There comes in a time in many photographers’ careers when it’s time to leave behind the strobist off-camera-flash or cheap-and-cheerful imported studio lights and buy into a serious system that could potentially see you through your whole career.
A good brand name that makes reliable kit, with lots of top-quality accessories and global availability at a decent price, are high on the sensible purchaser’s shopping list. And of course, most buyers start out with a couple of monoblock heads, rather than the larger and more complex pack-and-separate-head system often largely down to cost.
So that means manufacturers like Elinchrom and Bowens pick up lots of business, with easy-to-understand monoblock head kits at good prices and varying levels of power and complexity. It means that the very high-end manufacturers like Broncolor are often out of the equation, as they focus on separate pack systems both for studio and outdoor use. Beautiful kit, well made and specced beyond pretty much any of their rivals. But with no monoblock head kits at reasonable prices to offer to the upwardly-mobile pro, they miss out.
And when a photographer chooses a flash system they often tend to stick with it, buying more and more complex and powerful heads as well as more modifiers as their needs increase. So hard luck Broncolor. Until now.
Bron have launched a range of relatively affordable monoblock heads that are not only available in money-saving kit form, but offer lots of the higher-end technology of their amazing Scoro studio packs. And some super-cool wireless functionality that would make clued-up Strobist types very envious indeed.
In essence, Bron have launched the Siros heads, available in both 400 and 800 Joule versions. Faster flash duration “S” type versions of both are available, for a bit more money. And you can also spec them with some very clever internal Pocket Wizard radio receivers and matching HSS flash tubes that allow you to use high-sped sync technology. That means you can sync your flashes at up to your camera’s maximum sync speed of around 1/8000th sec rather than the more common pedestrian 1/250th sec.
These are the first studio flashes to do this, which means you can have full control of your aperture and shutter speed right through the whole range rather than being capped at 1/250th sec. So you really can freeze action or select the precise aperture you want.
Although the kit I tested did not have this function, it seems odd that the first flashes to have this are studio monoblocks where sync speed is less of an issue anyway. It makes more sense to have it for outdoor lighting, such as Bron’s Move packs, or use separate lithium generators on the Siros monoblocks like we ended up doing for our very dirty dirt biker shoot.
Although the kits come with sync cables, the Siros have built-in Broncolor RFS radio triggering which is part of the basic kit so we used that to trigger the lights. They also have built-in slave cells, too.
In fact, the Basic kits are far from basic really as they offer two heads, radio trigger, a couple of flash stands and power leads, an umbrella and 60cm square softbox. All this comes in a couple of bags that clip together, and the larger bag has wheels on it for easy movement.
While it’s easy to see some manufacturers cut corners on their accessories to save a bit of cash, all the Bron kit equipment is top notch. From the sturdy softbox to the special hard-shell pouch for the RFS transmitter to the cases; from the Bron-spec air-cushioned light stands to even the power leads themselves, it’s obvious this is all well-designed and well-made kit that will last. And that’s before you’ve even checked out the flash heads.
There are user-replaceable flash tubes protected by glass dome covers that ooze quality and high-end precision. The Swiss-made heads are stylish and sturdy but not too heavy, with aluminium bodies and a really easy to use rear control panel which is focused around one large adjustment knob. Turning this in small increments changes the power of the flash by a tenth of a stop at a time, and moving it faster by full stops. Pushing it accesses the menus, where you can set things such as optical slave, the radio channels, flash duration, beep settings, strobing flashes of up to 15 flashes per second and the Wifi settings.
Yes, that’s right, Wifi. The Siros has built-in Wifi that can be controlled by a free Bronconrol App on your smartphone. Download it, then you can either connect directly to your Siros lights’ in-built Wifi network or connect everything to your studio network if it has Wifi. Then from the App you can change most of the setting remotely, such as power. And if you aren’t sure which lamp is which, you can even change the colours of the panel lighting so you can tell which one is which from afar. It’s simple and works well.
While manufacturers love to push the latest technology like Wifi, in reality what really matters is the quality of the flashes themselves. To some people, a flash is a flash. But what makes a top-end flash different is things like its range of power, recycle time, colour temperature consistency right through the power range and its power consistency. The pro-level considerations are often things that lesser manufacturers really skirt over, but in Bron’s case the Siros lights have really been designed to use as much of the latest technology possible to ensure speed and consistency. And true to form, they have done the job incredibly well.
First consider flash duration, which can be as low as 1/13,000th sec. That’s incredible for a monoblock head. And with a recycling time as low as 0.02 seconds, up to 1.9 seconds at full power for the most powerful head, the recycling is very fast so you’re always ready for the next shot, even in fast-moving fashion.
And the power range of up to nine stops means you have lots of power when you need it, but you can drop down to a miniscule 2 Joules. So you have complete control and should never need to use ND filters.
It’s a massive power range like this that usually means a manufacturer struggles to retain colour temperature accuracy at different power levels. This is one of Bron’s trump cards, using their second-generation of Enhanced Colour Temperature Control (ECTC) which cleverly adapts flash voltage and duration to give the most consistent colour temperature right across the range. We tested the lights at all power settings using a grey calibration card and found no measurable difference in light temperature, which is amazing.
Bron’s default setting is to alter voltage and flash duration to give the best colour accuracy, but in the menu you can also set Speed mode where the fastest flash duration is chosen, at the expense of colour control. Bron admits this often makes the output slightly cooler than its normal 5500K output but our tests show it was very, very tiny.
In fact, it was the issue of flash duration that was slightly frustrating as there is no way of knowing what it is. OK, we know it’s fast but Elinchrom’s rival heads show the precise flash duration at each setting which can be useful to know. To get this level of functionality from Bron, you need to invest in their big and expensive Scoro packs.
Other gripes were that the on-off button was slightly hidden and hard to get to as it was under the head, and also the light stands needed really clamping down or else the weight of the head made them droop slightly. But those are such minor complaints when compared to the excellence of the flash units themselves.
Broncolor are one of the very highest-end flash manufacturers but by making a more affordable and accessible monoblock flash kit system have given up none of the qualities that have made them famous.
The in-built Wifi and Pocket Wizard functionality that can allow high-speed sync up to 1/8000th sec may be the headline grabbers, but it’s the quality of the kit, speedy flash durations, quick recycle time and the consistency of the light the Siros units put out that is all Bron. That’s to say among the very best in the business.
The kits aren’t inexpensive, but you do get a lot of high-value equipment for your money that will probably last for years. And when you finally hit the big time and do decide you can afford a £7385 Broncolor Scoro pack, £1425 Pulso head to plug into it and monster £3670 Parabolic 222 reflector to modify the light, you’ll realise you bought into a system that really lasts and you can grow with.
Kits: Siros 400/ 800 Basic Kit £1758/ £2244 (Kit includes two 400 or 800 heads, silver 85cm umbrella, sync cable, two stands ad two bags).
Siros 400s/800s Expert kit with wifi and Pocket Wizard £2340/ 2790 (Kit includes all of Basic kit plus RFS2 radio transmitter and 60cm softbox)
Siros 800S Pro kit Pocket Wizard £4230 (Kit includes all of Expert kit plus a third head and stand, and 75cm Octabox)
Single heads: Siros 400 £828, 400 Wifi £990, 400 Wifi and Pocket Wizard £1044, 400S Wifi Pocket Wizard £1152. Siros 800 £1056, 800 Wifi £1206, 800 Wifi Pocket Wizard £1272, 800S Wifi Pocket Wizard £1386.
Siros 400S/ 800S
Power: 400J/ 800J
F-stop at 2m distance, 100 ISO (6½ft) with reflector L40: f/22.5 / f/32.8, with reflector P70: f/32/5 / f/45.6
Flash duration: at t 0.1 (t 0.5): Minimum power: 1/6500 s (1/13000 s)/ 1/4000 s (1/8000 s). Full power: 1/1000 s (1/2200 s)/ 1/500 s (1/1100 s) * with HS Flash tube 1/8000 s
Charging time: 0.02–0.95ses / 0.07–1.9 sec
Power range: 9 f-stops in ¹/₁₀ or full-stop intervals
- First published in Photo Professional magazine, 2015.