Zhiyun FiveRay F100 LED Review: Frustrating Controls Mar Otherwise Great Lights
Zhiyun’s FiveRay F100 LED light sticks have a solid level of power, are easy to maneuver, are affordable, and can perform a wide variety of lighting tasks. They’re great lights, marred mainly by frustrating controls.
Ensuring you have the right light for the job is absolutely essential to creating a great photo or video. Bad or even just poorly balanced lighting can completely ruin an otherwise perfect shot, which is why having something portable and powerful in your arsenal is essential for those random moments. This is where the $299 Zhiyun F100 Light Stick actually can come in clutch.
Zhiyun-Tech, yes, the company better known for making affordable gimbals and smartphone stabilizers, has released the F100 RGB LED, a 20 inch (50 centimeter) long and 950 gram RGB LED light stick (or tube/wand) that can reach up to 20,708 Lux at its 100W highest power using a 13 by 1.5-inch light surface.
The lightstick is small enough to operate hand-held, or it can be mounted to a tripod using the small mount at the base of the grip for more static usage. The big selling point here though is the accessories along with the RGB capabilities and special effects combinations they are capable of. The light stick offers adjustable color temperatures, solid luminosity adjustments, built-in SFX modes like lightning and fireplace, and a full range of vibrant RGB colors, effectively making it a very convenient and cost-effective light source for product work and other creative photo/video jobs.
If only it wasn’t so frustrating to use.
Design and Build Quality
Out of the box, the Fiveray F100 has very smooth and professional-looking packaging. The light itself is made with high-quality plastic (available in solid white or black) and has a slight rounding along the edges that makes it feel better when hand-holding, and simply looks better as well (as compared to some other more rigid/boxy designs).
The sides of the light have a ton of ventilation built into it, along with six fans along the backside of the light to provide a maximum amount of airflow for cooling and ventilation when in use at full power and/or long durations. The barn doors that come standard with this light add a little weight (a “hefty” 30 grams) but even with that and all of the modifiers attached, the light is still very manageable to operate as a hand held system.
The front of the base (or grip) of the light, has a nice-feeling faux-leather grip to make a better experience during hand-held use, plus it just adds a nice touch of design flare for those that want a touch of style to go with the function. At the bottom of the grip is a small mount so that the light can be attached to a stand of some kind if you don’t want to be stuck holding it.
The light source itself has a built-in soft white plastic diffusion panel over it so that you can just pull it out of the box and go straight to work with it or connect some of the included modifiers. Regardless of which version of the light you buy (USB or AC-powered combos), the F100 lights will all include the silver reflective barn doors, a durable and impressively designed grid, and a diffusion sock that fits over the barn doors to create a mini softbox.
At the back side of the grip is a control dial which basically controls everything, and it’s where my experience soured.
Using the control dial, you can cycle through the various modes the light has available which include CCT mode (Daylight to Tungsten color temperatures), a “Max Power” setting, the SFX (special effects) mode that has six presets, and the RGB mode which gives you control over the hue (360 degrees), saturation, and intensity (power). You swap between these modes by hard pressing up/down/left/right and then cycle through the settings in each by pressing the same direction for the mode or rotating the dial.
In theory, this design would be pretty straightforward, however, the dial is incredibly sensitive and has the bad habit of changing modes as you press to rotate the dial. I’ll dig more into that in the next section.
Finally on the side of the grip are the USB-C and AC power connections where you can charge the battery with either connection and even run the light while connected to power directly. Obviously, if you plan on running the light at full power you’ll want to connect the light with the AC adapter for the 120w power, but at least it’s good to know the light can both charge and run a little longer even with a connected USB-C battery pack. Additionally, you can update the firmware in the light using the same USB-C connection.
It is also worth mentioning that this light is not weather sealed. So yes, you can use it in some pretty cold and hot environments, but I highly doubt it can handle getting wet in rain or snow and I wouldn’t trust it to handle dust or sand in high quantities either. So while the idea of the light and its design scream “portable,” it has its limits.
Usage and Performance
Over my time with this light, I used it on a music video (which sadly hasn’t been released yet so I can’t share footage), and various sets of product images and portraits to test out its capabilities. For most of these shoots, I used the F100 as a fill light source or to add a subtle highlight to scenes. I also employed it to provide some additional color when a scene called for it.
What I really liked about this light is that since it has so much color range, I was able to match pretty much any color temperature of a scene almost as quickly as you would make the white balance adjustments on your camera.
The light itself (as mentioned above) has a 100W high power mode that is capable of pushing 20,708 Lux at its “Max” mode. Running the light at max power will end up giving you a little over 30 minutes of battery life, about an hour at 50%, and at its lowest setting, it can run for almost six hours, giving you a pretty wide range of flexibility with the use on location. If you happen to be lucky enough to be near a power source, you can plug the light in and run it indefinitely.
The light is practically silent until you start pushing it above 50% power. At full power, the fans will really kick in to prevent overheating. On that note, the light can get pretty hot to the touch, but in a few instances, I had the light running at full power for well over four hours while plugged in and didn’t have any issues at all with the light quality or noise levels coming from the fans. It is worth mentioning that while pretty quiet, there were no options to manually control (turn on or off) the fans for this system — it is built in an intelligent way where the system will turn on itself when the heat hits a specified threshold.
The F100 offers CCT color temperatures of 2,700K to 6,200K, a series of SFX modes that include SOS, TV, flickering light, candle, flash, and fireplace modes, and finally a wide range of vibrant color modes with Hue, Saturation, and Intensity controls. In testing, I found the lights were pretty similar to the company-reported ratings with a CRI rating of about 94.2, a TLCI of 97, and an SSI of about 85. On top of that, when measuring the actual color temperatures, the variance I found was actually under 100 degrees (oftentimes less than 50). For instance, when setting the light to 4900K it actually measured about 4853K.
While this particular light isn’t the brightest LED I’ve ever used, for something as small and portable with the RGB settings it offers, it was still pretty dang useful.
For ISO comparison sake, with the much larger and heavier duty SmallRIG LED lights I recently reviewed, I could use them to shoot at ISO 100 or 200 with at least an f/4 to f/5.6 aperture. To get the same level of brightness in my shots using the F100, I’d have to bump my iso up to between 400 and 1000 ISO. The trade-off here is flexibility and creative options in exchange for raw power — an exchange that I was happy to make.
The light comes standard with the attached barn doors (with reflectors) as well as a nicely designed grid that slides on over the barn doors, as well as an optional diffusion sock that ends up creating a mini softbox out of the light.
The barn doors were made quite durable and rigid and were able to stay in position regardless of the light angle it was positioned with no drifting at all. Even after weeks of usage opening/closing the lights, the doors remained solid and unwavering in their position once placed. For the most part, the only modifiers I really needed when I was testing the light out, but the Grid and Diffuser were incredibly nice touches as well.
Both come tucked away neatly in the top flap of the case the light ships in, making it easy to travel with and to make sure you always have them with you should the need pop up. The diffuser worked best for close-up shots, providing a much softer light and helping avoid any unwanted hot spots as you would expect from a softbox. The elastic is impressively strong and once you slid it over the barn doors and opened them up, you should never need to worry about the diffuser sliding off.
The grid, which I never really needed during my usage, was still impressively made. The Grid itself collapses to fit nicely in the provided sleeve in the case, and to attach, you simply slide it over the barn doors and wrap the attached velcro straps around the back of the light to ensure it doesn’t fall off when in use. Again, while I didn’t personally find a use for the grid, it does really add another level of control to the spread of the light making it incredibly useful for those who need that sort of control in their product or portrait work.
Earlier I mentioned that the concept behind the control system sounds great on paper, but it didn’t end up being that way in practice.
The F100 is frustrating to use as the Up/Down/Left/Right clicks that are necessary to change the different modes is so incredibly sensitive that you can accidentally cycle through them all while rotating the wheel if you’re not careful.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was simply trying to adjust the intensity of the CCT mode during a shoot and accidentally switched it to RGB, then back in to the SFX mode, only to go back into CCT again unintentionally. If you are really “soft” with your touch this shouldn’t be an issue, but in my opinion this situation shouldn’t be an issue, period.
The unreliability of maintaining control how I wanted it is really my only major “con” with using these lights, but it’s a big one.
The frustration I felt making these rotation changes could have been avoided with the use of the mobile app, but the sad news is, this particular device does not have that feature tied to it either. Again, it was likely a decision to keep the cost down, but since the dial is so sensitive, it really was and is frustrating to deal with on-set when you have to make quick and minor changes.
Frustrating Controls Mar Otherwise Great Lights
The Zhiyun F100 LED Light Stick isn’t perfect, but it grows on you very fast once you start using it. The thing that you need to keep in mind about this particular light is that it is meant for small-scale creators who need flexibility over power.
Yes, there are some frustrating control points, and yes there are brighter LED lights out there, but the F100 from Zhiyun is very affordable, offers portability (even with what is relatively short battery life), and comes with a variety of included accessories on top of the built-in tripod style mount. Taking these things into consideration makes this light a really compelling buy, even if it’s not perfect.
It is brighter than you’d expect for something of its price and provides users with a variety of fun and creative options for their photo and video projects. The only real problem other than the frustration points I’ve mentioned is once you start using it, you’ll likely want several more.
Are There Alternatives?
There are several alternatives for the Zhiyun F100 LED available, and my first go-to was going to be the now-discontinued Westcott Icelight. It didn’t offer any of the SFX and RGB options, but you can still find them used every now and again for between $80 and $400.
Something a little closer to price and feature will be the Godox LC500R RGB LED Lightstick for $239, the GVM Pro-BD25R 25W Light Stick for $299, the Aputure MT Pro RGBWW LED mini tube light for $199, the NanLite PavoTube II for $311, and finally, the previous version from Zhiyun, the FiveRay FR100C for $199
Should You Buy It?
Maybe, but I lean towards yes. If you’re looking for a small, portable, and cost-effective light that can add a touch color or fill to your images, you will will find value in what the Zhiyun FiveRay F100 brings to the table.