Round head speedlites vs rectangular head speedlites
So what’s all the fuss about round head speedlites?
Profoto was the first company to manufacture a portable round head TTL hotshoe flash. The Profoto A1 was released to much critical acclaim in September 2017 describing itself as the world’s smallest studio light. Profoto is one of the big names when it comes to professional studio lighting but its innovative and high quality equipment come with a very hefty price tag. The Profoto A1 went on sale in the US for just over $1000 (around £840 in the UK).
In early 2019 the staff at Profoto must have been sent into a maddened frenzy when Godox released the very similar looking Godox V1 which retailed at less than a quarter of the price of the Profoto A1. On-camera round head flash suddenly became more affordable to the masses!
The Godox V1 has a very similar spec to the Profoto A1 with 76Ws of power, TTL, lithium-ion battery, fast recycle time, dedicated LED modelling lamp and a range of magnetic light modifiers can can quickly be attached to the round head. The build quality and user interface is far superior in the Profoto model.
Godox also released the H200R, an interchangeable round head designed to fit the popular Godox AD200 and AD200 Pro both of which are off-camera flash units. More recently Godox has released the off-camera AD100 Pro that also has a round head and can use the same magnetic light modifiers as the V1 and the H200R head.
Why do most speedlites have a rectangular flash head?
Most on-camera flashes have a rectangular Fresnel head because camera film and sensors are rectangular. An on-camera flash only needs to illuminate the part of a scene that is going to be recorded in the image. Any light from the flash that illuminates an area outside of the rectangular image is just wasted light and an unnecessary drain on the battery. Therefore, when used on-camera, a round head flash has no real advantage over the more traditional rectangular design. In fact a rectangular head is probably more efficient and usually the best option for on-camera use.
Of course, most photographers know that it’s never a good idea to point an on-camera flash directly at the subject unless it’s being used as a fill light to soften harsh shadows caused when shooting outdoors in bright sunlight. Using on-camera flash as the direct principal (key) light is usually not very flattering and makes the subject look two dimensional. It can also produce harsh shadows under the chin etc. It’s always much better to bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling to get softer more directional lighting. Whether you use a round head or a rectangular head isn’t really going to make any difference in this situation. The angle of the bounce and distance to the wall/ceiling are much more likely to have a greater impact on the final image results.
It’s only when using an off-camera flash that we start to see the real advantages of using a round flash head since it produces a more even circular lighting pattern with a more gradual light fall-off. This circular pattern can be used to produce spotlight effects on the subject or on the background. It can also used to fill a circular light modifier such as an umbrella or octabox more evenly. A more comprehensive list of advantages and disadvantages of using a round flash head can be seen below.
ADVANTAGES of using round head flash
More even light distribution – A round head produces a more even distribution of light in all directions forming a circular lighting pattern. This can be used to produce spotlight effects on the subject or background without any obvious hotspots which you frequently get when using a rectangular head. This is the reason why all studio strobes have circular heads. The smoothest lighting pattern is obtained when using a circular or spiral flash tube in a parabolic reflector. The H200R round head has a spiral flash tube and produces very pleasing results. Most people will be surprised to discover that the Godox V1, Godox AD100Pro and Profoto A1X (and the A10 model) all have a linear flash tube rather than a circular one. The light pattern produced by the Godox V1 is much more even than that produced by a rectangular head but not quite as good as the lighting pattern produced by the H200R head or that of a regular studio strobe. The results from the Profoto A1X (and the A10) look smooth and natural looking and very similar to the H200R head.
Note: I haven’t reviewed any Profoto flash on this site because they are well above my budget but you can find out more info on their website www.profoto.com
Better results when using a shoot-through umbrella – The circular spread of light from a round head flash helps to fill a circular light modifier more evenly. This is particularly noticeable when using a shoot-through translucent umbrella and better results are obtained when attaching a magnetic diffusion dome to further spread the light (zoomed out at 28mm on the Godox V1). Using a Sto-Fen diffusion cap on a rectangular flash head makes the difference between the two flash head shapes almost negligible. The difference in results from placing the round and the rectangular flash head in a reflective umbrella or softbox were also so small that it would be hard to notice in the final image.
Good range of clip on light modifiers – Godox have produced an excellent round head light modifier kit specially designed to fit their round flash heads. The Godox AK-R1 includes a selection of clip-on magnetic modifiers such as the dome diffuser, wide angle diffuser, snoot, barn doors, bounce card, grid, and range of colour filters. Godox also produce a Godox S-R1 round-head adapter bracket so that you can use these magnetic accessories with regular rectangular-head speedlites.
DISADVANTAGES of using round head flash
More expensive – When buying a round head flash you seem to be paying a premium when compared to a similarly priced rectangular flash. The Godox V1-C costs about 40% more than the V860II-C when the V860II-C even has a slightly better spec. Round head flash don’t seem to have the same focal length range (zoom) as rectangular heads. Many traditional speedlites have a zoom range of 20mm to 200mm whilst the Godox V1 has a zoom range of 28-105mm and the AD100 Pro just a 28-85mm zoom. The H200R detachable head for the AD200 has a fixed focal length equivalent to around 35mm.
Reduced power / less efficient – There are no real advantages of using a round head flash when used on-camera. In fact when used as on-camera direct flash much of the illumination from the flash falls outside the captured image so energy and battery power is effectively wasted and the flash is less efficient.
Don’t fit the standard speedlite bracket -Round head speedlites don’t fit the popular Godox S-type speedlite bracket or similar brackets produced by other companies. The Godox V1 and AD100Pro are just too big to fit through the standard rectangular opening of the Godox S-type bracket. You’ll have to use the new Godox S2 bracket.
Don’t accept many light modifiers – Round head speedlites don’t accept many popular rectangular-fit light modifiers such as MagMod products and many other speedlite speedrings with small rectangular openings.
If you are using your speedlite on-camera or placing it in a soft box off-camera then the only real difference between a round flash head and a rectangular flash head is the price you’ll pay for your speedlite! Expect to pay around 40% more for a round head flash of similar specifications.
If you are looking for a flash unit that produces the smoothest circular pool of light then you are probably best using a studio strobe. If you require something small and compact that runs off batteries then the Godox AD200 or the AD200 Pro fitted with a H200R circular flash head would be my first pick and an excellent choice for weddings and event photography. Godox even make an extension cable (EC200) that allows you to move the round head up to 2m away from the flash body.
The Profoto A1X Air TTL is also an excellent speedlite and the choice of many top wedding photographers but unfortunately its very high price puts it beyond the reach of most of us (and the main reason I haven’t reviewed it on this site). By comparison the Godox V1 offers great value for money and is the cheapest round head flash model on the market. However the rectangular headed Godox V860II is also an excellent speedlite offering a slightly improved spec over the V1 and retails at a much cheaper price.
If money was no object I’d go with the Profoto A1X. For under £500/$500 I’d go with a Godox AD200 with an H200R head and extension cable. For under £300/$300 I think I would still rather go with the Godox V860II since it offers better value over the Godox V1 or the Godox AD100Pro. I’m still not convinced that there are enough advantages to using round head over a rectangular head to be able to justify the increase in cost.