A British company in business since 1923, Bowens is one of the most respected brands in studio lighting, introducing its first electronic flash systems in the 1950s and inventing the first modern “monobloc” flash systems in the 1960s. The simple, efficient and easy-to-use design of the Gemini 400 flash head reflects this wealth of experience. The body of the unit is made of steel with a more-or-less hexagonal shape which is inherently strong. The front end and the reflector mount appear to be cast alloy while the rear control panel and grab handle are made of chunky ABS plastic. The whole thing is robustly over-engineered certainly seems to be built to last, although this does make the heads quite heavy at 2.6Kg. The Gemini 400 comes across not as some entry-level toy but as simply a smaller version of Bowens’ professional flash heads, and is built to the same standard.
The controls of the Gemini 400 are very simple. Bowens has elected to forego the digital controls and LED displays used by some of its competitors in favour of simple and reliable manual knobs and switches. On the rear panel are on/off switches for the ready indicator (which uses the modelling light to indicate when the flash is ready to fire), a ready “beep” signal and the slave trigger cell. Power is controlled by a three position switch; the Gemini 400 can run on either mains power (190-250V AC) or on DC power from the optional Bowens Travelpak rechargeable battery pack, making it a good choice for outdoor location shooting. The modelling light is also controlled by a three-position switch, with the options being off, full power, or proportional to the flash output.
Flash power is controlled by a large dial on the side of the unit. The output is variable by up to 5 EV, and the dial is marked from one to six, so setting precise ratios of light between different flash units is simply a matter of adjusting the dials accordingly. Increasing the dial setting by one increment doubles the flash power output. The Gemini 400 features a resistive power dump function, so when the flash power is turned down the surplus power is safely dissipated and the nest flash will be at the correct output. Unlike some older flash systems I found power output and colour temperature to be very consistent from one shot to the next. The recycle time at full power is around 1.5 seconds.