublin and found that the majority almost exclusively stock Elinchrom lights and accessories. Elinchrom (www.elinchrom.com) are a Swiss-based company that make a range of flash heads from entry-level to professional use, and a wide array of lighting modifiers and accessories. They'd be a competitor of companies like Bowens and Interfit, and well regarded. I remembered they were mentioned in some of the posts I'd come across.
So I went back and started doing some serious research, scouring the web for any trustworthy reviews. I was attracted by the quality of the brand, but their stuff isn't exactly cheap (for me, anyway), so I wanted to make sure that they were getting the seal of approval. Happily, I found that opinion was very positive. I looked at a few different entry-level kits, the D-Lite RX One, RX 2, and RX 4. These heads offer 100, 200 and 400W/s power respectively. For the difference in price, the extra latitude offered by RX 4, I felt, set it apart.
After some kind words of endorsement from a fellow photographer, my mind was made up. Now, it turns out most of the camera shops in the city don't actually stock their lighting kits in store, and I had the misfortune to be looking to buy just as the stockist for Elinchrom was about to shut for two weeks. Of course, it wouldn't have been the end of the world to have to wait, but luckily, after a few calls, I found that Hall Cameras (www.hallcameras.ie) on Talbot. St. had the kit in-store. They were incredibly friendly and helpful during the sale, and having bought other items there before, I would definitely recommend them; they certainly came through on this occasion, and offered the best price on the kit in the city.
For anyone who is looking to invest in their first lighting kit, I hope this post might be of some help in coming to a decision. I'm glad I went with Elinchrom and the RX 4/4 kit (which I will go into detail about in my next post); the build quality is solid, as a company they're clearly quite highly regarded, and lighting accessories and replacement bulbs, if not exactly cheap, are easy to get a hold of. If you don't want or need the extra power, the RX 2 and RX One kits would likely do the job.
Feel free to leave a comment or, if you found it helpful, like this post on Facebook.