While I have been "taking pictures" for about 15 years, my interest in quality photography has just spiked in the past few years - thanks largely to this forum. I don't claim to be a professional photographer (I'm a graphic designer by trade), but I do occasionally get paid for my work behind the lens.
A disclaimer: I consider myself to be "frugal" - something I learned from my Mother. My friends sometimes call me "cheap" - but admit that I generally do my homework and get the best "cheap" I can afford. I recently upgraded from my trusty XT/350D, to a T1i - then immediately to a 50D (but that's a whole different story). Aside from a 1st Gen thrifty-fifty, I primarily shoot with Sigma lenses.
I spent some time reading the strobist blog and learning my way around basic off-camera flash theory. I purchased a set of "ebay triggers" (that have proven themselves to be quite reliable) to fire some old flash units my Dad gave me (Promaster 7500 & a Manual Vivitar) and recently added a Yongnuo YN-467 & a "flash ring" modifier to my collection of gadgets.
I have been borrowing a light stand & umbrella from my office, but decided I should have my own kit. After doing some research (and not really finding any sort of review on these specifically), I decided to take the chance and buy the Cowboy Studio "2 Strobist Kit" and share the results with POTN to help you make a decision one way or another.
The info that follows is a review of the cbstudio kit as a whole, followed by a brief comparison of the kit parts vs. the Manfrotto/Bogen & Promaster parts I've been using at the office.
I purchased the Cowboy Studio "2 Strobist Kit Photo Studio Flash Mount Umbrellas Case" off eBay at a total cost to me of $79.42 delivered via UPS. I used Buy-It-Now and PayPal to complete the transaction on Friday 6/18. The package was shipped the same day, and tracking info was provided. UPS delivered it to my office on Wednesday 6/23 (3 business days ground from TX to MN).
The box arrived well packed & in good condition. Each item of the kit was individually packed and/or bagged. Nothing was damaged or even questionable.
The included carrying bag is modestly padded black textile with plastic zippers. The "top" end has 2 more zippers allowing you to open just the end to insert or remove the stands & umbrellas without opening the long side zipper. IMO - a nice touch. There is also a pouch on the the side, which will fit both umbrella adapters, but rather snugly. Also the size of the case is pretty specific to the kit. You're not going to be able to squeeze much, if anything, else into the case. Overall length is just under 30" & fully packed weighs 7.3lbs
Overall I quite like it. I wouldn't mind if it were a touch bigger, but it does what it's intended to. The only negative I thought of right away is the lack of a shoulder strap (or D-Rings to allow for one).
Light Stands: Fancier WT803 Light stands (x2)
Initial impressions are very good. The black coating has a nice satin finish. All the plastics appear to be well made & of decent thickness. The joints are screw & nut assembly (with locking nuts, and some appear to have blue loctite). The clamps to extended the top portion are "flap" style spring stops - and the leg position clamp is a screw-stop. At maximum extension, the stand creates a triangle of approximately 26" on each side. Overall height is advertised at 6.7ft - and that appears accurate. They also come with a white nylon thread protector (nice, but maybe a touch big).
Umbrellas: 33" White Shoot-Through & 33" Black Reflective (1 ea)
Not really much to say about these. They're umbrellas. The feel like pretty much every other umbrella I've used before. Some people I've seen criticize the kit for using only 33" umbrellas (yet even the $100 impact starter kit from BHPhoto comes with 32" brollies). I think they're fine for starters, and if you really want bigger, you can pick up a couple of 42" umbrellas of eBay for another $20-30.
Of note, I was able to fit our 42" umbrella into the included case without any trouble...
Umbrella Adapters (x2)
Again, initial impression is good. These adapters feel very solid & include a 2-ended post and metal hot-shoe adapter. The post can be mounted vertically or horizontally to either side of the fitting. The center pivot point is tightened via a larger 3" long handle - which, when pulled up, can be rotated for a better angle (or perhaps for more streamlined storage).
I like the adapter just fine, but I'm honestly not a huge fan of the 2-ended stud they include. It's not so bad when you just mount a flash to the hot shoe, but when I add a wireless adapter & flash - it's awfully tall (and I'm concerned that the flash would be directed to high into the umbrella). At this point I'm about 95% sure I'm going to just cut the studs in half. I have a shorter stud from another adapter (see comparison later) that works just fine it it's place.
Fancier WT803 vs Manfrotto Bogen 3086 Light Stand ($?)
The 3086 is no longer in production, but the cheapest manfrotto I could find on BHPhoto.com was their 367B Basic 9' Stand for $63.
Side-by-side the Manfrotto is a bit larger. The tubing is a larger diameter, and a weight comparison shows that it's about .5lb heavier. When open to it's max, the manfrotto has a full 10" larger spread on the triangle - which would create a more stable profile. I also noted that the Manfrotto is constructed with rivets instead of the screw & nut assembly, and has a heavier (brass?) head post on it.
I could see that the rivet construction would lessen the likelihood of losing a part along the way due to something coming undone, but if it did need to be repaired, the screw & nut assembly could be a benefit. The Manfrotto uses twist style clamps, which I assume, over time would prove more secure than the "flap" spring clamps on the Fancier.
Obviously the Manfrotto is a "nicer" unit - but for beginner & hobbyist strobists I think the Fancier/Cowboy stands are perfectly usable. My only concern is that the Fancier units will be less stable in a wind ~ but both would likely benefit from ballast in that setting. (who wants to risk destroying a strobe when it crashes down from 6-8 ft up?)
Cowboy vs Promaster Umbrella Adapter ($25 @ Nat'l Camera)
I didn't really give much thought to the difference in these two until I pulled the Promaster out of my gear bag this morning. Wow... they are significantly different in size. Not that I think size has anything to do with their function, but the cowboy unit simply dwarfs my Promaster!
Overall construction quality is equal, and the smaller tension knobs are nearly identical. My only real issue is again with the double-length post included with the Cowboy adapter. Once trimmed down, I feel that they'll be on more equal footing.
I definitely feel that the Cowboy Studios kit is a good deal, and I would readily recommend it to anyone interested in getting their feet wet with off camera flash & umbrella work.
Are you getting top-of-the-line pro quality? No, but the products are good quality, and should last for quite awhile under average hobby or light studio use.
More pics here: http://tinypic.com/a/25frc/3 Feel free to ask questions, I'd be glad to follow up as best as I can!