Menik SW-400 Strobe – Review Part 2

 

Menik SW-400 mono-light strobe

This second part of my review is way overdue but it’s finally here. In this review I will look at recycle time, light output, power stability and white balance quality and stability.

New 400ws Strobe  - Menik SW-400Cowboystudio 400 Watt Photography Studio Monolight, Studio Strobe Light with 75 W Model Lamp

Since I bought this strobe I have used it quite a bit and must say I do like it, the price was very affordable and as a starter strobe for my home studio it does a great job. It is not the most perfect unit and have it”s flaws but all in all for the price paid and the quality of the unit it would seem very greedy to complain.

In my first review I mentioned that it feels professional with a good build quality. After using it for a while and even dragging it with me to different events that I been shooting I still stand by this, it got some weight to it and does it’s job very well and just holding it and working with it gives you the feel of security. It has no cheap plastic toy feel to it, the housing is very well built and it doesn’t have one of those slick plastic surfaces that leaves ugly looking finger prints is a big plus.

While working with it in different settings and setups one thing that I come to debate the sensibility of is the flat push buttons on the back especially when the strobe is high up on a light stand and you can’t see the back it’s near impossible to press the right buttons. The one button especially is the test fire button that I found to be needing to use frequently. Wish it was easier to locate by feel and over time the plastic might break on this button from many thousand presses so I wish this was a regular raised mechanical button instead.

Recycle time

The recycle time at full power is not the best, but consider I’m not doing fashion shoots where extreme rapid fire might be desired the 3 second recycle time is still acceptable. At lowest power setting the recycle time is less then 1 second. I did a series of test fires with the power at different levels and using stop watch to time the recycle time and at full power doing 20 test fires the recycle time was steady and right at 3sec. The same was the case for lowest power setting just right under 1 second.

Conclusion: Under any power setting my feeling is that the recycle time is decent enough for most studio work be it portraits or product photography as long as your not planning a fashion photo shoot rapid style recycling where you might be taking a series of pictures as fast as your camera might let you in burst mode. But then if this is the kind of work your doing you can afford the high end strobes with expensive and fancy battery packs. I found that occasionally when shooting portraits of kids I back down on the power levels slightly to give me a faster recycle time to avoid having shots where the strobe didn’t fire.

Power bleed function

The unit has a built in power bleed, the purpose is when you reduce the power levels it will bleed out the stored energy so you don’t have to manually fire the unit to get rid of the excess stored up energy that would cause the flash to fire at previous power levels on the first flash. I tested out how this bleed option functioned. Set the flash to full power and let it get ready to fire, but instead of firing of the flash I reduced the power levels to lowest setting. The unit started to immediately indicate it was bleeding out the power, the ready LED started blinking, I had my timer going to time how long it took. After 5 minutes the ready light was still blinking and after 7 minutes I got tired of waiting and hit the test button. I turned the power level up to 40 and about 2 seconds later the ready LED lit up. Alright let’s reduce to output to 39, this took a little over 30 seconds. So each step then would take at least 30 seconds, so tried to drop another 5 steps which should take somewhere around 2 min 30sec to 3min 20sec based on this. After about 5 minutes and the ready light still blinking my theory was crushed.

Conclusion: Sure it does bleed out the power when you reduce the power output, but unless you want to go for a break every time you find you want to reduce the power output this feature will do you little good. Just hit the test fire button to release the stored up energy and get back to shooting at the now reduced flash power output.

Power Stability

The hot question is how good is the power levels between flashes? Utilizing my light meter and shooting of numerous test flashes in as rapid succession as the recycle time allowed the output levels where around 1/10th of a stop. I did hand hold the light meter while doing these tests so not extremely accurate but figure accurate enough because if your shooting a portraits the distance between the flash and the model could vary even more between shoots than the slight difference in distance between strobe and the light meter did with me holding it out, hitting the test button, reading the meter value and holding out the meter again and pressing the test button.

Conclusion: Power levels are very stable and I never been able to notice any major fluctuations between shoots when I taken pictures of stationary items.

White Balance

Here I not gone to any extreme to get proper information. I should really use a gray card and shoot a series of pictures and check how far off the white balance really is between flashes and how close to daylight balanced the strobe really is but well I have not done so. But in the shooting I done it seems to be fairly close to 5500 and seems to be fairly stable at 5500.

Conclusion: More accurate testing needed but from what I can tell setting white balance to flash gets you right where you expect to be and at least I have not been able to notice any problems with the white balance.

Pros:

  • Priced right
  • Decent amount of light output
  • Great looking
  • Sturdy, good quality plastic with a nice feel
  • Feels like Pro equipment
  • Stable power output
  • Rubber textured

Cons:

  • Not very fast recycle time
  • Weight 8lbs
  • AC only
  • Setting buttons on the back

Overall Conclusion:

Do I regret spending approximately $150 on this unit. No, not at all. I think I got a bit more strobe than what I paid for but would I pay a lot more for it? I don’t think I would be willing to pay much more than what I did. Would I buy a second unit? It depends what purpose I would use it for. As mentioned it’s AC only and weights 8lbs so to use it as a hair light on a boom, I think for now I will stick with my Speedlight to handle that duty. But if I felt I needed/wanted a third strobe yes I would buy another one of these. I had to buy a speed ring to allow me to mount my octabox easier to it, and the selection of softboxes with the right kind of speed ring is not out there so this increases the cost of ownership since you have to buy the speed ring separately and it is no fun to try to mount a softbox to the strobe without one. You have to buy the speed ring directly from Cowboy Studios (would be nice if someone would sell it on Amazon and even better if it was a “Prime” item as well. The unit has served me well and even if there are a few things I wish was different (like the test fire button), my feeling is you get a very good strobe for very little money and a great way to get you started using studio strobes for very little money and would allow you to take great pictures. It doesn’t come with any reflector, softbox or umbrella so this is something you would have to make sure you get to control and direct the light. Overall definitely worth the money.

 

Update: As been pointed out to me this strobe uses standard Bowen light modifier attachments. Knowing this saved me a lot of money by not having to purchase separate attachment ring and get the right thing from the start. In addition been able to get some beauty dishes and no longer feel locked into getting the light modifiers offered only from Cowboy studios for this strobe. Yay… Plus now if I want to get another strobe of different brand/size all I really need it to support is Bowen mounting and all my light modifiers can be used with this new one as well. My wish is for a strobe that supports both AC and DC.

Update 2: I recently purchased another strobe that can be used either AC or DC. It’s a 600WS strobe, price VERY reasonable, included a battery pack and a 6″ beauty dish for not much more than this strobe. Look for review of this strobe coming in the future.

Update 3: No longer using Nikon CLS, found some wireless remote flash triggers at a VERY reasonable price that works beautifully. Price for 4 triggers (can act as remote shutter triggers not only flash triggers) is almost the same as a single Pocket Wizard III. The PWIII is overkill when used with a strobe like the one in this review so don’t need all those extra bells and whistles it offers, now if I had a lot of Speedlights (I own just a single SB-900) a PWIII or something highend like that would be benefitial but at current point I don’t see the need for it so rather save my money for now.

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6 Comments

  1. blarg April 2, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    hey,

    Just wanted to let you know that I got one of these flashes and used it for the first time over the weekend. My power bleed function worked just fine. I could crank it down from 6.0 to 1.0 and the flashing light would turn solid again in about 5-6 seconds and give me the right power level. There may be something wrong with your flash. I deliberately tried that out after reading about the problem you had with it, and couldn’t reproduce the problem you’re having.

    Other than that, great flash for the money. I’m going to be getting 2 more in the near future.

    • Eje Gustafsson April 30, 2012 at 9:47 am #

      Hope you like it and that my review of the Strobe was a helpful. Good to know about the Bowen attachments. Opens up a whole new world and saves a lot on buying modifiers.

  2. dmitryb June 7, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    Can it be used with something like Vagabond 120VAC portable power source?

    • Eje Gustafsson June 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Considering that the AlienBees B1600 (640WS) has the Vagabond 120VAC listed as a compatible power source I don’t see a reason why this 400WS unit would not work with it. But I do not know for certain but would be surprised if it did not work.

  3. Art April 25, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Sorry this is in reply to an old post, however I have been considering this light and came across your post. After reading it I’ve become curious about the other strobe you mention…the 600WS. What is the name, model? You mentioned that it came with a beauty dish as well and was still a great price. Sounds like something I’m looking for.
    Please help, before I make foolish purchase.

    • Eje Gustafsson April 26, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

      No worries on reply to an old post. Sorry for the delay on getting the respond back to you. The strobe I mention that is 600WS is a Mettle 600AD strobe.
      CowboyStudio Mettle600ADstrobe Dual Power AC/DC 110v Mettle 600W Flash, Professional Strobe Flash Light, with Rechargeable Battery Pack

      It came with a small beauty dish and included the battery. It is a great unit, my only complaint on it is the size of the unit and that I never managed to get it to sync properly with the Nikon CLS system but nothing that a pair of remote triggers or PC wire didn’t fix. I got some remote triggers because with my new camera that I got a couple of years ago I no longer had a flash on the unit that could work as CLS master flash so instead of buying a CLS SU I bought remote triggers since they are much better than the CLS system anyways.

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