Photography / Buying Guide

12 Recommended Breakdown Studio Lighting Kits

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Everyone who has ever lugged around heavy gear has a soft spot for the breakdown studio. They all have in common the barest you'll need to get the job done, are fast to set up and break down, and are lightweight. Of course, there are choices to be made—flash or constant light, for instance. Flash has the benefit of stopping action, while constant sources allow you to see exactly what you'll get in the finished product. Constant light sources include tungsten-halogen (hot lights) that live up to their name, fluorescent, and the current explosion of LEDs that just keep getting better and better. So rather than choosing one, let's look at three of each type, at varying prices and complexity. Let's start with constant lighting.

Tungsten Lighting

Lowel Tota-Light Two-Light Kit

One of the handiest hot lights ever made, the 11" long Lowel Tota-Light Two-Light Kit has gull-wing reflectors that act like barn doors to kick the broad output in the desired direction. Setup is super fast—the reflectors close around the lamp to form a protective shell and open for use. Lamps rated 300, 500 and 750W are available in voltages that span 100-240VAC. Tota-Lights are ideal for lighting backgrounds or for interviews, using this kit's umbrellas. The scaled-down size makes them a favorite of solo shooters, many of whom keep one in their bag to raise the ambient light level when using on-camera flash.

Lowel Rifa eX 88 Pro Kit

Built for speed, this Lowel Rifa eX 88 Pro Kit features a 1,000W eX 88 32 x 32" softbox and a 250W Pro Light. The  Rifa employs a unique umbrella-like design for rapid setup and breakdown. It's also part of the eX system, allowing you to exchange the lamp socket for 1, 3, or 5 Edison-based sockets. This kit comes with daylight conversion gels so both lights can be balanced with daylight, if necessary. Both lights can run on optional battery power when mains current is unavailable.

Dedolight Light Master 4-Light Kit

At the upper end of tungsten kits, while still being small and lightweight, is the Dedolight Light Master 4-Light Kit. Winner of a technical Oscar, this light uses two relation-computed aspherical lenses to magnify the output of its 150W lamp, and produce a 20:1 flood-to-spot ratio equal to a beam spread of 4.5 to 40 degrees. All the kit needs is stands, although there are numerous unique accessories, such as the projection attachment that allows ultra precise lighting.

LED Lighting

Genaray SpectroLED Essential 360 Daylight LED 2-Light Kit

The Genaray SpectroLED Essential 360 Daylight LED 2-Light Kit was collated by B&H to provide a lightweight, powerful solution for studio or location shooting with or without access to mains power. The kit comes with two daylight-balanced LED panels, yokes, universal AC/DC adapters, power cords, diffusers, two stacking clips, and two 8' air-cushioned light stands. The 360 Daylight also features a V-Mount battery plate that allows use of 14.4V batteries.

The light has a color temperature of 5600K, local dimming from 0-100% and a 60-degree flood beam angle. Genaray provides an offset diffuser to soften the light's output. Mounting options include two 1/4"-20 taps on the 11.75 x 11.75 x 2.1" panel frame for customized support options with grip gear.

ikan 2 Bicolor IB508, 1 Bi iLED312-v2

The ikan Bi-Color IB508 Interview Kit is a good choice for the hasty image maker. The kit includes two iLED 312-v2 Bi-Color light fixtures and one IB508-v2 Bi-Color fixture. Each light comes with two Sony L-type batteries, a dual charger, AC power supply, stand adapter, and a light stand. A Trekker bag is also included in the kit.

Measuring 13 x 6.75 x 1", the IB508-v2 has a variable color balance from 3200K to 5600K and 10-100% dimming, removing the need for repositioning or adding filtration. The light is powered by a multi-voltage AC adapter for worldwide use or by two Sony L-type batteries. Its reflective four-way barndoors allow you to contour the light output and fold flat across the panel to form a protective shell.

The iLED312-v2 also has variable color and dimming but with a smaller 7.75 x 1.5 x 4.5" form factor, allowing it to be used on or off camera. It has removable four-way barndoors and also runs on Sony L-type batteries or its AC power supply.

ARRI Skypanel S-60C LED Softlight

This only loosely qualifies as a studio light, since it's a single light, but the ARRI Skypanel S-60C LED Softlight is a real performer. The SkyPanel outputs the equivalent of 2,000W tungsten soft light while drawing a maximum of only 450W. Supported by a steel yoke, the panel surface area measures 25.4 x 11.8" and employs diffusers that range from light to heavy to soften the light and wrap its output around your subject.

The SkyPanel S60-C is fully color "tunable," allowing output of a 2800K to 10000K light, and also uses the full RGB+W color gamut with hue and saturation control for fine adjustments. Full Minusgreen to Full Plusgreen is also possible. If you're lighting for blue or greenscreen, you can simply dial your chosen color in. This precise degree of color control results in a very high CRI of 95 and a rating of 90 with the newer TLCI standard. All of these functions, as well as 0-100% dimming, can be adjusted locally with the SkyPanel's onboard controller or remotely via DMX.

The multi-voltage Skypanel can be used worldwide and on optional 23-36 VDC batteries when mains power is unavailable.

Fluorescent Lighting

Impact Soft n' Natural Kit #3

The Impact Soft n' Natural Kit #3 contains one 24" Octa softbox with a four-socket fixture, an 8' air-cushioned light stand, and a 20 x 27.5" rectangular softbox with a four-socket fixture and a 6' light stand. Eight 26W spiral fluorescent lamps with a daylight color balance of 5000K are included for the fixtures.

The Impact Octa fixture in this kit is sturdily constructed and has a 5/8" stand mount, ceramic Edison sockets, multi-voltage capability and individual rocker switch power control. The Octa displays signature wraparound light quality and reflects natural catchlights in your subject's eyes.

Built similarly to the Octa fixture, the included four-lamp fixture with rectangular 20 x 27.5" softbox also features a removable inner baffle and front diffuser, and is ideal for head-and-shoulders or product photography, especially with reflective objects.

Kino Flo Diva Lite 415 Universal Kit

The Kino Flo Diva-Lite 415 Universal Kit with Travel Case is an ideal road kit. The kit contains a Diva-Lite 415 Universal fixture, complete with a Flozier diffuser, 90-degree louver, filter frame, light stand, lamp case, and a travel case.

Optimized for digital video capture, the Diva-Lite 415 features 5 to 100% dimming with minimal color shift, and low electrical draw. Its universal 100-240 VAC ballast is built in, as are its barndoors, which can be used along with the kit's louver to control the light output.

Kino Flo Gaffer DMX 4' 4Bank Two-Light Kit

The Kino Flo Gaffer DMX 4' 4Bank Two-Light Kit from Kino Flo includes some of the core accessories for a two-light fluorescent fixture setup. This includes two 4' 4Bank fixtures, two 4Bank DMX ballasts with North American plug, two mounts with baby receivers, two 25' extension cables, two lamp cases, and a Gaffer shipping case.

When you need lots of light, this 4Bank kit is ideal. Featuring a new design, each 4Bank is brighter than a 1,000W softlight but draws just 2.6A at 120VAC—50% less than its predecessor. The lights have built-in barndoors and, at 11.5 lb, are light enough to be handheld or taped to a wall. The ballasts feature individual light control, HO (High Output)/Standard switching and the same high-quality standard features: flicker-free, instant-on, dead-quiet operation. 

Flash Lighting

Bolt VB-22 Bare-Bulb Flash and Accessory Kit

Used with the Cyclone DR PP-400DR Dual Outlet Power Pack, the Bolt VB-22 Bare-Bulb Flash and Accessory Kit offers an impressive 360WS of power in a small shoe-mountable form factor. Its tilting, swiveling head provides maximum versatility in positioning, while its parabolic reflector accepts grids and other accessories. Removing the reflector allows the unique 360° bare bulb effect with wide coverage, open shadows, and omnidirectional lighting. The manual head has 1/1 to 1/128 power settings and will recycle in 0.1-5.2 seconds when attached to the included power pack. Even action-freezing flash durations as short as 1/10,000 second are possible.

The pack has a dual outlet design to allow you to power two heads at a time. Besides the VB-22, it works with most major brand flashes, provided that they have a high-voltage outlet. The battery detaches from the two-stage pack and LED status lights keep you apprised of the remaining charge. A second battery is provided in the kit to swap out when the first one is exhausted. A multi-voltage charger is provided for worldwide use.

Besides the extra battery, this comprehensive kit includes a grid and filter kit for the standard reflector, an umbrella-mounting kit, beauty dish and grid kit, snoot set, and 15' power cord. A doubler cable, splitter cable, and radio transmitter and receiver are also included.

Dynalite RoadMax 1600Ws 2-Light Kit

Dynalite made its reputation on units with substantial power and light weight, and the Dynalite RoadMax 1600Ws 2-Light Kit is no exception. The 1600 Ws power pack weighs only 7.3 lb, while the heads weigh just 1.93 lb each. This kit includes a stand and umbrella for each light, and a case to store and transport it all. The pack recycles to full power in just 2.2 seconds and partial power in a fraction of that time. Power can be distributed symmetrically or asymmetrically. There are four ways to trigger the flash: a PC cord, IR Slave, Optical Slave, or a 32-channel PocketWizard radio receiver. You'll need to buy a transceiver for triggering, and light stands, but once you do you'll have a completely self-sufficient studio kit.

Profoto B1 500 Air 2-Light Location Kit

This Profoto B1 500 Air 2-Light Location Kit comprises two B1 500 battery-powered AirTTL flash heads,  two Li-Ion batteries, a 4.5A Fast Battery Charger, car charger, and a custom backpack. With the use of an optional Air Remote TTL-C, TTL-N, Air Remote or Air Sync users will have access to wireless triggering from distances up to 1,000'.

Now widely imitated, the B1 Profoto was a real game changer. In the same family as the D1, it has all the D1's attributes, such as an integrated 77-degree reflector, built-in Air radio receiver and intuitive controls, but the B1 also has battery power and wireless TTL flash/camera integration for Nikon and Canon. That's double wireless freedom from power and sync cords.

Operation is literally plug-and-play. Set up your lights slip on the separately purchased TTL-C or TTL-N and shoot for a first shot exposure that's nearly always a keeper. It's really that simple.

Speed is central to the design of the B1. It recycles in 0.1 to 1.9 seconds across a 9-stop power range but can deliver up to 20 flashes per second in Quick Burst Mode. Flash duration in Normal Mode is a very fast 1/1,000 second but there's also a Freeze Mode that delivers flash durations a short as 1/19,000 second for capturing liquid sprays or splashes and other creative effects. The B1's exchangeable Lithium-ion battery gets up to 220 flashes on a two-hour charge with the standard 2.8A charger, or a 1-hour charge with the 4.5A Fast Charger. The battery has fuel gauge-type LEDs that make monitoring remaining power easy. The modeling light is LED to put less strain on the battery and provide the equivalent output of a 70W tungsten-halogen bulb.

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