250w hot light v's 200w/s D lite it 2 studio strobe

I've been using 250w photoflex hotlights for the last few years for my studio fashion and portraiture work. Just recently I decided to upgrade my lighting and plunge into the world of studio strobes, my weapon of choice? - the 200w/s D lite it 2 from Elinchrom.

In this article I 'm going to explore the differences between the two and answer some of the questions I had when looking to buy studio lights.

Power battle

The first thing you need to understand is that there is a big difference between watts and watt seconds or w/s as it is often called. I found this fantastic article which explains very clearly exactly what that difference amounts to...

If you want the simple answer a 200 w/s light on the lowest setting (in this case 12w/s) is around about 2 - 3 stops brighter that a 250w hotlight under roughly the same conditions. Which I'm sure you'll agree is quite a hefty jump in power!

So how does this translate in working practice?

Well with the hotlights I would generally shoot at around ISO 200 / 125th sec / f4. Thats with the lights placed 2 – 3 ft from the model. If I want shallower depth of field, I'd whack the 50mm 1.4 on, take my ISO down to 100 and back the light of a little (4-5ft) and happily get between f1.4 and f2. The picture to the left was shot in this way, click here for how i shot it.

With the D lite on the lowest setting and 2-3 ft away I'm getting the same sort of lighting but now I'm at ISO100 / 125th sec / F8. With a 5 stop range you can easily get up to f16/f22 even with a fairly large distance between the light and subject, much better for group shots and crisp fashion images amongst other things.

Here's a couple of pictures I took to show the difference in the amount of light these two lamps kick out. Both images where taken at ISO100 / f5.0 / 1/125sec. The D lite has an 18inch reflector and 30 degree grid attached and the hotlight has a home made snoot attached (roll of card lined with tin foil!) both lights are about 5ft away from the backdrop.

250w Hotlight with home made snoot

D-lite it 2 12w/s with 18cm reflector and 30 grid

Now for basic portraiture applications I have found the hotlights to be very workable, especially head shots where you can get the lights in close and having a short depth of field is often a plus. It does become a bit of a problem though if your shooting full length and particularly group shots. Its still workable, but you'll find you have to step up the ISO sometimes as high as 800 or work at low apertures (not great for group shots).

To demonstrate just what's possible at the extreme end, here's a shot of two performers from Swamp Circus on stilts that I shot last year. I  lit the background with two SB28 flash guns and the performers where lit with two hotlights. One just to my left bounced into a silver umbrella about 7ft up to light the faces, the other was just to my right at about 5ft and through a white umbrella to generally light the whole body. I then had to clean up the foreground whiteness in photoshop. My settings where ISO 400 / F4 / 80th sec. Just managed to pull through, but couldn't have done it without the SB28's at all.

So you can see, its possible to drag quite a lot of performance out of these lights, but you probably will have to make some sacrifices in general quality and post production times etc somewhere along the way. The only foreseeable problem with the D-lite for me is getting those nice short depths of field for my portraits. This is of course can be solved with either a neutral density filter or by pulling the light back a few feet.( the light seems to drop off by approx one whole stop per foot).


The other main issue to consider when looking to buy lights is what modifiers are available. You can now get hotlights that will take softboxes and barndoors such as these...

But from what I can see the choice of modifiers is still fairly limited for most brands and obviously for prolonged use you may have to watch the heat levels, they're called hotlights for a reason!

This has become quite a massive issue for me as the photoflex lights can only accept umbrellas or be used bare bulb. This was fine for a while as there is still a lot to learn with these very basic tools and over time I supplemented them with a home made snoot (a roll of card board lined with tin foil) and my Sb28 flash guns. But as I progressed the need and desire to utilise a wider range of modifiers became all consuming.

The Elinchrom D lite range uses the standard 'S' fitting and can utilise not only their own full range of modifiers, but there are also a massive amount of third party products available. This is what really sold it for me and the main reason I wanted to move towards studio strobes.


The photoflex lamps that I've been using where quite significantly cheaper than the D lites but you will sacrifice the ability to vary both the amount of light and the type of light via modifiers. 

I bought my hotlights from B&H for about $200, which at the time was about £100 + around £50 delivery. A bargain I thought until I got stung to the tune of another £100 in import tax (ouch!). So £250 in total for 2 lamps, stands and umbrellas. You can see that kit here..


The D lite it 2 retails at around £210 for one or from £475 for a two light kit with stands modifiers and a radio trigger. The single head comes with a modelling bulb, flash bulb, sync lead and protective cap. I then bought the 18cm reflector + 30 degree grid spot for £57.



To make a slightly more even comparison between hotlights and strobes with regards to price, power and features, you can now get a Paterson 1000w lamp with cooling fan and a 4 stop range for around £175 or as a two head kit with umbrellas stands and a bag for £449. You should bear in mind though that a 1000watt bulb still only translates to about 12w/s on a strobe.




pro's -

cheap and easy to use especially for the beginner. Also one benefit I have not yet mentioned is that you can use them for video, which may be of significant interest to some people given that pretty much all new DSLR's are coming out with this feature.

Con's -

Tend to lack power and decent range of modifiers. Also they do kick off a fair amount of heat as you'd expect which is fine in the winter but in summer time can be a bit of a problem. Over time you will out grow them, believe me!


pro's -

More power and control over both the amount of light and the type of light which means that you can actually choose the settings that you need for a given shot, rather than make do with what ever you can get.

Con's -

Tend to be slightly more expensive comparably and you can't use them for video. Also due to the inevitable recycle times firing of 5+ frames per second won't work unless you go for the uber expensive top of the range strobes. Not really a problem for my shooting style but worth considering.

So, if you're just starting out with studio lights and/or your interested in video applications hotlights may well be a good cheap option. On the other hand if you want to get in depth and gain more creative control of your pictures I would say studio strobes all the way.

On a side note I realise that throughout this article I have talked more about what the hotlights can and can't do over the strobes abilities, this is simply because I have much more experience in using them at this time. Over the coming months I hope to add a little more detail to this article and also write a full review of the D lite as I get to use it more in my shoots.

Please feel free to ask any questions or indeed add your own knowledge and experience in this area using the comments box bellow.

I hope this has been of some help and thanks for reading.

Jamie – image23.co.uk

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