When I visited this year’s Focus exhibition there was a bit of a buzz on the Bowens stand. The reason they were so upbeat was that they had just developed another new model! It wasn’t on show, but I did get to see a pre production version. Last year if you remember, Bowens revamped their entire range of monobloc heads, introducing new models from the new top end Pro’s, right down to the Gemini 200’s. The popular Gemini 200’s and 400’s were designed very much with the enthusiast in mind and I’ve just got hold of this latest addition that will also interest that market, the new Gemini 500 Classic.
The new model, the Gemini Classic is available in 500j first, with a 250j model to follow shortly. These two new models will slot neatly into the existing Bowens range just above and below the Gemini 400’s. The new ‘Classic’ will remind people of the older Esprit and Gemini versions of that classic power.
It's instantly recognisable with two dials on the side, one for modelling and one for power. The rear panel also looks familiar with all the switches and buttons we recognise, but with the addition of a slot to insert the new Pulsar card, and on the side, a socket to take the Pulsar aerial. By adding these features it does enhance the way that the Classic can be triggered.
Other key facts you should know about the Gemini 500C is the flash duration, a very respectable 1/900th, of a second, it has a guide number of 80 and also has a built in auto dump feature. For those of you not familiar with auto dump, the unit automatically ‘dumps’ excess power when it’s reduced. This saves you having to remember to manually ‘flash’ to let the unit recharge to the lower power. As you would expect, the Gemini 500C is also compatible with a Bowens Travel Pak. The Classic also uses the 250w long life Halostar modelling lamp that is so effective in the studio.
So why another new 500? Well, I think it’s a great idea and will give punters a really good choice of powers and don’t forget that Bowens will also be launching the Classic 250j version within the next few months. Because these two Classics, the 500 and 250 won’t be as expensive as the top end Pro or the Gemini R’s, the new ‘Classics’ offer an excellent spec at a very affordable price.
And just going back to the Classic 500 for a moment, that ‘500j’ unit is a ‘classic’ power that offers real versatility in the studio, calibrated from full to 1/32nd power over a five-stop range. Apart from that power range, the other benefits of buying the new Classics are enormous.
As we saw last year when Bowens revamped their range, they didn’t compromise on quality, building every model with the same materials and attention to detail. There’s no doubt that the new 500 and 250 Classics are very affordable, but just think for a moment what you’re actually getting for your money.
Other brands have often used cheaper materials on their lower end models. Bowens have never scrimped on the build quality of any of their heads. So whether you buy a modest Gemini 200, a new Classic, or a top end Gemini Pro 1500, you still get the same metal body and rubberised grip handle, the whole thing built to last and take a bit of rough and tumble.
It’s the added features on the Classics that impress me, that flash duration is a real bonus for anyone wanting to capture movement. The auto dump feature really does improve the way that the head and the photographer can work. Not having to worry about flashing off any excess power is a real bonus. We take for granted that all Bowen’s heads can run via a Travel Pak, but what a great feature on these Classics, even if you don’t think you’ll ever need one, the socket is there when you do.
The Classic’s also comes with a user replaceable flash tube and that long life Halostar 250w modelling lamp, two more things we take for granted, but they are certainly not standard on other brands, especially that bright 250w modelling lamp. So when you start adding up all those benefits and features, these new Classics do tick a lot of boxes.
The Gemini Classic 500 two head kit comes with a decent 90cm brolly that you can use in three ways. First, with the silver cover bounced, with the silver cover removed bounced and finally as a soft box, shoot through with the cover removed. The kit also comes with a soft box, stands, modelling lamps, leads and a sync lead, all in a nice kit bag.
The Classic 500 kit should appeal to every budding portrait photographer. That 500j power with five stops from 15w to 500w is just so versatile. With a pair of Classics there really isn’t much you can’t shoot and it’s the ideal power for Hi Key, small group and full length work. I think it’s a real winner. Don’t get me wrong, the Gemini R and Pro have their place and the Classic will never be able to replace them, but with that extra spec that I’ve described, the Classics will take some beating.
So, even if you are a complete novice, the Classic 500 kit is for you, it’s very easy to use and set up; the controls are simple to operate and feel nice to the touch. You’ll like the way the unit looks and as I’ve already said, the build quality is superb. What more can I say, the Gemini Classic 500 is a really nice kit at a very sensible price, so if you’re looking for a good quality, high spec lighting kit, give it the consideration it deserves.
Finally, if you do buy this 500 kit, (or the 250 kit when it’s available) to shoot portraiture, I would strongly recommend buying Bowens Softlite reflector to go with it. The Softlite is a small beauty dish that’s been around for years and although the design is simple, it produces perfect skin tones and is ideal for head and shoulders work, especially children. My other key suggestion would be to invest in the Pulsar card for cordless triggering, a great long term buy that will make your studio a much safer space!