At the Photokina International Exhibition last year in Cologne, many of the leading flash manufacturers were showing new prototype models. Bowens were no exception and introduced two new versions of the Gemini, a new Gemini 200 and for the first time, a Gemini 400. The 200 will replace the existing Gemini 200, and the Gemini 400 is a brand new model for Bowens. Introducing the Gemini 200 and 400 versions brings the Bowens Gemini range very much in line with other manufacturers who have already opted for those powers. Both these new Gemini’s are aimed at the enthusiast, but to be honest these powers will be useful in any studio. The two new versions are starting to roll off the production line in Clacton and I’ve just had an opportunity to have a good look at them.
The Gemini and Travel Pak combination has been a real winner for Bowens, capturing a huge worldwide market. The Gemini range has been developed directly from the Esprit’s and before that, the Bowens Prolite, introduced back in the early 90’s; the first Bowens heads in fact to have the ‘S’ accessory fitting. So these new Gemini’s come from a fine pedigree. On my travels I still see plenty of Esprit’s and Prolite’s that are being used on a daily basis, testament to Bowens build quality and durability. As a result these new models have a lot to live up to if they are to take Bowens' Gemini range forward.
At first glance the new models look 'workman-like' in design rather than having ‘understated style’. Both the Bowens Gemini 200 and 400 share the same dimensions and are small and compact for their powers. Painted jet black and built in the typical Bowens fashion - chunky, metal bodied with rubberised grip handles - they both feel as though they will stand up to a bit of rough and tumble in and out of the studio, making them a good long term buy. I mention out of the studio because like all the other previous Gemini models, the 200 and 400 versions will work on location via the Bowens Travel Pak. This is a real plus point and is a key reason for choosing this range.
The Bowens Gemini 200 and 400 have identical controls that are well laid out and easy to use. On the side of each unit one large rotary dial now replaces the two separate knobs found on the older models. The dial controls two functions, both the power and the modelling lamp in proportional mode. The power is calibrated in tenths of a stop over a five-stop range clearly marked in white numbers and tenth steps around the dial.
Just to the right of the dial are two buttons, the test flash button and above that an auto power dump indicator. The auto power dump indicator flashes when the unit is dumping excess power; a nice feature to be introduced on these models. This green indicator light also acts as a visual warning and will flash if there's a misfire or if the unit goes into overheat.
All the other controls are on the rear panel of the Bowens Gemini. These include a 3 way modelling lamp switch for On, Proportional and 100%, a ready light that switches the modelling lamp to an intermittent mode, an audible Beep indicator and a switchable slave cell button. Bowens have used rocker type switches for these controls that feel very nice to the touch and will be easy to find and operate in the dark.
In addition to these controls, the rear panel also has the jack plug sync connection and two sockets for the Travel Pak and mains lead. The main On/Off switch is the same as the old Bowens Gemini’s, up for mains and down for when you use a Travel Pak. Don’t forget that Bowens put the fuse holder in a little slide out draw just under the mains lead socket; I thought I would mention this as many people don’t realise it’s there, only finding it when a modelling lamp blows and the fuse has to be changed! When you buy one of these, familiarise yourself with all the controls, especially the fuse holder; you never know when they’ll blow so make sure you have some spare ones. I don’t want to panic you though, so to give you some idea I’ve been using a Gemini 250 kit for the last three years and have only lost two fuses. But do have some spares just in case, they always blow when you least expect it!
At the front end of the units both models come with a plastic protector cover, a user replaceable 5600K daylight balanced flash tube and a 250w Halostar long life modelling lamp. As with all Bowens heads, they have the standard ‘S’ type bayonet accessory fitting.
In terms of output and flash duration, the 200 has a guide number of 54 and a flash duration of 1200th of a second, the 400 a guide number of 76 and a flash duration of 1000th of a second. As you would expect from smaller units, the recycling time at full power is quick, under one second for both models. The trigger sync voltage remains at 5v, unchanged from earlier models.
So what exactly are the features that Bowens have introduced into these models and are they worth buying? Just by introducing a couple of subtle improvements Bowens have certainly made the units easier and much more simple to operate.
There are two key features that Bowens have added to these new versions that will appeal to any photographer whether a beginner or a pro. First, having the combined power and modelling lamp dial is very simple and much quicker to use and will also avoid the pitfalls of the older models by not over or under exposing when the separate power and modelling lamp knobs were not aligned properly. For me that one feature makes these new models desirable.
Secondly the auto dump feature is a real winner and again will avoid all the problems of the old models that didn’t have it. The calibration will also help photographers to achieve the tiny adjustments that they require sometimes. It goes without saying that the combined reputation and superior build quality of these heads will always make these models a very safe long term investment. Bowens equipment does hold its value over time, a key feature that must be taken into account when choosing flash.
For those of you not quite sure about power, buying the Bowens Gemini 200 will be a great first buy for head and shoulders portrait work. The 200’s will also make the perfect add on for those photographers who want to supplement their existing kit. That 200 power is perfect for effects lighting, hair lighting, and especially Low Key work. The 400’s will be a better buy for those of you who want to shoot full length portraiture and small group / family work.
So to sum up, Bowens have added some important features to the new Gemini 200 and 400. Anything that simplifies studio lighting has got to be a good thing, and as I said with the added features, these new models will make ideal first time buys for the beginner as well as for the professional photographer.
They are available as individual heads, 2 head kits and Travelpak kits, the best option for the location photographer. Obviously the ‘tweaks’ that Bowens have made to these heads costs money and so the Gemini 200 and 400 come at a price. Having said that, the reliability, build quality and buying in to the Bowens accessory range should be looked at as a long term buy. Unlike cameras or computers you won’t need to update these heads for many years so bear that in mind when you consider the prices.
If you have any questions about the Bowens Gemini range or flash related issues, drop me an email.
My thanks to David Hollingsworth at Bowens for use of the images and for letting me play with the kit!
8/10 Ease of use
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