Two of the most popular lighting choices for studio photography these days are strobe (flash) lighting and LED continuous lights. While there’s some debate as to which is better for studio shoots – we discuss the pros and cons of each lighting system in a companion post – there are plenty of quality strobe and LED products out there right now that might suit your photography needs.
To help you make informed buying choices for your new lighting gear, we’ve picked our eight favorite strobes and LED lights for studio photography. We, obviously, couldn’t include every brand or product in this strobe and LED lighting buying guide, but we did select a variety of lights at varying pricepoints that we feel are the cream of the crop when it comes to illuminating your subjects in the studio.
Broncolor Siros 800 L
Switzerland-based Broncolor is one of the premier names in studio strobes and its Siros L battery-powered monolight could be its most versatile piece of lighting gear yet. Thanks to its built-in lithium battery, you can get up to 220 full-power flashes in the 800Ws version of the light on a 70-minute charge. (The 400Ws version of the Siros L gives you 440 flashes on a charge.) This makes the Siros L an extremely mobile lighting option, whether you want to easily move your shoot to different spots in your studio or bring your subject outside for a strobe-lit session outdoors. The light’s recycle time is a fast 0.03 to 2.7 seconds and flash duration is as quick as 1/7400 second. In Speed Mode, flash duration is speedy enough to freeze water droplets. So, whether your capturing dancers and athletes or shooting extensive splashes and pours – or dancers and athletes getting splashed and poured on, for that matter – the Siros 800 L will help you capture the decisive moment in a flash.
Profoto B10 Plus
Another excellent mobile strobe option from another top brand in lighting is the Profoto B10 Plus. While not quite as powerful Siros 800 L, the B10 Plus from the Swedish Profoto company, doubles the output of its older companion model, the B10, by offering 500Ws (joules) of light, which is about 10 times the power of a speedlight. The battery-powered B10 Plus is cordless and compact – about the size of a large camera lens – so it’s easy to stash in a camera bag if you’re shooting on location. The B10 Plus will give you 200 full-power flashes on a 90-minute charge. Recycle times in the light’s 10-stop power range are quick – 0.05 to 2.5 seconds – and in Freeze Mode you can fire the B10 Plus off at up to 1/50,000 second at minimum power. You can also use the B10 Plus for video thanks to its 150W-equivalent LED modeling light, which can be adjusted for both brightness and color temperature. Controlling the B10 Plus is as easy as pulling out your smartphone and opening the Profoto Camera App, which is now available for both iPhone and Android users.
If you want to spend a little less money and don’t need the extreme power and portability of the Broncolor or Profoto lights, the Godox AD1200Pro is a great option. Offering up to 1200Ws of lighting output, the AD1200Pro is a power pack-based lighting system. The design of the pack, however, features a rechargeable and replaceable lithium-ion battery so you can use it in the studio and or on location, whether you’re shooting in the streets or out in a field. (It’s powerful enough to overpower the sun for outdoor portraits.) Since the AD1200Pro uses the Godox 2.4G wireless X system, it’s compatible with the TTL autoflash set-ups of seven major camera brands, freeing you up to explore your lighting creativity more spontaneously. Recycle time is between 0.012 and seconds so you won’t miss a shot, while the shortest flash duration is 1/10860 seconds for freezing most any type of action. The flash head that comes with the kit is small and lightweight and features a Bowens mount, which is compatible with hundreds of modifiers.
Elinchrome ELC 125
Budget conscious photographers should consider the Elinchrome ELC 125, a solid monolight that features TTL control. Offering 125Ws of power, the Elinchrome ELC 125 has blazing fast recycle times of 0.1 to 0.8 second along with flash durations as short as 1/7750 second. There’s also High-Speed Sync (HSS) that allows shutter speeds as swift as 1/8000 second to freeze just about any type of motion. With the ELC 125 set in Auto-On mode, the unit saves your previous settings while the onboard TTL helps quickly lock in your next exposure. Meanwhile, the Manual Lock function lets you switch quickly from TTL to Manual without losing your exposure settings so you can make fast and precise adjustments on the fly. To prevent this monolight from overheating without interrupting your workflow, the ELC 125 has Smart Pro-Active Cooling, which adapts to your shooting style and adjusts its cooling cycle around it. Thanks to a low-noise, speed-controlled fan, the ELC 125 won’t be a loud distraction even during a long, heavy workload shoot.
LED Continuous Lighting
Broncolor LED F160
Along with its top-of-the-line strobe products, Broncolor has branched out into LED continuous lighting with the LED F160. And it’s no surprise that this LED monolight is pretty much the best product in its class. As might be expected from Broncolor though, it’s also the most expensive in its class. But with the ability to output the equivalent of 600W tungsten (12,000 lumens) of gorgeous LED light, it’s worth it. Plus, you can use the flicker-free Broncolor LED F160 to light up both still photos and video so, in some ways, it’s two products in one. Color temperature can be adjusted on the LED F160 with just a click of a toggle key, offering a range of 2600K to 6800K. Since it’s a Broncolor light, the Color Rendering Index (CRI) of the LED F160 is off the charts at 97+ throughout its temperature range. Magenta/Green control is also available and dimming can be done from 0 to 100%. The LED F160 can be controlled via the bronControl app or the optional DMX adapter. Other Broncolor benefits: you can use the F160 with all the company’s light modifiers, and the overall design of the light is solid, simple to use, and downright beautiful. There’s also an optional lithium battery so you can take the F160 on location even when there’s no power source.
The Rotolight AEOS really toes the line between photo and video and studio and mobile usage. And that’s what makes this product so appealing; it fulfills a variety of lighting needs and can adapt to a mix of environments. Also in the AEOS’ bag of tricks: it can be used as both a bi-color LED continuous light and in HSS mode to output 200% of its maximum light power as a flash with no recycle time. Talk about versatile; the AEOS also has an integrated Elinchrom Skyport Receiver for wireless triggering of the flash. Color temperature can be adjusted between 3150 and 6300K and the CRI is rated at 96+ so color is going to be accurate to help produce natural looking skin tones for portraits. While the Rotolight AEOS offers a lot of features, it’s surprisingly lightweight at just three pounds and less than an inch thick. Moving the AEOS from shoot to shoot is easy thanks to its integrated aluminum handles. Battery life tops out at three hours of usage on a single charge, so it won’t conk out during a shoot.
Aputure LS 600d Pro
The Aputure LS 600d Pro is another LED continuous light that wouldn’t look out of place in the studio, whether you’re shooting commercial portraits or a feature film. Designed with professional photographers in mind, the LS 600d Pro comes equipped with a native Hyper-Reflector and can output 8,500 lux at ten feet. When you add the optional F10 Fresnel modifier, the combo can achieve 29,300 lux at 10 feet. Capable of nearly 1200W of brightness while drawing just 720W of power to save energy, the 600d Pro is on par to HMI lights, which are standard on large film or commercial sets. CRI is 96+ and the easily adjustable color temperature range is 5600K to 200K, so light quality is stellar. The 600d Pro is the flagship product in Aputure’s LS (Light Storm) line so, appropriately it has a weatherproof design rated at IP54 to prevent water and dust from leaking in. While we wouldn’t recommend using this Light Storm product in an actual storm, there’s a good chance it will hold up fine while continuing to shine brightly.
Lowel TotaLED Daylight LED Kit
If you want to get your feet wet with studio-quality LED lighting but don’t want to invest a ton of money in it yet, the Lowel TotaLED Daylight LED Kit is a great entry-level package. Consisting of one 5600K Tota Daylight LED floodlight and an air-cushioned light stand, the kit has everything you need to get started with shooting LED continuous light for photos and videos. The TotaLED floodlight is modelled after the original Tota lights from Lowel and produces 750W tungsten equivalent of illumination thanks to its array of 160 5600K LED pinpoint lights. There are built-in two-way barndoors so you can direct the light and prevent spill onto your background. The TotaLED is powered either by a V-mount battery or AC power, giving you some mobility and adaptability depending on your shoot. Thanks to a large heatsink, there’s no fan in the light so you can use it on video shoots when recoding live sound and you won’t have to worry about overheating.