JTL’s Mobilight 300; Powerful And Portable

Electronic flash functionality continues to expand with one of the major innovations over the last few years being portability. For a long time the options were either using professional lighting gear in the studio, or using makeshift portable-powered lighting setups on location. Frequently, photographers would jerry-rig battery-powered auxiliary on-camera flash units to work with umbrellas or reflectors. That worked well enough for certain situations, but it wasn't the ideal solution.

Things have changed. Over the last few years, the electrical cord that has traditionally tethered serious lighting equipment to the AC plug has evaporated. It's now possible to use studio gear just about anywhere you might want to take pictures, whether there's an electrical plug available or not. More and more companies are marketing professional studio gear that is both powerful and portable.

JTL's portable solution is the Mobilight series of lighting systems. There are two versions, the Mobilight 200 and the Mobilight 300, with the number referring to the watt-second power output of each unit. The 300 was tested for this review.

Each Mobilight kit includes the lighting head with its detachable flash tube and modeling lamps, a 7" metal reflector, a light protector, the JTL Battery Pack with built-in AC and car DC recharging capabilities, and the cables and connectors required to make it all work. The important thing about the Mobilight is that it's fully self-contained. No power pack is required.

The unit has two electrical inputs, a standard three-prong AC plug on the back and a proprietary DC power connector on the side that plugs into the battery. The AC/DC power selection switch, along with all the other controls, are on the back of the unit. There's a built-in slave with full 360Þ coverage that can be turned on or off as needed. There's also a switch that controls the modeling light and a test button that doubles as a ready light.

There's an umbrella holder at the base of the head (but the kit doesn't ship with any umbrellas or other light modifiers). The reflector is small enough so that the umbrella stem doesn't have to pass through it. JTL has a selection of umbrellas and light modifiers available, including softboxes, light banks, and reflectors that can be paired with the Mobilight.

For this test, I tried it with a generic 36" white reflector.

The compact battery is a nickel hydrogen metal unit. Separate diode indicator lights report the charge status and energy level. Besides AC, the battery can also be recharged with DC power through a car adapter. After the initial 14-hour charge, it only takes four hours to completely charge the unit. You should be able to get 150 or so exposures out of each charge. The flash tube, which has a built-in diffuser, has an expected life cycle of over 30,000 flashes.

Metering the model to try to balance ambient light with the JTL electronic flash. (Model: Cathy Hagman.)
All Photos © 2006, Ron Eggers, All Rights Reserved

Firing it just with the reflector attached, at 6 ft, exposures were f/16 at full power. Since there wasn't an umbrella or another light diffuser included with the test kit, all the shots were lit directly with the reflector on. But it was tested with a generic umbrella. With that umbrella, the exposure reading at full power at 6 ft was f/8. The output color temperature ranged from 5730-5830, with most readings being at the higher end of that scale. That's about 200K above the rated 5600K, but within the acceptable range.

Output power is controlled by a rotating knob. It's easy to adjust power output from 1¼8 to full power, but it would be nice to have click-stops to indicate power levels, or at least some markings indicating what the settings for the various power levels are. The Mobilight recycles very quickly. Specs indicate that it's ready to fire again between 1¼2 a second and 4 seconds, depending upon the output power setting. During testing, it performed better than the specs indicated. At full power, it generally took less than 2 seconds for the ready light to come back on. Lower-powered recycling was almost instantaneous.

Shooting in deep shade, the Mobilight works well as a single light source. (Model: Cathy Hagman.)

The Mobilight 300 is powerful enough for general studio shoots, but small enough to be portable for location work. The kit has a suggested retail price of $399.

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