The Speedotron 202VF Strobe Head
I thought I’d take a time to share some of my experience with one of my favorite tools, the Speedotron 202VF. I’ve had four of them for two years and have used them primarily for location photography though for a good deal of studio shooting too. Speedotron sells a variety of heads and monolights, the 202VF being the most modern head for use with a separate pack. Other Speedo heads offer multiple flash heads or more compact dimensions, but I would consider this the Standard Speedotron Head.
The 202 will work with any Black Line Speedo pack, from the super-cute 405 to the behemoth monster 4803CX to the batter-operated Explorer 1500. It has a 2400 w/s flash tube and a 250 w modeling bulb. It has a convenient, detachable cable, standard light stand mount (“baby pin” in the cine world), and a mounting ring that will accept a multitude of reflectors, soft boxes, and umbrellas, both from Speedotron and a huge number of third party companies.
I own a set of White Lighting monolights and have a lot of experience with a range of lights from Alien Bee to Profoto. I’ve also used Broncolor, Norman, and several other brand strobes, but settled on Speedotron for our studio. So why buy Speedo? I love them for their robustness and dependability, ease of use, good results, and rental availability. Also, compared to Profoto, I like the price. Some may also enjoy that Speedotron is Chicago-based company, attentive to their customers.
For the money, Speedotron is hard to beat. I believe they would compete with White Lightning as a more economy-friendly option and with Norman, Elinchrom, or Dynalight, depending on feature set or price point. They better all those companies by being available across the country for rent, by being backwards compatible with packs and heads dating back to Bible times, and by being straight-forward to operate. And the darn things are indestructible.
Why Not Speedlights?
In the digital age, now, one may also be deciding between strobes like these and simple speedlights from a camera manufacturer. Why go big? For the flexibility that comes with higher power. No speedlight can put out a fraction of the power, which may well be a limitation shooting during the day someplace bright. Also big strobes tend to have a wider range of modifiers, be easier to work, and be more robust for heavy duty work. My Speedotron rig will work all day, every day, which is nice. I would say don’t get into complicated speedlight lighting unless you are very concerned about extreme portability. At $500 a head, you would be choosing a serious handicap compared to a the same investment made on real lights.
So the 202VF?
This is a burly head – plastic, yes – but the most purposeful plastic I’ve felt anywhere. It feels like a heavy chunk of fiberglass. Speedotron describes it as “football helmet” material. The body stays cool to the touch, even after hours of shooting, do in part to a cooling fan that pushes air out past the flash tube. It has one switch, to disable the modeling light, which is nice for a quick repositioning. Everything else is controlled from the pack. In terms of operation, my favorite feature is the handle poking out from the back. A quick twist and the light can be quickly aimed, then locked back into place, all quickly and with one hand (try that on a Profoto head.) Also, as long as we’re comparing to the Swiss, let me say I also prefer the 202’s detachable cables. I can pack the heads into on slim Pelican and all the cables into a duffle bag, which works for me. Profoto cables always consume so much padded light kit space, it’s weird.
The 202 mounting ring is a big rubberized red ring with ball bearings allowing it to twist in and out for focusing either a 7.5″ or 11″ reflector. It also allows a small degree of adjustment when I mount the head in my favorite modifier, an Elinchrom Octabank (I’ll have to devote a future post to how that is accomplished.) The ring makes quick work of attaching any soft box equipped with a Speedotron speed ring as well as Speedotron’s excellent beauty dish.
The heads pack down well, are very compact for their power rating. The modeling bulbs and flash tubes can be easily replaced (and the modeling bulbs for only $11, which is nice.) Flash tubes come in two “colors:” CC (or “UV-corrected” and normal. The CC or color-corrected tubes have a very very slightly warm tone, which is my preference. Some will likely prefer a cooler, more neutral tone. The head also comes in a quick-recycling 220 V version, designed to work with 220 V packs. Also, all 4 variations, CC, non-CC, 220 CC, 220 non-CC, come with either a 7″ or 11″ reflector, the 7″ having a hole for umbrella mounting (a thumbscrew to tighten the umbrella in place, yet another important not-on-Profoto feature!) All include a snug fitting flash tube cover and detachable cable.
I love these guys and would highly recommend them to anyone in the market for photographic strobe lights.
Also, here are a few links to some of my favorite accessories for these guys (and using these links for purchases helps pay the mortgage!):