14747 ARTESIA BLVD., 3-G LA MIRADA, CA 90638
 TEL: (714)670-6626    FAX: (714)670-8836

JTL's Mobilight DC-600; Have Light, Will Travel
Steve Anchell, November, 2007

Portraits to go with JTL's Mobilight 300 : Page 1 of 1
Joe Farace March, 2005

The JTL Versalight D Digital Monolights : Page 1 of 1
Jay Abend April, 2004

JTL Web Lite Kit : Page 1 of 1
Bob Shell April, 2003

JTL Mobilights : Page 1 of 1
Bob Shell January, 2003

Two New JTL Light Meters : Page 1 of 1
Bob Shell December, 2002

JTL Superlights Are Hot : Page 1 of 1
Robert E. Mayer March, 2001

JTL Studio Flash And Accessories : Page 1 of 1
Bob Shell November, 2000

JTL's Mobilight DC-600; Have Light, Will Travel

Steve Anchell, November, 2007

The kind of photography I do can take me almost anywhere. Today I could be photographing in my studio, tomorrow on the streets. I can often "get away" with available light or a Speedlite mounted on a flash bracket¡ªand sometimes I do just that. But getting away with something is not always the best way to get the results my clients need.

On location assignments I invariably take one or two monolights and Avenger C-stands with me. If I am able to access a wall socket I most often choose to use them over the often more expedient flash-on-bracket. But even with extension cords I have found that this is not always feasible or possible. An example that immediately comes to mind is bathing suit photographs on location, something I was often called on to do when I had a studio in Hollywood, California. There aren¡¯t a lot of wall sockets in the sand on Malibu Beach¡ªand if there are I never found them.

JTL¡¯s Mobilight DC-600 with Lithium Battery Pack and a DRR on an Avenger C-stand.

Well, I¡¯m not in Hollywood anymore; I¡¯m in the mini-megalopolis of Salem, Oregon. Many of my assignments take me on location around the city. Renting a generator for these outdoor locations is not an option¡ªthe budget for the local wine merchant who needs a promo piece isn¡¯t the same as it is for advertising agencies in Los Angeles.

So, what do you do when you find yourself outside without a generator? I was recently approached to test a new studio light made by JTL. I was told it was entirely digitalized and ran off a portable battery pack. This interested me for two reasons. First, I did not have a clue what a digitalized light was and, second, with as much location work as I have been doing in Salem the idea of a studio-quality light that didn¡¯t need an extension cord was appealing.

It turns out that by "digitalized" JTL means the light is entirely controlled by an internal computer with three distinct programs for the various functions. The lights I am accustomed to using, and probably you are, too, are controlled by mechanical means, potentiometers and slider switches to increase or decrease light output, and so on. By digitizing the controls they are 100 percent accurate and repeatable. In other words, if you set a power output on the LCD screen to say, a level of 398, it will always produce exactly the same amount of light at that setting. Contrast this to a slider. You move it to the 1/2 stop position, but the next time will you be able to move it to precisely the same position? I have had that problem with the lights I use. Although the variation may be minor, when I¡¯m attempting to adjust the lighting ratio, especially for close-up tabletop work, I like to be able to get back to my last output level as closely as possible. That kind of precision may be a small matter, but it is nice to know that it is available.

An outdoor photo assignment using the Mobilight DC-600, a Photoflex umbrella, and an Avenger C-stand.
All Photos ? 2007, Steve Anchell, All Rights Reserved

Another feature of the DC-600 is the Digital Remote Receiver (DRR) and Digital Remote Controller (DRC). By mounting a DRR on the back of each light and pointing the rotating face toward the camera position it is possible to use the DRC to change the power output on individual lights to control the ratio, pre-flash the light, and other functions. Due to the large LCD, the information displayed on the DRR (power output and the channel the unit is on, 1-9) can be seen from yards away even in bright sunlight. One DRR comes bundled with each lamp head. The DRC, which increases the DRR¡¯s functionality, is available as an optional accessory though only one is required to control up to nine lamp heads.

The DRR and DRC system is very similar, though not exactly, to the wireless remote transmitters I have written about elsewhere in this issue. The difference is that the JTL units are infrared controlled and require line-of-sight to use, whereas wireless remotes are radio controlled and can work around corners and from behind other obstacles.

(Above): Mobilight DC-600 flash tube showing the difference in size. (Top): White Lightning flash tube.

But digitalized controls aside, the real beauty of the JTL Mobilight DC-600 is the battery power supply. The JTL Lithium Battery Pack is claimed to be environmentally safe. Instead of lead-acid, which is an extremely nasty substance, it uses lithium powder, which is non-polluting. For someone, such as myself, who recycles AA and AAA batteries, this is a good thing. (The DC-600 head can only be used with the Lithium Battery Pack, the 200/300 Mobilight head can also be used with AC power, which means longer life for the battery.)

The Lithium Battery Pack will power one DC-600 head or two 200/300 heads for up to 500, 1400, or 2000 flashes respectively per full charge. And because the battery quickly and easily separates from the output box you can carry as many extra batteries as you require to the location. Not only that, but unlike conventional rechargeable batteries the JTL battery has no charge memory. That means you can keep it fully charged without having to let it run down before recharging.

There are only two real weaknesses of this unit. The first is the modeling light, which I felt was underpowered when used with an umbrella. The second is the recycle time, which I found to be slower than I am accustomed to. I spoke to JTL about this and was told a faster recycle time was possible but it would mean shorter battery life¡ªnot charge life but actual battery life. After a while I got used to it, at least with the subjects I was photographing. Perhaps if I were working with the bathing suit models on the beach, who are constantly in motion, it might present a problem.

Tammee Stump, product development manager for Truitt Bros. Inc., on location assignment lit with the Mobilight DC-600.

The flash tube is smaller than any I have ever seen. The smaller the tube, the more concentrated the light. This equates to greater power output. I tested this against my own White Lightning (WL) lamps. Adjusting the power levels to be the same at 10 ft and ISO 100, the WL lamp head produced an f/stop of 16.1 while the JTL read 16.5, 4/10 of a stop difference. Not earth-shattering but notable. At full power the JTL produced f/22 at 10 ft and ISO 100.

Power adjustments can be made in 1/10 or 1/2 unit increments. In future units I would like to see the ability to make one unit adjustment instead of 1/10. For me, this would be a greater asset for tabletops. Especially in light of the precision digital control.

When the DC-600 arrived all that came with it was the lamp head and the DRR and DRC for me to try. I visited their website, www.jtlcorp.com, to see what, if any, accessories were available for the DC-600. I was surprised to find an extensive line of light modifiers and accessories. Softboxes, strip lights, hairlights, umbrellas, barn doors, gels¡ªall the things I require to create and modify light on my varied assignments, both in the studio and on location. I also discovered that accessories from other manufacturers, such as Photoflex, which I use, will also work with JTL lamp heads.

With the two caveats, recycle time and the intensity of the model light, I found this to be a well designed flash unit and a welcome solution to location lighting without the need to rent or own a generator. It can also be used with confidence in a studio setting¡ªf/22 at 10 ft is a healthy output for any monolight. My only question was: Where was the DC-600 when I was chasing bathing suits up and down Malibu Beach?

The JTL Mobilight DC-600 Kit has an MSRP of $829, and includes a DC-600 lamp head, battery, DRR, reflector, power cable, and sync cord.

For more information, contact JTL Corporation, 14747 Artesia Blvd., 3-G, La Mirada, CA 90638; (714) 670-6626; www.jtlcorp.com.

Portraits To Go With JTL's Mobilite 300 Wireless Triggering For The Location Photographer

Joe Farace, March, 2005

(Above, middle): Unlike infrared strobe triggers, DigiFirer can shoot through walls and around corners and is useful up to 120 ft. With eight different channels available for up to eight different lights or "groups" of lights, it won't interfere with other lights in your studio-as long as they are on "different" channels.

(Above, bottom): JTL's DigiFirer system consists of a Radio Trigger (transmitter) and Radio Receiver that can be used for all kinds of lighting equipment. Similar devices from other manufacturers combine the receiver and transmitter into "one" unit, but JTL's DigiFirer has two. Here the Radio Trigger is mounted (correctly) on the hot shoe of a Canon EOS 20D. A PC connection and cord are provided, too.

Riddle me this: What's the hardest thing to find on any location shoot? If you said, "clients who were on time," that would be partially true, but the correct answer is-an AC power outlet. They're even more difficult to find if you're at the beach, in a park, or as I often find myself, on a racetrack somewhere. One of the niftiest solutions I've found for on-location portraiture is JTL's Mobilights.

On The Road Again
The Mobilight is the battery-powered version of JTL's Versalight monolight. The Mobilight series consists of three models, including the 110, 200, and 300, whose numbers correspond to each model's output power in watt seconds (ws). JTL's rechargeable battery pack powers the Mobilight 110 for more than 180 full-power flashes, the Mobilight 200 for 150 full-power flashes, and the Mobilight 300 for 100 full-power flashes. The 200 and 300 models also have a standard AC connection so you can power it with one of those elusive AC outlets. The Mobilight can be used as a main light, fill light, hairlight, or backlight on a variety of photo locations with or without the battery pack.

All of the Mobilights feature a dual voltage power inlet, continuous power setting adjuster, car accessory (we used to call them cigarette lighter) adapter, and low battery alarm. (See the accompanying specifications for what features match up with which model.) A variety of accessories are available, including an 18x18 light bank, four-leaf barn doors, honeycomb, color filters, and a snoot.

The JTL battery pack requires an initial charge of 14 hours before using, so start charging it as soon as you unpack the box. To charge, connect the AC power cord and turn the three-position (Bat-Off-Car) to Off. OK, I agree, that's not too intuitive but when the battery is set to On or Car, a green LED lights, but when it's charging a red LED glows until fully charged. Then, the light changes to green to indicate a full charge.

Inquiring minds want to know if they can mix and match the JTL gear with other battery packs, such as the Quantum Turbo 2x2. The first thing I did was plug the power cord from a Turbo 2x2 into the Mobilight 300. Bingo! All cords fit and power flowed. That also means JTL's power pack can power my Photogenic StudioMax II monolight.

Wireless, Too
If you've been reading any of my recent lighting tests you already know I hate PC cords and love wireless control, mainly because it eliminates the hassle and tangle of cords. JTL's DigiFirer is a radio-controlled trigger system for use in the studio or on location. The Radio Trigger (transmitter) and Radio Receiver work with all kinds of studio lighting equipment, from monolights to separate power pack and head units. Similar devices from other manufacturers combine receiver and transmitter into one device, but JTL's DigiFirer are separate units, resulting in a kit price (for both Radio Trigger and Radio Receiver) of less than $200 instead of the $300-$400 for competing units. With a price tag of around $100, you can purchase many different Radio Receivers-one for all of your flash units.

Unlike infrared strobe trippers, DigiFirer can shoot through walls and around corners and works up to 120 ft, which was a big help when shooting portraits outdoors with a 300mm lens. Indoors, with eight different channels available for up to eight different lights or groups of lights, you won't interfere with any other lights in your studio as long as they are on different channels.

The DigiFirer trips the lights in 1/1500 sec. Putting that in perspective, your camera requires a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec to freeze a hummingbird's wings in flight. Two of the less than ubiquitous AAA batteries should power the Radio Receiver for up to 20,000 triggers, but the ultimate number depends on environmental considerations, as I discovered.

In The Field
Unlike many lighting products I've tested, you can actually take the Mobilight into a field-any field. The Mobilight 300, DigiFirer Radio Trigger and Radio Receiver have a "build quality" that far exceeds what you might expect from their affordable price. Fit and finish is to a high standard as befits more expensive lighting units. Light stand mounting and adjustment fixtures are rugged and intuitive to use. A slot, complete with locking knob, is provided for umbrellas or the F.J. Westcott (www.fjwestcott.com) Apollo and Halo light banks I used during testing.

Controls work in a logical fashion. The Mobilight's big, round variable power output knob has click stops, which was a big help to me because of the way I work. After taking a meter reading, I use a flash unit's variable power controls to change exposure rather than adjusting anything on the camera. This ensures that my chosen depth of field and balance between flash and ambient light remain the same. Having click stops on the Mobilight 300's power control makes it easy to increase or decrease exposure by one or two "clicks" to hone in on my preferred exposure, which these days I determine by looking at the histogram on my digital SLR. Other controls include modeling light and built-in slave on-off buttons and an illuminated ready light that also functions as a flash test button.

Because of these lights' solid heft, you're gonna need a real light stand, not that cheapie, spindly thing you bought at Crazy Charlie's Flea Market. I use the 9-foot Manfrotto (www.bogenimaging.us) model 3333 and it fits the Mobilight 300 like a glove, although JTL manufactures some nice light stands at attractive prices.

Attaching the DigiFirer Radio Receiver is a snap using the elastic strap that hugs the Mobilight like a toddler on his first day of preschool clinging to his Mommy. Two tips on making sure that the DigiFirer works the way it should: 1) Make sure you put the Radio Trigger on the camera's hot shoe so that the controls face you. If not, the unit may not make full contact with the hot shoe's electrical contact. 2) Use new batteries. JTL includes batteries for both units, but if they are not fresh, the system may trip intermittently. I installed a pair of brand-new Energizer lithiums in the Radio Receiver and it worked like a champ. These batteries are a good choice for cold weather use, such as when shooting outdoors in Colorado during November.

Whether shooting indoors or out under all kinds of wired and wireless conditions, the JTL Mobilight is a great package for the location photographer on a budget. While you might consider the battery pack and DigiFirer wireless trigger to be accessories, their purchase prices make them a no-brainer; they are must-have options for on-location portraits.


(Above): As Snoopy once wrote, "it was a dark and stormy day," and while the rain hadn't started yet, it was cold and dreary with absolutely no light to make any kind of decent-looking on-location portrait. I was able to make this portrait of model Ashley Rae armed only with a trusty JTL Mobilight 300, battery pack, and F.J. Westcott Halo light bank. Camera was a Canon EOS-1D Mark II with EF 100-300mm zoom lens. Exposure was 1/80 sec at f/18 in Manual mode at ISO 200. File captured recorded as a Large JPEG.  Photos ©2004, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

(Above): Changing the lighting by moving the JTL Mobilight to the other side-camera right this time-and shooting at only 1/2 power, I was able to make 3/4 and full-length shots of Ashley Rae. When using the Canon EF 100-300mm zoom, especially at 300mm, the advantage of using DigiFirer became obvious. There were no long cords to cause mayhem and the wireless trigger system worked flawlessly-as long as the Radio Receiver had fresh batteries. Photos ©2004, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

JTL DigiFirer Wireless Flash Triggering System


Radio Trigger

Radio Receiver

Power Supply

1.5v (button battery included)

1.5v (2-AAA batteries included)

Sync Speed

1/500 sec

1/500 sec


120 ft


Radio Channels Available

8 (0-7)

8 (0-7)

Trigger/Receiving Indicator



Channel Display

(Unmarked) Channel Wheel

Digital Display







Price (Per Set)

Less than $200

¡¡ ¡¡

JTL Mobilight Monolights

¡¡ Monolight 110 Monolight 200 Monolight 300
Maximum Power Output 110WS 200WS 300WS
Power Supply DC Battery Pack DC Battery Pack DC Battery Pack
AC 110-130v/60Hz and 220-240/50Hz (multi-voltage)
Color Temperature 5600K 5600K 5600K
Flash Tube Life 8000 cycles 15,000 cycles 15,000 cycles
Sync Slave, sync cord, test Slave, sync cord, test Slave, sync cord, test
Built-in Slave up to 30 ft up to 30 ft up to 30 ft
Flash Duration 1/600-1/1000 sec 1/600-1/1000 sec 1/600-1/1000 sec
Recycle Times 1.5-3 seconds 2-4 seconds 2-4 seconds
Modeling Lamp No 150W-110V AC
10W-5V DC
150W-110V AC
10W-5V DC
Modeling Lamp Base No E27/screw E27/screw
Power Settings 1/2, Full 1/8 - Full Continuous 1/8 - Full Continuous
Guide Number
(ISO 100)
105 180 200
Dimensions 5.11x3.93x7.09" 5.11x4.96x8.26" 5.11x4.96x8.26"
Weight 21 oz 3.3 lbs 3.8 lbs
Built-in Slave Yes Yes Yes
Flashing capacity
(when fully charged)
180 flashes 150 flashes 120 flashes
Cigarette Lighter
Included Included Included
Dimensions 8.26x5.11x2.95" 8.26x5.11x2.95" 8.26x5.11x2.95"
Weight 2 lbs 3 lbs 4 lbs
Price $159 $199 $239

Before I take any lighting equipment out on location, I check it out in the "bat cave" a.k.a. my basement. This test shot of my wife Mary turned out so well I wanted to share it with all of you. The image was captured using her camera, an Olympus E-1, in Manual mode at 1/60 sec and f/9 at an ISO of 200. Lens was a 14-54mm Zuiko Digital at 54mm. Lighting was from a JTL Mobilight 300, running on battery power, with a 28" F.J. Westcott Apollo light bank mounted. A 30" F.J. Westcott Illuminator gold/white reflector was placed at camera right to fill any shadows.  Photos ©2004, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved


A parking lot may not be the most glamorous location for a photo shoot, but it sure provides some interesting backgrounds. Not surprisingly, there are "no" AC outlets to plug in a monolight. Here's where the JTL Mobilight and power pack come into their own. You can't see the Mobilight in this shot because it's been swallowed by a F.J. Westcott Halo light bank, but perched on top of the light is JTL's DigiFirer Radio Receiver. My Canon EOS-1D Mark II has a Radio Trigger mounted in its hot shoe. (Read the text to learn the correct way to insert it.)



The JTL Versalight D Digital Monolights Power, Control, And versatility Priced Right

Jay Abend, April, 2004

¡°Digital" is a word that has been thrown about a lot recently. MP3 players have given rise to ¡°digital headphones," drugstore minilabs offer ¡°digital prints," and now we're beginning to see the popularization of ¡°digital lighting."

Light, of course, is a purely analog thing. The creation and modification of light, however, is often controlled by digital circuitry. While this kind of ¡°total control" interface has been available on pro-oriented studio strobe lighting packs for over a decade, the combination of super high price and ¡°why do I need this" functionality has hampered their popularity.

That's not to say that digital control of studio lighting is a bad thing. In fact, the ability to set each of your lights to an exact watt-second rating, and have some finite measure of control, can be a tremendous tool in a busy commercial or portrait studio. Of course writing down your settings on the back of envelopes and on pieces of gray duct tape isn't exactly the most high-tech solution, so creating a way to store those digital settings makes a digital strobe unit that much more useful.

As appealing as the digital, computer controlled pack and head systems seem, I've often had a hard time justifying the multi-thousand dollar price tags. In the past few years I've seen some really enticing monolight setups that include digitally controlled monolight units, wireless TV-remote style control units, and even completely wireless PC control of all the lighting units set up in the studio. The monolights prove to be a far more cost-effective setup, though many of the European-designed setups will be in the $4000-$6000 range for a rig consisting of four light heads and the necessary control hardware and software. While that may be a lot less than the $10,000+ of a high-end pack and head digital setup, it's still a decent investment.

I took to using the JTL lights, softboxes, and light stands with no problem. Pro model Bonnie Griffin never looked lovelier, lit by a pair of JTL softboxes.
Photos © 2003, Jay Abend, All Rights Reserved

Pro Monolight Options
One of the real up-and-coming companies in the lighting world is the California-based JTL Corporation. When they started out roughly 10 years ago, JTL offered the typical Chinese-sourced, low-end AC-powered slave strobe units, very similar to those offered by a half dozen other companies. While the other Asian strobe companies have devoted much of their attention to the low to medium end of the lighting business, JTL has gone after the prosumer and professional market with a vengeance. At a recent photo trade show I noticed that JTL was now offering a very pro-looking monolight system with complete computer-based digital control of all lighting units. It looked ¡°pro" enough, so I thought I'd give it a try.

JTL arranged for me to try out their new Versalight ¡°D" series lights for several weeks in my own commercial studio. I asked for a decent cross-section of the Versalight ¡°D" line, which is offered in power ratings from 300 actual watt seconds all the way up to 1000 ws.

Build And Fit
The Versalight ¡°D" series is the same basic design as JTL's popular Versalight series. As is the custom on the high-end Euro monolight systems these days, the ¡°D" series are housed in an aluminum chassis, with polycarbonate front and rear ends. JTL does the right thing though, and the reflector-mounting ring is a large piece of cast metal¡ªnot plastic or flimsy aluminum¡­nice. The Versalights are large, very solid units with some extremely clever design features. First of all, the flash tubes are plug-in user replaceable units, with frosted glass covers. JTL seems unconcerned with the aggressive ¡°watt-second" games that some manufacturers play. By including frosted covers with the units as stock, they should know that some far lower powered units with no glass shields at all will pop out similar f/stops.

JTL also offers clear glass units for those more interested in raw power, but I like the look of the frosted glass. The units also come stock with beefy frosted 250w halogen bulbs. Although they have standard U.S.A. Edison bases, they are double-glass enclosed, so you can handle them with your fingers without damage. Also included in every box is a very nice long U.S.A. power cord, a long sync cord, and a very nice gray powder-coated, multifaceted 7" silver reflector. It's a very robust and professional package, and certainly surprising given the pricing. An 800 ws unit sells for about $550, roughly half of the closest digitally-controlled competitor and as much as $1000 less than some on the market.

Don't confuse this software with high-end offerings from Broncolor and Hensel¡ªthis is basic stuff here. However, everything you need is here: the light head numbers, their position, their accessories. You can adjust ¡°everything" from your easy chair¡ªstrobe output, modeling lamp output, and even switch a head to ¡°Idle" to temporarily disable it. This kind of functionality used to cost thousands of dollars.

In The Studio
Once we had all of the boxes unpacked, it was time to integrate them into my studio for some paying customer shoots. One of the big surprises when I checked out the great AlienBees monolight units last year was the remarkable value of the accessories. The Bees' Chinese-sourced light stands, reflectors, and monolights were hundreds of dollars cheaper than the pro-oriented American and European units I had been using.

While I do prefer the good stuff for my main units and certainly for travel, it never hurts to have more light stands and softboxes than you need. JTL takes it one step farther by offering copies of nearly every item offered by Chimera, Photoflex, Manfrotto, and Matthews, made in China, at fire-sale prices. (Even the huge Matthews cine-style ¡°Silks"!) Zero points for originality, but a solid ¡°10" for value.

JTL sent along a couple of very large silver-lined softboxes, and a pair of egg-crate grids to keep light from spilling into the lens. These are super quality units at ridiculous prices. The nice 36" square unit sells for a starling $69, and the normally pricey egg crate is only $100. Even better, these softboxes are designed to handle JTL's hot light series as well, so they're heat-resistant and feature a pair of touch-fastener flaps to release heat. A similar unit from a name brand will set you back about $360, plus another $200 for the egg crate.

Now it was time to put everything together and do some shooting. Assembling a studio full of this stuff is a breeze. Each JTL light unit has a small IR receiver unit that also doubles as a large LED read-out panel. While the unit itself is a wonderful size¡ªand the way it attaches to the monolight is brilliant¡ªthe fiddly bracket itself is a bit flimsy, but that's what gaffer tape is for! I set up a main light with the 32x48" main light bank, a fill light with the nice 36" square unit, and a backlight with a 7" reflector with a 40Þ grid spot.

Lighting Ratios
Once we got the camera out it was time to figure out our lighting ratios. There are three ways to control these lights. First of all, you have the very well laid out back panel with oversized LED read-outs. You can control the main strobe output in either 1/10 or 1/3 EV steps. You can have the modeling lamps track the strobe output, remain on full, or turn off. There's an audible beep when the strobe is recycled, as well as a full-sized 1/4" strobe connector. It's the full pro-oriented complement of controls, and everything feels really sturdy, including the oversized backlit power switch.

One of the drags of using monolights has always been the tedious process of setting each light head to the desired power output, and then doing a lot of walking to tweak each head as you shoot. The JTL remote control solves this problem nicely. Once you assign each light head its own number, you can access each head from anywhere in the studio, adjust power, and change settings¡ªeven set a head to ¡°idle" to disable its flash output for that shot. It's one of the really fun things to stand dozens of feet away from the set, making all of those lights change from the little TV remote in your hand!

As sexy as the remote is, the real power here is in the ability to store an infinite number of ¡°Scenes" on your computer, recalling them instantly. The JTL software is terribly simple, but totally effective. While the handheld remote control is pretty directional¡ªyou need to aim accurately to change power levels¡ªthe police-car style red IR transmitter is nearly omnidirectional. I bolted it to a 6-foot high light stand over near my Windows XP computer (no Mac version is available), a full 30 ft from the shooting area, yet all three heads saw the transmitter and functioned flawlessly. In fact, even when I dumped the unit on my desk it still worked flawlessly.

Computer Control
A neat feature of the software is the ability to not only set your power levels, but to customize each light head ¡°Block" with its position in the studio, the model of flash unit and the accessory bolted to the front. For commercial shooters like me it's very handy to have a quickly recallable ¡°scene" that includes softboxes, light stands, position, etc. This system isn't perfect though, since there is no provision to link photos of the setup, and you must use the decidedly old-school serial port on your Windows-based computer. After a few days of storing scenes and instantly recalling them I can tell you that it's pretty addictive.

For example, ¡°F8_Product" lets me know that I'm at f/8 on the tabletop setup, while ¡°F11_Head" is my headshot setup, of course at f/11. It's pretty neat. The TV remote and IR transmitter computer package are inexpensively priced¡ªand an even better deal when you realize that the IR receivers come free with each head!

Once I had three of these bolted to light stands I began to appreciate some of the little things. First of all, the sliding rail clamp system, popularized by White Lightning monolights, allows you to instantly balance even the heaviest softboxes on your light stand. The JTL bayonet reflector mounting system is very smart¡ªit provides a solid fool-proof engagement of the reflector or speed ring, and then a solid screw-down lock. Hang a big heavy softbox with no worries. For the big stuff clamps and springs won't do it¡ªyou need a solid locking system.

For this image I used a 36" square softbox with an egg-crate grid on the left, a 32x48" softbox on the right (also with egg crate), and a D-1000 head with 7" reflector and 10Þ grid spot.

On Assignment
I used these Versalights for two solid weeks on a number of assignments. While I found the JTL lights about 200Þ Kelvin warmer than my Balcar studio strobes they were consistent from head to head and it's very easy to dial in a custom white balance. These units look and feel like big time pro units. The internal cooling fans are dead quiet and supremely effective. I ran my strobes all day with softboxes mounted, yet the JTL units stayed cool to the touch, and even the front surface of the softboxes stayed cool. The Versalights auto dump power as you go up and down the ws range, so you'll never get that one bogus frame as you dial power down and forget to pre-trigger your strobes. Even the built-in slave eye is on top of the unit, rather than the back. This makes it easier to ¡°see" the other monolights¡ªa nice feature. Power should not be a problem. I typically ran the 1000 ws units dialed way down, so I'd guess that the 800 ws units would be plenty for anyone.

I receive a number of queries every week from pros, amateurs, and hobbyists looking to break into studio photography. Everyone seems interested in good, inexpensive lighting equipment. I have to admit that I really, really like these new JTL units. They combine a well thought-out design, a rugged and durable build quality, and a remarkable feature set for a reasonable price. While the non-digital Versalights offer all of the same lighting features and run roughly $100 less per unit, the digital controls, included IR receiver and optional PC link software really make the ¡°D" series Versalights a tremendous value.

During my several weeks of using the Versalight D's I made them my main strobes, first for a product catalog shoot, then for a series of people shoots. They powered up in the morning, stayed on all day, worked flawlessly, and remained cool to the touch. While the extraordinarily low price for units with this feature set may raise a few eyebrows, in my studio these JTL strobes proved that they are the real deal.

For more information on the Versalight D series, visit JTL's website at http://www.jtlcorp.com/.

JTL Web Lite Kit All In One Lighting For Web Images

Bob Shell, April, 2003
< TR>

These days it seems the Internet is everywhere, and like most people I have gotten so I use e-mail for the bulk of my daily communications and find most of my information via web searches. This new medium has produced a major change in how people exchange information, and along with the written word most people also like to send pictures, or put pictures up on web sites. Now that digital cameras have come down in price almost anyone can afford a decent one, and they do OK on family snapshots and general picture taking. But many times we all want to show someone else exactly what some medium or small sized object looks like. The cameras focus close enough in most cases, but the main problem that has always bedeviled such photography remains¡ªgood lighting.

Hardware Store Non-Solution
Sure, you can drive to your local hardware store and pick up some clip-on reflectors and light bulbs and use them to light your subject, but these will be very harsh, specular lights. Unless you buy additional controllers you will have only full output and can only change the quantity of the light by changing bulbs. Then you have to figure out a way to support the lights and make a background and find something to support the item you want to photograph. You can certainly do all that and more, but it would eat up a lot of your time. If you're like me, spare time is something you never have enough of anyway. Wouldn't it be a lot easier if rather than wasting all this time jerry-rigging something you could just make one purchase and have all you need at hand?

JTL's Solution
The people at JTL Corporation realized the need for a convenient way to photograph small and medium sized items for web site and e-mail purposes. Their designers put a lot of thought into this and put together their Web.lite kit. It addresses all of the problems you are likely to encounter in doing photography of small subjects with a consumer digital camera.

When you open the cardboard shipping carton that the Web.lite kit comes in you will find a very nicely made aluminum case with wheels for easy transportation and a convenient collapsing handle. The kit weighs about 32 lbs, so almost anyone can easily lift it, if necessary. I've carried it around in my car several times and set it up in different locations just to prove to myself that it is easily moved and easy and fast to set up.

Inside the case is a very complete photography kit, lacking only the camera. First are two JTL Digi-Lites. These are compact plastic lamp heads with built-in metal reflectors that accept 250w tungsten-halogen lamps which produce light of about 3200K color temperature. Each Digi-Lite can be switched from full power to half power or quarter power as required. When specular light is desired the Digi-Lites can be used alone, but most of the time you will want a softer, more diffuse light so that reflections do not destroy subject detail and shadow detail doesn't get lost. For those needs the Web.lite kit comes with two 18x18" softboxes, made of heat-resistant fabric with metal support rods and a plastic rear ring. These go together quickly and easily and attach to the Digi-Lites by just slipping the mounting ring onto the front and locking in place by tightening four set screws in the ring. The kit also includes one set of barn doors for those times when you want a mix of specular and diffuse light and want to control where the specular light falls. These attach just like the softboxes.

Light And Background Support
Of course, nice lights are of little use without something to support them, so two 5-foot aluminum folding light stands are also included in the kit. For backgrounds the kit comes with a two-sided cloth velour background measuring 40x60". This background fabric is black on one side and Color-Key green on the other. The green side makes it easy to drop out the background with any number of software applications. All you need do in most cases is just select the green and the object will be perfectly silhouetted. Of course you can also supply your own fabric backgrounds in a variety of colors via a quick visit to a fabric shop.

Support for the background comes from a set of two more stands and a crossbar. These stands also extend up to 5 ft, and the crossbar extends to 5 ft. For larger items you can just let the background extend onto the floor and place the items on it. You could do this with small items, too, but to save your back it is better to have a support table of some sort. Once again JTL comes to the rescue with a very cleverly designed folding table that comes in the kit case. One end of it fastens to the kit case securely and the other end is held up by a fifth short stand that allows some adjustment of the table if you don't want it level. This produces a table strong enough for most things you would be likely to photograph.

Everything goes back into the carrying case just as easily as it came out, which I found somewhat novel after dealing with so many things that don't want to go back into their original packaging. There is even enough extra room for you to store most digital cameras and some other accessories inside.

Should you feel the need for more lights for more elaborate lighting setups, you can buy additional Digi-Lites individually or in another kit that includes a light stand and a 33" white umbrella.

The Web.lite kit sells for about $300 at JTL dealers. You can find additional information on their web site at http://www.jtlcorp.com/.

Photos © 2002, Bob Shell, All Rights Reserved

A Few Words About Lighting
Now it may seem that an 18x18" softbox isn't very big, but there is an important rule of lighting that you need to understand when using softboxes and other diffuse light sources. It is simply that the actual size of the softbox is not what matters. It is the apparent size of the softbox from the subject's position that matters. So an 18x18" softbox can provide light just as soft as that from a much bigger one, but you just have to get it in closer to the subject. The closer it is, the softer the light will be. For the test shots of the flower arrangement and camera shown here I brought the two softboxes in as close as possible without actually getting them in the picture.

Generally this is the best way to light small subjects if you want saturated colors and maximum subject detail. Some subjects may require a harder light, particularly if they have no shiny surfaces. You can experiment with different lighting positions, different power ratios between the two lights, and with and without softboxes until you find what is perfect for your subject. I suggest making some distance measurements to lights and drawing simple diagrams so you can duplicate setups that work for you.

Also remember that you will need to set your digital camera's white balance to either its tungsten or 3200K setting, depending on the camera, to get accurate colors in your images. Some cameras lack these settings and only offer automatic white balance. In that case it will not perform well when using the black or green backgrounds, but if you have any good image-editing software application like Photoshop Elements or Photoshop you can easily fix this.

JTL Mobilights Lightweight Studio And Location Lighting

Bob Shell, January, 2003

The Mobilight flash system is at much at home outdoors as in the studio, giving you the full versatility of a studio monolight away from AC power. I used a JTL C Stand to support the flash head for this outdoor session.
© 2001, Bob Shell, All Rights Reserved

Just about every photographer who has worked in a studio has wished that the full lighting system of the studio could be easily used outdoors. There have been battery-powered versions of some studio lighting systems available for some time, but they suffered from high cost and were generally quite heavy and not as convenient to operate as their full-fledged studio flash cousins. I've hoped for years for a system which would give me the same versatility outdoors as I have in my studio and would not break my bank account, or my back.

At this year's photo trade show I made my usual visit to the JTL lighting booth to see what was new. Jonathan Zhou of JTL pointed to a battery pack that was connected to one of their studio flash heads and told me to pick it up. I reached down to pick it up and realized immediately that it must be just a display dummy because it didn't weigh anything at all. It was like picking up an empty box.

Zhou assured me that it was not just a dummy but a fully functional battery pack using a new type of super light battery that allowed the whole pack to weigh only about 2 lbs. The flash units can also be used as regular studio lights with AC power, or can be powered from a car cigarette lighter socket. With all of these features, there was no question at that point that these were products I just had to try. So I asked JTL to send me a couple of these new units to try out.

Three Mobilight Models
There are three Mobilight models, the Mobilight 110 which is very basic and useful for situations not requiring much light or control, and the Mobilight 200 and 300, which are very full-featured professional studio type flash units, accepting a wide range of accessories from JTL. Each Mobilight comes complete with an AC power cord and can be used as a regular studio flash by disconnecting the battery pack and running from AC. The only real difference between AC and battery pack operation is that the modeling light does not work when running from the battery pack as this would run the batteries down in no time at all. Outdoors you can check the effect to make sure it is what you want with Polaroid or digital.

Unfortunately, when the units arrived we were fully into a summer heat wave here in Virginia and the heat and humidity made outdoor shooting unattractive for some time, so I only did a few short shoots with the new units. Since then we've had a few breaks in the weather and I have been able to do some more lengthy shoots and to experiment with their versatility. I've also worked with them in my studio, in which case they work just like regular studio monolights.

Even though the sun was very bright in the early afternoon, I wanted to make the shadows on Aubrey's face less harsh, so I set up a Mobilight 300 to add fill. Since I was shooting with a digital camera it was easy to see when the balance was right even though the modeling light on the flash does not work from the battery pack. If shooting on film I could check the effect with a digital camera or by shooting Polaroids.
© 2001, Bob Shell, All Rights Reserved

Into The Woods
For the test shoot I took a Mobilight 300 outfit and an extra charged battery pack out into the woods. I brought along one of my JTL C Stands to provide an extra sturdy but lightweight support for the flash. I was working with Aubrey Goss, a new model I have made many photos of this year, and wanted to just do some simple and informal shots to try out the fill flash possibilities of the Mobilight 300.

It was a terribly hot and humid day and photographer and model both wilted pretty quickly once we got out of the air-conditioned Ford Explorer I use for location work. I had planned to work for a couple of hours, but after less than an hour we were ready to call it a day. I hadn't run down the first battery pack, much less needed the backup.

My camera that time was a Canon EOS D30 with the Canon 28-80mm L series lens that has long been my favorite. I really thought the shoot was a complete bust as we drove back, but it turned out that the Mobilight had performed much better in the heat than we had, and I had gotten some images that showed how well it worked in the field. I expect that I will be using the Mobilights outdoors a lot now that the heat wave has come to an end, at least for this year.

The Model 110
The Mobilight 110 has a plastic housing and is exceptionally lightweight at 21 oz. It makes an excellent kicker light, hairlight, product light for small products, etc. At 110 ws it is powerful enough for serious photography as well. It has a basic guide number of 105 and recycles in 1.5-3 sec on its half and full power settings. You get about 180 full power flashes from a full battery charge.

Models 200 & 300
The Mobilight 200 and 300 look similar and have attractive metal housings with all controls on the flat back panel. They look just like the JTL Versalight series on which they are based and use all the same reflectors and accessories. Like the Versalights, they have a sliding mounting fixture which enables you to balance the light on the stand regardless of what sort of accessories you put on the front. They have four power settings¡ª1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and full power, for added control. Power level is indicated by LEDs on the back panel, which are easy to see from a distance. They have built-in slave sensors for triggering from other flash units or infrared triggering systems. Recycle times are from 2-4 sec. The 200 weighs 3.3 lbs and the 300 weighs 3.8 lbs, and they offer guide numbers of 180 and 200 respectively. The battery pack will give you about 150 and 100 full power flashes respectively with these flash units.

The Mobilight 200 and 300 can be used worldwide with the battery pack, since their battery charger is auto-sensing and will work on voltages from 80-240v, 50 or 60Hz. However, powering them directly from AC requires 110-130v at 60Hz. The battery pack has a low power indicator which will warn you before the battery is exhausted and comes housed in a nice nylon carrying case with both a hanging loop and touch-fastener straps on the back for attaching to light stands.

For more information on these and all JTL products, go to their web site at: http://www.jtlcorp.com/.

Two New JTL Light Meters Getting The Right Exposure At An Affordable Price

Bob Shell, December, 2002

Getting the best possible exposure has always been a quest for serious photographers. If you are shooting negative films you can sometimes make up for poor exposure after the fact by compensating in printing, but the best prints always come from properly exposed negatives. If you are shooting slide film you really have no choice but to get the exposure right, since these films have very little exposure latitude. And even with digital cameras it is important to get the correct exposure to prevent highlights from being blown out, something which cannot be corrected. This makes good metering vital to good photography, but in camera meters are not ideal because they can be fooled so easily by subject reflectance. Even the most sophisticated in camera meters are not right 100 percent of the time, and the problem is that you won't know when the camera could not meter properly until after you have taken the photo and had the film processed. No matter what camera I am using or how good its meter may be, I always carry a hand meter to confirm exposure.

Incident Accuracy
As I have said many times in print and in my lectures on metering, I feel that the best kind of light meter is a good incident meter. I've used incident meters since the 1970s and you just can't beat one for reliable, accurate exposures in most lighting situations. While there are many good incident meters on the market today, good ones can be costly, so I was very excited when the people at JTL showed me a couple of new ones at PMA which looked great and were priced remarkably reasonable. I've now had a chance to work with both of them. The two meters are models JTL LM-6 and JTL LM-8, and are similar in overall appearance and operation, but with some important differences in features. Both read flash and ambient light.

The LM-6
The LM-6 is the less expensive of the two with an expected street price of around $170. As you can see from the photo it is a very clean design with simple controls. On the right side is a sliding on/off switch. All other settings are controlled by the innovative four-way rocker switch on the front of the meter and the button in the middle of the switch. The left side of the rocker switch, marked mode, lets you cycle through the meter's modes, which are ambient, flash, flash with PC connection, and cine. The chosen mode is indicated by a small icon along the bottom of the large LCD panel on the meter. The right side of the rocker switch lets you set the ISO by holding it down until the display changes to ISO and using the upper and lower parts of the rocker switch to select the ISO. Once selected it is locked in by depressing the right side of the rocker switch until the display switches back to metering mode. The ISO range is from 3 to 8000, certainly adequate for most photographers.
Although primarily an incident meter, you can also take reflected readings with a 55Þ angle of view by sliding the incident dome away from its position over the silicon photo cell. You can also turn the black collar on the dome to retract it if you wish to emulate a flat diffuser. The meter's head swivels through 270Þ for convenience.

Making Readings
To make an ambient light reading you just hold the meter in the proper place, depending on whether you are taking an incident or reflected reading, point the head, and press the big button in the center of the rocker switch. Once you have the reading you can use the upper and lower portions of the rocker switch to view other equivalent shutter speed and aperture combinations. The meter reads out in full stops and indicates fractional f/stops on a 10-segment bar code to the right of the aperture number on the LCD display.

To meter flash, decide first if you want cordless or PC cord metering and set the correct mode. For cordless flash metering you must first activate the meter by pressing the big button. Active status is indicated by the flashing of the flash mode symbol on the LCD display. You then position the meter, aim the head, and pop the flash or have someone do it for you. For metering using a PC cord, select the mode indicated by a lightning bolt and a C and plug the PC cord into the socket on the bottom of the meter. Pressing the big button then fires the flash and makes the reading.

Users of old cameras will appreciate that this meter has shutter speeds of 1/75, 1/80, 1/90, 1/100, 1/200, and 1/400 in addition to the normal modern shutter speed range from 1 sec to 1/1000 sec for flash, and 30 minutes to 1/8000 sec for ambient light readings. The meter can also read out directly in EV numbers from 6 to 25.9 for those still using the EV system. For movie cameras you can use frame rates of 8, 12, 16, 18, 24, 25, 32, 64, and 120. To preserve the single CR-2 lithium cell (supplied with the meter) which powers the meter, there's an automatic shut off if not used for 10 minutes. The meter's dimensions are approximately 31/3x43/4x1". It weighs a Scant 3.6 oz. I was particularly impressed that so much could be packed into such a light package. Put it around your neck with its lanyard and you will hardly know it's there. It comes with a pouch case for protection as well.

In my studio and outdoor tests the JTL LM-6 agreed with my meters of known accuracy in bright, medium, and dim light. It also gave me accurate flash exposures. This is certainly a meter worth considering if you are looking for a light, inexpensive, and accurate meter primarily for incident metering and for occasional reflected metering use.

The LM-8
The JTL LM-8 is the more advanced model, but it comes at only a slightly higher price of about $200, complete with lanyard, battery, and genuine leather pouch case. It has all of the features of the LM-6, plus adds a number of other very useful features to the mix. First of all, it makes reflected metering easier by adding an optical viewfinder so you can see the area from which you are taking your meter reading. This would be very useful if you expected to do a moderate amount of reflected light metering in addition to incident metering. The optical viewfinder is bright and clear. The optical viewfinder adds a little more than half an inch to the length of the meter and it weighs only 4 grams more than the LM-6.

A nice additional feature is that the LM-8 can store up to four different readings in its memory and you can recall them if you wish to calculate exposure based on multiple meter readings. You could take one highlight reading, one shadow reading, and two intermediate readings. This would also allow you to determine the exposure range of a scene and make sure it is within the latitude of the film you are using. In the studio the LM-8 can compute exposure from multiple pops of a flash giving a cumulative exposure for up to nine flashes. This can be useful when you wish to use a smaller f/stop and use cumulative flashes to build up exposure on slower films.

Perhaps the nicest added feature of the LM-8 is that it offers a backlit LCD display. Above the on/off switch on the side of the meter is a pale gray bar, which looks like a decorative touch. Pressing this bar lights up the display with a blue-green light for 30 sec. I found this very useful in my studio when working behind the flash heads where it tends to be rather dim.

Also, while the LM-6 works as a shutter priority meter, the LM-8 can be switched from shutter priority to aperture priority by simply pressing the on/off switch. This would be very useful if you wanted to maintain a particular aperture, for example to control depth of field.

In my testing I found both of these new light meters worked exceptionally well, giving accurate and consistent readings time after time. I would not hesitate to use them for my photography. For more information and a comparison chart go to http://www.jtlcorp.com/.

JTL Superlights Are Hot

Robert E. Mayer, March, 2001

Incandescent hotlights providing continuous lighting for constant viewing of the subject with the effects of the lighting always visible are particularly popular for video and motion picture situations as well as still photography being done on black and white or tungsten-balanced color films. The JTL Superlight is a recently introduced light of this type that combines moderate price along with four versions accepting long-lived bulbs up to 1000w in intensity for brighter illumination when used inside a large softbox for soft, diffused lighting.

The incandescent JTL Superlight is a hotlight fixture intended primarily for working with tungsten-balanced color films or any black and white film. Although motion picture and videographers would probably use this type of light most, still photographers would also find it helpful in their studios when they need continuous light falling on the subject for a constant visualization of the lighting effect. As nice as electronic flash lighting is, especially when there is a modeling light, the final balance of all of the lighting being used is often difficult to determine. Of course, hotlights can also be used with daylight-balanced color material when the proper filter is placed on the camera lens.

Four Versions Offered
This type of light is frequently used inside a large softbox for soft, diffused lighting, so it is offered in four versions accepting bulbs up to 1000w in intensity. The elongated nickel-lined aluminum metal chassis looks deceptively like a monolight electronic flash, but it's not. The design is unlike any I have ever seen before. The long narrow 1000w quartz bulb protrudes from the front of the porcelain socket to emit bright light in all directions. The reflective sides of typical softboxes direct the light forward through a diffusion panel onto the subject to provide soft, wraparound lighting which is very flattering for glamour poses and female subjects of all ages, as well as many other types of commercial objects. Four versions of the JTL Superlight are offered with the number in the name indicating the wattage of the bulb. The models are: Superlight 1000; 500; 250; and 150. The bulbs can be interchanged whenever a different maximum intensity is needed, but a base adapter is required to change a 1000/500w unit to accept the smaller base of a 250/150w bulb. A built-in fan efficiently cools the lamp, keeping the metal body cool enough to touch even after it has been burning for many minutes. The fan cooling is particularly useful when the light is used inside a softbox when heat build-up often is a problem.

Light Modifiers
If direct light is desired, a long reflective neck can be placed over the bulb to completely enclose and protect it. There is an optional folding reflector at the front end which looks like a six-sided barn door. This hexagon turreted reflector produces typical flood lighting when the leaves are spread wide open. But, when they are folding in toward the bulb, the output pattern becomes similar to that of a focus-adjustable spotlight. Each reflector leaf has a heat-resistant coating inside and a non-reflective flat black finish outside.

The JTL Superlight comes complete with a carrying case having a handle and shoulder strap plus a three-way tilt, swivel, and turn device which is easily loosened with one knob for different adjustment modes somewhat similar to the type of control unit found on most tripod tilt-tops.

Sturdy, Yet Lightweight
It appears to be sturdily constructed for years of use yet is lightweight for portability. All of the operating controls are conveniently positioned on the rear of the cylinder. There is a power cord socket, two rocker on/off switches (with an indicator light directly above each), plus a continuously variable rotary switch to adjust the power level and light output from full down to off. The left switch is the primary power switch while the right one turns the built-in fan on or off.

Once the power is on, the rotary switch must be turned clockwise to turn on the bulb. As would be expected, when set for lower power levels the bulb visibly emits a warmer color balance than when set for half or full power. I imagine the color balance would be decidedly warmer when used at less than half brightness intensities, but I didn't have a color temperature meter to check this out.

Even Lighting
The light produced by the Superlight appears to be very even when lighting a plain white wall without any hot spots or edge falloff. When the optional hexagon reflector is added, the light pattern is noticeably altered from a broad even light to a concentrated spot. It is truly a multipurpose light.

One especially nice feature is the extremely long life quartz bulb with 2000 hour expected lifetime, so you should not be concerned about changing the bulb for a considerable length of time. With any quartz bulb, it is recommended that you do not touch it with bare fingers since they always contain oils, which can adversely affect the glass envelope and cut down on the normal life expectancy. You should first allow the bulb to cool then grasp it with a cloth whenever you must touch it.

Optional accessories include the hexagon reflector; two sizes of square softboxes; softbox louvers; softbox stripmasks; softbox circle masks; and a universal connector to use the Superlight with other brands of softboxes. Naturally, the different wattage bulbs and bulb adapters are also available. The reasonable price is one of its prime features. A 1000w JTL Superlight complete with tilting stand adapter lists for under $300.

To obtain more data on the JTL Superlight and a catalog showing the many other studio products available from this firm, contact JTL Corp., 14747 Artesia Blvd., La Mirada, CA 90638; (714) 670-6626; fax: (714) 670-8836; or web site at: http://www.jtlcorp.com/.

Technical Specifications
Power Input:
110-125v, 50/60Hz
Fits On: 3/8 and 5/8" stud
Power Cable: Removable 16'
Cooling: Blast cooling with air
Color Temperature: 3200K
Wattage: 1000w, 500w, 250w, or 150w (depending upon model)
Fuse: 10amp, 5amp, or 3amp (depending upon model)
Power Setting: Continuous variable with detents
Lamp Style: Quartz-halogen, single screw base
Lamp Life: Consistent 2000 hours
Dimensions: 51/2" diameter, 9" long
Weight: 2.2 lbs
Finish: Electrophoresis coating
Materials: Primarily nickel-lined aluminum and steel

JTL Studio Flash And Accessories

Bob Shell, November, 2000
After setting things up to use the JTL flash units with my existing softboxes I shot a series of head and shoulders portraits of Clarissa Murphy, a new model I am working with. Details are in the text. Shot on Fuji RDP III 120 in the Mamiya 645 AF camera.
Photos © Bob Shell, 2000

Regular readers of Shutterbug have no doubt noticed the large advertisements from JTL Studio Systems. From the ads it looks like they sell everything you could possibly need to equip a studio, and if you realize that their ads show only a small fraction of the product line in their full catalog you will be as amazed as I was at the number of products they carry. In fact the sheer size of their product offering made it difficult for me to decide on just a few products to borrow from them for this test report. I finally settled on three flash units, enough for a basic studio setup, and a small assortment of accessories.

Since "C" stands are a basic piece of equipment for any studio to support everything from flash heads to backgrounds, I was interested in taking a look at JTL's version of this popular type of stand. The main difference in the JTL stand and others I have used over the years is in the rubber handgrip on the stand column which makes it easier to carry, and in the spring inserts which prevent the stand sections from collapsing suddenly under weight when released. These sections go down smoothly and softly due to the use of these springs. I found the stand was quick and easy to set up since the legs quickly swing into position and click into place. These would be excellent stands for travel since they fold and unfold so rapidly, and equally at home as more or less permanent fixtures in the studio. The one I tested was just over 6' in height (No. 5035) when fully extended.

This is one of a series of photos I did in my studio with model Kim Franklin using the JTL studio flash units. Details are in the text.

Also available for the C stands is a support arm with clips, called a 5 in 1 Holder Kit by JTL, which is used to hold the JTL folding reflectors, available in a wide variety of colors and sizes.

The flash units I was most interested in are from the Prolite Series, which offer digital read-outs of flash power on the side panel and easy power adjustment via up and down buttons. The first thing I noticed when unpacking the flash from its shipping box is that it has a very substantial metal housing which looks like it would take a lot of abuse. The flash is supplied with a standard dish reflector for general use. The reflector bayonets quickly onto the front of the flash housing and has an integral umbrella holder. The unit I received for testing was the Prolite L-800, the 800 ws model. I liked the digital display side panel with its push button controls of all functions. You can turn the audible ready signal on and off, turn the slave sensor on and off, adjust modeling light tracking, adjust flash output, all at the touch of a finger. I found this flash very "user friendly" to borrow a computer term and among the easiest to use I have worked with.

On the JTL studio flash units the numerical part of the model number is the power output in watt seconds. When comparing units from different manufacturers remember that raw watt seconds of power is only part of the picture, and that flash tube and reflector efficiency can be just as important. I found the JTL flash units had plenty of power for anything I would be likely to do in my studio.

The second series of flash units which interested me is called the Versalite J-700A and uses a dial to control light output rather than the buttons and digital read-out of the Prolite Series. One thing I particularly liked about the Versalite J-700A that I used is that the stand mounting bracket can be attached to a groove in the light and can be moved backward or forward to balance the light depending on what sort of reflector or other accessory is mounted on the front.

Also, you can mount it on either the "top" or "bottom" of the flash to put the controls on whichever side suits you best. This flash also offers an audible ready signal which can be switched off, built-in slave trigger which can also be switched off when not needed, and variable modeling light tracking. The Versalite flash units also come with the standard reflector and accept umbrellas.

JTL also makes some simpler and less expensive flash units in their Versalite Series and they sent me one of their Versalite J-300A models for my third light in my three light studio setup. It has most of the features of the other JTL flash units but is simplified with full, 1/2, and 1/4 power settings instead of continuously variable power. It also comes with a standard reflector and will accept umbrellas.

I used this one as a background light for a series of high key photos with model Kim Franklin and found it very satisfactory when fitted with the standard reflector supplied with it.

For my first session with the JTL lights I set up the Prolite L-800 to camera left and set it up to shoot through a white diffusion screen. This was my fill light. To camera right I set up the Versalite J-700A with standard reflector as my key, using no diffusion on this one. As mentioned, I used the Versalite J-300A to camera right to light up my white background. After setting my two main lights for a 2:1 lighting ratio, key to fill, and background one stop hotter, I shot several rolls of test film using Fuji RDP III. Exposure was determined with my Sekonic L-508 meter in incident mode, and was set to f/8. When I picked these test shots up from the lab I was happy to see that everything had worked perfectly. I then shot more film using the same setup and you see one of the resulting photos here in this article. This testing was done with a Canon EOS-1V fitted with the Canon IS 28-135mm lens.

Generally, though, I am a softbox kind of guy, so I had to see how these JTL lights would work with softboxes. I put the Prolite into a large Chimera softbox to camera left and the Versalite into a smaller Photoflex softbox to camera right. Once again I set a 2:1 light ratio for an overall exposure of f/8 at ISO 100 and set the background light for the same, since I did not want the background overly "hot" in these photos. I was doing a test shoot with a new model on the day I had this setup working, so I did a series of headshots of her using the Mamiya 645 AF camera and the Mamiya AF ULD 210mm f/4 IF lens. An example from this shoot is with this article.

I found the JTL flash units very easy to work with. They all have plenty of power and I never needed more than half power on any of them for what I was doing. I was also pleased to find that the light output of the three units was consistent from flash to flash, never deviating even a tenth of a stop in my meter reading during continuous shooting. The many rolls of perfectly exposed slide film are the proof in this pudding. I also found the color balance of the light matched well among the three test flash units and seemed to be very neutral. I did not notice any color shift in my film.

Would I use and recommend the JTL flash units after my tests? Absolutely. You can learn more about JTL products by visiting their web site at: http://www.jtlcorp.com/ where you will find a complete product listing and details as well as dealer information. If you do not have Internet access you can call JTL at (714) 670-6626 to find out the name of your nearest dealer. JTL does not sell direct to the consumer but through a network of dealers around the country. Prices are determined by the dealer, so check with your dealer for current prices on products that interest you.

Copyright © JTL CORP. 2008. All rights are reserved.