Dark alchemy is used to great effect to convert rough household or industrial power into controllable, beautiful photographic light. Every large strobe pack I’ve ever used has whined, clicked, dimmed the house lights and generally given evidence of what giant forces were being harnessed to safely apply light to delicate and sensitive subjects. In over 30 years of shooting, I have never encountered a better system to harness the brute force of 110 or 220 volts of raw power and combine it with the delicate tenth-of-a-stop finesse of a modern digital interface than the Broncolor Scoro S WiFi power pack, and the iOS and desktop WiFi interface make it incredibly easy to control.
More on that interface in a moment, but first just let us marvel at the sheer volume of electricity that’s converted into light in order for this pack to put out 3200w/s per head. That’s like my entire original Dynalite system poured into one efficient, compact head. And even at full power, the Scoro silently, quickly and seemingly effortlessly recycles in mere moments. Combine the raw force and precise control in the pack with Broncolor’s light-modifying tools like softboxes and parabolic reflectors, and you have a way to easily provide repeatable, gorgeous light in a wide variety of situations. One can shoot all the way stopped down or as fast as your camera can run.
The Scoro comes in two flavors, the Scoro S and the Scoro E. I tested the Scoro 3200 S, which differs from the Scoro E primarily in that it has three connectors for lights while the Scoro E has only two. Both versions offer a 1600w/s model as well. The unit has an 11 ƒ-stop range and a recharge time of .02 to 1.3 seconds, with a “speed” mode providing .02 to 0.8 seconds if the unit is connected to 220v AC. Color temperature is stabilized across the units and can be adjusted independently for each lamp.
I unwrapped the giant and intimidating Broncolor Scoro pack, assembled a head and reflector, and wondered what I got myself into. I like to joke that I’m an old-school, “you can pry my available daylight out of my cold dead fingers” shooter, but I’ve spent more than my share of time with studio lights. Why on earth had I ever agreed to review a studio strobe system? I hadn’t used strobes these powerful in some time. I can barely work my iPhone, I’m generally seen as a Luddite, and they didn’t send any instructions. I steeled myself and clicked on the clearly marked power switch.
Flipping the switch, I was greeted with a perfectly friendly, understandable interface. The buttons felt spectacular. Seriously. Like a Sub-Zero or Mercedes. The feel of the physical buttons was both soothing and reassuring. Older packs often made one feel like users were taking their life in their hands every time one clicked a button or plugged (worse, unplugged!) a light head.
Something about the ergonomics gives the impression of working on a laptop or high-end Texas Instruments calculator of old, with no indication of the huge amount of electric energy burbling just below the surface. Just about everything felt right where it should be and did what it seemed like it should. Click in a light cable, and the corresponding bank immediately lit up. Obvious and intuitive up and down buttons changed settings in one-tenth-of-a-stop increments. Hold the button a moment longer, and it went up and down by full stops. The modeling light was controllable, proportionally, of course; turn them all or one on or off with a click. The physical gestalt of this control panel was world class, just spectacular.
Which is why the look of the computer control app’s interface is disappointing. It was perfectly usable, but didn’t have the crisp and sophisticated feel of the physical buttons. And though it worked perfectly well, I remain confused as to the usefulness. It uses a WiFi connection. The main people using this computer interface would be people shooting tethered in a production environment when it’s impractical to dedicate an entire WiFi connection exclusively to the strobe controls. The pack is so easy to use, unless multiple packs are placed around a giant space, the WiFi interface and indeed the entire app seem like an answer in search of a problem.
If you’re shooting and the pack isn’t located in a handy space—a sporting event where lights and a pack have to be situated away from the action for safety’s sake, for example—the wireless control of the app and desktop software makes a lot of sense. But if you’re standing right near the pack, it’s easier to just reach down and change a dial.
Beautifully designed small touches were all over this unit. Even the hot-shoe trigger just worked and meant no hunting around for a sync cable. For all the professional high-end niche feel of this product, I was nonetheless able to fairly quickly get up and shooting with it despite no familiarity with the specific control layout. I giggled at stopping my lenses down to ƒ/16 and not having to be obsessively concerned with whether my focus was on the eyes. And the unit’s copious power meant I could shoot as fast as I wanted to, and then some. But it also went smoothly down, all the way to a tenth of a stop from zero, which meant I could open those prime lenses of mine back up to where I’m used to hanging out, faster than ƒ/2.0. At those settings, one wondered if the pack had even fired; the recycle was instantaneous.
But all this emphasis on the back end, electricity and interfaces ignores the elephant in the room—light quality. That elephant is gorgeous. (Speaking of elephants, if you ever have to light one, this is the kit to do it.) The light that comes out of these units is Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet—stunningly beautiful, pleasing and flattering. Of course, the softboxes are nice, but I was just astounded by the light shed by the 88 HR parabolic reflector Broncolor provided for testing. This focusable, compact (a little bigger than a peach basket) reflector provided crisp, smooth, flattering light into a beautiful, softly falling-off circle of gorgeousness. It sported a unique combination of sharpness for fabrics or surfaces, while remaining simultaneously attractive and pleasing on human skin. This combination would make this setup terrific for fashion or portraiture. I had meant to ask for a ringlite to test but found this parabolic head so salubrious I forgot all about the ringlite.
Should you buy this? The pack alone costs 15 grand. By the time you add a few heads and some light modifiers, you’re up above $20,000. If that amount sends shivers down your spine, this setup isn’t for you.
But if you’re running a still-life studio, large-volume fashion house or high-end portrait mill, or if you’re shooting things that need powerful, shapeable light, like vehicles or interiors, this big hunk of iron and silicon will save you money and let you get shots more efficiently and better than almost any other studio strobe setup.
Visit the broncolor website for more product info.
Photographer and filmmaker Chris X Carroll has been fired upon by Norwegian whalers north of the Arctic Circle, swum naked with REM, taught Viscount Charles Spencer to sail, and turned to ask Elizabeth Taylor if the melon he was holding was ripe at a grocery store before realizing who she was and nearly passing out. Visit Chris at www.chriscarrollphoto.com, and follow him on Instagram @chrisxcarroll and on Facebook at chrisxcarroll