Continuous lights have come a long way recently, thanks to a number of developments in both LEDs and batteries. The Zhiyun Fiveray FR100C is a perfect example of how these advancements can enable great new lighting options for photographers and videographers. The FR100C is a continuous LED light source with a “light stick” form factor. In this review, I’ll break down my experiences using this light for both photo and video shoots.
Measuring 20 inches long – about 15 inches of which emit light – the FR100C offers an interesting mix of directional and soft light. It’s designed to give you enough floodlight to cover a scene from just a few feet away, but still enough throw to serve as a rim, hair, or background light.
While the form factor of a light stick is far less compatible with modifiers compared to a monolight-style option, it’s also much easier and quicker to use. Plus, a light stick is really simple to understand: Point the light at the subject, and move nearer or further to control the spill. This makes it a great option if you’re shooting with a casual assistant, like a friend. It’s far less intimidating to manipulate than a larger light setup.
If you’re not experienced with the finer points of lighting modification, it’s nice that the Fiveray FR100C light provides instant feedback. Move the light, consider how it looks, and adjust. The same ease applies to color and luminosity adjustments. While I’ll be talking more about the user interface later in this review, they’re also as easy to use as possible.
While Zhiyun has hit a reasonable weight target with the Fiveray FR100C, at just 920g, the form factor isn’t perfect. Specifically, the grip portion is only rubberized on one of the four sides, with the remaining surfaces being a slick plastic composite.
The fairly large diameter of the barrel also works against it here. In order to accommodate the large batteries, the FR100C is bigger than some light sticks on the market. It does have great battery life, but the size means that one-handed operation may be more challenging for those with smaller hands, and it gets uncomfortable on longer shooting days.
The light is reasonably well balanced, with the center of gravity about 60% of the way towards the handle. This helps the handling situation a bit, and it also means the FR100C is easier to attach to a mounting rig.
Speaking of rigging, the light features one built-in mounting option: a 1/4” screwhole at the bottom of the handle. I’d love to see one or two more of these added, perhaps to the front and side of the light, to enable other mounting positions without requiring something like a magic arm. This 1/4” option is fortunately made of metal, and should hold up through a lot of use.
That said, in an active set, I’d still consider adding a bungee or some other backup attachment. The FR100C is heavy enough that I’d be worried about it falling on talent or other crew members.
The light itself is a series of LEDs behind a frosted panel. The LEDs are rated for a maximum of 100w of output at 4000K in the boost mode. In CCT mode, the light supports a wide range of color temperatures, spanning 2700K to 6200K in 100K increments.
Beyond that, the FR100C also has an HSI mode, giving access to the full RGB range with control over hue, saturation, and intensity in very fine increments.
Output at max values is rated at 20,708 lux at .3 meters. In real world terms, this light can illuminate a medium sized room to a reasonable level on its own, and certainly puts out enough light to be a key, main, or sole light source for most subjects. It’s also more than bright enough to leave talent squinting when used at less than 10 feet. Put simply, it’s plenty bright, particularly for the intended use cases.
Switching to RGB mode still delivers plenty of output, although it is noticeably less bright than the CCT mode. In RGB mode, I’d consider the light to be more of a very powerful secondary light source. Granted, I don’t know of any situation where I’d be using a solid RGB light as my main light anyway; even a gelled flash looks best when used with an additional white or other color light.
The quality of the FR100C’s light is very good, with a claimed rating of 96+CRI and 97+TLCI. While you can read a bit more about both these measurements in my previous light review, a simple explanation is that values over 90 mean that the light can accurately reproduce colors.
One small addition I’d like to see would be the addition of tint control in CCT mode, to enable more accurate matching to other light sources. That said, if you’re using the FR100C in coordination with other light sources that are accurate, tint control is usually unnecessary.
To drive this much power generates a reasonable amount of heat, so it’s good that the FR100C features a competent cooling setup. The light has both a passive radiator and 6 fans that kick on when extra dissipation is needed. At low brightness levels, I found the fans never came on, even in very warm ambient conditions. After a few minutes at max output, the fans would come on, but were imperceptibly quiet from just a foot or two away. Assuming a small degree of separation between the light and mic, they shouldn’t cause any problem for video use.
Zhiyun mentions that the light features overheat protection, which I unintentionally put to the test when shooting during a 95+ degree night. At the end of the shoot, the FR100C was still safe to the touch on all surfaces, even after being used at 100% output.
Continuing on the topic of safety, the light is turned on via a long press of the center control button. In a future version of the light, Zhiyun could improve it by adding an option to lock the light off. This way, while traveling, there would be no way for the light to accidentally turn on and kill the battery.
The interface of the FR100C is very simple. A center button turns the light on with a long press, at which point the GUI appears on a 1-inch black and white screen. Around the center button, a scroll wheel also functions as a four-direction D-pad. This is how you access HSI, CCT, brightness, and max output modes.
Within each mode, the scroll wheel allows for adjusting the power and either the hue/intensity or color temperature. This interface works great for CCT mode, giving good control over both output and color temperature, but is a bit slow for dialing in the hue in HSI, as the light moves through each degree individually. An option to jump through 45 degree increments would make changing colors much faster.
I really like having a dedicated interface for a light like this. Direct control over all the functions, with no need for an app or additional remote, makes it easy to add this light to my bag at the last minute. It’s also easy to hand it to an impromptu assistant with no training necessary. Also, as the form factor of this light is really designed for use within a few feet of the subject, I’m unlikely to need remote controls that work at long distances.
The unique style of the FR100C really makes it suitable for a variety of uses. I’ve already used it during product and commercial shoots, both as a key light and in lieu of a gelled accent light. I could see using it as a dynamic and active light source in a video shoot – sweeping it over a product can really add a source of visual interest to a shot, and the wand form factor makes this very easy to do.
It’s also a great option for some types of light painting. While having a variety of light sources is key to getting the most out of light painting, the broad swath of light from this light makes it a great fill or source of illumination for illuminating subjects. I’d previously used gels on flashes for this, but I could see replacing them with the FR100C for better controllability. As an extra consideration, this light has no status LEDs or a bright screen to spill into your scene, which is always a plus.
For portrait and event photographers, this light can also enable some interesting options. While continuous lighting is often secondary to flashes for these genres of photography, I think there are some overlooked benefits to adding at least one or two continuous lights to those setups. Continuous lights can make it much easier to focus in low light situations, particularly as mirrorless cameras work poorly with focus assist lights from speedlights. Likewise, continuous lights also play much nicer with video – a big benefit to hybrid shooters or photo/video teams.
One last use is a little more niche, but is one of my favorites for this style of light: car photography. The long and thin specular highlights you can get from this form factor make the light an excellent choice for highlighting a car’s curves. I’ve previously used other light-wand style products, but those all had significantly less output than the FR100C.
Charging and Battery Life
One of the biggest challenges with continuous lights is the war between size, output, and battery life. Bright, small lights are hamstrung by poor battery life, while large V mount or wall powered continuous lights aren’t nearly as portable. In this aspect, I think the FR100C has struck a very reasonable compromise. While it’s right up to the limit of what I’d consider easily manipulable (larger or heavier and I’d be unsure about waving it near talent or subjects), it still manages an impressive 5+ hours at 10 watts, 1 hour at 50 watts, and 31 minutes at 100 watts.
For recharging, both USB-C Power Delivery and a dedicated 120 watt barrel charger are supported. While the base kit doesn’t include the barrel charger, I think it’s not necessary unless you need to shoot for hours at high output. In my use, I was just recharging with USB-C, and never found an issue with recharge times or battery life after charging.
I think continuous and strobe lighting tools have a place in everyone’s bag; some situations just work better for one or the other, as I’ve talked about before. For continuous lighting, I think the FR100C from Zhiyun is a great option. While there are some other wand-style light sticks available, the FR100C offers a ton of output, backed up by great light quality and smart thermal controls. To make continuous lighting viable for both stills and video, output is king, and the FR100C delivers.
The addition of HSI modes also makes this a great product for shooters who like to use gels and other colored light sources. One light can essentially replace a softbox, gels, and strobe. While you won’t have the same level of control, the FR100C can be a great option to get color into a scene with ease.
There are a few small things I’d love to see improved on a future release, the FR100C gets so many things right, particularly for the first generation of the product. You can find it at B&H for $199 in white and black, and with or without the barrel charger kit.
The Fiveray FR100C Light ed: 100 Watts in a Light Stick
- Build Quality
- Battery Life
- Size and Weight
- Ease of Use
- Speed and Performance
Photography Life Overall Rating