GEAR REVIEW - LENCARTA SUPERFAST SF-300
There are a multitude of studio flashes out on the market nowadays, ranging from ambiguous brands found on eBay that are cheap and reasonably cheerful, to the "honey, I took out a second mortgage on the house but I have an awesome strobe!!" Sure we'd all love to have a nice Broncolor or Profoto lighting setup but until those lottery numbers roll in, we'll snap back to reality.
Unless you're at the top of your game and earning mega bucks to afford the aforementioned goodies, the market for most enthusiasts and professionals alike has pretty much been dominated by the likes of Bowens and Elinchrom. Two long established companies with a renowned reputation and used by well known photographers. They produce great gear and cater for most budgets.
Enter the Lencarta Superfast SF-300. A strobe that may very well put the cat among the pigeons where some of the bigger boys are concerned. Lencarta may not be a name you are familiar with, even if you've been doing photography for many years but, you really should get acquainted with their products. In the past I have used their Ultrapro 300 light and was very happy with the results. I have since gone on to purchase their LED 1000s, Quadlite and Smartflash II strobes. All of which are reviewed here on the site.
In 2013, Lencarta launched their Super Fast range of studio strobes. It is available in 300w and 600w versions and start from a very reasonable £325! My initial impressions of the SF300 were very positive. The first thing of notice is the metal construction which feels solid to the touch. While mine lives on a wall boom in the studio, they are perfectly robust enough to withstand being taken out on location. The tilt arm and locking nut are equally tough and the whole thing is very easy to tilt into position thanks to the handle on the rear. That is a really great feature both for carrying and controlling the pitch of the strobe, especially when you have a heavy modifier attached.
The lay out of the controls on the SF300 is very straight forward, with separate dials for the modeling lamp and the flash power. The lamp can be completely turned off when not needed, which helps reduce heat. Temperatures can rise in a small studio due to the 150w modeling lamp. The recycle beep can also be muted. Some people find the beeps annoying, I don't really mind either way.
The strobe can also be set as an optical slave via the control panel, which is very useful if you don't use the strobes with radio triggers. I prefer the latter as it enables you to fire the strobes, regardless if there is a line of sight with it from the camera. There is also a test button. While you might not see the point in any strobe having a test fire button, what it does do is ditch any excess power, if you reduce the output of the strobe. Make sure you always make use of this when changing power settings.
The SF300 has 5 stops range of power. Depending on the size of your studio this should be fine for the majority of portrait and action shots. If you want more juice, Lencarta also do an SF600 which is a 600w unit for £425. For a relatively small studio space, I'd suggest just going with the SF300.
Full power (1/1 or 300w) is denoted by 10 on the display and minimum power (1/16) is 5. It takes you a little while to get your head around but, you eventually get used to it. At the lower end of the power range (5.0-6.0)the strobe jumps in 1/3 stop increments. From 6.0 (1/8th power) onwards the strobe goes up in 1/10th adjustments.
A huge plus for many of the Lencarta range of lighting products is the fact that it is compatible with Bowen S fit light modifiers. I use a lot of 3rd party modifiers from eBay which are great for the money and produce really nice results. Being able to fit them directly to the SF300 was refreshing and very handy. The mount release is located on top of the unit and makes removing softboxes and beauty dishes simple to do. They also lock into place with a resounding click and held firmly in position.
Exposures wise, I found the SF300 to be a little inconsistent at the lower end of the power scale. My Sekonic L-758DR was set on a stand and the light on a boom arm. The readings would wander by up to 1/3 of a stop at times, which was a bit annoying. Okay this isn't going to completely ruin your picture but, if you're using multiple units it could affect your ratios and mean a bit more work in post to correct subtle lighting, or taking multiple images until the exposure hits the mark. From 1/8th power upwards, things seemed to even out and the light only deviated by 1/10th of a stop occassionaly, which is good enough for even the most demanding of photographers.
Action stopping is a primary reason for buying the Superfast range of strobes. At the lower power range, the SF-300 can achieve around 1/16000 of a second, which is crazy fast and will leave you with really crisp images. As you increase the power the action stopping ability does decrease with full power still producing a respectable 1/1600 sec! Recycle time is also very fast, so if you're a spray and pray photographer, you won't be disappointed.
In summation, I think the SF300 is a very good piece of kit and well priced in the market. For the money there is no doubt that it delivers great results. It out performs more expensive strobes by a country mile and will probably result in the likes of Bowens and Elinchrom dropping the prices on some of their models as a result. The SF300 is very quick to set up and operate right out of the box. The build quality is very high and will easily withstand being transported on location. It also comes with a 3 year warranty too, which shows both customer dedication and confidence in their products. So before you rush out and spend your hard earned cash on a big brand name because you've seen favourite photographer using it on a YouTube video, check out the Lencarta Super Fast range. You won't be disappointed.