Ten Must-Have Lighting Products

by Theano Nikitas

January 31, 2014

Lighting a subject or a scene can be as easy as planning a portrait shoot in-studio with a single sitter, or as challenging as lugging bags of gear up a mountain to capture the pinnacle of a snowboarder’s jump. Photographers are resourceful, clever and creative and can work with a minimal amount of equipment to make magical images. Here, we’ve put together ten lighting products—some new, some tried and true—that we think will add value to your lighting kit.

broncolor Para 177 and 222

Although announced early last year, broncolor’s Para 177 and 222 just started shipping a few months ago. The latest parabolic reflectors from broncolor feature titanium construction and a new focusing system. The system is based on a universal mounting pin that enables use of broncolor, Kobold, Profoto and K56 heads. The company also introduced a new generation of softboxes in a variety of shapes and sizes (six rectangular and square, one narrow striplite and two octaboxes). Speedrings are available for most of the current heads on the market. broncolor products don’t come cheap, but they provide the long-lasting, top-notch tools you need. Price: From $5,894 (Para 177); from $7,244 (Para 222); from $214 (softboxes)

Gossen Sixtomat F2

The new Gossen Sixtomat F2 is a highly versatile light meter that reads both incident and reflective light and easily measures mixed lighting including ambient and flash or multiple flashes. With its wide range of f/stop readings, from f/1.0 to f/90 and shutter speeds ranging from 1/8000s to 60 minutes, it seems there are no lighting conditions this compact device can’t measure. Exposure values can be displayed in full, 1/2 or 1/3 increments. Filmmakers and videographers will make good use of its special CINE mode. Gossen has designed the Sixtomat F2 for ease of use, so even if you’ve never used a handheld light meter before, you can get up to speed quickly.
Price: $250

Manfrotto Spectra LED Lights

Manfrotto has refreshed its LED line with several new Spectra models. These dimmable LED lights are powered by four AA batteries or via an optional AC adapter. Batteries last about 1.5 hours for alkalines (longer for NiMH) at high power. The smaller lights, like the 500F offer a beam angle of 60 degrees and are color-balanced for daylight, while the higher-end model, the 900FT, has a beam angle of 50 degrees and adjustable color temperature. All lights come with a trio of filters: 1/4 CTO warming, full CTO warming and Opal diffusion, which can be used individually or stacked together. A ball head/hotshoe attachment is included with the light. For more attachment options, the Spectras are compatible with 1/4-inch threaded accessories. The full rundown of sizes and features for these lights are available on the Manfrotto site.
Price: Starting at $220

Multiblitz X10 AC/DC

Although targeting commercial, fashion and advertising photographers, the Multiblitz X10 AC/DC strobe light will meet the needs of a wide range of pro shooters. As its name indicates, the strobe can be powered by AC or a Propac battery pack. It’s capable of firing up to 20 flashes per second and offers a new “speed mode” so the unit supports charging and firing the flash at the same time. This 1000-watt strobe can fire up to 20 flashes per second and features a built-in radio/wireless triggering system. It also features a 3.5mm PC jack and comes with a PC sync cord. Photographers also benefit from its 10 f/stop control range, which is adjustable in 1/10 increments. For more details about this high performance flash, visit the Multiblitz website.
Price: $1,500

Nikon SB-300 

At 2.3 x 2.6 x 2.5 inches and weighting 4.2 ounces with two AAA batteries installed, the new SB-300 is the baby of Nikon Speedlights. It will be dwarfed by most Nikon DSLRs, but it’s the perfect accessory for the Nikon Coolpix A or the Coolpix P7800 advanced compact cameras or even mirrorless cameras like the Nikon 1v2. The flash head tilts up to 120 degrees when you need to bounce the light and, although the unit is tiny, it has a reach of about 59 feet. This little Speedlight is iTTL compatible and manual control is available with compatible cameras. While it doesn’t function as a master, its output intensity can be adjusted and used to trigger other Speedlights.
Price: $150

Photoflex FlexFlash

While you may not be able to say the name three times fast without stumbling, the Photoflex FlexFlash 400W and 200W monobloc studio strobes are well worth checking out. The 400W model has a flash duration of 1/800th second, while the 200W can shoot as fast as 1/120th second. Both are equipped with a large, easy-to-read digital screen so you can check settings even when the flash is positioned on a stand above eye level. They weigh about 5 pounds each, including the power cable and reflector and measure 13.6 x 6 x 5 inches with protective cap. And they’re equipped with auto voltage detection for photographers who travel overseas.
Price: 400W from $390; 200W from $320 

Phottix Mitros+

As implied by the plus sign at the end of its name, the new Phottix Mitros+ is more than just a hotshoe flash. Expanding its usability, the Mitros+ has a built-in Odin transmitter, Odin receiver and a Strato receiver. Phottix explains that it was developed with input from wedding and event photographers. In addition to operating as an on-camera flash, thanks to its transmitter/receivers photographers can control and trigger remote flashes quickly and easily. The flash is currently only available for Canon but Phottix plans to release a Nikon version in Q1 2014. To read about the many features of the Mitros+ visit the Phottix site—it’s a really clever and convenient piece of equipment.
Price: $450

Profoto B1

Profoto has just unveiled an interesting new concept in portable lighting: a powerful, battery powered flash with TTL functionality. Called the B1, the folks from Profoto described it to me as an “off-camera flash,” during an NDA meeting I had on the new product at PhotoPlus Expo 2013. But that description doesn’t quite sum up the B1, since it’s not a speedlight nor a monolight, but a new lighting product that combines some of the attributes of the two.

Along with its cordless portability, the B1 gives you TTL control thanks to a patent-pending invention from Profoto designed to integrate the flash with your camera. It works by attaching Profoto’s Air Remote TTL-C to your camera’s hotshoe. When you photograph your subject, the B1 will automatically adjust the blast of light to optimize exposure. If you want more control, you can switch to full manual control with the press of a button on the B1.

The Air Remote TTL-C, which is sold separately, slides onto your hot shoe and creates a wireless link between your camera and the B1 flash. It supports manual and TTL control of B1 lights in up to three groups.

The Air Remote TTL-C  for Canon cameras with E-TTL II support is being launched today with the B1. Nikon users will have to wait a bit though: The Air Remote TTL-N for Nikon cameras with i-TTL support comes out next year.
—Dan Havlik

Price: B1, $1,995; Air Remote TTL-C, $395

Sony HVL-F43M

In the past, Sony has been called to task for its proprietary hotshoe design. But the company has been using an ISO-standard Multi Interface Shoe for its newer cameras and camcorders, including the a7/a7R, RX1/R, RX100 II, and recently refreshed its HVL-F43M flash to match. In addition to compatibility with Multi Interface Shoe-equipped cameras, the HVL-F43M (which bears the same name as its older shoe-mount compatible predecessor) now features an LED video light. Like its predecessor, the HVL-F43M is designed with Sony’s “Quick Shift Bounce” system, which allows users to rotate the flash head so it’s in perfect position when switching camera orientation between portrait and landscape, which comes in handy. The flash offers a number of other features, including wireless control for up to three flash units, but we think its rotating flash head is probably the most notable attribute.
Price: $400

SpinLight 360

This portable, modular light modifier fits most flashes from a variety of manufacturers including Nikon, Canon, Sony and Metz, along with other brand speedlights of similar sizes. Although the original SpinLight has been discontinued (but is still available while supplies last), its successor—SpinLight 360 Extreme now accommodates gels. SpinLight released a new gel set earlier this year—but still supplies several gels with the device. The Extreme kit comes with a snoot, half dome, white and clear full domes, a Velcro attachment and four bounce cards. A more modest kit, the “Event” is also available with fewer components. Considering the SpinLight’s versatility and price, you get a lot of options for a little bit of cash.  
Price: Extreme kit, $149; Event kit, $79  

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