Bowens Gemini Pro 1000 & 1500 Review

I reviewed the new Bowens Pro 500 and Pro 750 models a little while ago and if you read the review, you’ll know that I’m already a fan. As promised, Bowens have just released the Pro 1000 and Pro 1500 models to the market. These two models not only complete the Gemini Pro range, but also mark the completion of Bowens whole programme to overhaul their entire monobloc range in 2009.

To be honest, I can’t remember any flash manufacturer embarking on such an ambitious programme before, and because of their technical innovations Bowens now have, in my opinion, the best range of monoblocs on the market today. Not only have they revamped all their existing models this year, but they have also managed to introduced a brand new Travel Pak system and developed the new Pulsar card and aerial triggers for the R types and Pro’s.

The Bowens Pro 1000 and Pro 1500 replace the Esprit 1000 and 1500 and they are aimed at the same top end of the market. It’s always a bit sad to see old models disappear and the Esprit 1500 was always a favourite of mine. I liked the fact that it had capacitor switching and could be set at 500j, 1000j and 1500j; quite a beast. But of course it was never built to be Travel Pak compatible, a reason for its demise.

Bowens Gemini Pro 1500Bowens Gemini Pro 1500

Customers at the top end expect the very best from their equipment, whether its cameras or flash. They expect qualities like reliability, consistency and of course performance, things that top photographers take for granted when buying high end equipment.

These two new Pro’s deliver all those key elements in spades. First the build quality and reliability; Bowens metal bodied Pro’s with their rubberised grip handles will not disappoint I can assure you. The locking knobs, dials, bracket, and switches are all designed with care and make the Pro’s easy to use and give the customer nothing but confidence. The consistency in delivering repeated flashes over a 7 stop, yes a 7 stop range in the Pro 1000 and Pro 1500, can be assured. Bowens also guarantee a plus or minus 5% voltage stabilisation.

As for the performance, Bowens have spared no expense in fitting high speed flash tubes to each model that will give the user excellent flash durations of 1/2100th of a second for the Pro 1000 and 1/1400th of a second for the Bowens Pro 1500 at full power. They both pack quite a punch too, with guide numbers of 120 and 150 respectively and very quick recycling times of just a shade over two seconds to full power. The Pro’s also feature auto dump as standard, making them easier and quicker to use. So that combination of power, those flash durations plus the 7 stop power range will offer the most demanding photographer enough scope to shoot pretty much anything.

Bowens Gemini Pro 1500 rear control panelBowens Gemini Pro 1500 rear control panel

The layout of the controls on the Pro’s and for that matter the R types is the same throughout both ranges, which makes them not only easy to use, but easy to mix and match in the studio. That consistency is a real bonus, as most photographers don’t buy all their kit at once, they buy equipment over time as and when they need it or can afford it. So, by introducing six models in two ranges with powers from 250j to 1500j, all with the same controls and layout, Bowens have made the adding to your kit by buying new equipment a very simple transition.

The controls and the layout of those controls are also an important factor when choosing flash. Ideally, you want something that’s simple to operate, nothing too complicated or fiddly to set in the dark of a studio. Bowens have obviously put a lot of thought into this as they have come up with the almost perfect solution. They have two large power dials plus a vertical row of indicator neon’s for the heads key functions on the side panel where you can see them at a glance rather than on the rear panel.

The two power dials are large and chunky with very positive indents that are easy to set, the left hand dial is for stops and remote control setting, the right hand dial selects tenth of stops. The power that you set is displayed by a large red neon read out between the two power dials, and just below that is an over large flash test button lit in green, that you can see from quite a distance. The vertical red neon status indicators show all the key features; ready, audible beep, slave cell and the modelling lamp options. The standard Bowens RC-3 IR remote can control all the Pro’s basic functions from 10m, another very useful tool. Incidentally, the power read out can be inverted should you want to hang the heads upside down!

Bowens Gemini Pro 1500 side panelBowens Gemini Pro 1500 side panel

But even describing those knobs and dials, I’ve only scratched the surface of the Pro’s capabilities. The modelling lamp for instance has a number of functions. There is a soft start control to extend the lamp life, which also dims the lamp automatically if it’s not used for 30 minutes. The lamp can be set to pulse when the head comes back to charge in addition or instead of the audible beep. The modelling lamp can also be set at 100% max, or a user setting, both very useful features; the first to assist focusing and the second to shoot portraiture without blinding people.

The power control on the Bowens Pro’s have auto dump as standard, very helpful when reducing the power. The Pro’s also feature a ‘smart photocell’. Another clever touch which can be activated on the first, second, third or even fourth flash detected. I’ve already mentioned Bowens Pulsar card and aerial and the Pro’s have a slot for that card in its rear panel. I’ve used this system and believe me it works. There are no leads or connections that can really fail.

The card, just a bit bigger than a credit card, pushes neatly into the rear slot and picks up all its necessary connections. The aerial plugs into the side of the heads and the standard Pulsar transmitter attaches to the hot shoe of your camera. Don’t forget that you can also buy a Pocket Wizard card if you already use that system. Nice to see a bit of cooperation between manufacturers for a change.

All the main functions are controlled by the switches on the rear panel of the Bowens Gemini Pro. These include switches for the lamp, ready lamp, audible beep and slave cell. The On/Off switch is just below the Pulsar card slot, up for mains and down for Travel Pak. The Travel Pak multi socket is below the On/Off switch and the standard sync lead socket is next to that.

The all important fuse holder that carries the two fuses, one live and one spare are held in a tiny drawer just under the mains socket. Don’t forget to carry a few spares in your bag – you never know when you might need them and believe me you do look daft if they blow and you don’t have any more!

Going back to the Bowens Travel Pak, every model in the entire Bowens range is now Travel Pak compatible, a key reason for this years overhaul. The Gemini’s, R types and Pro’s will run off the Travel Pak in any combination, another very good reason to buy into the Bowens system. As I mentioned before, no photographer buys everything at once, so it’s nice to know that if you ever need to work on location, you can buy a Travel Pak at any future time when you decide you need it.

There’s not much more that I can tell you about the Bowens Pro’s; they are large, larger than the 500 and 750 models as you would expect because of the extra power and therefore the number of capacitors. I’ve jotted down the facts and figures in a table below. For those top end photographers who travel a lot, the Pro’s are also multi voltage and can ‘seek’ the correct voltage wherever they are. Clever little things aren’t they!

To sum up then, the Bowens Pro 1000 and Bowens Pro 1500 are very serious pieces of kit that will appeal to any photographer who wants to shoot ultra high quality images in or out of the studio. The raw power combined with fast flash durations and a 7 stop range will be more than enough to shoot any application. That sophisticated slave cell and trigger system make the Pro’s very easy to sync no matter what system you prefer to use. The remote control operation is a very appealing feature, as we seem to operate so much equipment in that way nowadays. The modelling lamp controls also offer the commercial or social photographer versatility in equal measures. That vertical line of indicator neon’s on the side panel is well thought out and lets the photographer know what’s going on at a glance.

It goes without saying that the Travel Pak is yet another superb feature that you can bolt on to these Pro’s and the new Bowens Travel Pak is well worth a look. I reviewed the system earlier this year so why not read it and find out how it works: Bowens Travel Pak Review.

Bowens Gemini Pro 1500 front-onBowens Gemini Pro 1500 front-on

I think that we should give Bowens a pat on the back as they’ve done a pretty good job this year and achieved their overall goal. Yes the heads are all black and yes they could look a bit more stylish, but there is something for every photographer to choose from in their range. Whether you’re a budding enthusiast, an up and coming photographer, or at the very top end, there’s a Bowens kit for you. And even if you start at the bottom and buy a Gemini 200 kit, you’re still buying high quality, well built and very reliable equipment from an established UK manufacturer. In addition, you can add to your kit from their extensive range of accessories over time, as and when you please.

Facts & Figures
  Bowens Gemini Pro 1000 Bowens Gemini Pro 1500
Width 170mm 170mm
Length 459mm 519mm
Height 133mm 133mm
Weight 4.5kg 5.0kg

Ratings

Design 8/10
Ease of use 8/10
Compatibility 9/10
Performance 10/10
Overall

If you have any questions about the Bowens Pro range or flash related matters, drop me an email via steveaves@tiscali.co.uk.