The best photography lighting kits come in all sorts of different forms and configurations, so we've put together this guide to help you get the hang of them. Which lighting kit is best for you depends a lot on what your shooting plans are – for instance, will your work keep you in the studio or do you plan to head out on location? Will you be working in stills, or video, or both? What's your budget? As you can see, there's lots of think about.
In this guide we've included plug-in studio lights, battery-powered lighting kits designed to be taken on location, and continuous LED lighting panels. While you can get great lighting effects with the best flashguns, these types of lighting unit do have their their limits, not just in terms of power and range, but also in the controllability and 'light shaping' effects you can achieve.
Before we kick off our rundown of the best photography lighting kits, let's take a closer look at what we mean by each of these categories.
What kind of lighting kit should I go for?
For a home studio setup, or if you’re shooting indoors on location, there’s no beating the power and versatility of a conventional mains-powered studio flash kit. Top options include the Elinchrom D-Lite and Interfit Honey Badger twin-head kits, which are fairly compact and easy to carry around, yet quick to set up and simple to use. But they’re no use if you’re on location with no access to a mains electrical outlet.
A growing range of battery-powered ‘location flash’ kits are now available, based on the same kind of IGBT (Insulated Gate Bi-polar Transistor) technology as regular flashguns, but with similar power to a studio flash head. Supplement the kit with a dedicated hotshoe-mounting trigger, and you’ll also get the bonus of automatic TTL (Through The Lens) flash metering and HSS (High Speed Sync) flash for shooting with fast shutter speeds.
The not-so-secret third option is to go for a constant light. The latest LED panels are relatively cool-running and give fairly strong output, although they’re much less powerful than a flash head or regular flashgun. Maximum output is measured in Lux, usually at a distance of one metre, and the quality of light is measured in CRI (Colour Rendering Index). Plus points include a ‘what you see is what you get’ approach to lighting a subject and, when shooting video, constant LED lighting is perfectly viable whereas a flash head will be entirely useless.
Flash for studio and location work
In 2020, Elinchrom updated its portfolio of studio flash units in a big way with the introduction of the ELC 125 TTL and ELC 500 TTL heads and kits. Available together in a single kit, these two heads make use of IGBT (Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistor) technology, which allows for more sophisticated shooting modes to be available to the user.
The two heads offer an impressively broad power range, each able to output as little as 7Ws, with maximum ratings of 131Ws (for the 125 TTL) and 522Ws (for the 500 TTL). The built-in transceiver works in tandem with the Elinchrom Skyport Pro trigger, which comes in seven different variations to cover a variety of camera makes, from Canon and Nikon to Micro Four Thirds. This adds High Speed Sync to the equations, allowing the user to capture images with flash even at super-fast shutter speeds like 1/4,000sec or 1/8,000sec.
The units are also solidly made, with an all-metal chassis that feel secure and durable. The cooling fans are driven by a ‘smart pro-active cooling’ system, which effectively 'learns' your shooting practices in order to deliver the most efficient cooling process. As you'd expect, these units are also compatible with Elinchrom's extensive range of light modifiers and other accessories, so if you're already invested in the system, the upgrade just makes sense.
Read more: Elinchrom ELC 125 TTL / ELC 500 TTL review
Elinchrom’s D-Lite flash heads and kits have earned a reputation for excellent build quality, ease of use and superb performance. The Elinchrom D-Lite RX 4/4 To Go is a range-topping kit that includes a pair of 400Ws flash heads, sturdy stands, a 66cm square softbox, a 56cm octagonal softbox, and a translucent deflector that enables a beauty dish effect.
The included EL-Skyport Transmitter Plus radio-frequency trigger enables users to adjust flash head settings remotely and has a range of up to 200m. Alternatively you can upgrade to the Elinchrom HS Transmitter, which also offers high speed sync flash. Alternative save modes include triggering from a flashgun, and ignoring any pre-flash pulses.
Elegant and intuitive, the push-button control panel offers easy adjustment of power output through a 5-stop range, in 1/10th stop increments. Selecting proportional, full, low and no modelling lamp output is similarly simple, using a conventional 100W bulb. An auto-sensing cooling fan is built into the head. Output is remarkably consistent on a shot-to-shot basis, and power adjustments are highly accurate.
If you're on a tighter budget, the best photography lighting kit for you is the Interfit Honey Badger 320Ws 2-Light. Taking its name from reputedly the world’s most fearless animal, Interfit’s Honey Badger head makes a bold entrance in bright yellow and black, with a strong maximum power rating of 320Ws – which isn’t far off the Elinchrom D-Lite kit at number 1 in our guide. It’s a bit more noisy in operation because the relatively small heads have cooling fans that run full-time, rather than just kicking in when the going gets hot.
The photography lighting kit we've chosen is the dual head option with softboxes and a wireless remote. This enables you to adjust flash head settings and trigger them from the hotshoe mounting transmitter. The maximum range is around 90m, which should prove ample for most shooting scenarios.
Maximum flash intensity is a little down on the Elinchrom D-Lite 4, which isn’t surprising given that the Honey Badger has a 320Ws rather than 400Ws rating. At the bottom end of the range, flash output is more subtle than in the Elinchrom, equating to an aperture of f/7.1 rather than f/16 in our standard one-metre test at ISO 100 (with standard reflector and no brolly or softbox). Recycle speeds are pretty much identical for both competing heads.
Slightly larger and nearly a kilogram heavier than the mains-powered Honey Badger head (number 2), the newer ‘Unleashed’ edition runs on a rechargeable battery. Indeed, unlike the Elinchrom and Profoto battery-powered kits, you can’t run it from the mains, so you might need to add a spare battery or two to your kit at around £59/$60 each.
Our chosen kit option includes two heads, batteries and mains chargers, two 60cm pop-up softboxes and a sturdy backpack. The optional Interfit HSS TTL remote trigger is similarly great value at £80/$100. This, as its name suggests, enables TTL and high speed sync flash modes. Unlike with the mains kit, there’s no cooling fan here, which means the Unleashed edition is virtually silent in operation – a particular bonus when using its bright 2500 lumens LED modelling lamp as a constant light source for movie capture.
Although the 250Ws head gives less output than the 500Ws heads in our guide, this is the only battery-powered kit that features two flash heads rather than one, making it excellent value at the price.
This Phottix kit includes a separate flash head and power-pack, similar to the Elinchrom ELB 500 (number 3 on our list). Again, they’re connected by a heavy-duty cable and the power-pack offers switchable standard or fast recycling speeds. The latter drains the battery faster but, in standard mode, you’ll get the same 400 full-power flashes as from the Elinchrom kit. A downside is that the battery takes three times as long as the Elinchrom to recharge, at up to five hours, and you can’t power the head from the mains unless you buy an optional AC Module (£150/$139).
The kit we went for comes with a single flash head, although two heads can be powered from a single power pack. Again, it’s similar to the Elinchrom in this respect and you can adjust the power output of each head fully independently.
Performance is good overall but high speed sync isn’t available until you hit the higher end of the power range. Recycling time is near-instantaneous at most power settings, only slowing towards the very top of the range.
Larger and 400g heavier than the standard Profoto B10, the new B10 Plus edition is twice as powerful, at 500Ws. Like the Honey Badger Unleashed (number 4), the battery clips into the head instead of being housed in a separate power-pack but, this time, you can power the head from the mains as well as from the battery.
The kit includes a head (twin head kit also available), stand adaptor, battery, battery charger and a padded carrying bag. The kits and accessories are pretty pricey – the heads don’t feature a sync socket and the Profoto Air Remote TTL trigger will set you back an additional £349/$429, while Profoto’s standard OCF Magnum Reflector costs a further £189/$209.
On the plus side, all components are of very high quality. Rear-panel controls are simple and intuitive. TTL, high speed sync and freeze flash modes are available, and there's an iPhone companion app that links up via built-in Bluetooth.
The powerful LED modelling light is useful for stills and video capture and comes complete with adjustable colour temperature. Recycling speeds are pretty quick but battery life is relatively limited, at 200 full-power flashes.
Continuous LED lighting
Next is our pick for the best LED panel: Rotolight's AEOS. Although it's nearly three times as expensive as the Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color LED light (number 8 below), the AEOS is more powerful and has a few extra tricks up its sleeve.
Good for stills, the AEOS really excels for video capture, with customisable fade up/down and a range of special effects including flickering fire, lightning, TV, strobe and blue flashing emergency vehicle lights. The bi-colour LEDs have a 100,000 hour lifespan and, as with the Manfrotto, enable completely flicker-free output, this time with a colour range of 3150-6300 Kelvin. Maximum output has a much higher rating of 5750 lux, albeit at a shorter distance of 3ft (0.9m). Twice the output is available in flash mode with zero recycle time, complete with high speed sync if you buy an additional Phottix Odin II RF trigger.
On the down-side, the basic kit only includes the circular LED panel itself, a mains power supply, a heavy-duty ball head and a filter pack. The optional carrying case costs £150/$165, and a V-mount li-ion battery costs £275/$300 (without charger) for up to four hours mains-free use.
The lightweight Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color constant light is designed to slot into your camera’s hotshoe, via the supplied mini ball head. The ball head and the lamp itself can also be mounted on a regular tripod head for off-camera use, courtesy of standard 1/4-inch threaded sockets.
The kit is based on a rectangular lighting panel that measures 26 x 4 x 15cm and contains 48 high-intensity LEDs. The version on test is the more expensive Bi-Color edition, which contains a useful mix of daylight and tungsten colour temperature LEDs, plus an additional control knob for adjusting the colour balance. An illuminated rear-panel display shows the overall power setting and the percentage split between the bi-colour LEDs. On the down-side the lighting effect is less soft than from a larger LED panel.
The panel has a beam angle of 50 degrees and is rated at 1500 Lux at one metre. In our tests, this equated to an overall power range that enabled apertures of f/1.2 to f/3.5 at 1/60th of a second, using a sensitivity setting of ISO 100. The required aperture at maximum power shrinks to f/3.2 when using only the daylight or tungsten rated LEDs.
The best budget LED panel is the NanGuang Luxpad 43H. Although larger and heavier than the Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color (number8), this NanGuang is still quite compact and weighs in at less than a kilogram, making it eminently portable. It’s also between a third and half the price of the Manfrotto, making it light on the wallet, too. It actually beats the Manfrotto Colour Rendering Index, so you don't need to worry about sacrificing high-quality illumination.
Like the other LED kits in our round-up, this one is mains-powered. A multi-voltage AC adaptor is supplied with the kit, and you can also run the panel from a pair of optional Sony SP-F type li-ion rechargeable batteries. Alternatively, an optional adaptor is also available for six AA batteries.
Thanks to bi-colour LEDs, stepless temperature balance adjustment is available through a range of 3200-5600K, from tungsten to daylight values. The output power also has stepless control, both adjustments relying on dedicated rotary knobs. However, there’s no status display on the back panel.
An advantage of studio flash heads is that you can use modifiers like brollies, softboxes and honeycomb grids. Sold as the LM8 100W Monolight in the UK, and as the Studio Essentials 100W LED Monolight in the US, this Interfit constant LED monolight has a similar design to a mains-powered studio flash head and comes complete with a standard Bowens S-type mount. You can therefore attach the same range of accessories.
The lamp plus a pop-up softbox, as featured in Interfit’s Honey Badger kits, costs £180/$200. A twin-lamp kit that adds lighting stands as well as softboxes is also available, at £400/$400. With a 500W equivalent light output and good 95+ CRI rating, the lamp has a daylight colour balance. There’s no tungsten-daylight colour temperature range, as featured in the other LED kits in our guide. The intensity of the output is dimmable with stepless control, via a rotary knob on the back of the head.
In our standard one-metre test, the power range equated to an aperture of f/2.2 to f/4 (1/60th of a second, ISO 100). We’re surprised that maximum output wasn’t a little higher, given the powerful 14,100 Lux rating at one metre.