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Lencarta Safari / Ring light review
As most of you will be aware Lencarta sell three products that can take the studio out into the field. These products are the Safari 600w mobile studio light head, the 600w ring flash and the battery power pack or transformer. All these items can be bought separately but there is no point in having either the Safari lights or ring light without having a power pack so Lencarta sell a number of kits giving the consumer a choice of kit to suit their pocket.
This is a user review of the system and as such is going to be non technical. The technical specifications are available on Lencarta’s website for anyone that really needs them. It is not a comparison either as there are not many competitors to the Safari system. The most obvious though is the Jinbei system which looks identical and is the system that the Lencarta Safari system is based on. The Lencarta system however is a modification of the Jinbei system giving it a number of advantages but as the price is similar there is little point in looking at that system. Other battery powered systems include systems by Bowens such as the Gemini 400 with the Travel Pak kit and systems from Calumet.
The power pack
The power pack is the central part of any Safari system and consists of a smallish black box with an integral handle. The box is around 8x10x12 inches and weights just under 4Kg with a battery.
The power pack has a number of controls on top plus a door. Open the door and the battery slides inside the power pack to make contact with 3 pins inside the box. The power pack will only work with the battery in the correct way but there is no key in the battery slot so it is possible to slide the battery in the wrong way round although it will not go all the way in.
On the top of the power pack there are two sockets for the lights. These sockets have screw covers to stop inadvertent shorting or moisture ingress and in order to prevent their loss, the covers are connected to the power pack by a wire.
There are two other sockets on top of the power pack, which are labelled CHARGER and SYNC. The charger socket is where you plug the power lead from the power supply for the battery charger and allows you to charge the battery whilst it is still inside. The SYNC socket is the same as the sync socket on your studio lights and is where you either plug in the radio remote or the PC sync cable. The charger can be plugged into the power pack but the battery will not charge whilst the power pack is switched on. It will only start to charge when the power switch on the charger is switched to the CHG position.
The remaining controls are the TEST button which fires the flash and the power setting dial which runs from full power down to 1/8th
Lastly there are LEDs to show READY, OK and the amount of power left in the battery.
The Safari power pack is rated at 600W but this figure is shared between the devices that are attached, which means that when you have two lights they become 2 x 300w.
The Safari studio light
The Safari studio light is a much simpler device than normal studio lights that plug into the mains such as the ElitePro. The Safari light does not need to store energy or convert mains power because all that is handled by the power pack. The studio light is much smaller and lighter than an ordinary light but has the same Bowens S fit so will work with the same light modifiers.
The light has a switch and a button on the rear. The switch turns the built in modelling light on and off but once switched to the on position the modelling light doesn’t come on until you press the ON button (for 5 seconds) and then for 25 seconds. The modelling light then switches itself back off again.
The Safari light also has a metal carrying handle/cable tidy, which retracts into the body of the light when it is not required.
The front of the light it is fitted with the standard bulb protector and when this is removed you can see the two bulbs. The modelling light uses a low power 24v two pin push in bulb whilst the flash is handled by a user replaceable flash tube.
The Safari light attaches using the standard light stand fitment using a small thumb screw to secure it. The angle of the light is controlled by a “twist to release” locking handle, which is an improvement over older safari studio lights which had a locking knob which screwed into place.
Safari lights are also supplied with a small handle, which attaches to the light stand connector and allows the light to be hand held.
The Safari ring light
The Safari ring light is a powerful and is designed for lighting portraits rather than the lower power macro ring lights that can be bought elsewhere and for that purpose. If your main planned use of the ring flash is macro then you might want to look elsewhere with lights such as the Nikon R1C1, which is much more practical for that subject (BUT see post #5 as the Safari ring light can be used for that purpose with ND gels). The Lencarta ring light now comes with the diffuser as standard but replacements can be purchased. The diffuser pushes onto the ring light but it is not the most secure fitment and one needs to be careful not to knock it off. The diffuser has a second purpose as well as diffusing the light, as it can hold a gel in place over the light in order to reduce the power. I would have liked to have seen Lencarta supply a couple of ND gels with the ring light especially considering that these gels can be bought for pennies on Ebay but this is certainly not a deal breaker.
The ring light is made from plastic and it comes with two L shaped brackets plus a cross bracket and it is these that attach the light to the camera. The L bracket has unequal lengths by design and allows the bracket to be used with full sized or gripped cameras as well as smaller cameras. It would have been nice for it to have been supplied with some kind of quick release bracket but again this is not a deal breaker and the addition of a Manfrotto quick release bracket makes attaching and detaching the camera from the bracketry far easier. If you are using the camera for taking pictures at weddings and the like then a quick release bracket is certainly a must.
Lencarta also supply a number of accessories to go with the Safari system. These are shown on the web site and include an extension cable, which is useful when you are using two studio heads with one power pack and carrying cases for the set and for the power pack.
The above items are used to make a number of kits which Lencarta sell. The kits save the purchaser money by giving a discount but individual items in kits can be swapped out to make a kit better suited to the individual purchaser.
All the kits also include the charger, plastic case, sync lead and battery adapter, which allows the charger to be used to charge a battery even if the transformer is in use.
£749.95 - Safari 600 ring flash kit (Generator, ringflash)
£969.95 – Safari twin head portable kit (Generator, 2 x safari studio lights, 2 x reflector, carry case)
£1099.95 – Safari Event kit with umbrellas (as 969 kit with 2 stands, 2 brollies, case for stands)
£1199.95 – Safari Event kit with softbox (as 1099 kit but with 120cm folding softbox instead of 1 brolly and 1 reflector)
Unlike all Lencarta’s other kits the Safari kits do not contain any triggers so if you do not have any triggers you will either need to budget for these or alternatively use the free sync lead which is supplied.
As mentioned previously you do not need to choose one kit specifically. You can start with another kit and work your way up. The most expensive kit is the £1199 kit which is £100 more and for that you get a softbox, which they sell for £129 but you do lose a reflector and a brolly. It might actually be more useful to buy the cheaper £1099 kit and buy the folding softbox separately as the extra £29 you pay is well worth it for another brolly and reflector, which can give you more options.
The £969 kit is aimed more at people who already have studio based lighting as this kit does not contain any stands or light modifiers at all (other than the standard reflectors).
The £749 kit is aimed squarely at people who want just the ring light. What you can do is actually swap the ring light from this kit with a Safari studio head giving you a single head kit. This would work like this £749.95 + £197.95 (Safari head & reflector) - £249.95 (ring flash) = £697.95
How the system works
A normal studio light takes our mains voltage and uses this to charge, up several capacitors inside the head, holding plenty of charge which the head can then use to momentarily light up the tube. With the Safari light setup, the power comes from the battery and it is this that is used to charge up the capacitors. Other than that they actually work in the same way. Also with the Safari kits the capacitors, control circuitry and mains transformer are located in the power pack so the lights are much smaller too.
The Safari lights in use
The safari system works in a similar way to normal studio lights but there are a number of limitations.
The first one is that you can only adjust the power of the whole power pack. This means that should you attach two lights to one power pack then both lights must have the same power. This at first appears quite limiting but there are many ways to adjust the power and the addition of ND gels, alternative light modifiers or simply moving one of the lights away can often sort this out. Having one power pack per light is another option and when compared to some other systems the Lencarta one is still cheaper in this configuration.
Another limitation is the lack of a slave mode. This means that if you are firing several power packs then you will require a receiver on each box.
The next limitation is the reduced power from the modelling lights. The modelling lights for the Safari are much less powerful than those of mains powered heads. This is unfortunately by design because every use of the modelling lights reduces the available power for flashes. In a mains based system the power comes from the mains so there does not need to be a limitation. On the safari the modelling light also only comes on for 25 seconds.
There are also a number of advantages with the Safari lights being smaller and lighter than mains powered lights.
The battery is good for 1150 flashes as measured by Lencarta and the battery cannot be charged whilst the system is in use. The system can however be switched from ON to CHG while it is not actually being used, such as whilst the model is changing or you are making adjustments to another part of the system. The battery is a metal hydride system and as such can be charged from a partially charged state without causing any problems. Another option is to purchase a second battery, and Lencarta have thought about this, supplying an adapter which allows a battery to be charged separately from the power pack whilst the power pack is in use.
Having used the Safari lights quite a bit in the studio and a number of times out and about, I would say that the quality of the lights is very good and on a par with their mains lights. The build quality of the ring flash is good but not quite up to the same level as the safari lights with the case being made of plastic. Making cases from plastic is not an absolute indication of the item being less strong and more prone to damage, but the item does not feel like you could bang it around the same as the Safari lights. The Xenon bulbs in the Safari lights are also quite expensive at £50 each, so you really do need to make sure that the bulb covers are always replaced.
Pros and Cons / Conclusion
Most reviews of photography equipment would end with a section showing lots of pictures but I will post these in separate threads as I am only just starting off with the ring light.
No product is perfect and the safari system isn’t either although it is really rather good. I would love to see a mains powered transformer box allowing the Safari lights to be run from the mains with individual power settings but unfortunately it is not. So here we go with the pros and cons.
- Consistent power output and colour temperature.
- Flexible with the ability to use 2 head, 1 head and 1 ring light.
- 600W from a portable light.
- 1150 flashes from one battery.
- Great value from the hardware.
- Light weight.
- The batteries, replacement Xenon bulbs and extension leads are quite expensive.
- Output A & B are not individually adjustable.
- The output is only adjustable by 3 stops from full power to 1/8th power.
- Ring light diffuser is easily knocked off.
IF you buy anything after seeing one of my reviews then please post on here as I can then use this to get leverage towards maybe later having things lent to me to do reviews on!