Which are the best portable studio lights?

dangerdoormouse

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Hi there
I have some basic portaflash lights, one with a stand and umbrella. I need another tall stand and another umbrella and ideally a softbox too. A guy I work with has just bought 2 Nikon camera flashes which he now uses instead of his flashes, but he still uses the stands, umbrellas etc. I quite like this idea (no cable is a good thing), but I still need the stand, soft box etc. Given that it will cost me a fair bit to get the stands, I am tempted to buy a proper kit, and then buy the Nikon flashes as well. OK, so a little convoluted, but my question is this, can anybody recommend a good kit? I need it to be as light as possible, reasonable compact (I take them to weddings), ideally have a soft box (but I can buy that separately), and not too expensive (£300-500, so $500-900). Any ideas?
Many thanks
Helen
 

Alpha

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As far as I know, there's only one kit that will satisfy your weight and price requirements, and it's still on the more expensive end.

That's the Photogenic StudioMax III kit. $670
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/245823-REG/Photogenic__StudioMax_III_Pro_640.html

It does not come with the battery, which you'd have to buy separately. $170
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/301879-REG/Photogenic_956046_Battery_for_Studiomax_AC_DC.html

Total comes to $840.

Add a speedring $50
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/404320-REG/Photogenic_907577_Speed_Ring_for_Photogenic.html

Add a cheap, decently sized softbox. $65, or two for $130.
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/423638-REG/Impact_SB6080_Softbox_24x32_.html

Then there's shipping.

I know it's a lot of money, but this is the cheapest option that meets your requirements.
 
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dangerdoormouse

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Thanks for that. Do you rate the Elinchrome or Bowens ones at all?
(I am happy to buy plug in ones, and then get 2 old Nikon heads for $50 each on ebay, buy an adapter and switch them depending on the job)
Thanks!
 

Helen B

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Have you had a look round Mr Cad in Croydon yet? They usually have a good selection of second-hand lighting equipment.

I wouldn't like to comment on the 'best' portable lights, but I have two portable kits, each with three heads: one based on Metz 60 flash units and one on Dyna-Lite D-804 packs and heads and a UNI400JR monolight.

Metz:
60 CT-2 head and Mecamat controller
60 CT-4 head
Mecatwin head
Two power packs
Lowel reflectors, flags
Softbox

The Dyna-Lites are not so easy to carry, but have the advantage of shorter recycle times. When you say 'portable' I guess that you mean car transportable? Different people have a different idea of what 'portable' means.

Calumet and Bowens are OK - Bowens makes the Calumet line. Balcar is nice - Mr Cad usually has plenty of Balcar stuff in stock. Metz 60-series equipment seems unusually cheap on eBay in comparison to less powerful battery units.

Best,
Helen
 
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dangerdoormouse

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Hi there
Thanks for the tip about Mr Cad. Googled it and it says it is the largest second hand dealer in Europe - funny the things you have no idea exist.
Yes, I guess I need things as light as possible as I don't have a car and go everywhere by tube, bus or train (that is Central London for you). I don't need much power, I need them for doing formals at weddings, and for popping round to someone's house or office for a portrait. Usually I use natural light, so it is only if there is hardly any. So, power isn't my thing. It is weight.
 

Alpha

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Another really nice option (though not super cheap) would be a Lumedyne kit. They make these tiny little strobes that are fantastically well powered and run off of a small battery pack.
 

Helen B

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"So, power isn't my thing. It is weight."

Bear in mind that the main comparison I made between my Metzes and my Dyna-Lites was the recycling time.

Mr Cad is the toy store. The chocolate factory. It makes New York places like Lens and Repro look like badly stocked market stalls. Mr Cad is a bit of a walk from West Croydon station. They aren't cheap - but you can get a good idea of their prices from the online catalogue.

I live near Times Square in the part of Manhattan known as Hell's Kitchen and, like you, I don't have a car.

Best,
Helen
 

elsaspet

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Hi,
We shoot exclusively locations, so here is what we use if it helps. (We don't like lugging stuff either).

We have 3 580EX flashes that live on their own stands, complete with flash boosters. We also have a video light, with a portable battery pack.
None of it's cheap, but it's very compact and easy to lug around.
 
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dangerdoormouse

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Hi Elsapet
Yes, that is very much what I am after I think, except I was told to use Nikon flashes (despite having a Canon camera) as they have a flash sync socket in them. What is a flash booster? And do you use things like umbrellas to soften the light a bit?
 

elsaspet

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Hi Elsapet
Yes, that is very much what I am after I think, except I was told to use Nikon flashes (despite having a Canon camera) as they have a flash sync socket in them. What is a flash booster? And do you use things like umbrellas to soften the light a bit?


Huh, I didn't even know you could use Nikon stuff with Canon.
The way we use it, we can either slave from the main camera, or use pocket wizards. The wizards are good for when you can't get the preflashes all lined up.

I know this sounds stupid, but I don't know the official name for the flash boosters. Basically, it's a little holder with 8 additional batteries in it, that you run a cord to your flash units to. I bet someone else will know the real name for them.

We sometimes use umbrellas, or diffusers but not often. The normal way we set it up is one is about 2' taller than the tallest person in the photo. The second flash is handling any sidelighting. We sometimes use a third for a background light. The camera flash acts as the main light.

Hope that helps.
 

elsaspet

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Oh also, we have just bought a new video light. It's lightweight, but the battery pack for that is 12 lbs, but has a shoulder strap. It's very nice, but it's tungsten.
If you need a one light, very portable setup, you may just need the vid light.
 

nossie

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Hi,
We have 3 580EX flashes that live on their own stands, complete with flash boosters. We also have a video light, with a portable battery pack.
None of it's cheap, but it's very compact and easy to lug around.


I have 1 580ex and considered using a setup like yours. How are they synched? Do they need to "see" each other or can they be triggered by radio? Must the main flash be on the camera or can it be replaced by some kind of triggering device?
 
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dangerdoormouse

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Thanks Elsapet.
Yes, you can use Nikon as they have a flash sync socket in them (apparently). So you can plug in a radio transmitter to them, and to your hotshoe. I am not sure whether my words are correct - a friend showed this to me last week. I think it is a good idea, but trying to see what else there is out there.
 

Helen B

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If you aren't using Canon flash guns then why not look at other makes beside Nikon. You won't be using the fancy Nikon-only features, but you may as well get something that will make use of some of your Canon dedicated features. I use Metz units of varying sizes with dedicated TTL modules for Nikon, Canon and Rollei, but when I use them in a multi-unit static setup I just use manual power control and a flash meter, exactly as I would in a studio.

A typical simple setup would be two Metz 60CT units, one with a Chimera Video Plus softbox providing the key (deliberately uneven, achieved by altering the diffusion) and one turned way down and snooted with black cinefoil as a kicker (a smaller unit would do for that). Fill is provided by a folding reflector on a stand.

One of the things about the 60CT units is that the battery unit can be attached to the bottom of the stand, which helps with stability without having to use other weights.

You can get small daylight video lights with HMI, fluorescent or LED sources, but they tend to be more expensive than the tungsten ones. They have the advantage of being at least four times more efficient in terms of lumens per watt when compared to a tungsten light, so they need less battery power. Daylight also has an advantage that it is easier to balance a daylight source to tungsten than it is to balance a tungsten source to daylight. Unlike the other lights I've mentioned, I haven't used an LED light yet, only seen them demo'd but the Zylight and Litepanels units look very tempting. The Zylights are daylight/tungsten switchable.

Best,
Helen
 

Mike_E

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Hi DDM, It sounds to me as thought you could do nicely with a Metz 45 CL4 w/stand and a couple of reflectors. You might like to go to a pawnshop or thrift store for a cheap flash for a background light. Radio triggers from Hong Kong are cheap and should be reliable enough for what you described.
 

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