When you think about going on location with strobes, the most obvious choice is to find the lightest and most compact battery-powered option available. Generally speaking, that means hot-shoe mountable strobes. The least expensive hot-shoe strobes are also, unfortunately, less powerful. Compact flashes measure output with a guide number; the higher the number, the more powerful the flash. (There’s a handy formula, too, to help calculate how much light a flash puts out at a given distance or aperture: guide number = f/stop x distance at ISO 100.) A less powerful flash, with a guide number of, say, 110, would require opening up a stop, to f/11, when used at the same distance and ISO.
These small flashes almost always offer dedicated communication with a specific camera system as well as TTL automatic output control. Because the camera, lens and flash—and even other brand-specific dedicated flashes—are in constant communication, exposure adjustments and flash zooming can happen automatically. This is a huge advantage: all the parts not only play nicely together, but those auto adjustments can make life easier for photographers.
The top-of-the-line Speedlite in the Canon universe is the 600EX-RT. Built-in wireless radio communication makes connecting multiple remote flashes a snap, and increases range and triggering accuracy, especially compared to previous “line of sight” infrared-triggered flashes. The 600EX-RT has a guide number of 197 (with the flash zoomed to 200mm), expanded zoom range (from 20-200mm), 18 custom functions and seven personal functions, and a filter holder for attaching gels for color correction. Estimated Street Price: $469, usa.canon.com
Nikon shooters set their sights on the company’s flagship SB-5000 AF Speedlight, which offers wireless optical and radio control for enhanced connectivity up to 98 feet without requiring a line of sight from unit to unit. With the optional WR-A10 wireless remote adapter, photographers can control up to six groups (containing as many as 18 flashes each) for some very complex lighting setups. Wedding photographers and fast shooters will appreciate the heat-shedding design and internal cooling system that prevents the flash from overheating even when delivering 100 full power flashes in rapid succession. When using radio control, D5 and D500 users can adjust the flash’s setting straight from the camera’s menu. The flash’s guide number at 200mm is 180. Estimated Street Price: $599, www.nikonusa.com
Metz makes its Mecablitz 64AF-1 compact flash in versions dedicated to Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and Pentax camera systems, and fully integrates its communications and TTL functionality with each manufacturer’s branded flashes. The 64AF-1 is powerful, with a whopping guide number of 210, and convenient, with its integrated backlit touchscreen display. Fast recycling time, a sync socket, a USB connection for firmware updates and four individual program settings make this flash ideal for serious shooters who want total control. Estimated Street Price: $479, metz.us.
One option that must be considered when working with multiple off-camera flashes is how to trigger them.The brand new PocketWizard Plus IV radio transceiver is an ideal option for speedlight shooters who want to maintain on-camera TTL control while still being able to trigger remote flashes manually.(It also works well with big strobes, too.)
When working outdoors with strobe, there’s one measure that’s the end-all, be-all of most professional shooters: power. The higher output of studio-style strobe systems, whether in a pack-and-head format or individual monoblocs, is invaluable for photographers who want the option of using their flash to balancing with or override bright sunlight. It takes a lot of light to overpower bright sunlight, so how better to find that power than by taking a larger, more powerful strobe system out on location?
There are two ways to accomplish this. The first is to choose an integrated strobe-and-battery system, such as the Broncolor, Profoto and Elinchrom products listed below. The other approach is to choose a stand-alone battery pack/inverter, which will provide enough power to run traditional AC-powered strobes but without the need for AC power nearby. First, let’s look at the integrated systems.
Broncolor’s Move 1200L is a battery-powered 1200 watt-second pack that moves from studio to remote locations in a snap. Designed to work with Broncolor MobiLED heads (which use low-power LEDs as model lamps) the Move 1200L provides 230 full power flashes on a single charge, or a whopping 50,000 flashes on its lowest output setting. The Move 1200L provides incredible color accuracy within 50 degrees Kelvin from flash to flash and across the entire 9-stop output range. Switched to Speed Mode, the color accuracy slightly decreases, but the flash duration shortens to as fast as 1/20,000th of a second, unparalleled for freezing fast-moving action. The downside of this kit is its price: configured with a pack and two heads, the Move 1200L is as expensive as some used cars. Estimated Street Price: $8,000, bron.ch
Profoto makes a variety of battery-powered strobes, including the 1000ws Pro B4 pack and the 500ws B1 monolight. It also makes the BatPac 120V, a battery for powering D1 monolights or Acute 2 generator packs. But the most portable strobe option the company manufactures is the compact B2 250 Air.
This battery-powered flash can be used on camera or off, and is based on the Profoto AirTTL system, which uses an on-camera remote to provide total TTL control to Canon and Nikon cameras. Hybrid mode begins with a TTL measurement, then switches automatically to manual control to allow the photographer to make any creative adjustments they desire. Estimated Street Price for two-light kit: $2699, profoto.com
Elinchrom’s Ranger Quadra Hybrid AS RX is a 400ws battery-based strobe system built for working in the outdoors. The type of battery affixed to the Quadra Hybrid can be changed depending on the working environment; for normal day-to-day use, the Lithium Ion pack will provide more flashes per charge and lighter overall weight, but in low temperatures (which compromise the function of Li-ion batteries) photographers can switch to Elinchrom’s Lead-Gel batteries. A built-in EL Skyport receiver can be used to trigger the strobes, as well as to remotely adjust model lamps and flash output. Estimated Street Price for one-light kit with lead-gel battery. Price $899, elinchrom.com
The Dynalite XP-800 is a pure sine wave inverter. That’s a fancy term for a battery with associated circuitry that inverts the battery’s direct current (DC) into the smooth and consistent alternating current (AC) that sensitive electronics require. So for photographers who want to plug a high-power flash into a battery, a pure sine wave inverter is key. The XP-800 is strong enough to power any 800ws moonlight or strobe pack. It’s another piece to carry on the road, but it’s also significantly less expensive than most equally high-power battery/pack combo units. Estimated Street Price: $719, dynalite.com
Turn any AC-powered monolight into a remote location light via the Photogenic ION Li-ion pure sine wave inverter. The compact pack is designed to clamp to a light stand below a monolight and provide 300 full-power flashes from a 1,000ws monolight. The LED indicator provides information on remaining charge, and replacement batteries are just $150, an affordable way to double the lifespan of a given source.
Estimated Street Price: $369, photogenic.com
Power up to 3200ws of flash units (with the model lights turned off) using the Paul C. Buff Vagabond Lithium Extreme, or VLX . Weighing just six pounds, this inexpensive device recycles a 640ws flash in 2 seconds, comes with a three-hour rapid charger and the entire rig clamps to any light stand. The VLX battery is approved for airline travel worldwide as well. Estimated Street Price: $399, paulcbuff.com
Ten years ago, prior to the large-scale convergence of photo and video, a roundup such as this would have been limited to strobes. But these days not only are photographers more interested in constant light sources that can be used for video too, but technological innovation has made the light-emitting diode an ideal high-output, low-energy light source. While most LED panels won’t easily overpower the sun, for many natural lighting situations, augmenting ambience with an LED opens up creative lighting options for photo and video applications.
One of the leading names in LED arrays is Litepanels. The company’s 1×1-foot square panels all but defined a whole new genre of location lighting. Because the panel-type sources are not entirely specular, the unmodified output falls somewhere between a parabolic reflector and an umbrella. The challenge with any source made up of several hundred individual diodes, though, is that it can be difficult to cut the light with a flag and create a hard-edged shadow. Still, these efficient light sources are beloved on photo and video sets for their relative brightness, compact form factor and very low heat.
The newest, most affordable panel in the Litepanels lineup is the; available in tungsten, daylight and adjustable “bi-color” options, these LED panels are capable of being powered by an Anton Bauer battery pack, a common power source for professional video cameras and accessories. For those familiar with the original LitePanels 1×1, the Astra puts out four times the light in a fixture that’s effectively the same size, and at a much lower cost. Estimated Street Price of bi-color unit. Price $1350, litepanels.com
Arri is a name quite familiar to video shooters. The company made its name producing tungsten hot lights for film and television production, but these days it’s the new LED Sky Panel series of lights that are garnering attention from still photographers as well. Available in two sizes, the S60-C is a 1×2’ panel, while the S30-C is a more portable 12×14” size. Both models offer fully tunable color temperatures from 2,800k to 10,000k, both are capable of running on battery power and both deliver brighter output than a 1000-watt tungsten soft light. Estimated Street Price: S30-C $4,000 and S60-C $5,600, arri.com
Speaking of popular video lights, Kino Flo is known primarily as a maker of fluorescent light fixtures, which are themselves more efficient than many constant light sources. But Kino Flo also manufactures an LED light panel similar in size to its popular Diva fluorescent fixture. Measuring 24×14” the Celeb 201 is a fully dimmable and variable color fixture capable of 2700k to 6500k output. Best of all, it uses only 100 watts to deliver the appearance of 800 watts of output. That means it can be used with a 24-volt DC battery, sold separately. Estimated Street Price: $2529, kinoflo.com
Not all portable constant lights are LEDs. The k5600 Evolution 200 is a more energy-efficient HMI light source. The HMI style of daylight-balanced hot light has been a favorite of cinematographers for ages thanks to its daylight balance and high-output relative to energy hungry tungsten sources. Some models have built-in Fresnel lenses that make lighting effects such as emulating natural sunlight possible.
Available in multiple configurations, the Evolution line is more energy efficient than other HMI lights, but it still relies on AC power. To make it truly capable of illuminating a remote location, the addition of K5600’s AC/DC ballast and a third-party battery is essential. Owing to its history as a popular motion picture source, the AC/DC ballast can be configured to accept an Anton Bauer battery or a 30v battery belt. Estimated Street Price for Joker 200 and AC/DC ballast: $2399, k5600.com