What are the Pros and Cons of Portable Flashes?

The difference between portable vs studio lighting is a very simple one: Portable units use batteries and can therefore be used on location, whereas studio units use power cables and must be plugged into power in order to work. But if you rely on mains lighting and you're new to battery powered lights, how do you know whether you'll benefit from using them? We've outlined some key pros and cons for using portable lighting to help you decide what lighting is best for your work.


1: Portability

As the name suggests, portable lights are often preferred for their portability. By running them on batteries, photographers aren't bound to a studio or a location with a reliable power source. 

Consider wedding photography for example. If you're shooting in a location you've never been to before, and you have to follow the wedding party indoors and outdoors and move around a lot, the last thing you need is to be tethered to one part of the venue by the power cables on your lighting. Sure, it may work for some shots, but it's unlikely that your newly-wed customers will be thrilled if all of their wedding photos look the same! 

Batteries give you full freedom to shoot wherever you need, meaning you can control your shots and let creativity take over.



2: Size and Weight

Due to their purpose as portable lights, they will often be designed to be much smaller and lighter than many studio units in order to make them easy to hold and transport. Consider the CITI100 and PIKA200 for example. Both units are much smaller than many standard studio units. Comparing it to the STORM 400 MKIII shows the differences:

  STORM 400 III CITI100 Pro  PIKA200 PRO
Weight Approx. 2.96kg 542g (Including Battery) 590g (without battery and flash head)
Size 392mm x 176 x 143mm 76mm x 120mm 172 x 54 x 75mm (excluding flash head)




Even taking battery and flash head into consideration, the STORM400 is several times heavier and larger than the PIKA200, and would be less than suitable to take on a shoot that would require lot of travelling, carrying and movement. 

The lighter size and weight of battery units also gives an extra benefit: that you can use accessories such as grip handles and camera mounts with lighter units in order to make them even more versatile and easy to use. 


1: Price

Often, a main barrier to portable flashes is the increased price. Battery units will be more expensive than their studio counterparts due to the cost of the batteries, which are often quite pricey due to the large amount of power they can hold and their expensive manufacturing costs. Buying spare batteries can also run up a cost if you want extra ones for long shoots. 

2: Battery Life

While portable lighting batteries will last a good few hours at least, they, unfortunately, will eventually run out. Many photographers report being able to use batteries over multiple shoots before having to recharge them, in fact, but the laws of science prevail!

Unfortunately, this often means that on particularly long shoots such as events or weddings, you may have to keep charged backup batteries so you aren't left stuck if your battery dies on you sooner than expected. While this is easy to prepare for, it still isn't ideal.


3: Battery Maintenance

Keeping your batteries healthy and efficient can often be troublesome with portable lighting. Batteries can be fickle and will drain even when not in use, and draining to empty means your battery may start to become damaged. It's a maintenance recommendation that many aren't aware of, but we're making it our mission to make sure our customers can keep the best care of their batteries in order to get the best possible use out of them!

There are lots of ways to keep your batteries healthy, so we recently wrote a more in depth blog about how to do this here

4: Power

Due to having to be powered by batteries, portable lighting can only be so powerful without becoming cumbersome and heavy. The CITI1200 Pro has this problem, being a 1200w light, meaning it has a large battery pack that isn't ideal for moving around lots on set in the way that much smaller units like the CITI100 is perfect for. Meaning that if you're looking for units that are super easy to transport and carry, you may have to sacrifice the power you need.

So what's best?

While it may seem like the cons outweigh the pros in terms of numbers here, in the end, it's really up to whether YOU would benefit from using battery powered units over AC powered studio lights. Working outdoors and constantly on the move when you're shooting? Battery powered units are probably perfect for you, and the benefits of not wrestling with cables or searching for somewhere to plug things in will be worth far more than the extra cost the batteries may run you.

But, if you work exclusively in a studio with reliable power sources and you don't need a fancy battery powered unit, then you're probably just fine using studio lights. And if you really need to use your studio lights on location in a pinch, you can always use something like the PowerGenerator 800 which you can plug lights directly into for a portable power source. 

Still stuck and need some more advice on what lights might be best for you? Get in touch with our team at info@essentialphoto.co.uk and our Product Advisors will be able to help you out!

Header image used with permission from Ian Pack