Studio Strobe or Battery-Powered Speedlite? How does the power compare?

October 12, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

So, which do you buy?  There's value in both. 

A studio strobe


  • gives you power that no speedlite can
  • near instantaneous recycle times
  • consistent color
  • minute power output adjustments, as little as 1/10
  • most have a modeling light, making lighting adjustments very easy
  • endless variety of light modifiers


  • may need an outlet for power
  • power packs can be bulky and expensive
  • expensive

A battery powered speedlite


  • lightweight
  • truly portable
  • no outlets needed
  • rechargeable AA batteries can save on long term cost
  • moderate price points


  • less power
  • power output adjustments are usually in greater increments, such as 1/3
  • most don't have a modeling light or use a limited, battery-draining version
  • the more flash needed, the slower the recycle time
  • limited light modifier choices due to lower output capability

How does the power compare?

​In a highly unscientific comparison, I set up a Paul C Buff Einstein next to a Canon 600 EX-RT, and made measurements using a Sekonic 478 DR light meter at a consistent distance of 8 feet.  Yes, in real-life, you might place the flash closer to soften the light onto your subject, or you might need to place it further away to avoid being in the image, but a consistent distance makes the output comparison as much apple-to-apple as possible.

The $499.95 Einstein is rated at 640 watt-seconds (9 f-stop power variability (2.5 Ws to 640 Ws)).  The $499.99 600 EX-RT's Guide Number rating is approximately 196.9 ft./60m at ISO 100.  (Nope, the industry standard of measurements for the two types of flash are not the same.  That would be too easy.)  Let's just say that the Einstein is one of the more powerful, inexpensive studio strobe units.  For example, the super-popular Paul C Buff Alien Bee series has models at 640 Ws, 320 Ws, and 160 Ws.  The 600 EX-RT is also one of the industry's most powerful battery-powered units.

In the first measurement, I powered both units to their maximum settings.  With the Sekonic at 8', the Einstein read an f/stop of 16.2.  The 600 EX-RT read an f/stop of 11.2.​ 

For those of you taking notes, that is a full stop, meaning the 600 EX-RT could attain only half the power of the Einstein.

The Einstein also had immediate recycle time available.  Using a speedlite at full power means the recycle time drops dramatically, with recycle times as much as 5.5 seconds!

Note that when battery powered, the Einstein recycles time can be slightly longer, but the 3.5 pound Paul C Buff Vagabond Mini power supply ($239) can drive one or more units and lasts "forever" between charges!    The 600 EX-RT can use an optional Compact Battery Pack ($129, plus batteries) to enable faster recycling.

So, a few questions pop up ...

If the Einstein is twice as powerful, how could you compensate for the lack of power with the speedlite?  One way is to cut the distance.  The speedlite would be the same at ~ 6 feet.  If the Einstein were at 4 feet, the speedlite would be the same at ~ 3 feet.

Can't get closer to your subject?  Another way would be to add a second speedlite, at the same distance and same power, although that's not the budget-conscious answer!

​Do I need the extra power of a Einstein or other studio strobe? ​In most cases, no.  But when you do, it's nice to have.  Wouldn't it be nice to overpower the sun!

Remember that other variables can affect the ability to reach a specific f/stop from any given flash.  For example, a simple soft box with a white diffuser panel can drop the output by 1 or more stops.  Colored gels can affect output by 1/4 or more stops.  The gels usually are labeled, telling you the specific f/stop affects. 

​What are your thoughts?

Paul C. Buff - Einstein E640 Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT



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