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The Cheetah Light CL-360 a short review

Posted in Wedding | One Comment
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Every so often and not very, I feel compelled to review a product because it impresses me so much, it hasnt been reviewed very much or not from the point of view that interests me. This is a case where all three apply Writing is not my forte and I tend to review things strictly from my point of view and experience as opposed to objectively and with tons of technical detail. Those of us who are combination wedding, portrait, and commercial photographers have a wide range of gear requirements. As a result we tend to collect a lot of items that do the same job but are better suited for some situations than others. This can apply to cameras, lenses, and in this review, lighting. What makes the Cheetah CL-360 so interesting is it kind of gives you the feeling that this is what you would get if you left a speedlight and a studio strobe alone for a weekend on a deserted island with nothing to do. It combines so many features of both which gives a high degree of versatility.

Fill light on a very bright, sunny day. Couple in the shade balanced with sunny back ground.

So many choices
Some (me) would argue that the Canon 600EX-RTspeedlight is one of the best things to happen to portable photography in years. It is small, powerful enough for many situations, its wireless (the useful radio kind), and can be used on camera and off. As a bonus (and its a big bonus), you can shoot in ETTL and high speed sync modes. Neither of these are perfect but they help when used properly and allow you to do things you just cant do otherwise. The downside of speedlights is the power output. They measure out at roughly the equivalent of 80ws. At the other end of the spectrum are studio strobes. The differences between on-camera speedlights are many but the most important for me is that studio strobes are very powerful when you need them to be. Unfortunately they are also large/heavy and they require a plug or hefty batteries (with the exception of a surprisingly reasonably sized battery from Alien Bees) so they dont exactly encourage you to bring them on wedding shoots. I personally dont enjoy lugging studio strobes to commercial shoots either since I often work alone so even then, Im reluctant to bring them along. To top it off they are quite top heavy and not great for carrying around during a wedding. This is where I started collecting lighting gear years ago. The rst set of lights I purchased after those above are some made by a very smart company of engineers called Quantum. The appeal at the time when I bought these was that they were double the power of a speedlight (150 ws), and they had very reliable radio control at a time when you could really only use Pocket Wizards to trigger a speedlight. I have to say that of all the gear that I have ever owned, these lights have been true workhorses that have always worked when I needed them to. They are fantastic for many applications from events, portrait shoots, ll lights, etc So then, why doesnt the story end here? They just are not quite powerful enough and while portable, they get heavy after awhile thanks to the batteries. They are also pretty expensive ($5000+) when you have 4 T5D-R lights, 4 Quantum Turbo batteries, and a wireless trigger. The Elinchrom Quadra Kit came out right at a time when I was looking for more power to overpower the sun. It does indeed overpower the sun when used with a silver softbox and no diffuser. The light is truly beautiful and the battery and transformer take up all the bulk while the light head is tiny and outputs as high as 400ws. The added bonus was that my studio lights were also Elinchrom so all of my Skyport triggers could be used simultaneously giving me all kinds of exibility. What I found was that I never used them together and often I wanted to use 2 Quadra lights. This would mean buying the kit with 2 heads, 2 batteries, and one transformer but then if you wanted to use 2 heads without being plugged into the same transformer, you would have to buy another transformer and battery at a very high price. This is where the wish to keep buying stuff ended and I never bought the second transformer. I only ever used one head while at weddings.

And now the point of this review

Finally, a few months ago reports started coming out about the Cheetah Light CL-180. I breezed over a few reviews and comments on forums that either highly praised them or dismissed them as Quantum clones. It was true, they did look almost exactly like Quantum T5D-Rs with the exception that the transmitters and receivers were much smaller. The batteries were also completely different and much smaller and lighter. They are rated at the same power power output as a Quantum T5D-R so of no use to me and my large collection of lighting gear. Coincidentally I ended up on the phone with Edward Tang who owns the Cheetah brand. I had ordered a Cheetah boom stand and as he so often does with clients, he called me to conrm a few things. The fact that he personally calls his clients is really quite remarkable but thats another story. During the conversation the CL-180 came up and I wished out loud that a double power version would be made. Well as it happens Luckily for me I was able to get a couple of these lights from a very small order before they even went on sale. Currently they are slated to be available at the end of July along with a bunch of accessories that will make them even better and more capable than they are for me right now.

360 degree backlight not possible with a speed light At this point I have shot 3 weddings, an event, 1 commercial shoot, and 2 portrait shoots. At weddings I use one light on a mono-pod carried by an assistant as a ll light in the sun. With 300ws as my disposal, this is enough to overpower the sun as long as the sun is not in the shot and with no diffuser on your softbox. For the event, and wedding receptions, I use 2 CL-360s off camera on the dance oor and speeches for more dramatic lighting. Finally for the portrait shoots, I used one CL-360 in a large diffuser, a second in a stripbox for highlights, and a third studio strobe to blow out a white backdrop (this will be replaced by a third CL-360 asap).

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Single spot on bright day to darken sky CL-360

Pros for the CL-360

Very powerful for the size and weight Very light so worth bringing along and easy to carry Half to a quarter the price of some alternatives Bare bulb which works better for some modiers and allows for 360 degree lighting when needed. Lots of accessories High speed sync (all the way up to 1/8000th of a second) available soon Can actually be used on camera in manual which isnt something I would do a lot but can be handy in super dark, light sucking places Incredibly easy and fast to use with multiple lights with different settings without getting confused

3 light setup. Main light, side light with strip box, third light to blow out back ground.

No TTL (this would be nice but not essential for me) The receiver attaches with a standard USB port and is easy to have fall off. Embedded into the light would be nice to have. No camera side indicator if your receiver and transmitter are on the same power channel. This can result in you thinking you are changing the power level of a light when youre not. This likely wont happen more than once. Flash wont work while camera is in live view. UPDATE: On the 5D Mark III, Live view defaults to Silent Mode. You have to disable this function from the menu. This will allow the ash to re in LV. Any of these shoots could have been done with only Speedlights, only with studio strobes, or only with Quadra lights but in all cases, it would have been, much more expensive to achieve or way more of a pain due to cords or heavy batteries.

Specications for the CL-360

High Power: True 300 W/S Approx. 28 mm ash coverage when operating on a camera with the standard reector. Bare bulb: Provides even 360 degree illumination Precise Output: Adjusting from 1/128 to full power in 1/3 stop increments Good Portability:The CL-360!s compact and lightweight body provide easy portability even with accessories Stable Color Temp: 5600k, 200k over the entire power range Advanced Functions.: Multi ash, Focus-assist beam on/off & Hi-Speed sync triggering (with optional transmitter). HSS will be available with a new trigger in late July for my Canon 5D Mark IIIs. Wireless Commander: Controls ash functions and triggering External Power Pack:Cheetah Lithium Battery Pack 11.1V/4500mAh Wide-Range Accessories: softbox, reector, fold-up umbrella, and beauty dish, etc.

Back light with parabolic deector for directional lighting.

What about modiers?

Thanks to the strobist crowd, speedlight modiers have been getting more sophisticated over the last few years. You no longer have to be a big DIY fan and you can get great quality from a number of companies. You can get a lot of garbage too mind you as I have discovered by destroying a few Westcott strip boxes with one use (round polls next time guys). By destroying I mean opening it as it is supposed to be opened and bending a rod because one piece catches on another. These cant be unbent and render a softbox useless. After some trial and error, it turns out that Cheetah also makes my favourite modiers since Edward himself designs the gear and makes sure that its durable. Im know that I sound like a fanboy or a paid infomercial at this point but I have done my homework. These modiers all work exactly the same way with speedlights AND the Cheetah Lights. I will continue to use 2 sets of lights but nally only one set of modiers. An added bonus is that all Norman and Quantum modiers work with the Cheetah Lights.

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An exhaustive review of the Cheetah CL-180

Where to get these lights:

Andrew Van Beek is an Ottawa Wedding Photographer, Ottawa Commercial Photographer, and Ottawa Portrait Photographer with 12 years of professional photography experience, and over 30 years of general photography experience.

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9 comments Michael Houlden Orillia, Ontario Thanks for this review Andrew. I love my Quantum, but am often left wishing for just a little more. Can you tell me, does the Cheetah use the same power connecter? i.e., would I be about to use my Quantum turbo batteries with this light? Reply 1 Like July 25, 2013 at 8:12pm R Christopher North Videography I used my Quantum batteries with this light Reply Neil Cowley 1 Like November 15, 2013 at 1:34pm Top Commenter Owner-Operator at North Photography & HD Add a comment

Top Commenter Graphic Designer at Ugandan Water Project 132 subscribers

cool, I think I'll give it a run... Reply Like July 9, 2013 at 7:07am Chad Dahlquist Owner at HAPPYFISH DESIGN great review and great lights! I have one of the 360 and now wish I bought two :) but will be buying another one or two for sure! Reply Like July 5, 2013 at 2:28pm Andrew Van Beek Ottawa, Ontario Thanks Chad. I'll be getting a third as well. Reply Like July 5, 2013 at 6:50pm CheetahStand Wow! Reply Like July 5, 2013 at 8:04am View 2 more
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Hochzeitsfotograf Hamburg

January 8, 2014 I have found this review over the link on cheetahstand website. Thanks for taking your time and sharing your experience. Looks like CL-360 is indeed a remarkable product!

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