Light stands. We hate carrying them; they’re not fun, and they’re certainly not glamorous. But for most of us at least, they are a necessity. I’ve used loads over the years and can quickly tell once I pick one up whether it’s worth the metal (or plastic) it took to construct.
In many areas of photography it isn’t necessary to buy “the best”. In fact, often what was once considered to be “the best” has changed, opening the doors for countless other brands, raising competition and lowering prices; 3rd party lenses being the obvious example, but the same can be said for speedlights, modifiers, strobes and so on. There are, however, many many examples of cheap alternatives gone wrong. In my experience, this has occurred more often with light stands than anything else. Some gear you can afford to skimp on and some you really shouldn’t. There’s definitely scope to save some cash when it comes to light stands but there’s also lots of duds out there which will end up costing you more in the long run.
Key Considerations With All Light Stands
As with everything in life, the purchase of a Light stand will be a compromise. There is as of yet (and I doubt will ever be) a Light stand that can hold tons of weight, extend extremely high, pack down very small, and weigh very little. As a result, you will always be compromising between portability and strength. Decide which is most important for your work and start your decision-making process there.
There is, of course, the third consideration present in all of our purchases; budget. From my experience, the cheapest light stands are a complete and utter waste of money. That said, there is room to save a little if you’re clever with what you purchase and know exactly what you need. The following consists of my recommendations, based on the stands I have used, which I think represent the best value. They are not the cheapest, but neither are they the most expensive.
The Best Travel Light stand
If portability is the most important factor to you, then a nano / reverse leg stand is the way to go. On the cheaper end, there’s the Impact LS-RL7 which will set you back $44.95. On the more expensive side, my recommendation goes to the Matthews MD-B387486 (what a catchy name!) coming in at $74.80.
Aside from price, what are the differences between the two? The Matthews weighs a little more [1.4 kg vs 1.17 kg] but it can hold significantly more weight: 1.5 kg vs a very impressive 5kg. I’ve seen 2ft Kino’s regularly held on these things.
This is when you need to ask yourself what YOU need. The Impact will be more than adequate for many people but for some the Matthews will be essential. If money were no object, I’d go for the Matthews every time but the Impact is also very good.
The Best Medium Light stand
When a balance between portability and strength is required then sometimes even those cheap light stands that come bundled with kits can do. I know, to some of you I just blasphemed but bare with me. Most of those stands are better used as paper weights than light stands. I’ve even had one (wasn’t actually that cheap) literally crumble away; The metal began to crumble at the screw but thankfully I was there to catch it. Lots of those cheap stands are made from bad metal and plastic. The type of metal which you can’t clamp anything to as it just bends. Useless
My cheap recommendation here, and one stand that I use all the time, is the Bowens BW-6610. They’re heavy, reliable, and cheap. On B&H you can grab one for the paltry sum of $58.99. Whereas on the second-hand market real bargains can be had.
If you’re looking for something a little more portable (and expensive), take a look at the Manfrotto stackable range of light stands. The 1052BAC ($83.99) only extends to 7.7’ but has a unique stacking system which makes transporting multiple stands that much easier. There’s a whole host of sizes within this range. On the negative side, they tend to weigh a little more, and that’s the compromise other than cost.
Time To Get Serious | Best Heavy Duty Light stand
I’m not going any more heavy duty than this but, as you might have guessed, there are some beasts out there. I’m talking back breaking crank stands which can weight around 120 kg and have names like Long John Silver, check it out here. In case it’s not already abundantly obvious, a heavy duty Light stand is there to support a lot of weight, so portability tends to go out the window in favor of strength. These stands are NOT something you want to skimp on as the consequences could be disastrous.
My more expensive recommendation in this category goes once again to Matthews, the brand. That could be a C-stand, like the one you see above, or any other of a number of heavy duty stands which they offer. You can find a range of Matthews stands here. C-Stands are a good mix of portability and load bearing, especially if you get one where you can remove the base, whereas other stands are purely built for load bearing, like this Sky High Triple Riser.
Matthews light stands are fantastic. Buy those and they will last forever. However, they are expensive and can be pretty heavy. So, what’s the cheaper option? Again, I return to Bowens for my recommendation with the Bowens BW-6618. It can’t hold anywhere near as much as a C-Stand (only 7.5 kg I believe) but, for most of us, it will be more than adequate. Coming in at $94.99, it’s also $50 cheaper than the Matthews C-Stand.
The best way to save yourself some cash when buying a Light stand is to firstly know exactly what you need. You always get what you pay for but you might not need everything that the more expensive options bring. Also, my suggestion is to avoid from the cheapest stands like the plague.
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