The Nanlite Compac 100B is a lightweight LED photography light with a 664x400mm diffused panel that acts like a softbox. The power output is variable and can be controlled between 0-100% for both main light and fill.
It has a simple straightforward design with two controls alter power output and colour temperature by turning a knob. It is ideal for studio portrait photography, and lighting still life subjects, furthermore, its price at $375 / £350 puts it in the affordable category of photography lights.
Nanlite Compac 100B – At a glance
- $379 / £350
- Flat panel LED light
- Built-in diffusion
- Variable colour temperature between 3200-5600K
- Mains powered
When most photographers think about getting a continuous light for their work, the first thing that comes to mind will probably be a single-source unit that looks like a continuous version of the studio flash heads we’ve been using for years. This made a lot of sense when the lamps used for continuous lighting were tungsten or halogen, but in these days of LED light we have many more options. We looked at the tube form-factor a while ago with the Nanlite Pavotube ll 60C which, even without its funky colour possibilities, offers a long thin source that creates a very different look.
Light panels have been a feature of the lighting scene for a decade or more, but previously they have been either expensive and big, or small, weak and unreliable. In recent times, though, the sector has developed and now plenty of manufacturers are offering slim panels that are powerful and much more financially accessible for enthusiast shooters of stills and video alike.
The idea of a light panel is that instead of having to attach a softbox to your monolight, which adds bulk and length to the set-up, they offer the effect of a softbox while being much smaller than a traditional arrangement. In this review I’m going to look at the Nanlite Compac 100B, which is part of a series of panels with slightly different features and very different sizes.
Nanlite Compac 100B – Features
The Nanlite Compac 100B measures 664x400mm and is just 85mm from front to back – so it’s a pretty slim unit. While some LED panels show off their tiny light-emitting sources, the Compac units are fitted with a permanent diffuser to cover them, so the light can only deliver soft illumination. These lights are mains-power only, so they need to be rooted in the studio or somewhere regular plug sockets exist. There’s no battery option, so they aren’t quite as portable as some other light panels.
This B version of the Compac 100 offers a variable colour temperature output with the use of warm and cool LEDs. The B in the name indicates it is a bi-colour light, but that’s a bit misleading as the colour can be varied continuously between 3200K for warm light that matches domestic tungsten bulbs, to 5600K for a cloudy-day sort of balance.
The colour temperature is controlled with a knob rather than a switch, so we are able to vary the colour of the light as much as we like between the two end points, rather than being limited to one temperature or the other. Brightness is also controlled by a knob, and we are able to reduce the 100W power right down to 0% in extremely small increments.
Nanlite says that the Compac 100B will deliver 2744 lux when set to 3200K and 2862 lux when set to 5600K.
Nanlite Compac 100B – In Use
With their plastic bodies these units are pretty lightweight, so they are easy to move around and mount on stands without much effort. The Compac 100B has a hinged mount on its base so it can be tilted forwards and backwards from the bottom. The position of this base hinge makes it easy to position the light directly over a subject on a table top, as the whole of the panel will protrude over the subject, though the light needs supporting when the hinge is undone. It’s a shame that the light can only be used upright, as there are no mounting points on the side for horizontal positioning.
The controls of the light are extremely easy to use, with just the two dials for brightness and colour temperature. The light has no screen however, and very few reference markings alongside its dials, so it’s pretty hard to know exactly what colour temperature you have dialled in and how much of the panel’s brightness you are using.
The dimmer switch has 10 positions, so we can assume each marker represents 10%, but working out exactly where the colour temperature is between 3200-5600K is not so straightforward. Each marker must represent 240K, so you’ll have to use your head. Nanlite could have easily made these dials more user-friendly with better and more accurate markings.
Nanlite Compac 100B – Quality of light
I’ve been very pleased with the output of these lights, and while they are a little short of the power we’d expect from flash, they provide enough brightness for studio portraits, still life and product work. I found that with a metre between the light and the subject I could get almost f/5.6 at 1/60sec and ISO 100. Nanlite says we should expect a little less from the tungsten setting, but the practical difference is only slight. If you are happy to shoot at ISO 200 or 400, these aperture/shutter speed combinations become more favourable and flexible.
While these are indeed soft-light panels they aren’t quite soft enough for everything. When shooting products and male portraits they were fine and deliver a very nice light, but when I wanted a softer effect I found I needed to cover them with a further diffusion sheet to take the edges off a bit more.
I suppose this is no different to adding another layer of diffusion inside a softbox, and having the option makes the lights suitable for a wider range of tasks – some things suited the bare panel better. While the panel has screw fittings that are ideal for attaching an additional softbox, Nanlite sells the Compac 100 and 100B Rapid-Fold Collapsible Lantern Softbox ($63), only in the US at the time of this review.
Nanlite Compac 100B – Other Compacs are available
The Nanlite Compac 100B is part of range that includes different sized panels, and units that are daylight only. During this review I also got to use the Compac 200 (£495), which is a much bigger beast measuring 818x500mm and 105mm thick. As the name suggests it is a 200W unit, and at 1m it delivers 4960 lux. Meanwhile the Compac 200B (bi-colour) gives us 4299 lux at 3200K and 4751 lux at 5600K, and costs £610. I found the Compac 200 gives an aperture of f/11 at 1 metre, using a shutter speed of 1/60sec and ISO 100.
The Compac 200 and 200B have the same basic design as the 100 models but come with a display panel that keeps us informed of the brightness level and colour temperature (in the B version). The display makes it easier to revisit previous settings as well as to accurately match settings between more than one panel. The Compac 200 unit weighs 6kg, so for its size it isn’t heavy at all.
As the Compac 200 is a good deal larger, it uses a yoke arrangement with pivot points about a third of the way up. While this makes adjusting the angle of the light easier, it also means that when the panel is parallel to a table top, your stand will be positioned a third of the way along the panel. So only two thirds of the panel area can be held over the table.
The 200 series also comes with Nanlite’s remote control system for radio and Wi-Fi connections, but you need to add the Nanlink Box to make this work. Neither light can just connect to the Nanlite App, which is a shame. The two blue +/- buttons on the rear are for choosing a radio channel for each unit to work on. The Compac 200 units have a fan to keep them cool, and while it is quiet, it is also loud enough to by picked up by a microphone nearby.
Nanlite Compac 100B – Conclusion
These are remarkably useful lights and I’ve really enjoyed testing them. Although there are quite a few things that could be improved with markings, horizontal mounting points and (for the 200 size) compatibility with the Nanlite App, these things are niggles rather than critical issues.
I’ve found these panels really good for portraiture and product work, and have been very pleased with the flexibility of the Compac 100B to create warm or cool light according to the situation. It doesn’t have built-in lightning or flashing effects, but I’ve rather enjoyed its simplicity and the ease with which it is operated.
The Nanlite Compac 100B does one thing, and it does it very well, and its slim profile makes it easy to use in small spaces. And it’s very reasonably priced for what you get.
Prices for the Nanlite Compac Range:
- Nanlite Compac 100: $269 / £260
- Nanlite Compac 100B: $379 / £350
- Nanlite Compac 200: $529 / £495
- Nanlite Compac 200B: $629 / £610
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