9 Portable Lights For Any Application

May 26, 2015

By Greg Scoblete

Need a continuous light for video, a motion-freezing strobe or creative lighting effects on location? Here’s a selection of portable options offering a range of features for every shoot.  

Elinchrom ELB 400

The newest member of the Elinchrom Quadra portable-flash family, the ELB 400 delivers three new features to the Quadra line first seen on the larger ELC HD Pro monolight (reviewed in the December 2014 issue of PDN), including strobo, delay and sequence modes. The 424 w/s ELB 400 draws power from a portable battery pack that offers a pair of asymmetrical power outputs. You’ll enjoy 350 full-power flashes from a fully charged battery, or as many as 6,000 flashes at the minimum power setting; a depleted battery takes an hour and a half to recharge. The flash output is adjustable over a 6.9 f-stop range. A Pro head prioritizes maximum power and features a flash duration of 1/1200 sec at full power (measured at t0.5). An Action head, which prioritizes shorter flash durations over power output, clocks in with durations of 1/2800 sec. The Quadra ELB 400 features Elinchrom’s El-Skyport wireless receiver system built in and is compatible with the existing line of Quadra batteries and accessories. The flash and battery combined weigh just shy of six pounds. 

Price: N/A


Broncolor Move Outdoor Kit

A high-powered studio-to-go, the Move Outdoor kit bundles the 1600 w/s MobiLED flash head with Broncolor’s Move 1200 L, a lithium battery pack with a pair of individually asymmetrical power outlets. The flash head uses Broncolor’s RFS 2 wireless transmitting system and the battery pack is rated for roughly 170 flashes at full power—it can reach well into the thousands if you dial back the power. Flash durations are as speedy as 1/1000 sec at full power (measured at t0.5) and recycle times vary between 0.02 and 1.9 seconds. Power is adjustable over a 9 f-stop range in 1/10-stop increments so you’ll have precise control over the MobiLED’s output. The Move 1200 L incorporates Broncolor’s Enhanced Color Temperature Control technology to ensure consistent color temperature from flash-to-flash. You’ll get a weatherproof pack and an outdoor trolley backpack when you spring for the Move Kit. 

Price: $7,105


IC12 LED Light Cube

LEDs are typically thought of as a continuous light source, but IC12’s LED Light Cube pulls double duty as both a speedy flash and a continuous light. Set to flash mode, it can deliver motion-freezing speeds of up to 1/8000 sec at up to 15 frames per second, with no recycle time. You can also dial it down to deliver one flash per second. According to IC12, the color temperature will remain at a constant 5600K throughout its operation. At 150 w/s, the LED Light Cube isn’t very powerful, but you can daisy-chain multiple cubes together with a $16 cable and have them work in sync to boost the power output. The first Cube in your configuration acts as the master; the rest are slaves and can be triggered via wireless trigger, sync cable or optical slave. The Cube runs off a removable Lithium-ion battery that’s good for 45 minutes of use in continuous mode, or for up to 800 full-power flashes. It measures in at a squat 4 x 4 x 4 inches, and weighs just 1.7 pounds.

Price: $459


Bolt VB-11

The Bolt VB-11 is a shoe-mounted flash with a bare-bulb design that gives you more light-shaping options than your standard speedlight. It’s more powerful than a speedlight, too, with an output of 180 w/s and a guide number of 196 feet at ISO 100. The flash can be triggered by the hot-shoe, a PC sync cord, 3.5mm cable or remote control; it can also function as an optical slave with a 33-foot range. The head rotates 135 degrees to the right or 180 degrees to the left and tilts from 15–90 degrees. You can control the power output manually between 1/1 and 1/128 in 1/3 EV steps; recycle times range from 0.05 to 2.6 seconds. There’s a manual AF-assist lamp to help your camera lock focus in low light, and a 1.75-inch backlit display to read flash settings. The Bolt requires an external power pack, such as the Cyclone PP-400DR, which delivers between 1,200–1,400 flashes before petering out. 

Price: $384


Quantum Instruments Qflash Trio QF8

The shoe-mounted Qflash Trio is an 80 w/s workhorse flash that works on either Nikon or Canon cameras with TTL metering. You can remotely control additional off-camera flashes using the Trio’s built-in FreeXwire radio. The Trio’s parabolic reflector can be popped off to shoot bare-bulb, or you can attach other light modifiers to the flash, depending on your needs. The display on the back provides warnings for under or over-exposure and lets you access up to eight saved presets. Autofocus assist, as well as rear-curtain and high-speed sync options are also available. The Trio has a USB port for firmware upgrades, too. It draws power from the 1-pound Turbo SC power pack, which can deliver up to 400 full-power flashes with recycle times of 1.5 seconds, and takes an hour-and-a-half to recharge. You can also pair the Trio with the Turbo Blade or T3 portable batteries—the Blade offers roughly the same performance as the Turbo SC in a smaller form factor, while the T3 is heavier but delivers more than twice the number of full power flashes and faster recycle times.  

Price: $645 (Trio); $351 (Turbo SC); $466 (Blade); $624 (T3)


Profoto B1

The B1 debuted late in 2013 and continues to be the only battery-powered monolight with TTL metering on the market. The B1 offers TTL metering for either Canon or Nikon cameras via its Air Remote (sold separately). The 500 w/s monolight’s removable battery delivers up to 220 full-power flashes. Power is adjustable in 1/10 f-stop increments over a nine f-stop range. The B1 can crank out 20 flashes per second and offers flash durations between 1/1000 sec. and 1/19,000 sec. The standard charger can rejuvenate a spent B1 battery in two hours but you can spring for an optional rapid charger that shaves that time in half. It weighs 6.6 pounds with the battery.

Price: $2,095


Lowell GL-1 

Yes, the GL-1 bears an uncanny resemblance to a power drill, but beneath its Home Depot-like exterior lies a capable LED spotlight. The GL-1 delivers a tungsten-balanced beam equivalent to 100W with a Color Rendering Index (or CRI, which measures a light’s ability to accurately render all the colors of its spectrum, with 100 being the highest possible score) value of 90. It’s dimmable between 5–100 percent. You’ll have a locking wheel to control light output on the back of the unit, plus a lockable dimming trigger in the front which you can use to dim the unit while hand-holding it. You can use the trigger to lock the light in the on position when the GL-1 is mounted to a tripod, and then use the wheel to adjust your intensity as needed. A Fresnel lens casts either a 39-degree beam or a tighter, 10-degree spotlight. You’ll get one hour of full brightness per battery charge, but you can also use the GL-1 with AC power. The battery is removable, so you can always tote a spare—extras cost $169 a pop. You can screw 82mm filters over the light and can secure it on a tripod using either its ?-20 and 3/8 mounts if you’re tired of holding it—it weighs 3.75 pounds with battery, so you will be, eventually. The GL-1 can also accommodate barn doors and lens shades. 

Price: $700


FJ Westcott Flex Kit

While LED is hardly new technology, we’ve arguably only just begun to push the boundaries of what it’s capable of. The Flex is a good example. This 10 x 10-inch light features 256 LED diodes on a thin wire frame that can be bent and shaped in a variety of ways. The frame is just 1/4-inches thick and the entire light weighs under half a pound, so it can effortlessly slip into your camera bag. The 55W Flex LED mat is available in both tungsten and daylight versions. Opt for tungsten and you’ll enjoy 1,600 lux output at 1 meter with a CRI of 98. The daylight-balanced version of the Flex delivers 1,900 lux at 1 meter with a slightly lower CRI of 95. The light is also water-resistant, so it can survive the occasional spritz. The Flex kit includes a dimmer module and dimmer extension cable, bracket mount, 1/4-stop diffusion cloth and power supply. As of this writing, the Flex requires AC power to operate, but we’re told a battery pack is in the works to enable you to truly “cut the cord.” Bigger sizes are also on the road map.

Price: $700


Rift Labs Kick 

The Kick is a fun little LED for adding effects to your video or still work. The Kick uses its LED to output just about any color of light you desire. Using the company’s free app for iOS and Android devices, you can aim your phone’s camera at a light source and the Kick will mimic the light. It’s also capable of producing effects, such as the flickering of a candle or a lightning storm. If there’s an effect you want the Kick to recreate, you can sample it—simply call up a video stored on your phone in the app, move a cursor over the effect you desire and the app will instruct the Kick over Wi-Fi to mimic the effect. These samples are stored in an effects library in the app for later use. Multiple Kicks can be controlled by the app and linked together via Wi-Fi to amplify its power. It offers a color temperature between 2500–10,000K, and is capable of pushing 400 lumens at 5400K. The light can be mounted to a tripod via a 1/4-20 standard socket. The internal battery is good for 1 hour and 20 minutes at full power, and can be plugged into an AC outlet via USB adapter for continuous use. Since it recharges via USB, it can also accept USB mobile chargers—like Mophie’s Juice Pack—to extend its battery life if a socket isn’t accessible. 

Price: $149


Related: Portable Light Kit Roundup