Introduction: The Speedotron 1005 Strobe Pack

Introduction

Speedotron, the Chicago-based American maker of tank-like studio lighting products, does not often roll out a new product.  For the faithful Speedo-users of the world, it’s an exciting occurrence, then, when a product is updated with new features.  What we have here, in the Speedotron 1005, is the company’s newest product and one that offers some welcome updates to Speedotron’s classic line of studio strobes.

It is a compact box, smaller than the company’s 1200W/s 1205CX pack and bigger than the 800W/s 805 pack it has replaced.  It is light weight, robust, and relatively powerful for its size – not to mention modestly priced at around $850.  Is this an affordable alternative to the Profoto Acute or Broncolor Senso?  Read on for our detailed introduction:

Features

The Speedotron 1005 strobe pack offers 1000W/s in three channels.  Between three channels and four lamp outlets, the pack offers a range of symmetric and a-symmetric power distribution options, as well as a master dial for up to two and a half stops of dial down power.  In traditional Speedotron form, Channel C offers double power, 500W/s in this case, while channels B and double-outlet channel A offer 250W/s each.  Power distribution options include 4-plug symmetry, A+B+C, three separate channels, A/B/C, and the separation of Channel A, A/B+C.  By strategically placing plugs, switches, and a knob, it’s possible to reach from 1000W/s down to 44W/s (22W/s each with two heads in Channel A).  The single dial-down knob offers quarter stop detentes.

The interface includes classic, hefty switches that firmly snap into place and a firm-turning dial-down knob.  The case is a solid and nicely finished metal box with no frills.  There is no rubber cushioning, no ventilation, and no complexity.  Large screw heads are visible along the pack’s flanks and at various points on the top control face.  It is feels lighter than both the smaller 805 and bigger 1205CX, though retains the stout Speedotron feel.

The 1005 has Speedotron’s more recent black-ringed light plugs that firmly accept cables, new and old, and allows recent plugs with locking rings to click into place.  Sync connection is via a 1/4″ input that – with its low voltage – can be plugged directly to a camera, meter, or radio slave.  Remove the sync plug and the 1005 defaults automatically to an optical slave.  The pack has no internal radio receiver.

Speedotron offers the following stats: 1.75s to 3.5s recycle time and 1/360s-1/1250s flash duration.  Like all strobes, both recycle and duration stats are determined by output power.

On the Job

Editor’s Note – We’ll retain a more complete real-world review for our second 1005 pack, as the first is on its way back to Speedotron.  The pack arrived with two critical problems.  First, it fired like a dance-floor party strobe when left to the over-eager eye of its internal optical slave – even in the dark.  And secondly, our unit delivered surprisingly miserable flash duration.  Working with Pro Camera in San Francisco, I measured the pack’s duration as ranging from 1/57s to 1/187s, far bellow Speedotron’s specs for the unit.

Hopefully, 1005: take two will deliver something closer to Speedotron’s specs, particularly in the area of flash duration.  In the meantime, our comments will be limited to other aspects of the strobe pack’s interface, usability, and performance.

Speed Test – The Speedotron 1005 recycles with consistent haste.  In my testing, at minimum power, the unit pumped out fully exposed frames up to a very respectable (especially for an $850 pack) 5 frames per second.  I was able to get many usable frames at 6 and even 7 frames per second.  By 8 frames per second, the pack is finished.  At that speed, it delivers more than 50% black frames, though – with none of the alarms, safeties, and caution of the Broncolor Senso pack we tested last month (read it here) – it is certainly willing to try.  The minimum power used for our high speed test, I should point out, is something like 44W/s, which is precious little, though the speed is an appreciable aspect of this pack.

Connectivity – Sync voltage really is low enough for safe, direct camera connection – at least it didn’t bother either my Nikon D3 or Sekonic L-358 flash meter.  The pack offers a useful ready beep that is both mutable and quiet enough to not be a distraction during intimate shoots.  It’s noticeably a more mellow and musical tone than any of our recent testers, a vibe that is continued in the small, softly-glowing green ready button (as opposed to the softly glowing red ready button of the 1200CX, or softly glowing amber button of the 805 – the button makers are having fun in Chicago!)  The 1005 is, in fact, nicely standardized in its various connections: a standard 1/4 sync plug and a standard A/C cord, two conveniences not found on older, more proprietary Speedos.

Concerns – All told, this economical little pack has much going for it.  There are, however, some noticeable points in which Speedotron has not kept up with the times.  This is a simple and useful (and darn affordable) pack, but there are new conveniences on the market that I miss here.  Many companies, including fellow economy-minded light maker White Lightning, now offer digital control from a multi-function radio transmitter.  Many packs also offer, in addition to master dial-down knobs, controls to dial down individual channels for a higher degree of a-symmetry – useful when, for example, a photographer wants to adjust only a backdrop light or a hair light, but not a whole set.  With Speedotron, photographers will be doing it the old-fashion way: moving a light or adjusting diffusion.  Of course, these and other simplicities, keep these packs cheap and tough.  Little to break, and easy to replace.  Indeed, for the same price, many photographers will opt for four 1005 packs over, for example, a single Acute 2R 1200.

In the Lab

Editor’s Note – I had planned to introduce a method of strobe testing with this unit.  Unfortunately, given the problems our test unit was experiencing, I’ll wait to publish our findings until results can be verified with a new unitIn the meantime, we’ll present our recycling time findings, which were quite good for a pack of this price point.

Test 1 – Shutter Speed Exposure Test. Our demo unit displayed disappointing results for this test, perhaps indicated a problem with the pack.  Our demo unit struggled to deliver full exposure at sync speeds shorter than a modest 1/50 s.  Results will be posted once a new unit is available for testing.

Test 2 – Flash Duration Test. Our faulty demo unit was measured at between 1/57 s (t0.1 minimum power) and 1/187 s (t0.1 maximum power) using a Broncolor FCC meter, significantly lower than Speedotron’s specs of 1/360 s and 1/1250 s.  Speedotron’s numbers are likely posted in t0.5 format though, in poor form, the company doesn’t specify.  If they are t0.5, then a generally accepted 3x conversion should yield something close to our measured t0.1 results.  Complete results will be posted once a replacement pack has been tested.

Test 3 – Frames Per Second Test. For this test, the Speedotron 1005 was set up in our studio, triggered directly via sync cable connected to the P/C sync of a Nikon D3.  The camera was set to capture frames at nine different speeds with results analyzed for the number of black or underexposed frames.  5 stars indicates 100% lit frames with no exposure variation while 0 stars indicates more than 50% black frames.

The 1005 was set to its lowest setting (and therefore fastest setting) Channel A, isolated, with -2.5 stops on the master dial down knob.  We used a 202VF head mounted in a soft box and recorded twenty frames per speed setting.  Prior to testing, the pack and head were allowed to warm up.  The these power settings, the pack is producing an estimated 44W/s.

Frames Per Second Test, Speedotron 1005 Pack

 

We found that the Speedotron 1005 unit we tested was capable of sustaining 5 frames per second with good exposure and up to 7 frames per second with exposure variation, but no dark frames.

Market Position

This pack sits in a unique position.  It is a compact, travel-friendly member of the Speedotron family of pro light gear.  It is affordable and built to last.  When compared to the current generation of high end pro gear, it is basic and extremely affordable.  Compared to budget gear, it is remarkably tough and compatible with a very wide range of lights and modifiers.

Likely competitors might include products from Paul C. Buff, the Tennessee-based distributor of unique and affordable light gear.  One likely product would be the company’s White Lightning line of pack-less monolights.  A complete kit would price to a similar point, with White Lightning offering a slightly more modern design but decidedly poorer build quality.

Dynalite sells a popular line of products priced a bit higher than Speedotron, but offers more compact tools with more sophistication.  Dynalite is, perhaps, the contemporary standard for low cost travel studio strobes and should certainly be considered a competitor to this compact Speedotron.  What Speedotron offers, by comparison, is a range of packs and heads that extend all the way to a monster 4800W/s pack and ready rental and used availability.

Selling Points

The Speedotron 1005 packs a range of utilitarian flash control into a tough and affordable package that bears the build quality and simplicity to last a long time.  It offers a respectable 1000W/s, 4 lamp outlets, three channels, and two and a half stop range in addition to a range of a-symmetry adjustments.

As the current entry-level pack in Speedotron’s Black Line, the 1005 is affordable and can accept the company’s full range of strobe heads and light modifiers.  Speedotron is widely available for rent and on the used market and falls somewhere between an industry standard and an old classic.

The 1005 has some features that will be welcome updates to owners of older Speedotrons: built-in optical slave, low voltage sync, a ready beep, and two-and-a-half stops of dial down.

Considerations

Though updated, the pack is somewhat short of State of the Art.  It lacks an internal radio option, dial down for individual channels, and greater finesse than quarter stop adjustments.  As for compact dimensions, it is more narrow and lighter than the bigger 1205CX, but nearly as wide and tall, and the pack is bigger than the 800W/s it has replaced in the Speedotron lineup.

Conclusion

The Speedotron 1005 is a lightly updated classic, an affordable entry to professional strobe lighting with robust build, a very wide range of available heads and modifiers, new, used, and for rent.  It is a strikingly low price point for the quality, though the trade off is a lack of modern conveniences like built-in radio and more sophisticated a-symmetric power distribution.

Editor’s note – critical to our recommendation of this pack will be eventual tests of its flash duration and optical slave – both were faulty on the unit tested here.

Update – July 8, 2011

After sending the 1005 unit reviewed above back to Speedotron, I’m sad to say our initial flash duration measurements were not the fault of a glitchy pack.  No, the 1005 is a truly a slow strobe pack.  The company recommended using the pack with 103 strobe heads to maximize speed, not the 202 heads we used for the review.  Some improvement, then, is to be expected for photographers using 103 heads.  The run-away sync problems we experienced were the result of a faulty optical slave that was replaced at no charge.

I left my original conclusion open-ended, hoping for a favorable return from the company.  My new conclusion is that the Speedotron 1005 is not a good choice for anyone who values flash duration as an important statistic.  In that key area, the pack is the slowest I’ve ever seen.  Moving subjects will blur, sync speed is limited, and there are certainly faster packs on the market.

It isn’t a pack without merit.  It is small, quick to recycle, affordable, tough, and compatible with lots of readily-available Speedotron gear.  It is not an American-made Acute substitute, nor is it really up to contemporary standards.  I’ve shot Speedotron gear for years, and had high hopes the 1005.  It has some welcome new features but is, in reality, a step backwards for the company.  Until Speedotron addresses the pack’s flash duration, we can not recommend it.

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by Matt Beardsley  – all photography by Matt Beardsley

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