The End of the Strobe? We Review Viltrox's Weeylite Ninja 300

Viltrox has released a new single-color LED continuous light under their Weeylite brand. At $179 for the base package, it's a compelling option. So, is this the end of the strobe? Find out in this exclusive Fstoppers review.

Strobes are the go-to for any photographer working with artificial light, particularly when they are off-site: pre-charge a capacitor in the unit and then pop a short, bright, punch of light onto your subject. Strobes were a solution to the thorny problem of the power-hungry continuous lights used in the video industry. — produce a short burst of light to achieve the same type of illumination. However, that's the nub of the problem: it's a flash. There are two serious side effects to the strobe. Firstly, you don't get to see what the illumination is like until after the fact. Imagine what this was like when shooting film. There was no real way to check until you get your processed negatives back and hope you were technically brilliant. Digital has significantly lessened that problem, but even so, it can lead to excessive chimping at the screen. Secondly, the focal plane shutter on a camera means that the fastest shutter speed you can use is up to around 1/250 s, which isn't very fast if you want to start using strobes in sunlight. High-speed sync is one solution to this problem, but it reduces the intensity of flash and kills the battery more quickly.

Enter the humble LED, which is massively more energy efficient; in an instant, the world of lighting was turned upside down with the continuous light now back in the frame. Not only could you now generate reasonable quantities of light in a small, low-power package, but there were the added benefits of seeing your lighting in real-time, easily shooting on-site video, having access to full RGB colors, having a range of continuous lighting effects (e.g. a crackling fire), and no specific need for wireless triggers. LEDs are no panacea, as they aren't as powerful as strobes and the battery life is shorter (because you are continuously lighting a scene), but the upsides are big.

Weeylite Ninja 300

Viltrox has been making optical accessories since 2009, selling lenses, video monitors, and LEDs among other things. What makes Viltrox stand out from the crowd has been its ability to produce low-cost products manufactured in China, designed and built to good quality. It has been able to leverage manufacturing in a low-cost country, with standardized designs selling in large volumes. The Weeylite brand was introduced in 2019 for its newer ranges of LED lights, even though they sold some under the Viltrox brand previously.

So, what is available under the Weeylite offering? Crucial to the current range is understanding the type of LEDs now in use. If you remember LEDs coming out, then you might be thinking of lots of small bulbs attached to a plane on a large panel. However, the current generation of LEDs is called Chip-on-Board or COBs, mounting the LED chip directly onto the substrate to produce arrays with significantly higher densities than in the past. In short, brighter, smaller lights mean better power consumption.

There are currently three monoblock-looking Ninja lights, the 200, 300, and 400. It was the Ninja 300 that I was sent for review and is available at B&H. This is a single color (5,700 K) light with an 80 W power output. The 200 is an 80 W bi-color model, while the 400 is a 150 W bi-color. The Ninja 300 is therefore the lowest-priced product for shooters that don't need color. At 175x92x85 mm in size, weighing in at 1 kg, it is relatively portable. Made from aviation aluminum and high-quality plastics, it feels reassuringly well built. The 5,700 K light should be accurate with CRI and TLC scores both over 95. The light can be controlled via a Bluetooth app (for Android and iOS), which is simple to use and works well; don't forget to turn on location services or it won't work. You can put lights into different groups and channels, much like you would with a strobe, and then control them directly from the app. This is perhaps the biggest use for the Ninja 300; as a stills photographer, I'm not interested in the flashing models (of which there are 12), so the only other thing to control is the brightness. There is a simple gimbal mount that allows you to clamp the vertical rotation and affix it to a light stand. The setup is completed with a 5.5" aluminum silver lampshade.

The back panel is pretty simple: a 1.5" diagonal OLCD screen, DC-in socket, USB-C (for firmware upgrades), mode switch, power switch, and dimmer switch. There is a relatively small external power supply that can drive the unit. It's worth noting that the yellow array on the front — which looks like a light socket — is the COB array. Unlike my "don't-really-read-the-manual" approach, take the protective plastic cover off, as the array gets very hot. As I now know, it can melt carpet! And don't look at it, as it's very bright. This brings home one of the less pleasant aspects of continuous light: if you've ever been in front of the camera, then you will know how hot and bright it gets. While the photographer might like the WYSIWYG feel of LEDs, it can be less pleasant for the talent.

For a little bit extra cash ($229), the full kit comes with a carry case, softbox, battery holder, two batteries, remote control, and pistol grip. If you need to shoot out and about, then the battery power is fantastic (see the image gallery below). A base plate screws to the side of the light, with a cable that runs to the DC-in on the back. There is an IN/OUT switch on the base plate which allows you to flick between charging the batteries (via a USB-C cable) and powering the light. The batteries are the standard NP-F550 and easy to get ahold of. There is also a surprisingly useful pistol grip; if you've got an assistant (or long arms), then you can run and gun easily; however, it is surprisingly heavy after a while!

With the lampshade attached, the light gave a bright, fairly even spread with even dimming at the edges. The relatively small softbox attaches to the mount on the front of the head and comes with a diffusion panel as well as a grid. There is an additional Bowens mount, which sadly doesn't come as part of the kit and can't be ordered separately from Viltrox (and only part of a kit) but should be available from third-party sellers. It's worth noting that there is a fan, and while it's not overly noisy, it's not exactly quiet either. If you're shooting video, then you might want to test whether this is audible; the light options do allow you to turn the fan off (although the light will then get hotter).

What I Liked

If you've never shot with an LED before, then the flexibility that continuous light offers you is fantastic — no camera chimping, just adjust and go. It's great for on-site work and makes it much faster to run and gun. Beyond being an LED, it is also incredibly well priced. The basic light gets you up and running, but the kit offers you a full package to cover all eventualities, particularly if you need to use it battery-powered. The new COB design means it is surprisingly bright and useful both in-studio and outdoors.

What Could Be Improved

Upfront, this isn't as powerful as some of my strobes, and I found in very bright sun that I would switch to those, using HSS. It's also not as portable as a strobe, which may be an issue for some shooters. The external battery pack makes the unit smaller but feels just a little homebrew, although other manufacturers do the same. It would be nice if there were an internal battery compartment. It's also monochrome. If you want to take advantage of color adjustment (and so avoid the need to use gels), then go for the Ninja 200 at the slightly higher price of $240.

Conclusion

From the above, you can probably tell that I enjoyed shooting with this light. It's very keenly priced, great in the studio or on location, and crucially offers that LED continuous light. Getting to see what you are shooting in real-time is fantastic. The kit is very flexible, allowing you to use it in a range of situations, and is also pretty portable. In short, if you need the first LED, this is a great option. Is the strobe dead? Maybe not yet, but it could well be the beginning of the end. You can order yours here.

Log in or register to post comments
39 Comments
Timothy Roper's picture

Strobes were necessary in the past (and maybe still are for some), but they are a horrible way to light a subject/scene, as you never actually see the light. You only see the secondary results after the fact (and no, the modelling lights don't cut it). And that's a severe handicap, for an art form that is all about light. So I'm happy more and more progress is being made with continuous lighting that doesn't throw off massive amounts of heat.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I agree on the modeling light for the most part, but regarding strobes, with proper practice, it's really easy to figure out where to place them and get close on the output and type of light they would deliver. With film you worked in the dark the same way, metered and popped a polaroid to confirm, not to set up.

kellymckeon's picture

I’m a little baffled by your comment Tim.
Strobes are a horrible way to light a subject or scene? If your looking at the back of the camera or an on-set monitor, you’re seeing the results of the strobe immediately after firing.

The only way for strobes to be seen after the fact, is if you captured with film without utilizing a Polaroid, sent it in for processing and waited for it to come back to you to gauge the results of your lighting.

I get the modeling light issue, but many strobes allow you to variable change the intensity of the modeling light, allowing one to tune the lighting placement. Light meters do the rest.

Strobes are not from the past, high heat 1k, 2k on up might be the only lighting I might, might consider-in the past but truthfully, they are still in use today.

In order to get continuous led lighting to equate to f8 and above, it’s going to get pretty bright in a room.

By the way, I like these discussions on Fstoppers.

Timothy Roper's picture

I've worked on films, so that's basically where I'm coming from on this. But bottom line, with strobes you--as the creator--never actually see the lighting you're creating and using. And by see it, I mean see it. In real life, with your own eyes. Lighting is THE main ingredient to a good photo, and all you get is an abstraction after the fact on an LCD or monitor. And for me, that's a huge problem. But I realize (all too well) that "hot" lights can be a huge problem, too, and understand why strobes came into being for still photography. But that doesn't mean they're the best tool for the job--at least when trying to be original and creative. Working off some kind of key/fill ratio formula, they're obviously not a problem :/

Thatcher Freeman's picture

Totally agree. Strobes are suboptimal in many ways, in particular that you don't get real-time feedback on how the lighting looks in your scene, or the ability to frame your shot while monitoring the final lighting setup in the viewfinder. The only way to really know what your shot looks like is to hit the shutter on your camera, and this kind of "guess and check" method is functional, but is far from ideal. It wouldn't be the first photography workflow that's clunkier than the equivalent video workflow though.

I'll admit that strobes do have their benefits, particularly for events where introducing your own continuous lights would be unreasonable. They also win in terms of peak light output per dollar spent, and there are some interesting motion effects which you could only do with a strobe, but for genres like product photography or portraits of stationary subjects, it seems kind of archaic.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Archaic for product photography? Elaborate or stop hurting yourself.

J. H.'s picture

I guess they do not really know what they are talking about. Cheers!

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Correct, too many "experts". It's just like the guy who won't try H-sync because the brands are "too expensive". Never asked him to buy one in the first place... Then he pretends his videos target low budget photographers but he uses f1.2 lenses...!!! and then he said many people follow him in countries like India or nations in Africa. What ever, but I searched and one single Godox 300pro in India cost you a full month of salary! That's 1 light, not even mentioning accessories, cameras and lenses... "Too expansive" yet his followers are clearly the elites in some other nations at least well above the average $365 monthly income. So much BS.

J. H.'s picture

Well researched, what contradictions. This guy in question is browsing the comments looking for me to just vote me down. Funny. I think Fstoppers should post less but carefully selected content. But I know it's the clicks that count, so probably no hope here. It is a pity.

Thatcher Freeman's picture

You're adding a skill to your job that doesn't really need to exist anymore: an efficient product photographer using strobes needs to have a wealth of experience to know where to put those flashes, what light modifiers to use, and what power levels to set the strobes at so that it takes fewer iterations to reach a lighting setup you're happy with for a specific product. With hot lights, that experimentation can happen in real time as you can just use your eyes to evaluate the lighting instead of having to trigger the camera and look at a monitor. We're in a field that's fundamentally about crafting an image out of light, but with strobes, you can't see what your image is going to look like in the viewfinder before you capture it--ironic.

It reminds me of a comment I once read on nailing skintones in Lightroom. This guy said that he pretty much just memorized the ideal ratio of the three RGB channels that corresponds to an average healthy skin tone hue. Sure, that's technically a valid way to do it, and sure, if you have experience and that works for you, then you'll get fine results that way, and sure, I like that he has a method that works in virtually any software. However, that's far from ideal and I still believe that our image coloring software should just provide tools like vectorscopes to make that information as accessible as possible, because that would be a better way to work.

My point is that using strobes is a completely valid way to work, but it creates a workflow that isn't as intuitive and user friendly as hot lights are. Obviously lots of people do great work with strobes, and it's not particularly difficult to gain that experience, but I'm more posing the question from the stance that it could be easier.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I am wondering if you are looking through a single type of photography. Portrait, some copy work, okay, I get your point, but that's not what I do and I am also still going by the title of this article. Most of my work is for advertising where the product can be tiny like jewelry to food, to silo furniture to room scene and what ever else. A room scene may not need much dof, but a recliner shot 3/4 closed will nearly double in length when shot open at the same angle for silo. Any isolated item with a path requires sharpness front to back. And then since I'm there, the client may decide to shoot the portrait of an employee that's about to retire. So I'm typically prepared for most situations people can throw at me last minute because that's not their problem if I don't have the right light, they just want to pay me for the stuff they need and be done with it. I can do so much from low power to 1600ws, freeze motion, Hypersync outdoors most of the day (and yes, at night too), I do not believe hot lights would work for me. So I came here to answer this article and product, and no, 150ws continous will not do much for me. And what is this? another "author" who has no clue that HyperSync is a thing?

Thatcher Freeman's picture

Yeah I was largely talking about indoor shoots of slow (or stationary) subjects, where fast shutter speed isn't necessary and the kind of brightness you get from hot lights is acceptable. In those cases (studio portraits and product shots), when you can use hot lights, I think they give you a better workflow. Obviously there are many scenarios where strobes are a lot better, particularly in terms of light output, with moving subjects, and when you don't want your subject baking in that light throughout the shoot.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I get it, no problem. The guy who wrote this article is very incompetent and should stick to his day job.

Mike Ditz's picture

Have you used strobes in a studio product situation? I did for a long time.
never really had a problem.

If you want to have decent DOF and shutter speed, reasonable ISO using LED or Hot lights will be very uncomfortable for the victim/subject. Annoying bright or uncomfortably hot.

J. H.'s picture

"with strobes you--as the creator--never actually see the lighting you're creating and using"
You don't have to. Experience and/or review of the just taken image is plenty enough.

Jay Galvan's picture

The reason to use strobes is to control the amount of ambient light in the room. With strobes, you can use all of the ambient light, some of it or none of it. You can't do that with continuous lights.

Stephen Strangways's picture

You say "And by see it, I mean see it. In real life, with your own eyes... all you get is an abstraction after the fact on an LCD or monitor." That "abstraction" after the fact on a monitor? That's your finished product. That's how people will view it. Nobody walks in and looks at how you lit the scene in real life with their own eyes. They look at that finished abstraction. So isn't seeing that final product the absolutely ideal thing, far more valuable for judging what you're doing than seeing it with your own eyes, which is massively different from how the audience will actually see your work?

Lee Christiansen's picture

Strobes are a great way to light. (I have 25+ yrs as a Commercial DoP with constant lighting from 150W through to 100K rigs, and 16yrs as a commercial / portrait photographer with strobes of all sorts - so I've played in both camps).

Unless lighting large areas, modelling lights do a great job of assessing the light, and now of course we have instant feedback with tethered shooting or quality LCD screens on the camera.

But there isn't anything else that allows us to capture with short shutter speeds and so get amazingly sharp, crisp images. Unless of course we prefer to nuke our subjects with the power of the sun in our studios. Or combat the actual sun with a constant sun in their faces.

One of the biggest advantages with strobes is the ability to have incredibly powerful light, without needing to bathe in that light all the time. I can imagine how uncomfortable it would be for my portrait clients if they had to sit in that - and they'd not be able to see me or the camera with all that light hitting them. (Remembering that with film / video, we're only needing 1/50 shutter and a little motion blur is perfectly acceptable so in that environment those lights don't need to be so powerful).

And when I'm shooting product, I'd much rather have a 1000W strobe than a gazillion W constant light burning my retina.

One of the important things that distinguishes our need for constant evaluation of lighting is that once set, our lighting is illuminating a fixed object / subject / person, for a whole range of images without need for relighting. Experience, modelling lights and instant feedback keep that initial process down to a minimum, and then we get to shoot in a much more comfortable and relaxing environment.

Strobes are here to stay - unless you want to wear sunglasses all day...

Penny Fan's picture

I was going to say the same thing, good you put them together better than I can.
Continues light has its cons, generate so much heat, power hungry, less output in general, cannot freeze subject and not suitable in many occasions.
Learn using strobe is one of the most fun part of photography, and the "not able to see in live" is actually a bonus to WOW my clients.

Donald Schwartz's picture

I couldn't do the work I do currently without strobes. Continuous light won't cut it. Yes I wish the model lights matched the strobes closer, but after 30 years of this, I know how to light. You'll never get enough power from this light when you need F11 and place the light 10 feet away with diffusion unless you up the ISO to some ridiculous number.

Strobes are here for a while as long as there are real photographers around.

David Illig's picture

Really!? Could we have a 10-year comparison with Profoto, covering durability, output consistency, color quality, availability of light-shaping tools, etc.? Spoiler: you’re gonna get what you pay for.

Jeff Diffner's picture

It kinda freaks me out how many photographers out there either don't know how to use a strobe or why you would use a strobe. "This new cheap LED is all I will ever need" Really?! So your new "strobe killer" can freeze motion at f/16 ISO 100?

Ed C's picture

Exactly. This is the first article I have read by this author in a very long time because dumb takes are generally a waste of time. I totally expected him to not understand the greatest strength of strobes and he did not disappoint. Also no way to drag shutter with LED.

Mike Ditz's picture

Lots of changes, first with digital and now with the different needs of social media.

J. H.'s picture

Please check the reviews. Some reviewers could not get more than 55% output, and the colour temperature is said to vary when you change the power of the light. Anyway, for the price, it is not bad.

"High-speed sync is one solution to this problem, ..... H-Sync is the other, and it has no effect on the battery. Check Elinchrom or Broncolor.

Steven Barall's picture

Dear fstoppers, you have to do a better job editing what you post. Please stop posting anything written about lighting or film or anything non digital by anyone under the age of 50. It's embarrassing.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

If video people could keep to what they know it would be pretty cool. There is a lot of ugliness that happens when shooting video. If I was to suddenly freeze a video frame from a person's interview, chances of stopping on the image of the person having eyes closed and mouth doing weird stuff is pretty high. That's NOT what we do in still photography and we don't need the same lighting equipment you do. Those cheap lights won't take anyone far with stills, get over it.

Peter House's picture

Constant lights have their place in photography and LED tech has come a long way, but, it is far from an end for strobes. You would need incredibly strong constant lights to shoot at low ISO, fast shutter, and through diffusion. I have used 5 Aputure C300 lights with fresnels, shot through a 10x10 scrim about 10 feet from the subject, and STILL had to make compromises to my ISO and shutter speed settings for what I was shooting.

Strobes are going to give you a way more efficient way to harness a large amount of lighting power without blinding your subject and paying through the nose for electricity in your studio.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

.

Adam Palmer's picture

I use the 40w (400w equiv) Led on my godox flashes when I need a power level that is lower than the strobe set the the lowest power. It's nice to be able to visualize the light before the shot but it's also not that hard to just take a shot and see the result pop right up in the viewfinder.

Adam Palmer's picture

In the samples it looks like it's being used without a softbox or umbrella. (Maybe the softbox is too small for the distance it is used at)

craig salmon's picture

I literally can not believe someone could review an LED light without primary commenting on it's color accuracy!?!

"The 5,700 K light should be accurate with CRI and TLC scores both over 95."

Seriously!?! we've been using LEDs for over a decade now and if there is one BS that every single photog/videog has had to deal with is manufacture's claim that their LED's spectrum is around or over 95. HA! If you don't know this and don't address this as your primary concern when reviewing an LED then maybe FStopper's shouldn't have you review products.

Geez! then you want to compare it to a strobe - great then how does the color compare between the two? That would of been such an easy comparison in a controlled studio setting.

While I 100% agree that comparing an LED's color in conjunction with regular daylight should be the standard none of these lights are bright enough to act like fill when direct daylight is in the scene therefore making evaluation improbable. This is where the Reviewer's expert opinion should come into play but instead we get "should be accurate"

Brian Tokuyoshi's picture

When I tested out LED lighting setups, I found the "annoy the talent" aspect of constant light in your face to be a bigger problem that I anticipated. I'm sure that I could get a lot better at using them, but I also think that maybe I need even more powerful constants to put them further outside of eye's range.

Felix Penzarella's picture

this is another huge issue with continuous light, good luck shooting high key portraits with a talent that is squinting the entire time.

Galina B's picture

This would be great for low light conditions, but try taking photos of kids with bright lights in their eyes; They will turn their heads away and refuse to look at the camera!!

Lyle Mariam's picture

Seriously, "you don't get to see what the illumination is like until after the fact," which is true with film but not digital. If you use lights, you can see the lighting but your eyes are much smarter than the camera and will often mislead you. With film you are limited in the number of exposures and developing time/cost. Digital is basically free and my R5 with a 128 Gb CFx card gives about 2,800 RAWs per card.

If you need to see results, hook your camera to a phone, tablet, or PC. I'd like to see you do that with a film camera. I've still got my Canon F1 from the 80's and it cannot begin to hold a candle to my digital R5. If I have a concern about lighting, I'll take multiple shots with different settings and view them on my tablet. Then I can throw away the ones I don't want without incurring extra cost and time to process the film.

I know he needs to write a good review to ensure he continues to get free stuff to test but you can write a glowing review of the unit without trashing the alternatives.

There are so many downsides to lights but the big one is power. You'll typically never be able to shoot at f8 and ISO 100 with lights and stop action. Any gear takes practice and just because you have to learn to use it doesn't mean that it's a bad solution. Typically, a flash with a modifier works fine for running and gunning. Just like lights, it will take 3 or 4 sources of illumination to properly light the model. I use Godox primarily and my AD360's give lots of light and 500 full-power flashes on a battery. 360-watt-seconds allows me to close down the aperture for good DOF at ISO 100 which is hard to beat.

Felix Penzarella's picture

wait so we're just gonna totally glance over the fact that strobes freeze the action about 1000000000% better than continuous lights? You will simply NEVER get as sharp of a shot shooting with continuous lights as strobes. Never. Shutter speed has barely anything to do with how well strobes freeze the image.

Morne Condon's picture

Hold up one second there, people ...

"The light can be controlled via a Bluetooth app (for Android and iOS), which is simple to use and works well; don't forget to turn on location services or it won't work."

Can we talk about this for a second ... LOCATION SERVICES to make your LIGHTS work? Say what?