Picking the best photography lighting kits is fun and exciting, with plenty to choose from. It does, however, come with its share of pitfalls, as there's plenty of cheap lighting out there alongside the good stuff from reputable manufacturers. It's worth shopping around to make sure you're getting a good deal on a quality product; that's why we've put together this handy guide to the best photographic lighting kits available right now.
The best lighting kit for you depends on what you're planning to shoot. Are you expecting to stay in the studio, or perhaps do you anticipate loading the kit up and taking it out on location? There are lighting kits great for both purposes. You also want to consider whether you'll mostly be using flash for stills, and how bothered you are about having a continuous light for video.
Then there's also the question of budget. There are lighting kits and panels right across the spectrum when it comes to pricing, so it's worth having a think to see what's the best you can afford. We've made sure that this guide includes all different types of lighting kits, from plug-in studio lights to battery-powered lighting kits designed to be taken on location, as well as continuous LED lighting panels.
If you want something smaller, simpler and more portable, it's worth checking out our list of the best flashguns. Flashguns are handy and fast in a pinch, but they do have their limits in terms of how much control you can exert over the light.
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
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.
Sold as the Flashpoint Xplor 300 Pro in the USA and the Godox AD300 Pro in the rest of the world, this brilliant flash head hit the scene gunning straight for the Profoto B10 (elsewhere on this list). However, while the B10 certainly edges it in terms of control and consistency, the fact is that the 300 Pro is just one third the price.
Its kit version is currently on backorder, but the 300 Pro is so capable and affordable that you can pick up a couple of heads and modifiers of your choice and have a brilliant bespoke kit of your own.
A very compact and easily portable unit, the 300 Pro packs 300Ws power with the option of 1/8000 sec high speed sync to overpower the sun and take control of the scene when on location. Its brilliant bi-color modeling light can be used for video, too, with its 3000½K ~ 6000½K temperature range.
The meaty battery gives you around 320 full-power flashes and charges in just 2½ hours. Optional adapters can mount Profoto, Elinchrom and Broncolor accessories, and the 2.4GHz trigger system is compatible with 7 camera brands.
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.
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.
At the lighter end of the premium lighting kit space, this kit from Broncolor is built around two of its Siros 400 S lighting heads. These 400Ws monolights deliver plenty of functionality to crow about, not least of which is their nine-stop power range and 1/19,000sec flash duration, allowing you to get thoroughly precise with your lighting.
The Siros S can make use of a specialised "Speed Mode", which specifically speeds up the charge time and flash duration for a super-fast series of exposures, meaning you can capture the most fleeting of moments in huge amounts of detail. At the very fastest setting, this can go up to fifty individual flashes per second, at the cost of a reduction in maximum power.
This comprehensive kit also includes a softbox with speedring, an umbrella, two basic M-stands and bags to carry it all in, so you'll have everything you need to set up a makeshift studio. Fast and effective, the Broncolor Siros 400 S Expert Twin Head Kit is an ideal lighting solution for pros on the go.
Continuous LED lighting
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 enable completely flicker-free output, with a colour range of 3150-6300 Kelvin. Maximum output is a potent 5750 lux, albeit measured at a fairly short 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.
Litepanels has a reputation for producing quality kit aimed at semi-pro videographers, and the Astra 6X panel certainly feels like a quality product. At 3.2kg it’s designed solely for stationary light stand mounting, but the aluminum yoke cradle is very tough, as is the XLR power input connection, plus there’s a quiet cooling fan to ensure the longevity of the electronics and 256 individual LEDs.
These are guaranteed to be flicker free regardless of the frame rate at which you record, and they can be fluidly adjusted in colour temperature from tungsten through to daylight. The panel manages an impressive minimum colour rendering index of 95 at the tungsten end, rising to an incredibly accurate 98 when outputting daylight-balanced illumination. Outright power is also formidable, as the Astra 6X manages a huge 6330 lux at a distance of 5 feet, and it’s steplessly adjustable down to 0% with no colour shift.
The AC adaptor is neatly integrated into the yoke, and optional adaptor plates are available for attaching a Gold Mount or V-mount power pack.
Is it an LED light or a 'continuous' monolight? You decide – but the Badger Beam could do the same job as an LED panel with a smaller form factor and compatibility with regular Bowens S-type lighting modifiers. That might not mean much to videographers but will be very interesting to photographers who need a continuous light for video work and stills. Available as a standalone LED monolight that runs on AC mains or its own rechargeable battery pack, the Interfit Badger Beam is also available in twin-head kits that feature options of barndoors, pop-up softboxes or umbrellas, complete with lighting stands and carrying cases. It’s a useful, versatile and good-value lighting solution for use at home or on location.
Read more: Interfit Badger Beam review