When I talk to folks branching into studio style shooting and lighting, the last thing that anyone wants to talk about is a light stand. When I was working in a store, light stands were typically an afterthought, and considered as a non-budgetary item. Consequently, I saw an enormous of amount of soon to be twisted metal junk head out the doors. I still see it as folks trying to get going, end up buying questionable crap that is only going to fail them at the worst time. It makes my teeth hurt.
There are only two kinds of light stands. Those that will hold up and those that are going to fall over, dump your stuff, or bend into a pretzel.
The C Stand, sometimes referred to as a Century stand, allegedly after Twentieth Century Fox is widely accepted as the most stable lighting and light shaper style of stand. The best ones are made of steel and come in three distinct parts. The centre post will be from two feet to six feet long compressed and while contain between 1 and 3 expansion posts. The feet will be of what is referred to as a turtle base design, forming a three-legged stance with legs of different heights and lengths to allow for placement and putting the longest leg in parallel with what is heavy on top. Some leg derivants put the legs in a sliding capability, perfect when you have to work on canted surfaces like a hillside.
Often left out, but part of a C Stand Complete is a boom arm, available in three to six foot lengths. The boom arm attaches to the top of the centre post using what we call a knuckle. A second knuckle goes on the end of the boom and into it is locked a spigot, or nail, or baby pin (all pretty much the same thing) to which you clamp your strobe, or whatever else you are hanging off the thing. The diameter of the standard pin, and the boom is 5/8".
Good booms are solid steel. Some alternates are steel tubes. Hollow is fine so long as the wall thickness is right up there. That final knuckle is going to be useless to you without a baby pin. Guess what never comes in the C Stand complete kit? Guess what many pseudo-pro sellers who offer C Stand Complete products do not carry at all. That's right, the baby pin. Always good fun to ask how much baby pins are when in one of those stores. The dumb look is usually quite amusing, or the line of BS that may be the response at least tells you to head for the door.
The locking mechanisms are typically large, robust and hand filling. If you find a C stand with plastic locks, or small locks, keep walking, as you have found a failure in waiting.
C-Stands are heavy. They are a pain to transport. They are also super durable, and while they deliver stability that you will not find elsewhere, you still need to sandbag them for safety. Place the sandbag over a leg opposite to the weighted end and do not let the sandbag touch the floor. Most sellers forget to sell the sandbag, so remember it yourself. Buy sandbags empty. Cheaper to ship and you can fill them yourself with a bag of playground sand from the home store.
If you are going to boom anything much heavier than a speedlight and small softbox, forego the lightweight aluminum stands and get a C Stand. Saving money will not help you when your light comes crashing down on your subject. There are of course professional boom stands for heavy gear. A decent one will start at around $1000 so if you see one for less, it's unlikely to be able to handle any weight of consequence.
C-stands of highest quality come from Matthews, Avenger and Kupo. I have started to see some clones coming out of southeast Asia, that ostensibly should be fine, because really how hard can it be to do steel tubes? Apparently it's difficult because most that I have seen are junk. I did find one under the house brand of my local photographic chain, and it's surprisingly good. I have issues with the boom ends, and the size of the knobs on the knuckles, but otherwise it's surprisingly good at about $200 CDN for a four foot pole C Stand complete. It's actually in the studio right now for a deep dive review. I'm going to see how it holds up under some serious use and pressure, but the initial tests have been very positive.
The Avenger and KUPO stands that I have, I have had for a long time. They have been knocked over by people and vehicles. One took off for a bit when a big 7' umbrella was not sufficiently sandbagged on a windy day. The umbrella broke before the stand went more than six inches, but it still toppled into a small ravine.
I do have lighter light stands from Manfrotto, but only use them for the small stuff because they are not designed for the weight of studio strobes and big light shapers. I went to KUPO for a much heavier stand for my Broncolor Para, and my giant MOLA dish is mounted to one of those Manfrotto Super Booms. Not cheap, but not going to fail either.
A good C-stand will last you forever if you treat it well, or at least don't leave it to be run over by a bulldozer. A cheap one will let you down, and perhaps even hurt you or someone else.
Save pain. Stop buying cheap crap light stands and go with C Stands. Yes you will grumble carting them up and down stairs, but when things go sideways you won't be leaping to save your lights or your talent.
Have you had a bad light stand experience? Made a great purchase that you love, or one that you hate? Share your thoughts in the comments section so others can learn from your experiences.
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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, and until next time, peace.