Over the last few weeks Kate and I have been extensively field testing the new Priolite MBX500 battery-powered monobloc strobes. I know that’s a mouthful, but basically the MBX500s are wireless lights that pack the power of studio strobes. Priolite is new entry to the photography lighting market and we’ve been excited to give them a test drive on several of our shoots.
STUDIO STROBES VS. SPEEDLIGHTS
If you need to add light to your photos there are basically only two types of lighting to choose from, cumbersome studio strobes or underpowered speedlights.
Studio strobes are broken down into two categories, monoblocks and pack/head combinations. Both of these types of lights run on 120v current from a standard wall plug. While these types of lights are powerful, they aren’t exactly convenient for location shooting. If you want to use these types of lights on location away from an outlet, you generally need a portable gas generator like the Honda EU-2000i or EU3000i. This is not to say that there aren’t some battery powered packs out there like the Elinchrom Rangers or the Profoto 7Bs, its just that they are heavy, expensive and require the head to be cabled to the pack which decreases your flexibility for complex arrangements that involve multi-head placement. Where studio strobes excel is light output. Having 1200-2400 watts of light on tap is very helpful to fill large softboxes and overpower the sun which will open the door for some creative shooting.
On the other end of the spectrum are speedlight flashes. They are small, portable, sophisticated sources of light. You get advanced features like wireless TTL control & a zooming flash head but the big downside is that they aren’t exactly powerful. Running on AA batteries can also be a major pain. So, while convenient, they lack the punch and output of their “studio strobe” counterparts especially when trying to drive a large modifier like a soft box.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
The Priolite lineup is unique in the market because they pack big power into a single self-contained battery powered unit. Setup couldn’t be simpler as there are no cords to mess with or get tangled. Setup is a simple as attaching the light to a light stand. Talk about easy!
The MBX500’s I tested for this article are the 500 watt/second version of the light. For those who need more power there is the MBX1000 a 1000 watt/second as well. Both of these sport a interchangeable Li-ion battery thats good for 160-220 full power flashes depending of the model. At half power that number doubles, go even lower and you’ll be shooting 1000s of frames. In our testing we shot over 500 frames, over a wide range of power levels, without needing to recharge. The comforting thing was knowing that if we needed more battery power, it was a quick swap away and we’re back to shooting.
A TOUR OF THE MBX500
The Priolite MBX500 is defined mostly by its uniform barrel shape. All of the controls are located on the rear of the unit. You can adjust power via the rotary knob and backlit display. The removable battery has houses a power meter to check the charge status and a covered safety switch to turn the unit on and off. Other controls allow you to assign the light’s ID as well as control the LED modeling lamp. There are also switches for optical slave operation and recycle confirmation beeping.
Out front, the light sports a spring-loaded locking “S” type Bowens mount that accepts Hensel accessories. There is also a standard diameter photo umbrella port with locking pin that runs through the body of the housing. One feature that I really like is the sliding rail for the tilt bracket. This allows you to change the center of gravity to achieve better balance with larger softboxes while mounted on a stand.
FULL FUNCTION REMOTE CONTROL
The Priolite strobes also excel in another area, and thats wireless control. The Priolite RC remote offers full control of up to 36 individual lights over four groups. Being able to make quick power adjustments in 1/10th stops from your camera is a major plus when working quickly on location. The remote sports two 1/8″ sync jacks for triggering other equipment if necessary. In our testing, the remote worked well and quickly paired to the light. Power changes were sync’ed to the remote when adjusted directly at the light or from the remote via bi-directional communication This is great because the photographer and lighting assistant are never out of sync. Our only hiccup in the field was due to the universal design of the hot shoe. It lacks a locking pin to hold it in place so it can slip backward causing the flash not to fire. Once we identified the problem a good twist on the locking collar alleviated the issue.
Over several shoots we used the 9″ Reflector diffused by a Photoflex 52″ LiteDisc translucent reflector. We use the LiteDisc on location because it allows us to feather the light output and vary the effective size of the source based on how close we hold the modifier to the light. The other benefit is that in windy conditions there is far less chance of tipping over while on a lightstand. In order to use a Softbox or umbrella outdoors I’d be sure to bring a 10-15lb sandbag with the top heavy configuration of the MBX500 if the stand will be unattended.
We had a great time putting the MBX500 through its paces. For an event shooter its comforting to know that setup can be done in a few seconds because of the uncomplicated design. Having the extra power on tap makes tackling large group shots under less than idea lighting a breeze. Paired with the wireless remote you’ve got the convenience of making on the fly adjustments with minimal fuss or delay. The thing we enjoyed most on the MBX500s was the quality and consistency of the light output. Color temperature was very stable & we had more than enough light when we needed it.
If you’ve been left wanting for more light while on location in an easy to use package, the Priolite MBX500s may be your ticket. Give them a test drive today.