The tiny light that can; an INSSTRO C1 RGB LED review
Light – the most important thing in photography. Without it, we have nothing but darkness. Some of us like to capture and bend the natural light to our needs. While others love to craft a scene with artificial lights.
If you love adding in your own light then its a nice time to be a photographer. Lights are getting smaller, more complex and often include their own power. Freeing us from wires and bringing more creative freedom.
My second RGB capable LED was the INSSTRO C1, and this is what I’ll talk about today.
My first RGB capable light, in case you wonder, was the small Lumiee LED wristbands. They have honestly been one of the most fun creative additions to my lighting kit in recent years, allowing me to capture images like this one.
The INSSTRO C1 is a compact Bi-Color + RGB led light. It offers high-quality tungsten to daylight output. Along with just about any color of the rainbow you could want. Combine that with the built-in 2200mha battery and you have a versatile little unit for photo and video production.
Build, and specs
Inside the box, you will see the C1 LED light, a USB-C cable to charge the device, along with a cold shoe attachment for mounting onto a camera. Lastly, a little pouch that has a belt loop and carabiner to carry it all.
The C1 weighs in at just 210g, it appears to be constructed of one-piece aluminum with a premium feel. It is roughly the size of an iPhone 6s at 70mm wide, 120mm long or just slightly larger than a Sigma fp (without the additional flash adaptor).
Looking at the back of the unit you have a small screen to display the mode and power setting of the light . At the right is a row of four little red buttons to control the unit.
The power button needs to be long pressed to switch the unit on and off, quick pressing it changes the mode though CCT (correlated color temperature), HSI (hue/saturation/intensity), RGB (red/green/blue) and Scene modes. The gear/options button will cycle down the menu while the -/+ allows you to adjust the values of each setting. Also on this side, you will find the USB-C port.
The USB-C port allows for fast charging with the appropriate adaptor (not supplied) or power bank with voltages from 5v, 9v and 12v to charge the unit in around 2.5 hours. You can also power and charge the light while in use to extend its standard runtime of 2hours at full power. Although the unit can get warm when doing so.
On the left and bottom sides of the INNSTRO C1 there are two 1/4 screw holes to mount the light onto different items. For demonstration purposes, I placed a spigot into each to help show the locations.
You can also see the little rainbow bar above the LCD here which has HSI number values across it to help find the color that you are looking for in that mode.
So how does this little LED panel offer such a variety of color? For that, let’s take a closer look at the front panel where we can see an array of different types of LED chips.
Overall the INSSTRO C1 has 150 LED chips with 40 at 2500k, 40 at 8500k and 70 RGB units all sitting behind a slightly frosted diffusion panel. The light will mix and match different LED chips to create the color required although sadly the diffusion panel really doesn’t do much to diffuse the light as you can see here.
On the left where you can clearly see each LED on the C1 casting a reflection that I used for creative effect. To get the smooth look on the right image I had to shoot the INSSTRO C1 through a white lens cloth to diffuse the light.
The INSSTRO C1 like many panel type LED lights is a flood style light that has wide coverage as you can see here.
This is great for adding light to a scene in general but lacks any control or way to focus the light on a particular subject. There are no modifiers like grids or barn doors available but I guess its a perfect opportunity for a DIY project if that was something you needed.
To test the power output of the LED light I set a Sekonic L-358 one meter away from the INSSTRO C1 at 100% power with a set F-Stop of 2.8 at is100 and got these values.
- 2500k – 1/8s
- 5500k – 1/13s
- 5500k – 1/13s
- Red – 1/2s
- Green – 1/6s
- Blue – 1/4s
As we can see the light output isn’t the same throughout the range with 2500k being around 2/3 of a stop darker than at 5500k. The RGB output is similar, red is 1 stop darker than blue which is 2/3 of a stop darker than green. Minimum power is around 3stops less than full power throughout the range.
With these values the INSSTRO C1 isn’t going to do much outdoors in bright light, to demonstrate that here’s a shot from the Sigma fp at iso100, 1/1000, f5.6 on the Sigma 105mm f1.4 Art.
I had to place the INSSTRO C1 almost on top of my subject for it to work here, still handy but hardly the intended purpose for the device.
Where the INSSTRO C1 excels though is lower light or indoors where you have control over the environment, here the decent light output and the vast selection of colors offer lots of creative freedom.
As an example here’s a little shot of Woody taken on a black dining table with a little water spray, vape, and INSSTRO C1 lights to get different colors. Shot on the Sigma fp with Sigma 105mm Art at f1.4, iso100, 1/100s
While on the subject of the vast amount of colors available the INSSTRO C1, It is important to note that RGB led’s have a very narrow band of color. To demonstrate this I captured two images. One using the white LEDs set to 5500k with a blue gel and another using the RBG lights to match the color of first and then corrected both in post.
You can clearly see that the left image is lacking color, the apple looks very dull and that is due to the low CRI ratings of RGB lights, The white light that offers a CRI of 95 (according to the manual) gelled offers much better reproduction.
While it is better to gel a white light to a particular color, you need to have that gel available and often more power from the light to compensate for the loss in power gels bring. RGB LEDs, on the other hand, allows you to get just about any color you could want at the touch of a button and can be more power-efficient.
Another aspect of light quality is how stable it is, some lights pulsate or flicker which can cause issues both on photography and video. To test this I took my Samsung S9 and used the super slow-motion mode that shoots at 960fps to see and I couldn’t see any at all.
I’m rather impressed with the little Insstro C1 , at just $89 it’s hard not to be considering the vast color and lighting options it provides. I already have a few projects in mind where these are going to come in really handy.
There are a few things that could do with some improvement though.
The first would be having more control over the LED power output. The difference between 1% and 100% is only around 3 stops which isn’t much. It would be great if it actually represented the true power values and allowing you to use just 1% if that’s all you needed.
Secondly the fast and slow RGB cycle modes while generally really smooth do seem to peak a little at times which can catch your eye.
Lastly, I feel the HSI mode could be improved if it mixed the high CRI white LED’s with the RGB LED’s when adjusting saturation instead of combining RGB to create a low CRI white.
Still, overall I feel it represents good value for money and a great tool for someone wanting to start playing around with light or if you just need a versatile small light.
Paul Monaghan is a creative photographer based in Scotland. Paul is on of the leading landscape photographers in the UK and is an authority on ND filters in the industry. Among others, Paul is a Sigma UK Ambassador.