Portable Strobe Systems; Location Lighting In One Neat Package

When you need the power and versatility of a studio strobe for location shooting and environmental portraiture but don’t want to schlep around a large, heavy studio system, you can turn to a portable lighting kit that is a bit more modest in design but in some cases equally capable in practice. This same kit could also be a prudent and economical first step for your studio.

While preferable that the lights be battery-driven so that we can avoid taxing the electrical system in someone’s home or avoid the need to locate and connect to electrical outlets altogether, there are limitations to what a battery-operated system can do—namely in the number of heads attached (usually one, sometimes two, rarely more) and in the use of modeling lights (often limited or nonexistent). Modeling lights are important, but in the digital age we can make do without and simply preview the results on screen. Select systems with multiple lights are driven by separate battery packs—that adds a lot of heft and bulk.

The Kit
We can do quite a bit with one light but a second head as fill or background light always helps. A third light is just icing on the cake, but when it comes to portable systems, I’ve kept it to those kits containing just one or two lights, to be practical (both in terms of size/heft and cost).

Each head comes with a standard or umbrella reflector, but if one light will be used as a hair or background light, you’ll also need a conical snoot (to define a tight circle of light) and background reflector (to gradate the light). These are items that are not necessarily included in kits. That also goes for barn doors and color gels. Kits routinely come with enough stands to match the number of heads.

The next key item is an umbrella or softbox. Kits may come with one or both, but often that softbox is a 2x2-footer sufficient for a head-and-shoulders portrait. You may need something larger.

Heads are normally equipped with photo-optical slaves, some with infrared sync. The kit may also come with a radio slave sync system (built-in or as an adjunct), but you may still have to buy the transmitter/transceiver separately to trigger the lights from the camera. These are more efficient than photo-optical and infrared slaves in many situations, especially outdoors.

But at short distances, optical and IR will do just fine.

Finally come those odds and ends that you’ll usually have to add on your own. We begin with a strobe meter—nothing fancy, just functional enough to do the job. You may also require black cards to gobo light off the set or prevent flare at the camera (lens shades aren’t always enough). And for these you may need special clamps, and even extension arms attached to light stands. I often get around the need for gobos with judicial use of barn doors—but they may not be enough. And don’t forget that a reflector can often do the job of a second or third light, keeping the kit even lighter. Collapsible reflectors—circular or rectangular—are easily carried.

Portable Lighting Kits
In our listing, flash heads and monolight kits normally come with flash tubes and reflectors, along with the necessary cables, so these items are not listed among included items, unless noteworthy, such as UV-coated flash tubes. Modeling lamps for each head are also normally included, and we have provided wattage and type, when specified by the manufacturer. Recycling times listed are at full power. Where a range of flash durations was given by the manufacturer, I opted to list the shortest times.

We’ve divided these entries into systems driven by AC/DC (which includes primarily battery-powered strobes, units that work off AC or included battery, and lights that require optional battery packs for mobile use)—and AC only. Our listing encompasses monolights, power pack systems, and compact (quasi-handle-mount) mobile strobes. We tried to keep weight and price down, and one way to achieve that is to opt for a one-light system or one-head alternative to listed configurations. Please refer to the indicated websites for additional details and features.

Bowens Gemini 400 Monolight Kit

($899; $1515 w/Travelpak battery—www.bowensusa.com)

Includes two monolights/stands/umbrellas, wheeled case. Features: 400 ws; five-stop range; 250w halogen; 1.2-second recycle; 1⁄1000-sec flash duration; photocell; aluminum/high-impact ABS housing; overheat protection; auto dumping; visual/audible ready signals; 5600K; UV-coated flash tube; 30 lbs.

Broncolor Mobil A2R Travel Kit

Includes battery-powered Mobil A2R power pack, Mobilite 2 small lamp, charger, shoulder strap, carrying bag. Features: 1200 ws; four-stop range; 100w halogen; 2.9-second recycle; 1⁄1100-sec flash duration; photocell/IR/radio triggering; aluminum housing; overheat protection; auto dumping; visual/audible ready signals; optimized color temp; digital control; UV-coated protection dome; DC supports two heads/modeling lights; 20.3 lbs.

Calumet Travelite CE1310
($1299; $579 battery pack optional—www.calumetphoto.com)

Includes two 750R monolights/stands, silver/white umbrellas, wheeled case. Features: 750 ws; five-stop range; 250w quartz; 2.6-second recycle on AC; 1⁄650-sec flash duration; photo slave; high-impact polycarbonate housing; overheat protection; 5600K; UV-coated flash tube; 5v sync voltage; supports optional Calumet LiteLink and PocketWizard radio receiver cards; 41 lbs (sans battery).

Comet CBm-1200 Value Kit

Includes CBm-1200 power pack, two batteries, charger, and CB-25H flash head. Features: 1200 ws; 6.5-stop range; supports two heads (symmetric/asymmetric); 1⁄1450-sec flash duration; quick recycling; constant color temperature; more than 150 full power pops; max. 300w modeling lamps; quick exchangeable battery; pack under 16 lbs.

Dynalite Roadmax MK10-1222

Includes Roadmax AC-driven power pack, two Roadmax flash heads/stands/umbrellas, case. Features: 1000 ws; six-stop range; built-in PocketWizard and Wein Slave Eye; 250w modeling lamp; 1.6-second recycle; 1⁄525-sec flash duration; metal housing; visual/audible ready signals; DC operation requires optional XP1100 converter; 28 lbs.

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra To Go Kit with “A” heads

Includes two heads, extra battery, Skyport wireless radio transmitter, hard-sided case. Features: 400 ws; 6.6-stop range; 50w daylight LED modeling lamp; 2.2-second recycle; 1⁄6000-sec flash duration; polycarbonate housing; overheat protection; auto dumping; visual/audible ready signals; 5560K; digital control; UV-coated flash tube; supports two heads/modeling lights; 20 lbs.

Hensel Porty 6 Lithium

Includes one lithium pack, one EH Pro MINI P head/stand, rolling bag, radio transmitter, quick charger. Features: 600 ws; six-stop range; built-in radio receiver; 65w halogen; aluminum/plastic housing; auto dumping; visual/audible ready signals; 5500K; digital control; convection cooling; UV-coated flash tube; pack supports two heads with 1:1 and 1:2 asymmetrical ratio; 14.5 lbs.

Interfit Stellar Xtreme 300 Kit

Includes one monolight/stand/battery, case. Features: 300 ws; five-stop range; fan-cooled; 4.3v sync voltage; 8-10 seconds to full power; 5600K; built-in slave cell; 80-100 flashes at full power/over 250 pops on minimum power when fully charged; compact and lightweight.

JTL DL-600 Mobilight Travel Kit

Includes two Mobilight 301 monolights/Ni-MH batteries/stands, 100-240v charger, translucent white umbrella, silver umbrella, wheeled case, case for battery. Features: 300 ws (three-stop range); halogen modeling: 150w for 110v AC/10w for DC; recycle time to full: AC/3.5, DC/7 seconds; 1⁄1000-sec flash duration; built-in slave sensor; aluminum housing; visual/audible ready signals; 5600K; UV corrected; 37 lbs.

Lumedyne ZK44 LumeKit

Includes: 400 ws Basic Signature Series power pack, 800 ws Signature Series flash head w/modeling, battery, quick charger, shoulder strap, two diffusers, snoot. Features: 400 ws (2400 ws with booster); seven-stop range; 20w halogen; 2.5-second recycle; 1⁄25,600-sec flash duration; aluminum housing; ready lights; 5600K; air-cooled; UV-coated flash tube; up to two heads supported; 8 lbs.

Multiblitz Profilux Plus Location Set

Includes two Profilux Plus heads/stands/umbrellas, case. Features: 200 ws; six-stop range (infinitely variable); color-corrected flash tubes; 75w halogen; 1.6-second recycle; 1⁄3000-sec flash duration; IR/radio sync; visual/audible ready signals; digital control; polycarbonate housing; fan-cooled; auto dumping; 5640K; multi-voltage; spike protection; DC drives two heads/modeling lamps; less than 5v sync voltage; 22 lbs.