For those of you that are unaware, a couple of weeks ago, U.K. online photography retailer WEX photographic, quietly announced that Bowens was coming back. And to many, myself included, this was a huge surprise.
Why was it so surprising?
It was surprising because in July 2017 Bowens went into liquidation and nobody’s heard a peep from them since, so understandably we all thought that was the last we’d ever hear of them. But to hear nothing for nearly two years and then see the ‘Bowens is Back’ statement from an online photographic retailer of all people was certainly odd.
But is it true? Is Bowens, one of the oldest running studio lighting manufactures, really back?
Well before I go into the details of their revival, let me quickly update some of you on how we got here, why I’m even talking about it and how some of these companies are connected.
Bowens as a company was founded in 1923 and by the 1950’s it was one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The company saw great success for many years and was well known for producing incredibly reliable and durable studio lighting heads that were the workhorse of many a busy studio. Bowens also developed what is now the most commonly used lighting attachment mount in the world referred to as the ‘S-Fit attachment’. This attachment method spawned countless copies that ultimately resulted in the Bowens head having thousands of viable lighting attachments from all corners of the globe. This unintended proliferation is in my opinion one of the reasons for the Bowens success early on as many third party manufactures were producing very cost effective modifiers for their studio strobes and ultimately its users. But unfortunately, I also think this proliferation of the S-Fit was ultimately one of the causes of their downfall. Before long, competitively priced Chinese strobe companies like Godox began manufacturing S-Fit strobes that were good enough for all to use and at a price point to see them sideline the bigger Bowens.
Bowens was certainly struggling and in June 2016 the German investment company AURELIUS bought Bowens, the following year in July 2017 Bowens went into liquidation and AURELIUS closed it down completely shortly thereafter. We’ve heard nothing from them until now.
So where does WEX Photographic fit in to all of this?
As I mentioned previously, the German investment company AURELIUS bought the Bowens brand back in 2016, but they also acquired Calumet as well as WEX Photographic. To my American friends, WEX Photographic is (now) our largest online photographic retailer here in the U.K.
In July 2017 AURELIUS then announced that they were ‘merging’ Calumet into WEX to ‘offer an improved experience and wider range of products to photographers across the U.K.’ And once more, we never heard from them again.
So to recap; AURELIUS bought Calumet, WEX Photographic and Bowens. AURELIUS then merged Calumet into WEX and closed Bowens. So what we’re left with is not only WEX being the last man standing, but also the public face of AURELIUS and it’s photographic assets. The importance of this will be more evident as we find out about the future of the Bowens brand.
Why do you care Jake?
Just to be clear, I currently have no affiliation with Bowens, WEX or any of these other companies in question and I am writing and sharing this due to my own personal curiosity and interest, nothing more.
In the past I was a major part of Team Bowens which essentially means I would test their new products, write articles for them and provide training to the public as well as their distributors around the globe. But that affiliation abruptly ended when Bowens went into liquidation in 2017. I know there was a lot of anger at the time from employees both here and in China regarding the abrupt Bowens closure, but I can only say that I received all the money I was owed for the work I provided for them, therefore I can’t comment on that. My point here is that I have no ill will towards them.
As a part of Team Bowens, I did receive the new Bowens XMT strobes to test and use. As it stands today, I still use all Bowens heads for my day to day commercial work as well as my workshops and training. Since Bowens closure in 2017 I have been contacted by several lighting companies to use their products and although money is always a factor, I still choose to use my old Bowens heads as I love using them.
I felt it important to make that stipulation and although I have no official affiliation with Bowens I still have contacts not only with them but their old distributors as well. But upon reading in my emails that ‘Bowens was Back’, I did begin to try and reach out to old contacts to learn more. After several bounce-backs and dead ends, I did manage to speak to Matt Devine (head of content) over at WEX Photographic. I explained to Matt that I was part of the old Bowens pro-team and I mentioned that I still use my Bowens heads to this day and if he had any knowledge he’d like to share with me with regards to the ‘Bowens is Back’ news then I’d gladly love to pass it along to you guys here.
WEX Photographic’s response to the ‘Bowens is Back’ statement
Is the Bowens brand back for good?
Yes, the Bowens brand is back as an own-brand professional offering within the Wex Photo Video portfolio. There is a full line of lights, flash, triggers and accessories planned for release.
We are able to sell these products at a more affordable price than competitor brands because we are sourcing them directly – the lower price does not signify a drop in quality.
Is the Bowens brand now owned by Wex Photo Video?
Bowens is owned by the same group that owns Wex; so, effectively, yes.
Will there be any new products or are we just selling through old stock?
Yes, there is a rolling programme of new products in development, alongside continuous improvements to existing models.
Will the new products be made by the same manufacturer as before?
The products are being made to the previous Bowens specifications by the Godox factory. Note that Godox was previously involved with the manufacture of Bowens products prior to the closure, but the Bowens factory was separate to the Godox production line.
It’s important to note that these are not just rebadged Godox products – Godox is the trusted manufacturer that has been selected to produce the products to the high Bowens specifications required.
What is the involvement of Godox?
Godox is the chosen production partner but the new gear will be produced to the pre-existing Bowens specifications.
Is this XMT500 the same model as per the previous release?
Yes, this product is the same as the previous model on sale before Bowens went into liquidation
Will all Bowens products come with a two-year warranty?
Yes, all Bowens products come with a full two-year Fixation-approved warranty.
WOW! (points to away take from this)
So first and foremost, I was never expecting to hear Bowens come back in any capacity and secondly, I was certainly not expecting WEX to be so open and upfront with its intentions of where it wants to take the brand now.
Not just a sale price – WEX IS BOWENS
AURELIUS owns WEX so essentially WEX owns Bowens. This means that Bowens is simply an own-brand product of WEX. They are not buying Bowens heads and redistributing them, meaning they aren’t marking up the products price to sell them on and this means they have the largest margin to play with when it comes to selling the products.
For example, they have to buy other photographic lighting heads like Profoto and then mark up the price to resell them. Whereas this is not the case with their new Bowens own brand.
Personally, I see this to mean that we’ll likely continue to get the same excellent Bowens heads at a crazy-good price. Take a look at my quick comparison above, of some of the heads on the market right now. Here in the U.K., our Godox heads are rebranded under the Pixapro name so the head being compared here is essentially the well known Godox AD400 Pro (Pixapro CITI400 Pro). It’s a great head and for a 400w head, it comes with a lot of features for that price. The Bowens XMT is a 500w head priced at only a little more through WEX. Of course, to keep everything in perspective, I’ve also included the Profoto 500w battery head here too. At nearly a £1000 more, you’re hoping to get a lot more light for your money.
NEW Bowens Products?
New Products?! This was one of the most surprising statements to me and in reality, it could mean anything from new Bowens strobes or new Bowens mugs and mouse-mats. Time will tell as how much they want to invest in this but if nothing else, it does speak very loudly to their commitment about the new Bowens revival sticking around for a while at least. Which is good news for all us current Bowens owners.
Another thing I was surprised about was WEX’s openness about Godox. To those that don’t know, prior to Bowens closing, Godox actually made the Bowens heads for many years. We as Team Bowens weren’t supposed to talk about it at the time but we also knew it was no secret. Here WEX openly says that Godox will be making the new batch of Bowens lights from the Godox factory.
There’s one piece of info to take note of here and although seemingly innocuous, time will tell if it’s important.
Godox was previously involved with the manufacture of Bowens products prior to the closure, but the Bowens factory was separate to the Godox production line.
Godox is the chosen production partner but the new gear will be produced to the pre-existing Bowens specifications.
I was aware of this back when Bowens was still functioning, but essentially Bowens owned its own factory in China, inside it was run by Godox but it had Bowens employees and they were beholden to Bowens rules of quality assurance.
Why is this important? Well, I’ve used both the Godox Citi and the Bowens XMT and I personally found the XMT to be far more consistent, colour accurate and had fewer misfires when compared to my time with the Godox Citi…. even though they were supposed to be made by the same people. Of course this is a sample test of one light compared to another and I could just have had a less than perfect Citi head.
So what’s changed now? Well, WEX state here that the new Bowens XMT heads will not be made in the old Bowens factory (presumably that no longer exists) but instead the XMT specs will now be built in the Godox factory. It’s a small difference and it could mean nothing at all. But time will tell if the more consistent XMT head was due to its specifications or slightly tighter quality assurance in the older Bowens factory.
Peace of Mind
Lastly, of course, WEX very sensibly mentions the warranty of all of its new heads. All Bowens heads sold through WEX will come with a 2-year warranty. This is phenomenal news and to be honest they needed to have that in place before anybody was going to risk getting back into bed with Bowens. In fairness to WEX, it was never really officially announced and promoted, but they’ve been providing repairs and parts for the Bowens heads since Bowens closed its doors nearly two years ago. I for one am very happy to see this 2-year warranty being so openly pushed, as again it speaks volumes as to WEX’s intentions with the Bowens brand moving forward.
For me personally, I see this ‘Bowens is Back’ as excellent news. I’ve used Bowens heads commercially for nearly two decades and I’ve had no reason to complain or question their products. Bottom line; their heads have been utter workhorses that far exceeded any rational person’s expectations of engineering.
Years ago I worked in a very busy studio that probably saw 1000 photo shoots a year go through its doors. Each of those shoots involved around 150-300 photos and every single one of those photos needed a flash. So if we say every shoot was around 200 shots on average, that studio took 200,000 flash photos a year. The studio had 5 Bowens flash heads and whilst I worked there nearly 7 years I don’t even recall replacing the flash tubes…. and the Bowens heads were there before I got there!
So at nearly 1.5 million flashes a piece, I don’t think anybody could argue their expectations versus the reality from 7,000,000 flashes being fired through those things. Utterly incredible pieces of kit in my opinion.
Granted Bowens has seen a huge amount of change in recent years and they certainly have an awful lot to live up to in my mind. But if we can get back to anywhere near that level of excellence again, their products will be a force to be reckoned with on the market today. No, I’m not sponsored or paid to say this in any way but I certainly wish them every success in this new chapter.
Also, here’s a video on my thoughts and review of the Bowens XMT heads after using them myself for the first time back in January 2017.
About the Author
Jake Hicks is an editorial and fashion photographer who specializes in keeping the skill in the camera, not just on the screen. For more of his work and tutorials, check out his website. Don’t forget to like his Facebook page, follow him on Instagram and sign up to the Jake Hicks Photography newsletter to receive Jake’s free Top Ten Studio Lighting Tips and Techniques PDF. This article was also published here and shared with permission.