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Review: Photogenic CL500 Monolight

by Chris Gampat on 11/13/2011

Though I’m usually a strobist and love my off-camera flash, there are times when a continuous source of light have been more favorable. Back at the Samsung NX200 announcement party, I was able to meet with the folks over at Photogenic, who introduced me to some of their monolight options. I’ve been testing and reviewing the Photogenic CL500 monolight for a while and for various uses. For the most part, I used the CL500 with the 24×32 softbox and FL55 bulbs.

So how does it hold up? And why did they blow out three outlets in my house?

Tech Specs

Borrowed from the B&H Photo Video listing of the product.

Rating 500 Watts maximum
Socket (Lampholder) Heavy duty ceramic, E26 Edison Screw Base
Lens (Condenser) Not applicable
Reflector (Mirror) Uses 7, 14, 16, 20 and 24″ reflectors
Mounting Fits on any standard 5/8″ stand or stud
Yoke Not applicable
Cable 2 Wire, Edison Plug
Focusing Not applicable
Weight 5.5 lb (2.5 kg)
Dimensions Not specified by manufacturer

Ergonomics

The Photogenic CL500 is an amazingly small head for what it can deliver. Additionally, it’s also designed simply. For users looking to be able to control the light output, you’ll have to look at a higher end option. However, for most uses, the CL500 will suit the needs to most studio, event, or wedding professionals.

The handle at the bottom consists of levers that allow you to adjust the direction of the head and also screw it onto a light stand.

The front of the unit is very plain and simple. All there is to it is a slot to screw the light bulb in and latches to attach a softbox via a Bowens mount.

The back of the head consists of a handle, fan and on/off switch. The entire unit is built very well but doesn’t have a terribly heavy weight to it at all.

Transportation

The softbox itself comes with a small case, which is very convenient for transport. However, you’ll need a specific bag or hard case to carry the lights. Because I currently don’t have one, the monolight spends its time in a large tote bag and the bulbs in their boxes in a large Uniqlo bag. Plus, you need to bring the stand with you. Then throw in your camera bag.

At the end, they aren’t an extremely portable option unless you have a car or an assistant to help you. Otherwise, there are bags out there made to transport them all.

Ease of Use

Setting up the softbox, bulb and monolight is relatively simple. Perhaps the most complicated part may be setting up the softbox, but if you carefully read the instructions provided, you won’t have much trouble.

A word of warning though, this is a large softbox. It’s a very good idea to set it all up first, and then attach it to the monolight. Only then do you screw in the bulbs and close the front end of the softbox via the white diffusion panel. That is done via velcro strips. Additionally, there is a smaller white panel inside for extra diffusion if you want. However, this smaller panel shouldn’t be used with the FL55 bulbs because it comes too close to it while inside. This may be a fire hazard, but the bulb doesn’t burn too hot to begin with.

Light Output and Samples

For photography

Shot with the Samsung 85mm f1.4 on the Samsung NX200

The subject in the photo above is very close to the softbox. It is perhaps no more than 2 and a half feet away from him. The light output is extremely soft.

Strobist setup for this test

The following photos were shot using the above set up. They are from my portrait lens test.

Sigma 85mm f1.4 at ISO 400 f2.5 and 1/160

Canon 85mm f1.8 at ISO 400 f1.8 1/125

What is great about this light is that I was able to use an adapter to screw two bulbs into it. I’ve heard models (like the one above) say that lights can sometimes be too strong and his eyes are sensitive. Luckily, he actually said that the CL500 is actually very nice and soft. He also loved the images lit with it.

Using the softbox, the user gets a very soft and directional quality of light. The silver beaded interior helps as well.

Unlike a ring flash or beauty dish though, it’s tough to get a catch light in the subject’s eyes.

The softness of the light was assured to me by little Nathaniel, who is almost a year old at my shooting the above photo. He didn’t seem to think it was too harsh; nor did it hurt his eyes at all. Sometimes he would look at it with wonder and awe. In the photo above, I was able to get a bit of catch light, but not a tremendous amount.

For this photo, the light is position on the bottom right side of the photo. It’s hitting Nathaniel while he is distracted by his parents who are trying to make him laugh and look right up at the camera. The lights mixed well with the pleasing fall colors and his skin tone; making it very useful for portraiture.

The light wasn’t too harsh on Nathaniel and grandma in the photo above either. Indeed, the quality of the light is super soft and super directional. Because of how large the light source is, the falloff happens quickly. Additionally, consider how directional the light is. If I had been using an umbrella, it would have been a different story. Umbrellas tend to make lights wrap around the subject due to their design.

Product Photography

But I didn’t only use them to shoot people. I also shot the Urban Quiver review photos with these lights.

They give a totally different light output and feel than my Canon 5D Mk II and flash pointed at the ceiling do.

For Video

Using the provided Photogenic 500 watt incandescent bulbs was a different story. Indeed, I found those lights to be much more intense and actually very warm (in terms of color temperature and burning.) These lights I often used when shooting videos.

For videography or for work where you need warmer lightout put, the 500 watt bulbs work very nicely but burn very hot. Be careful when taking them out of the monolight head.

Reliability

When using the Photogenic CL500 lighting kit, I blew out three outlets in my living room. I thought that maybe the light was too powerful for them, but after talking to the company’s Technical manager and PR reps, I found out that it couldn’t be possible.

So I did further investigation: I tried it in other outlets in my house. For the most part, it worked fine. Then I took it to a friend’s apartment and tried it in various outlets; worked perfectly. Then I took it to another friend’s house and it once again performed flawlessly.

So what was the problem? We recently redid our entire living, electrical wiring and all. The electrician did a faulty job and he has yet to come fix his mistakes.

In the end, despite being roughed up in transport and dropped once, the $150.00 monolight head was not capable of killing my outlets. And for the intense light output that it delivers, it’s well worth the money.

Conclusion

Can I recommend the Photogenic CL500 monolight head, softbox and light bulbs? Absolutely! For the budget level photographer or one that doesn’t want to spend a very large amount of money, these lights are spectacular. They are reliable, tough, and give off beautiful light. My only problem is that one of the FL55 bulbs died on me due to having the connector collapse inward. This happened once when I tried to screw it into the head. Luckily, I have another bulb and still have the 500 watt bulbs as well.

If you need to do a portrait sessions or light a scene for your video, the Photogenic CL500 is an affordable option with a big output. It also does very well for product photography. Most importantly, it won’t make your models sweat or need to escape the heat of the light. And a comfortable model is one that performs well when given directions or when they need to get into character.

Gear Used

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