Right off the top, I’m going to give a bit of a disclaimer- I am nowhere NEAR the level a profession photographer. I don’t even qualify as a pro-sumer these days. However, I have had an interest in getting the most out of the iPhone for photography since Apple put a really capable camera inside of a smartphone with the iPhone 4S.
This interest lead me to start looking at external lenses that add additional capabilities to the iPhone years ago. At the time, you needed external lenses to do any kind of zoom , macro or wide angle photography. While the rapid advances in smartphone cameras have changed the market for external lenses, there are a few companies still making high-quality models that take an already impressive current iPhone camera to the next level. Sandmarc is one such company making high-end, professional level mobile photography accessories.
I am familiar with Sandmarc from reviews I did of their Photography Edition Wide Angle, Fisheye and Macro Lenses for the iPhone X in 2018 and their Telephoto Edition Lens last year. I came away very impressed with the design, quality of construction and the performance of all four of those lenses. So when a Sandmarc rep reached out to me to ask if I would like to try out their new Prolights lighting accessories, I was only hesitant due to my own limitations as a photographer, not the quality of the gear. I knew these would be high end and high quality accessories before they arrived.
Construction and Design
I’ve never used anything beyond a small external flashes for an older 35mm film camera and a Samsung mirrorless digital, so I wasn’t completely sure what to expect from Sandmarc’s Prolights. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the construction quality. These things are SOLID. Sandmarc’s lenses are durable and exude quality as well, but the Prolights’ metal bodies honestly feel like something Apple would make. This is very well-built hardware.
Bear in mind that when I say solid, I don’t mean that the Prolights are overly heavy. They are actually fairly light for having metal exteriors. But they do feel like they can survive substantial use indoors or out and handle a few knocks or dings. They are made to last, as a piece of pro-level gear should be.
I should point out that there is a difference between the two models in thickness and weight, with the RGB version coming in 1.5 oz heavier and .13″ thicker than the Bi-Color model.
The Prolight’s design is simple and straightforward. Both models have a threaded mount on the bottom and also come with a hot shoe mount in the box that screws into the threaded mount, adding versatility.
This allowed me to mount the Prolight on top of my smartphone camera mount and easily use it with my iPhone with no other purchases necessary.
Speaking of accessories. the Prolights also come with a flexible diffuser that is easy to install and remove.
It has cutouts for all buttons and the screen so there are no problems operating the Prolight with it on.
You also get a USB-C charging cable and microfiber cloth bag to store the light in, which is a great way to keep your light safe when it isn’t in use.
As for layout, the light takes up the entire front minus a small bezel around the edge.
The back of the Prolight has a small OLED screen that gives you all of the information for the device. You have the battery indicator and light intensity adjustment on both models.
The Bi-Color Edition above has a color temperature adjustment in addition, while the RGB version below has Hue and Saturation controls for color selection.
On both models, a simple to use selection wheel allows users to toggle between adjustments and easily move them up or down with one control to push and move. Simple is good and this is as simple as it gets.
A power button and USB-C port next to each other on the top round out the design.
Both Prolight models have quality construction, simple but solid designs, and are easy to operate. From an engineering perspective, Sandmarc couldn’t have done better, in my opinion.
I had no issues judging the construction and design of Sandmarc’s Prolights. However, grading the performance is a bit more difficult for someone who isn’t a more polished photographer. Sandmarc’s website has some excellent examples of the kinds of artistic effects that you can get with the Prolights, especially the RGB version. However, it will take some time and work to pull some of those looks off in the hands of a novice like me.
So, from this point on, I am going to stick to the basics and how I used the Prolights. Just understand that they are capable of more in the hands of someone with more experience and creativity.
Prolight Bi-Color Edition
This Prolight was more approachable and practical in the hands of someone like me. This light is the perfect color corrector and fill light for smartphone photography or video. As far as they’ve come, built-in smartphone flashes are still anemic and have limited usefulness. The Prolight Bi-Color, on the other hand, has a whopping 1500 lux at full capacity and packs enough of a battery to hold out for 100 minutes at max brightness. It blows away any built-in smartphone flash.
What made the Prolight Bi-Color valuable to me was the almost limitless adjustment range of the color temperature and brightness. If you find your white balance is off for a photo, the Bi-Color is a great way to even it out in a way that doesn’t add harsh brightness or shadows. The included diffuser really help take the edge off and I appreciate that it was included in the box.
For example, the lighting in my bedroom isn’t particularly good, especially after sundown. Using the Prolight, I was able to reduce my editing on some recent review photos using this light to get the white balance right before snapping the pics.
I really appreciate this. It’s always better to get the picture as close to where you want it as possible before taking it, and then edit to dial it in.
The Prolight Bi-Color also makes an excellent fill light in any kind of lighting conditions. It has enough power to remove shadows from portraits or shots of objects outdoors or at a distance and the wide range of brightness adjustment allows you to add a softer fill at closer range. It also works well as a supplementary light for taking video in low-light situations.
Here are a couple of examples:
While the differences are subtle, the extra light helps the camera sensor pick up more detail. The picture without extra light is flat and lacks the punch of the other two, while the second just pops more and has more petal detail.
You can also see how much the Prolight Bi-Color can warm up a picture in the second example. The effect is too much for my personal taste, but this example gives you a feel for how much this light can change a shot and the range it has.
Even in the hands of a casual photographer like me, the Prolight Bi-Color Edition is very useful. If you are taking pictures for a website or business or if you just want to take your game up a level, this is a great accessory for any smartphone photographer.
Prolight RGB Edition
This Prolight RGB was much more difficult for me to get a handle on. It is far more flexible, but that also makes it more complicated to use if you don’t start out knowing exactly what you want. I’ll be completely honest in saying that I don’t when it comes to adding color effects to photos. However, if you have more extreme color compensation needs or you are a creative photographer who knows exactly what color effects you need, the Prolight RGB is an extremely capable accessory.
Most of what I said about the performance of the Bi-Color Edition is also true for the RGB. This model is a little thicker and heavier, as mentioned in the Construction and Design section, and has just a bit less battery life, coming in at 90 minutes at max brightness. However, it looks and operates much the same.
There are two obvious differences in performance with the RGB model. First, you can adjust both the Hue and Saturation to get your desired color output.
For a novice, it will take time to get a handle on how to adjust these two settings to get exactly what you want or need. However, I was able to dial in specific colors after a little trial and error.
The Prolight RGB does come with a small instruction booklet with a diagram that breaks down how the 0-360 Hue translates to various colors that fellow amateurs may find helpful.
The second major difference is that the Prolight RGB also includes 8 different FX modes. The first two are geared toward emulating a red-eye photo flash on a loop. That might have some usefulness once you get the timing down. It would be nice if you could trigger them manually, but I don’t believe that is possible.
Other than the SOS light, which would be very handy if you find your car broken down at night, the rest of the FX modes didn’t seem all that useful to me. However, they could possibly be in the hands of a more capable photographer.
The real value of the Prolight RGB is in adding color effects to photos and video. Here are a couple of interesting examples from Sandmarc’s website that show how dramatic the effects can be:
One of the keys to taking a great photo is the right lighting. That’s what makes low light photography so difficult and why much of the innovation in smartphone cameras has been focused on night modes and better low-light performance.
That said, even the best smartphone lens paired with the best AI can only take you so far. Whether it’s for additional light in the dark, color correction, artistic effects, or fill lighting to eliminate shadows, sometimes you need some help that your phone alone can’t provide. If you often find yourself in such situations, then one of Sandmarc’s Prolights is a great way to supplement the lighting for your smartphone photos.
As I said above, Sandmarc’s Prolight Bi-Color Edition is simple and straightforward enough to be valuable to almost any smartphone shutterbug. It is versatile and useful in solving many common lighting needs, so I can recommend it to pretty much anyone trying to get the most out of their smartphone cameras.
Sandmarc’s Prolight RGB Edition is a bit different. I can highly recommend it because of its superb design and construction and unique capabilities. However, it is a much more specialized device and requires more skill and creativity to get the most out of it. More than I have, at least. If you have an eye for creative photography and color effects, or if you need to overcome some more extreme color correction issues, then you should absolutely look at the Prolights RGB.
The Prolight Bi-Color is available from Sandmarc for $99.00.
The Prolight RGB is available from Sandmarc for $129.00.
Sandmarc also offers a Prolight Kit with both lights for a discounted $199.
The Prolight Bi-Color and Prolight RGB were provided for review on iPad Insight by Sandmarc. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the About page.