Strobist UK Buyers Guide – UPDATED

Hello people,

For reasons completely unbeknown to myself, off camera flash or to call it by it’s more popular name Strobism has not really caught on yet in the UK and for that reason buying all the required kit can be a real nightmare.

All of this stuff can be procured quite easilly from the states from a great shop called Mid West Photo Exchange which is a Mecca for strobists. However, where items can be purchased in the UK I have provided relevant details in order to keep the shipping costs down . I’m sure all this gear can be bought elsewhere on the web but those sites I have listed are ones that have provided a great level of service.

Right, here we go then:

* OFF CAMERA FLASH – Vivitar 285HV.

Vivitar 285

The Vivitar flash has an excellent reputation as being a well built piece of kit and should be considered as a real work horse flash. It’s built like a brick and is really affordable, the downside is that it’s pretty simple i.e. no digital display/controls and It does not support TTL technology inherent in most digital cameras. This means that you need to get down and dirty using the flash in manual control, but hey, whose scared of manual?!

One thing to mention is that if you plump for the Vivitar flash make sure you buy the 285HV not the 285 as the latter had a tendency to fry your camera!! A good review of the flash can be found here. The Vivitar 285HV can be bought here and retails for about £60 excluding shipping costs.

UPDATE – Whilst lurking around on many of the various photography forums I’ve noticed a lot of posts concerning the effiency and build quality of the Vivitar 285HV. At the moment I have three Vivitar flashes, and to be perfectly honest I have never encountered a problem with them.

Whilst I accept that they occasionally misfire, this is a result of the Cactus V2s triggering system, which is in my eyes the weakest link in the chain, but then again, the Cactus V2s come in at about £30 each as opposed to at least £250 for the Pocket Wizards. In this respect, for me the occasional misfire is acceptable!

A number of new radio transmitter triggering systems are due out on the market soon, and I do intend to upgrade my system. I will of course let you all know how I get on!

* UPDATE – Off Camera Flash Alternative – Sunpak 383 – DISCONTINUED

* UPDATE – Off Camera Flash Alternative – Nikon SB800:

No review needed. It’s Nikon and it’s the dogs bollox, be prepared to pay through the nose for it though. Fortunately your loving ImageSpike knows the cheapest place on the web for them as of writing and that’s a place called RGB-Tech, where you can get one for £289.99 including VAT, which is a good ten quid below many other online retailers.

*LIGHT STANDS – Manfrotto/Bohen 004b or 001b.

Now that you have your flash now you need something to stick it on. Not much really to say about these light stands, aside from the 004b is bigger than the 001b. The latter is really compact and lightweight with a collapsible length of only 109cm and weighs in at a feathery 2.1kg. Although lightweight the 001b can extend to 385cm.

The 004b is much bigger in scale than the 001b and is designed for carrying greater weight. I have two of the smaller lightstands and opted for 004b in case I should decide to mount larger flash units than the Vivitar. Although bigger, the 004b is no back breaker and is still portable. The Manfrotto lightstands can be bought from Fotosense based in the UK. There are other UK stockists but the guys at Fotosense have been especially helpful, providing excellent customer care. Here is the link.

*LIGHT REFLECTOR / DIFFUSOR – Westcott 43″ double folding umbrella White or Silver.

These umbrellas are super lightweight and compact and are an ideal way to take the sting out of bare flash light. The silver umbrella provides a more reflective surface therefore optimising your flash light. The white umbrella provides a softer light and can also be shot through, in effect creating a softbox effect, albeit with some light overspill. The Westcott umbrellas can be bought from our good friends over the water at Mid West.

*UMBRELLA CLAMP – Manfrotto 026 Light Clamp.

Umbrella Clamp

Now that you have your umbrella, you need to attach it to your lightstand. The Manfrotto light clamp does the job perfectly. Relatively cheap at around 20 quid, you can pick these up from the guys at Fotosense


Cactus Triggers

Now that you have everything assembled, the last thing that you need is a way of firing all the flash simultaneouly. The cheapest way of doing things is probably with a PC synch chord, but hey, we’re in the wireless age so scrub the cable. The best wireless triggers are called Pocket Wizards. These bad boys never misfire and have an incredible range, that’s why they are the choice of the pros. Unfortunately they weigh in at around 400 quid.

Fortunately there is a cheaper method and thay are the Cactus triggers or as they are more often called ebay triggers. I picked up a trigger and three receivers for about 40 quid. Unfortunately the Cactus triggers can misfire when in close procimity to the high voltage batteries needed to power your flash unit. This problem can be largely avoided by linking the receivers using the sync cable that comes with you Vivitar flash yyeeehhaaawww! The Cactus V2s can be bought from a very reliable ebay shop called Gadget Infinity here.

UPDATE As stated above, if you’re on a budget then the Cactus Triggers are the way forward, but with the cheap price comes unreliabilty! As my flash kit has expanded in proportion to that so has the unreliability of my triggers, more flash’s equals more potential misfires! After undertaking a bit of research, I stumbled upon two other wireless trigger system: Alien Bees Cybersync and Elinchrom Skyport system.

Elinchrom Skyport

Alienbee Cybersync

After reading various various reviews, both systems appear to be very reliable and each have minor design flaws. The identified issue with the Cybersync being the fact that the power button for the units sticks out a bit and so they can be accidentally triggered during transit and with regards the Skyports the fact that they have in built batteries which can’t be replaced.

Swings and roundabouts really, so I ended up jumping of the fence on the side of Cybersyncs. In terms of costs, the only distributor is Alienbees, with a transmitter costing £35 and a receiver £40. As the units have to be shipped from the states, remember postage costs will have to be factored in and also possible import tax. The customer services at Alienbees were very helpful and they confirmed all the costs by email in advance of posting.

With regards the Skyports these will set you back approximately £175 (Incl VAT) for the transmitter and £76 (Incl VAT) for each receiver.

I can’t vouch for the performance of the Skyports bu with the Cybersyncs misfires have now been consigned to the history books!

*COLD SHOE MOUNT – Stroboframe General Purpose Shoe Mount


Imagine my delight when after finally having all my kit, I had overlooked the means to attach my flash to the umbrella stand. The answer to my nightmare was these Stroboframe mounts, worth their weight in gold and available to buy from here.


Ball Bungees

The last item on your shopping list should be these little rude boys. They are excellent for attaching your flash in locations where your lightstand can’t reach. These beauties are really, really handy! They only cost £4.50 so are cheap as chips and can be bought from Fretland ebay shop.

That should be everything you need to get up and running. If you do hit any problems then just drop me a quick comment and I’ll see what I can do.I would also advise checking out the Strobist group on flickr along with the Strobist dedicated blog.


45 Responses to “Strobist UK Buyers Guide – UPDATED”

  1. Check out Cameras2U for REALLY cheap lighting stands

  2. Thanks for the info, somebody else has told me about Camera2U so will be updating the guide shortly.

  3. I do really love my Vivitar but the cost isn’t really £40 – I seem to remember postage, duty and related customs “admin costs” costing nearly as much as the actual kit when I ordered a Starving Student kit from MPEX (who were themselves very helpful). The markup was such that actually, unless you’re going near the US any time soon, you’re probably better off buying the best approximation you can locally. Shame.

  4. for the gels and effects gels. He also sells ball bungees and velcro for your gobos etc.

  5. This one is an all in one and its in UK:

  6. Also Jack the Hat has a Hama version:

  7. Thanks for the heads up Richie, much appreciated!

  8. Another good place to shop for strobist stuff in the UK is…..Poundland! Most of the bits to build a beauty dish (mine cost me a heady three quid and an evening’s work) can be found there and the silver car windscreen heatshields they sell make great reflectors 🙂

  9. Thank you very much for this guide – I’m trying to assemble a basic lighting kit without spending too much, and the cameras2u + Jack the Hat gear looks perfect.

    Just to double check – the cameras2u light stand only needs the lastolite tilthead + shoe adapter, right? I don’t need anything else to get everything connected?

  10. I figured the two were all I needed, and now they’ve both arrived I can confirm it. Off to play…

  11. Great stuff Andrew! I’d been wondering about what was required for the mounting the flash and brolly.



  12. Andrew, glad to hear you got everything sorted.

    Over the weeken I intend to do a overhaul of teh buyers guide, and hopefully introduce a few more vendors.



  13. Actually, having now played with it I wouldn’t recommend the Lastolite head. The umbrella hole isn’t angled and is on the same section as the flash mount, so it’s impossible to get the flash pointed at the centre of the umbrella (unless I’m missing something!). Impossible to tell this from the product images, though.

    Too impatient to wait for US shipping, so I think I’ll go for the Manfrotto 026 + Hama mounting shoe ( from Speed Graphic.

  14. Andrew, would it possible to put up a picture of the Lastolite clamp?



  15. Hi guys,

    There seems to be a little bit of confusion with regards to lighting setup, I’m doing a shoot tomorrow and will provide photos of my setup, including how I attach the flash to the lightstand, and the arrangement of umbrellas etc!

    Hang tight!

  16. Sure thing:

    What do you think? Am I missing something? I love the Manfrotto 026 btw – works a treat.

  17. Hi Andrew,

    It does seem a little odd that the hole for the umbrella isn’t angled. Maybe best just to use the 026…

  18. hello! I’m also looking at kitting myself out with some strobist gear….

    am I right in thinking this ubrella and flash mount work with the cameras4u lightstand? (


    Based in Hong Kong, but free worldwide shipping and you pay via paypal!

  20. @ Dan, I’ve had a look at the site you linked to and yep, they seem pretty cool! I especially like the inflatable diffuser, amazing!!

    @Stuart, I can’t seem to get your link to work, can you repost?

    Thanks fellas!!

  21. Very interesting site, i have added it to my fovourites. Greetings

  22. Cameras2u have recently taken their light stands from under £10 to now being £30+. A flickr thread started a buying war and we “stole” a lot from them. My order appears to have been nearly the last to clear before they (Cameras2u=Jessops) decided to rip us off.

  23. About the angling of the flash on an umbrella stand… if your flash head can be angled downwards (like e.g. a Nikon SB-800), there’s no problem in attaching it to an umbrella bracket and then aiming the flashhead towards the centre of the brolly.

  24. Regarding wireless triggers, Skyports can be had for £115 for the universal transmitter/receiver pair rather than the price quoted in the article.

  25. Thanks for the update folks….much appreciated!

  26. With the change to cameras2u stand pricing, anyone have a new source for a decently priced stand?

  27. Just getting in to off camera flash and have been reading your useful info…great work. From what I can see Tekmo have gone into liquidation..web site seems to be down and with further googling I found comments that one poor Strobist has lost some cash!

  28. £18 delivered was the best I could find. Check ebay for ‘lighting stand’ and you should find a load of Konig ones for £14.99 with £2.99 delivery. The seller has good feedback and sent mine quickly and packaged well.

  29. Great guide but some of the links are out dated/dead.

  30. Thanks for the updates with regards dead links and teh status of current suppliers.

    This week I intend to check the status of all the supliers listed, including web links and update the guide accordingly.

    Many thanks,


  31. Hi UK Strobists

    If your looking for a complete stand kit then check these guys out.

    The basic kit contains a Manfrotto Nano stand, Manfrotto tilting umbrella holder and Kaiser 1301 hotshoe mount all for £65 excl vat

    Not a bad deal i think, just ordered myself a couple. I Just need to order some brollies from Jack the hat.

    hope this helps all you budding uk strobist out there.

  32. Hi Rafterman!

    Thanks for teh update, that sounds like a really good deal! I’d appreciate it if you could post a messaage on the blog, letting people know how you get on with the kit etc…

    Many thanks,


  33. This guide is just what I needed! Many thanks.

  34. I noticed a few of the links posted don’t work any more.

    The flash centre have a useful strobist section:

  35. Hi Andy,

    Thanks fpr bringing my attention to the broken links, I’ve now corrected them all. Also, I had a look at Fotosense, and it looks like a gem of a find.

    As you’ll notice, many of the broken links have now been replaced with ones to Fotosense!


  36. Just a mention about your mention of Skyport prices, which seem rather high and not quite right. The transmitter on its own is £73 inc vat and you can buy a universal set (a transmitter AND receiver) for £125 inc. I believe individual receivers are around the £65 mark.


  37. Great guide – thanks for this Matt. Just when I thought my head was going to explore with too many options and technical jargon, you’ve made it make sense.

  38. And when I say ‘explore’, I mean ‘explode’…

  39. Thanks much for this. It is very imformative stuff.
    I really like to browse!

    maryland teeth whitening

  40. Hey Matt, cheers for the info. I’m just getting started with flash photography, so all these links are a godsend!

    BTW one of the Fotosense links is actually linked to The Flash Centre. 😉


  41. Oh also, i’ve been hearing good things about the Cactus V4’s. Mine should be here in about a week, but i know a couple of guys that have them, and they’re supposed to be much more reliable, and have better build quality, than the V2’s.


    Hi Matt,

    I thought you may be interested in these vids.


  43. Wescott 43″ black/white umbrella, £35 at time of posting:

  44. I really enjoyed reading this post, keep on posting such interesting posts!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: