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5 min read

Comparing Strobes, Speedlites, and LEDs

Why is it so difficult to compare one light to another? It would be bad enough to say that watts, LUX, watt-seconds, and guide numbers aren’t directly comparable. And unless you’ve been around lights for a long time, these measurements won’t even make intuitive sense.

Born from this frustration, I give you the Strobepro Power Scale! Before we get into it, here are a few disclaimers:

1. Practicality was the goal

If I set out to do an apples-to-apples comparison in every respect, I believe the usefulness of the data would have suffered. Different lights are meant to be used in different ways. For example, a studio strobe will usually be modified in some way, while portable LED panels are best suited as hard, unmodified lights.

For this reason, all studio strobes, speedlights, and COB LED lights were tested with a Strobepro 24”x36” Rapid Pro Softbox attached.  Most other lights were unmodified unless otherwise stated (see the legend below).

2. Comparing continuous lights to strobes is assumptive

When a strobe flashes, it releases its energy over a very short period of time. That energy is released over the same period of time regardless of your shutter speed. Therefore, we must think of the time value for a flash exposure as fixed. That’s why shutter speed (up to your maximum sync speed) has no effect on flash exposure. 

On the other hand, a continuous light will light your scene for the entire duration that your shutter allows. The time value for an exposure with a continuous light is variable.

Therefore, in order to compare continuous lights and strobes, we must set a benchmark shutter speed. Because we want this to be a good comparison, I chose 1/125 of a second (a decent shutter speed for a typical portrait subject). If you can get sharp results with slower shutter speeds, then power to you!

1/50 to 1/60 of a second would be more typical for video production (assuming you’re shooting at 24-30p), but we can’t exactly do a video-based comparison with strobes on the same list! Nonetheless, you can typically expect to gain a stop of light when you’re shooting video.

3. Distance is always a factor

If some of the exposure results I recorded seem underwhelming, please note that my test target with my light meter was 6 feet away from the source (measured from the front of the light surface or the front diffuser). If you want your light to punch above its weight class, the best thing you can do is to move it closer!  If you reduce the distance from 6 feet to 3 feet, your light becomes an effective two stops (4x) brighter.

It is exactly because of this behaviour (the inverse square law of light) that I chose to position my lights a little further back than I might in a typical portrait session. From 6 feet away, I would gain a few inches’ margin for error with my measuring tape.

Setup and Method

I used a Sekonic L478-D light meter positioned (as mentioned) 6 feet from the front surface of the light.  A target grey was also used so that I could cross-reference image data to the data I collected from my meter. All lights were compared at their maximum power.  In the case of bi-colour LEDs, the colour temperature that produced the brightest result was used.

Once the data was collected, I rounded each result to the nearest third of a stop and charted it on the scale below.

The Scale

Model

EV (stops over/under)
based on target exposure (1/125, f/4.0, ISO 100, and 6 ft)

Strobepro Power Rating

Godox QS600 II

+3.7

11.7

Godox QT600 II

+3.7

11.7

Godox AD600 Pro

+3.3

11.3

Godox QS400 II

+3.0

11.0

Godox QT400 II

+3.0

11.0

Godox AD400 Pro

+2.7

10.7

Godox AD300 Pro

+2.3

10.3

Godox MS300

+2.3

10.3

Godox AD200 Pro

+1.7

9.7

Godox AD100 Pro

+1.3

9.3

Godox TT685

+1.0

9.0

Godox V860ii

+1.0

9.0

Godox V1

+1.0

9.0

Godox TT350

-0.7

7.3

Godox V350

-0.7

7.3

Godox LED1000

-2.0

6.0

Godox VL300

-2.0

6.0

Godox FV200

-2.3

5.7

Godox SZ200Bi

-2.7

5.3

Godox FL150R

-2.7

5.3

Godox FL150S

-2.7

5.3

Godox LED500LR

-3.0

5.0

Godox VL150

-3.0

5.0

Godox UL150

-3.0

5.0

Godox FV150

-3.0

5.0

Godox SZ150R

-3.3

4.7

Strobepro Quadstar LED II

-3.3

4.7

Godox LF308

-4.0

4.0

Godox ES45

-4.0

4.0

Godox ML60

-4.3

3.7

Godox TL60

-5.0

3.0

Godox LR150

-5.3

2.7

Godox LR180

-5.3

2.7

Godox LR160

-6.0

2.0

Godox M1

-6.3

1.7

Godox R1

-7.0

1.0


*Products were modified for the test as indicated:

-24”x36” Rapid Pro Soffbox: Studio StrobesSpeedlitesCOB LED Lights

-Product-specific Softbox: Flex LED Panels, Strobepro Quadstar

-Unmodified: LED PanelsLED Tube LightsLED Ring Lights

 

How to read the data

The Strobepro Power Rating compares maximum power. All of these lights can be adjusted down from their maximums to varying degrees.

To read this data, you’ll need to understand what a stop of light is. If you are new to photography, you should familiarize yourself with this term.  Stop is short-hand for f-stop, but we can apply it to any form of light and not just to the light being let in through your aperture. Each time you add a stop, you are doubling your light.

Each whole number in either column represents a stop of light. For example, the Godox TL60 (power rating 3.0) is two stops (4x) brighter than the Godox R1 (power rating 1.0).

The 2nd column shows the data I collected based on the target exposure. For the target exposure, I used 1/125 of a second, f/4, and ISO 100 at a 6-foot distance from my light meter (measured from the front of the light surface or the front diffuser). A positive number indicates overexposure at the target settings, and a negative number indicates underexposure. For example, the full power flash from our QS600II was a whole 3.7 stops overexposed at those settings.

The 3rd column simply provides distilled data using our weakest light (the R1) as the baseline.  To determine how much brighter one light is than another, take the Strobepro Power Rating of the stronger light and subtract the rating of the weaker light. The result is the brightness difference in stops. 

Suggested Uses By Power Rating

Beyond comparing one light to another, there are other useful things we can do with this data.  We’ve prepared some general recommendations in the chart below to help you decide which lights might meet your minimum power requirements.


Strobepro Power Rating

Suggested Uses

11+

Noon-hour HSS (high speed sync) with a modifier, large products, large groups

10+

Outdoor HSS with a modifier

9+

Outdoor portraits in the shade, bouncing light for event photography/real estate, HSS with a bare reflector or unmodified.

7+

Light bounces indoors, fill or accent light (flash)

6+

Ideal key light (video), fill light when mixed with flash

4+

Key light (video), fill light (video or when mixed with flash)

1+

Fill or accent light (video), portable main light to be used at higher ISOs, close proximity light for vlogging/streaming, close proximity accent light when mixed with strobes


Conclusion

I hope you found this information useful. I sought to declutter the process of comparing various types of lights. Without seeing the lights in real space, it was always a particular challenge to explain how continuous lights might balance with strobes. No longer! As new lights are released, we will keep this list up to date.

If you have any questions about this data, please feel free to email us at hello@strobepro.com.

Kevin Greenhough
Kevin Greenhough