Bowens Gemini Digital Review

A few weeks ago I was invited over to Bowens at Clacton, to look at their new Gemini Digital 250 and 500 models, launched at Photokina last year.

I met Rob Cook their marketing manager who showed me the new models and told me about the thinking behind them. He explained that they were not a direct replacement for the original Esprit Digital DX's, they will stay in the Bowens range for now. The Gemini Digitals are just a digital version of the standard Gemini's and are designed for the enthusiast and pro alike and are of course Bowens Travel Pak compatible.

Perhaps it may be a good idea to explain the term 'digital lights', I think there is still some confusion out there, at least from the emails I get. Digital refers to the way the power is calibrated and delivered. Instead of stops or third of stops controlled by a knob, digital lights are calibrated electronically in tenths of a stop, giving the digital camera user much finer control.

The first thing you notice about the Gemini's Digitals is the build quality, as usual Bowens have spared no expense and they are identical to the standard range. Metal bodied with chunky rubberised grip handles, these heads are built to last. They are still gunmetal grey though and it would be nice if Bowens used another colour to make them different from the standard Gemini's. I'm sure it would improve the look of them! Weighing the same as the ordinary Gemini's, the digitals are a little smaller in overall size. Like the standard Gemini range, the 250 and 500 Digitals have the same flash tubes and flash duration. They also a five-stop power range, but this time calibrated in precise tenths of stops and displayed in numbers from 5 - 10. They also have a trigger voltage of only 5v, making them safe for the digital camera user.

Bowens Gemini Digital GM500

The obvious difference about the Gemini Digital's is their simplicity, no large knobs for power and modelling here, just a neat panel on the side of the head, with a large LED display that shows the power or menu options. A small rotary knob and two buttons, one for the menu and one for test are just under the display. With all the key functions in the menu, the only other controls are the red slave cell, on top of the head and on the rear panel, a two way on/off switch for either mains or Travel Pak, the sync socket and Travel Pak lead socket.

Bowens Gemini Digital GM500 Rear

During my visit, I also spoke to Mark Aherne, Bowens R&D Director who told me how much thought had gone into the design of the Digitals. The basic idea behind them was to make the heads easy and quick to use. The main display for instance is on the side of the Digital head rather than on the back. As Mark said, "having the display on the rear panel can't be seen when the heads high up on a stand pointing downwards towards the subject, with the LED display on the side, it can be seen at a glance".

Bowens Gemini Digital SideMark also told me about the menu options and how much thought went into arranging them into the right order, for speed and ease of use. The LED display will normally show the power setting, as I said calibrated in tenths of a stop over five stops, but by pressing the menu button, you can get into and scroll around the menu, using the rotary knob. Each menu option is then shown clearly on the LED display in large red letters. The menu is in this order, LP, (modelling lamp control), Ind, (intermittent modelling lamp control) Snd, (audible beep control), Pho, (pre flash options) and Adv, (advanced settings). By selecting any of these options takes you into its own sub menu. To make any changes, you simply press the menu button, scroll through using the rotary knob and select the option you want, then press the Test/Done button to confirm.

So to change the modelling lamp setting for instance, you just press menu, scroll through, select LP, select the option you want in the sub menu. There is a choice of Pro, (proportional modelling lamp), FuL, (full 100% lamp power), USr, (user, an independent lamp setting) or OFF. When you have chosen your preferred option you just press the Test/Done button to confirm, the LED display then reverts back to show the power setting. If you select the proportional lamp option, as you adjust the power up or down, the modelling lamp will stay in proportion to the power, one of the key benefits of using a digital light. All very easy really and that menu order is important as you don't waste time scrolling through controls you don't need to use very often.

Other features of the digitals I liked were the Ind, intermittent lamp option, a pulse of light to let you know when the head has recycled to 100% power after firing. I also liked the Pho, pre flash settings, used to stop the heads from syncing direct from the cameras pre flash, there are three manual settings, but as Mark explained, leaving the pre flash on number one will cope with nearly every camera. In the advanced options, you can change the power calibration from a number to be shown in joules, and you can invert the display so that the head can hang the unit upside down from a ceiling track!

The Gemini Digital has a lot going for it, small, lightweight and packed with features that are very easy to understand and easy to use. And don't forget that these heads are also Bowens Travel Pak compatible, allowing you to shoot outside on location. I haven't used them outside, but I guess that in very strong sunlight that LED display wouldn't be too easy to read. Not a big problem, but one to bear in mind.

I liked these heads and when I used them to take a few shots, found them very easy to operate. It only takes a few goes to remember where the menu options are and of course rather than having two knobs to adjust on the standard Gemini's, you only have one that controls power and modelling together, so they really are quick to set up. I will use them with the Travel Pak and Pulsar outside when I get chance and let you know how they performed.

The Gemini Digitals are available as individual heads in 250 and 500 powers or as 2 head kits with the usual accessories. Prices are around £380.00 for the 250 head and around £450.00 for the 500. Kits start at £850.00 for the 2 head 250 kit and around a £1000.00 for the 2 head 500 kit. As usual you can find all the details and prices on the Bowens part of the web site.