Legendary Flash Brand Bowens is Alive and Well and Living in Calumet and Wex

While researching Bowens speed-rings for the Rotolight Aeos 2 and Neo 3 Kickstarter article and press release, I discovered that the Bowens flash and accessories brand still exists, apparently after disappearing in 2017 then reappearing in 2020 at British retailer Wex Photo Video. 

I have history with Bowens, my first studio flash unit being a second-hand Bowens monolight with umbrella and light stand. 

When needing a kit of flash units that would be more versatile and more portable, I traded the Bowens unit in for a Broncolor Impact 41 three-light monobloc kit with all the trimmings including stands, umbrellas, filters, barndoors, reflectors, soft-boxes, wider and narrower mesh grids and trigger unit. 

Broncolor Impact 41 monobloc electronic flash unit. I replaced my original second-hand Bowens studio unit with a kit of these. Image found on ebay.

Where I grew up and became a photographer almost by accident, Bowens was the brand you bought if you couldn’t afford highly expensive Strobe brand studio units with light banks mounted on them and powered by heavy capacitor units rolling about on castors.

Commercial photography there was dominated by two and then three huge studios with all the trimmings, and competing as a self-funded independent was challenging.

My way of seeing had been formed by observing natural light in all its variety and subtlety, and I wanted a way of lighting that approached that, the opposite of blasting my subjects with an array of light banks aka “bank lighting”.

My cinematography studies outside of art school had taught me tungsten lighting with brands such as Lowel and Ianiro, so I bought some of the former as well as a kit of folding diffusers/reflectors.

I added a collection of vintage tungsten lights of all sorts and sizes when rooting through camera stores junk boxes, and did my best to approximate the wonders and subtleties of natural lighting.

Everything changed for the better as soon as my Broncolor Impact 41 kit arrived, I added some Lee and Rosco filters and I began getting much closer to the lighting I had visualized for so long.

Bowens Beauty Dish. Image courtesy of Bowens.

I created a whole new portrait portfolio with them, carried them east with me to work as an editorial portrait photographer for magazines and newspapers, shipped them to the UK when I moved there as European Contributing editor for ‘not only Black+White’ magazine and then they were stolen from a temporary Mayfair share studio along with all my other gear except for a couple of Leicas and their lenses.

I didn’t have a long history with Bowens flash lights like I did with the Broncolor Impact 41 units, but was pleased to discover a Bowens-equipped hire studio and black+white darkroom in Surry Hills after arriving in Sydney, and even more pleased when the owners showed me the Bowens Beauty Dish that had just arrived one day.

Nowadays Profoto seems to be the premier brand of studio electronic flash units here, the Strobe brand seems have vanished long ago, and there is a slew of electronic flash brands including Godox which seems to be very popular as a more affordable brand.

These other brands have taken up the challenge of shaping, diffusing and filtering electronic flash light in impressive ways that were often not available when I was relying on my Broncolors.

These days, however, continuous light with HSS flash capability is much more attractive with Rotolight the clear innovation leader, and I am so glad I stumbled across young Mister Rod Aaron Gammons in a little booth at a Sydney trade show almost ten years ago.