The best photography lighting for 2019, from speed lights to studio strobes
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Photography is all about light, and one of the best ways to improve your photography is to learn how to bring your own light to a scene, whether on or off-camera, flash or video light. When it comes to photography gear, rarely is any product the definitive “best” for every photographer, and this is particularly true with lighting equipment. But the Profoto B10, with its elegant design and user interface, excellent light quality, and battery-powered portability, is certainly one of the best pieces of photography lighting gear you can buy.
That is if you can afford it. The B10 may stand above other options, but it’s far from the most affordable way to get great lighting. Here are some of our favorite photo and video lights for different disciplines and budgets.
At a glance
- The best photography light overall: Profoto B10
- The best affordable portable studio light: Flashpoint XPLOR 400 Pro
- Best cheap photography lighting kit: Interfit FLA2002K1 Studio Essentials
- Best on-camera flash: Profoto A1X
- Best cheap on-camera flash: Godox VING 860II
- Best video lighting on a budget: Viltrox L116T RA
Why you should buy this: High flash output in a compact form factor for bringing the studio to the field.
Who’s it for Enthusiasts and professionals
Why we picked the Profoto B10:
The Profoto B10 combines studio lighting power with go-anywhere portability. With 250 watt-seconds of output, it is considerably brighter than the average external flash, yet the rechargeable battery still grants 400 full-powered flashes. Power can be turned down by as many 10 stops, giving a flexible range to balance the flash with a wide variety of ambient light levels. Depending on the power, the flash recharges as quickly as 0.05 seconds, or just 2 seconds at full power. It also connects directly to Profoto lighting modifiers like beauty dishes and softboxes with an easy-to-use slide-on collar system.
Beyond the flash capability, there is also a dimmable, color-temperature-adjustable LED modeling lamp that can output up to 2,500 lumens, enough for some video applications. This wouldn’t be our first recommendation for a dedicated video light, but hybrid shooters will appreciate the option.
While it’s undoubtedly a very advanced light, it is also incredibly easy to use thanks to a simple user interface and support for TTL metering for automatic exposure control with Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras (an optional universal trigger will work with other brands but without TTL or high-speed sync functionality). It’s almost a shame that the B10 costs so much, as it would otherwise make for an excellent choice for beginners in addition to photographers making money with their craft.
Profoto now makes a B10 Plus, as well, which offers twice the flash power but is longer and nearly a pound heavier. We feel the original B10 still hits the sweet spot between output and portability, and that’s why it’s our pick.
Why you should buy this: Most of the capability of the Profoto B10 for less than half the price.
Who’s it for Beginners, students, and photography enthusiasts
Why we picked the Flashpoint XPLOR 400 Pro:
The Flashpoint XPLOR 400 Pro, like the Profoto B10, is a portable, battery-powered studio light with wireless connectivity and TTL support (which goes beyond the big tree of Canon, Nikon, and Sony to also include Fujifilm and Olympus/Panasonic). It lacks the same level of refinement as the B10, but it offers 400 watt-seconds of output, up to 390 full-power flashes from the rechargeable battery, 1-second recycle time at full power, and a 30-watt modeling lamp — all for significantly less money than the B10. In fact, the EXPLOR 400 Pro costs about as much as a high-end Canon or Nikon Speedlight.
Other features include a 9-stop adjustable power range, five wireless control groups, and a native Godox modifier mount for attaching lighting modifiers (Flashpoint is a rebrand of Godox, a popular Chinese lighting manufacturer).
The XPLOR 400 Pro is noticeably bigger than the B10 and over a pound heavier at 4.6 pounds, and it’s the interface isn’t exactly as straightforward, but the cost savings make it a very attractive choice for photographers who want to be able to create studio-quality lighting virtually anywhere. If you’re looking to improve your lighting game, this is a product that can take you from beginner through to professional, growing with you as you learn.
Best cheap photography lighting kit: Interfit FLA2002K1 Studio Essentials
Why you should buy this: Wireless strobe capability with everything included on a budget
Who’s it for: Photographers new to studio lighting
Why we picked the Interfit Studio Essentials:
Dubbed as an ideal cheap photography lighting kit for beginners, the Interfit FLA2002 Studio Essentials kit sits at a happy medium between price, features and build. Unlike the cheap lighting kits on Amazon, the Interfit isn’t a continuous lighting set and even includes a remote to trigger the lights cord-free. While you’ll need an AC outlet cord — finding a battery-powered strobe lighting kit for a similar price is pretty much impossible — the wireless capability in a strobe kit is a big plus.
The two flash heads included with the kit offers up to 200 Ws, with power-adjustable by five stops. That’s not as versatile as some high-end light kits, but plenty for beginners and the price point. The recycle time is about two seconds when using a full-powered burst of light. An essential feature for beginners, a 75w modeling light option allows new photographers to preview how the position of the light affects the image before snapping a photo. And while opting for a studio slave instead of continuous lighting already cuts down the heat, the lights are also fan-cooled.
Along with the two strobe lights, the kit also includes two 7.5 foot stands and two softboxes. Compatible with Bowens accessories, adding additional modifiers is easy to do as well. The wireless radio receiver is also included, along with a carrying bag.
While the Interfit kit may be basic, the set offers a lot of features for the price point. There are cheaper options, but they typically use a continuous light source instead of strobes, a less quality build or don’t include a wireless transmitter in the set, instead of relying on a wired connection to the camera.
Best on-camera flash: Profoto A1X
Why you should buy this: High-end features meet natural-looking light falloff
Who’s it for Photography enthusiasts, pros, and any photographer serious about optimal light quality
Why we picked the Profoto A1X:
There are many reasons why the Profoto A1X is the best camera flash, but one of the biggest perks to the Profoto A1X is obvious without taking a dive into the technical specifications — the shape. While most flashes use a rectangular flash head, the Profoto A1X uses a round flash head. That shape lends to more natural light fall-off at the edges, considering natural light (i.e. the sun) is also round. That round shape is also more similar to studio strobes.
But besides the unusual shape, the recently updated A1X has a number of perks, including a 450 shot battery life and one second recycle time, both improvements over the earlier version of this flash, without the X in the name. The flash is compatible with all the auto features you’d expect from a high-end flash, including TTL, high-speed sync, and a built-in autofocus assist beam. For using manual settings, the flash has a wide range from 1/1 to 1/256 and a 32mm to 105mm zoom range.
Off-camera, the A1X uses a built-in transceiver, allowing the light to trigger other Profoto lights. To trigger the without one mounted on top of your camera, you’ll need to Profoto Air transmitter, but don’t need to add a receiver to your bag. The flashes offer 20 wireless channels in six groups, making it ideal for multi-light set-ups. The modeling light is also built-in, allowing photographers new to off-camera lighting to easily see how the light will look before the shot.
Those features are wrapped up in a flash that weighs roughly a pound and a quarter. And while the flash head design is a bit different, the head still rotates and tilts for the bounce. The control scheme is also straight forward, making the system simpler to use despite the long list of features. The downside? The price of the Profoto A1X sits at four figures.
Best cheap on-camera flash: Godox VING 860II
Why you should buy this: Advanced features without the advanced price
Who’s it for Beginners, students, enthusiasts, and semi-pros
Why we picked the Godox Ving 860II:
A good flash doesn’t have to cost more than the camera body itself, and the Godox Ving 860II is the best cheap camera flash you can buy — and as good or better than many higher-priced first-party options. packs in a lot of power and advanced features considering the much lower price point. Coming from a brand favored for more budget-friendly lighting solutions, the Godox Ving 860II still sits at a 197-foot guide number, making it a good choice for most photographers on a budget, unless you really need that flash paired with a lens longer than 200mm. The flash also comes in versions compatible with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, and Panasonic, so chances are, it’s compatible with your camera system.
The 860II offers a respectable 1.5-second recycle time for the price point at full power. Both TTL and manual mode are included, along with high-speed sync for going beyond your camera’s flash sync speed, and an autofocus assist beam. The flash head both tilts and rotates for bounce possibilities.
But despite the budget category, the 860II will go off-camera easily, thanks to a built-in radio wireless transmission system with a 328-foot range and 32 channels. The flash can be controlled with a second flash or using a Godox transmitter.
The 860II also eliminates one of the major annoyances with name brand flashes — the need for AA batteries. The 860II uses a rechargeable Li-ion battery pack. With the battery, the flash weighs around a pound.
Best video lighting on a budget: Viltrox L116T RA
Why you should buy this: Inexpensive, versatile continuous lighting for video
Who’s it for Beginner and enthusiast videographers — and photographers too
Why we picked the Viltrox L116T RA:
Videographers can easily spend thousands on a high-end continuous lighting kit, but for versatile, portable lighting, an inexpensive LED panel like the Viltrox L116T RA will do the trick for many videographers, and even photographers looking for some continuous light to shoot faster than what’s possible with flash or to assist the autofocus in low light scenes. With 987 lumens, the inexpensive LED is bright enough for many different applications.
Used on-camera or off, the L116T can be used at full power or all the way down to 20 percent. Color temperature settings between 3300-5600K further allow videographers and photographers to match the added light to the light that’s already in the scene. Both settings are accessible from an LCD panel at the back that also makes the light easy to use for newbies.
At just over an inch thick, the Viltrox is also easy to bring on-site, while the 7.6-inch by 5-inch front dimensions make for a light that’s large enough for softer light but small enough to easily tuck into a camera bag. The included battery lasts for more than two hours, and accessories to use with a cold shoe mount or tripod are also included.