Budget Flash & Trigger
In the last few years numerous cheap generic flashes have hit the market. Most work only in manual mode, but that’s not a real disadvantage when working with off camera flash. I used to throw a couple of Yongnuo yn560 iv flashes and a couple of YN560-TX transmitters in my camera bag in case I need to add a little light. The had built in radio transmitters which was great, and were affordable.
However, these flashes do have quality control issues. I’ve had some that work great, and others that have serious issues. One of mine, irrespective of settings, occasionally fires at full power then turns itself off. On another the zoom function is temperamental. (2017 update – another of these Yongnuo flashes now only fires at full power. I’ve tried to contact Yongnuo but received no response.) Due to the serious reliability issues I now don’t bother to take these with me.
A reasonably priced flash with built in radio triggers and better reliability is Cactus. My friend Pete uses their strobes almost exclusively and is very happy with them.
Mid range flash systems
Paul C. Buff lighting is a popular system of studio and location lighting that is good value for money. I’ve never used their equipment, but several friends are happy with the gear. One issue is that they only ship to the U.S. or Canada.
High end flash systems
I’ve used Profoto gear for a decade. I started with the cheapest monoblock lights (Profoto Compacts I got on Ebay) and much later added a powerful 7a generator system. In recent years I purchased a lithium powered Profoto B1 for shooting on location. The good thing about Profoto is reliability, accessories that work with all lights in their system, regularly used by rental studios around the world, and power. Profoto is however expensive, and High Speed Sync is not available for Sony (until 2017) or Pentax cameras.
Profoto B1 US$2000 – 500W Lithium Powered Strobe Battery built into head.
Profoto B2 US$2000 – 250W Lithium Powered Strobe with cabled head and battery pack. Better for location work when the light is on a stand or being carried (less top-heavy).
Profoto D2 Air light – new in 2016 500W / 1000W plug-in studio monoblock. Available individually or in sets.
Profoto Softlight Kit – Beauty dish, grid and sock
Priolite is a new arrival in the high-end strobe sector. It is in many ways the offspring of German light manufacturer Hensel. As with Profoto it sells plug-in strobes and lithium powered strobes which will allow you to take studio power on location. Priolite strobes take a Bowens / Hensel mount so you can use a wide range of light modifiers.
Priolite MBX500 500W Lithium Powered Strobe with battery built into head (also available in 300w and 1000W)
Priolite M-Pack 500 500W Lithium Powered Strobe with cabled head and battery pack. Better for location work when the light is on a stand or being carried (less top-heavy).
Priolite M500 500W (1000W available) plug-in studio monoblock
Priolite also have a range of HotSync strobes that allow you to shoot with strobes at shutter speeds faster than your Max Sync Speed. This is extremely useful if you are shooting on location with a mixture of flash and ambient light.
I currently have the PRIOLITE M-PACK1000 HotSync it allows me to use a strobe for fill flash on a bright sunny day at any shutter speed. With a standard strobe I would be forced to shoot at very small apertures or resort to ND filters in order to have a shutter speed at 1/125 second.
Lightstands & Backgrounds
For the Karate Master Portrait Project I use a skylite black felt backgrounds by Lastolite.
For stands in the studio I like the heavy wheeled stands by Matthews.