From the home studio to the great outdoors, there’s a growing range of flash kits to suit your needs with prices starting at little more than a top-end flashgun. Twin- head studio lighting kits give you a lot of bang for your buck. They’re vastly more powerful than a flashgun, and typically come with a full range of accessories, including lighting stands, cables and carrying bags, plus either softboxes or brollies. Some kits on test even include radio triggers to give wireless connection to your camera.
We’ve split our lighting kits into two groups – regular mains-powered studio flash and more portable, battery-powered location flash kits.
With studio flash kits you just plug them into a wall outlet and crack on. The downside is that, unless you invest in an expensive generator or inverter, they’re useless for location shooting where you’re outdoors with no mains power.
Portable or ‘location’ flash kits are battery-powered, so you can shoot outdoors, as well as roaming freely at indoor functions, such as weddings, without needing to find mains outlets or leaving cables trailing behind you.
Best studio flash kits
ELINCHROM D-LITE RX 4/4 TO GO
The best studio flash kit overall
Number of heads in kit: 2 | Power rating per head: 400Ws | Power range: 5 stops | Weight of head: 1.5kg | Cooling fan: Auto-sensing | Modelling lamp/s: 100W | Wireless RF trigger: Yes | Supplied stands: 2x 2.35m | Supplied light modifier/s: 2x softboxes
Elinchrom D-Lite RX flash heads combine sophisticated features with intuitive controls, making them highly versatile yet very easy to use. This kit is based on a pair of the most powerful heads in the series, with a rating of 400Ws (Watt seconds).
Accessories include 56cm and 66cm softboxes, a translucent deflector, stands and a full set of cables. Two carrying bags are supplied and the entire kit has a premium quality look and feel. All Elinchrom RX flash heads have built-in RF (radio frequency) receivers. The kit adds a hotshoe-mounting EL-Skyport Transmitter Plus for triggering the flash heads and remotely adjusting flash settings, up to 200m away. The heads also have an ‘intelligent’ slave mode, so they can be triggered from a flashgun while ignoring any pre-flash pulses.
Elinchrom uses a proprietary mounting system for reflectors, rather than the standard Bowens S-type bayonet mount, along with a non-standard 7mm brolly socket. A secondary socket is built into the flash head’s stand clamp, enabling use of standard 8mm brollies.
Simple push-button control enables the output of each head to be adjusted in 1/10 f/stop increments. Power adjustments are very accurate and the consistency of output is excellent. Recycle speeds are the joint fastest here, matching the Honey Badger, despite the Elinchrom’s greater output power. With a total power range of five f/stops, the minimum power setting is still quite strong, but this shouldn’t prove a problem.
INTERFIT HONEY BADGER 320ws 2-LIGHT KIT
Bright yellow lights that with some neat features
Number of heads in kit: 2 | Power rating per head: 320Ws | Power range: 7 stops | Weight of head: 1.4kg | Cooling fan: Always on | Modelling lamp/s: 60W equivalent LED | Wireless RF trigger: Yes | Supplied stands: 2x 2.3m | Supplied light modifier/s: 2x softboxes (or softbox + brolly)
Living up to its Honey Badger name, Interfit’s new kit is small yet packs a punch in the studio lighting stakes. The flash head is remarkably small yet, at 320Ws, is almost as powerful as the others on test. It’s also louder than most because, while the Elinchrom and Metz heads have auto- sensing fans that kick in when the going gets hot, the Honey Badger’s fan runs non-stop.
Two alternative kits are available, both at the same price. One comes with a brolly, reflector and a 60cm softbox, the other has two 60cm softboxes. The softboxes have a pop-up design that takes seconds rather than minutes to set up. The fl ip side is that, like pop-up light tents, twist-action folding to pack them away requires a knack that can take time to master. Other components common to both kits include a pair of lighting stands, an RF remote trigger/controller and a carrying bag. Everything is pretty robust, although build quality doesn’t feel quite up to the standard of the Elinchrom D-Lite kit. Again, power output of the flash can be adjusted by push-button controls in 1/10 stop increments, but this time over an extended range of seven f/stops.
In our tests, the Honey Badger matched the more powerful Lastolite 400Ws heads for maximum output, at GN 51. It also enabled the lowest output of any of the studio kits, making it more ideal for shooting at wide apertures. The powerful LED modelling lamps are also useful as a constant light source for shooting at close range, for both stills and video, with flicker-free output.
LASTOLITE LUMEN8 400W TWIN KIT
Sturdily built lighting for the home studio
Number of heads in kit: 2 | Power rating per head: 400Ws | Power range: 5 stops | Weight of head: 3.3kg | Cooling fan: None | Modelling lamp/s: 100W | Wireless RF trigger: No | Supplied stands: 2x 2.95m | Supplied light modifier/s: 2x softboxes
This kit is built around heavyweight heads that take a more traditional approach to things. The Lumen8 400Ws heads in this kit are more than twice the weight of any of the other studio flash heads on test, at 3.3kg each. On the plus side, efficient heatsinking means there’s no need for cooling fans, so at least they’re quiet. Unlike other studio flash heads here, the Lumen8 head has a rotary control knob for output power, rather than push-buttons. This makes fine adjustments trickier, especially as there’s no digital display of the power setting. Accessory fitment is via a Bowens S-type bayonet mount on the front.
Two 60cm square softboxes are supplied, and the whole kit packs into a pair of carrying bags. The Lumen8 heads are the only ones in this test to feature a large 1/4-inch sync socket, rather than the more usual 3.5mm socket. Unlike the Elinchrom and Interfit kits, there’s no RF remote trigger supplied, and no receiver built into the heads. A basic Lastolite Lumen8 Radio Trigger set is available separately, and will set you back an additional £45/$60. As with the Interfit Honey Badger, there’s only a basic slave mode, which precludes triggering from a flashgun that fires pre-fl ash pulses.
There’s a nominal five f/stop range in output power, which was borne out in our tests. Minimum and maximum power outputs proved about an f/stop lower than from the Elinchrom and Metz studio flash heads. Recycling speed after a full-power flash takes about 50 per cent longer than for the Elinchrom and Interfit heads, at 1.9 seconds.
METZ MECASTUDIO BL-400 SB-KIT II
Small but powerful package
Number of heads in kit: 2 | Power rating per head: 400Ws | Power range: 6 stops | Weight of head: 1.2kg | Cooling fan: Auto-sensing | Modelling lamp/s: 75W | Wireless RF trigger: No | Supplied stands: 2x 2.0m | Supplied light modifier/s: 2x softboxes
Metz is great value for money despite having the most lightweight heads of any studio-based kit on test. The Metz BL-400 still packs a punch with 400Ws per head with a generous six-stop range. The modelling lamps are less bright than in the other studio kits, and don’t have a proportional mode, but you can manually adjust their intensity. Heat-sensing enables cooling fans to switch on only when needed.
Power adjustments are made via the now favored push-button switches, which work in conjunction with a digital display. A neat trick shared with the Elinchrom D-Lite and ELB 400 kits is that the Metz heads can be triggered in slave mode from flashguns, ignoring pre-flash pulses. Despite the small size of the heads, they still have the traditional Bowens S-type accessory mount. The kit includes two 50x70cm softboxes but no RF remote trigger and, as with the Lastolite heads, there are no built-in RF receivers.
The Metz stole a lead on the other studio kits in this roundup during our tests, delivering the greatest maximum output, equivalent to Gn 72. The only catch is that recycling after a full- power flash is relatively slow, at 2.4 seconds. At the low end of the scale, it’s able to supply a slightly less intense minimum flash power than the Elinchrom D-Lite 4 heads.
Best portable flash kits
ELINCHROM ELB 400 PRO TO GO SET
Flexibility through multiple head options
Number of heads in kit: 1 | Power rating per head: 424Ws | Power range: 6.9 stops | Weight of head: 0.25kg | Cooling fan: None | Modelling lamp/s: 50W equivalent LED | Wireless RF trigger: Yes | Supplied stands: None | Supplied light modifier/s: None
Unlike monobloc flash heads with built-in control panels, this kit has a separate ELB 400 power pack that combines all the control circuitry, user interface and OLED display with a clip-on Li-ion battery. It’s able to drive one or two Quadra heads which, in turn, are relatively tiny and weigh just 250g each.
The Pro To Go kit comes with the most general purpose Quadra Pro head; alternatives include Action and HS (Hi-Sync) Quadra heads. The Action head has the shortest flash duration for freezing action, but with a reduced maximum output. The HS head delivers a long flash duration, enabling it to be used with very fast shutter speeds. As well as freezing motion, advantages include the option of using wide apertures under sunny conditions, and darkening daylight scenes.
The Pro kit comes with the same RF remote trigger/controller as the mains-powered D-Lite kit.
Maximum power output from the Pro head is strong, at GN 64, with fast recycling of 1.6 seconds. This gives a battery life of 350 shots at full power with a single head. You can get more shots per charge by using the ‘eco’ mode, in which recycling from a full-power flash takes 3.2 seconds. A full recharge takes 90 minutes.
INTERFIT S1 2-LIGHT BACKPACK KIT
The best battery-powered option – and it also works on mains
Number of heads in kit: 2 | Power rating per head: 500Ws | Power range: 9 stops | Weight of head: 2.9kg | Cooling fan: Always on | Modelling lamp/s: 100W equivalent LED | Wireless RF trigger: No | Supplied stands: None | Supplied light modifier/s: None
Why have ‘either or’ when you can have both? There’s no beating this kit for versatility ridging the gap between location and studio flash, this Interfit kit runs on rechargeable Li-ion batteries, but comes complete with AC adaptors that can power the heads directly from the mains. You get a full complement of two flash heads, chargers, mains adaptors, cables and reflectors. It all comes in a high-quality backpack for lugging the kit around. And ‘lug’ is the word, because the full load is a weighty 13kg (although you could shed 3kg by leaving the two AC adaptors at home).
As with the other location kits on test, you need to buy stands separately. It’s also a no-brainer to buy the optional S1 Remote RF trigger (£80/$90), because this enables automatic TTL flash metering. Other advanced modes include HSS and rear-curtain fl ash. A rotary knob enables flash power adjustments in 1/10-stop increments over a huge range of nine f/stops. For mounting accessories, the heads have a standard Bowens S-type bayonet mount.
Maximum power output in our tests was a healthy GN 57, using a standard reflector, and shrank to a still respectable GN 40 in HSS mode. Recycle speeds between flashes are pretty quick throughout most of the power range, but stretch to a lengthy 3.1 seconds at the maximum power setting.
PHOTTIX INDRA500 TTL & BATTERY PACK KIT
Number of heads in kit: 1 | Power rating per head: 500Ws | Power range: 8 stops | Weight of head: 2.1kg | Cooling fan: Auto-sensing | Modelling lamp/s: 35W equivalent LED | Wireless RF trigger: No | Supplied stands: None | Supplied light modifier/s: None
Like the Elinchrom ELB 400, the Phottix kit uses a separate power pack and clip-on Li-ion battery, which connects to the flash head via a thick cable. However, apart from a switch for standard or fast recycling speeds, all controls are built into the flash head, more like the Interfit S1. The Phottix head is also about halfway between the Elinchrom and Interfit in weight, at 2.1kg. You can plug two flash heads into a single power pack, as with the Elinchrom. Here, though, you can set the power of each, rather than being limited to a 2:1 ratio. The overall power range equates to eight f/stops. High Speed Sync mode is available and you can also use auto TTL flash metering, if you buy the optional Phottix Odin II remote trigger for £160/$210.
In our tests, the Phottix didn’t quite match the Interfit for maximum power, with a GN of 51, compared to 57. The drop in power when using HSS mode was also more noticeable, sinking to GN 22. Recycling through most of the power range is practically instantaneous, but slows to 4.8 seconds after a full-power flash. You can boost the speed to 2.7 seconds in fast mode, but the battery drains faster. Fully charging a drained battery is a lengthy process, taking up to five hours.
PROFOTO B1X TO GO KIT 500 AirTTL
Beautifully engineered, with a price to match
Number of heads in kit: 1 | Power rating per head: 500Ws | Power range: 9 stops | Weight of head: 3kg | Cooling fan: Auto-sensing | Modelling lamp/s: 200W equivalent LED | Wireless RF trigger: No | Supplied stands: None | Supplied light modifier/s: None
There's not much to the Profoto kit. It comprises a single head, clip-on battery, mains charger and carrying bag. Even so, build quality is excellent throughout and it’s tremendously versatile, practically matching the Elinchrom ELB-400’s triple head options with a single head.
A Freeze mode delivers ultrashort flash durations for freezing action, HSS for use with fast shutter speeds, and rear-curtain sync. For auto TTL mode as well as HSS, you’ll need to splash out an extra £320/$420 on the Canon, Nikon, Olympus or Sony-dedicated Profoto Air Remote TTL remote.
Adjustable over a vast nine-stop range, power output only drops a little in HSS mode. In Freeze mode, the output power doesn’t drop but colour temperature is less accurate. The battery is good for 325 flashes, with a recharging time of 2.5 hours, or 90 minutes with the optional battery charger.