Bare Tube Flash Head 101


When we’re out meeting our seminar attendees, we know that many of you are total newbies when it comes to AC flash. So this is the first in our series of explorations into what some call “studio flash”. That in itself is an outdated term: Many professional photographers use these AC-powered flash units and shoot entirely on location. Admittedly, there was a time in history when about the only AC-flash units that were available required a great deal of amperage to power, and the physique of a body-builder to transport.

One of the many beauties of digital AC flash today, is how new technology has made them smaller, lighter, and efficient enough not to be tripping household circuit breakers like they used to. Another huge pleasure is to have both the fire-power for a great depth of field, and the rapid flash duration to capture action and freeze it. The late, great Mike Pocklington’s technical expertise and talent for telling a visual story came together when Janet & I sat down with him and stylist/photographer Tracey Lee. The four of us had been working together since the mid-80's, and used to share a big studio in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

The Basics

Just as your digital single-lens reflex camera is very much a system (camera body, lenses, flashes, filters, etc), so is a terrific AC flash brand.
Let’s stop and make something clear, at this point: There are a bunch of new brands of AC flash coming into the marketplace. This is nothing new. It’s been going on for decades. They last from a few months to a few years, and that brand is not seen or heard of again. If you’re new to flash, do your research. Find a manufacturer which has been around for decades. Also, make sure it has both a great network of service centers, and a terrific sales network as well. If something happens to an exclusive retailer, you’re out of luck. Consider your AC flash to be a long-term (maybe lifetime) investment.
We’ve been using Novatron since 1981. They pioneered the lighter-weight power efficiency factor. It was the first AC flash we knew that was so affordable that hobbyists could dive in and enjoy. They take advantage of polycarbonate flash heads with built-in reflectors. They’re relatively inexpensive, and set up fast.
Many professional photographers prefer the metal-bodied bare-tube heads. These are fan cooled.
Flash heads work in conjunction with power packs. We’ll get into these packs in another article. After that, we’ll explore monolights. These are self-contained flash units that sort of fuse together the flash head and the power pack.

The Anatomy of the Bare-Tube Flash Head

If you’re new to AC flash, let’s take you on a tour. To the right is a tight shot of a bare-tube flash head’s front end. There are three key components, from outside in:

- a reflector
- a flash tube, and
- a modeling light.
Each of these components is replaceable. In yet another article, we’ll get into what makes interchangeable reflectors such a fabulous asset to flash lighting.
For now, we’ll talk about the core of the flash head, the flash tube. For the most part, flash tubes could last a lifetime. They are unlike an incandescent light bulb; they don’t burn out. There’s no filament in them to slowly waste away with use. As a filament burns up, the color temperature warms. Since a flash tube works differently, it remains an even 5,500 degrees Kelvin throughout its life. This allows the flash to match daylight, making it a perfect source of fill light when shooting outdoors.
Stay tuned for more articles on AC flash. 
More from M2 Media Studios here.

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Did you go to: to download the full PDF? There's also more about it in our new book "The Photographer's Lighting Toolbox." If neither of those sources answer your questions, let us know. We're here to help.


Wouldn't you like to tell us a little about the jelly-bean photo in regard to bare-tube flash technique? I, for one, am dying to know the details.