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Are LED Lights Better than Strobes?

Five reasons photographers should consider investing in these cool, efficient lights

​​LED lights are becoming increasingly affordable, versatile and popular with photographers. These continuous light sources have some advantages over strobes and incandescent bulbs, so more photographers are adding them to their repertoires every day. Here’s a look at five reasons to consider investing in LEDs for your next photo lighting purchase. 

1. LED lights are continuous light sources, which means they can be used for video too. Strobes, of course, only provide illumination for a fraction of a second at a time. But continuous light sources, like LEDs, are ideal for video. So if you’re the kind of photographer who sometimes shoots video too, you will find LED lights particularly versatile. 

2. Many LED lights are bicolor, meaning they can switch from daylight white balance to tungsten (or anywhere in between) with the twist of a dial. For photo shoots in changing light situations this comes in very handy, balancing with room lights for one shot then with the flip of a switch balancing with window lights for another—no gels or other light modifiers required. 

The Litepanels Astra 6x bicolor LED panel retails for under $1,200.

3. With LED lights, what you see is what you get. With a strobe you’ve got to do a bit of math to calculate outputs and ratios, but with continuous light sources it’s easy to see the results as you adjust and reposition your lights. If it looks a little too bright, turn it down. If it’s a little too warm, turn the dial and make it a bit cooler. Because of their WYSIWYG quality, LED lights are fast and easy to use. 


4. LED lights are incredibly efficient. Because LEDs make so much light while drawing so little power, they can be more easily battery powered. Many pro-caliber LED lights can be outfitted with adapters to accommodate powerful video batteries, providing enough juice to get the benefits of a continuous light source without the need to connect to AC mains power. 

5. LED lights are durable and cool. Unlike delicate flash tubes, LEDs are—by virtue of being a solid state diode—much more capable of withstanding impacts, bangs and bumps in travel and use. And because they don’t produce much heat, they’re safer on set and less likely to cause burnt fingertips as hot flashtubes and incandescent bulbs can. 

The Elinchrom ELC 125 is a 125ws strobe available for under $500.

So what are the downsides of LEDs? Mainly the issue is they aren’t as bright as strobes. In practice that makes them less useful outdoors, where balancing with bright daylight is more of a challenge. They’re also pretty expensive when considering pro-level lights. High output flicker-free LEDs cost much more than most strobes or incandescent bulbs. And large LED panels are bulkier than flash heads as well. Because they’re made of hundreds of separate diodes in a single source, they can also produce jagged shadow edges because the light is emitted from hundreds of different diodes rather than a single point source. Still, on the whole, LED lights are an incredibly practical and versatile photography lighting solution, and they’re getting better every day.


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