Light stands are an indispensable part of my kit when I am out shooting normally. As the name suggests, it is used to hold lights – in my case, small flashes which are triggered via a wireless radio system.
Since I tend to have to walk quite a lot for many of my shoots, portability is a big factor in my equipment choice, and that applies to both weight and size.
When looking for tripods or light stands, the folded length is always one of the most important characteristics I consider. A few centimetres is the difference between that particular piece of gear fitting in my work bag, or being left at home.
Over the years, I have come to rely on the Lumopro LP605 7ft compact light stands. Modelled after the Manfrotto 5001B Nano retractable compact light stand, it has a similar fold-up mechanism, where the legs fold in on the column. Five sections and four risers means while the compacted length is a nice 50cm, it can still reach a maximum height which is slightly taller than me – a good height for placing lighting. To add to the stability, it has retractable spikes on each of the legs, which can be driven into grass fields or similar soft surfaces for increased hold – however, depending on conditions, this has variable effectiveness.
The only problem is, I found the LP605’s legs to be a bit too spindly, and in recent shoots where I had to position lights on slopes or on stairs, the fixed lengths of the legs meant there was considerable difficulty with where the lights could go. In the end, I just extended the legs to the point where they were very close together and compact so they could fit on the steps, but the resulting setup was highly unstable. The point of portable lighting is versatility, and that includes where I am able to put my lights – the equipment was restricting this.
It just so happened that I was browsing Image Melbourne’s online shop, and I noticed a product called the Evo light stands, which is an exclusive product developed by the shop itself. While I predominantly know of Image Melbourne as a retailer of camera equipment, it also has its own line of products, which it sells through its site. Some of these are clones – for example, there are clones of the 5001B Nano light stands, some light modifiers, and various other fittings.
The concept behind the Evo light stand is to add adjustable length legs, giving it similar attributes to a tripod. By being able to vary the length of the legs, the light stand can stand level on sloping or stepped surfaces, highly increasing its stability on difficult terrain.
The product itself is quite unassuming in appearance. It takes on the same folding mechanism as the Nano type light stands so it is fairly compact out of the box. Of course, unlike the Nano types, it has tube type legs, and an extra adjustment knob on each of the three legs. This new form factor increases the bulkiness of the light stand, even though the length advantage of the compact class of light stands is retained.
The basic light stand set ups up by opening the legs as per normal. Looks good.
The adjustment knobs are fairly simple screw type, but ergonomically, they leave something to be desired. The Lumopro light stands have more rounded knobs which are a bit easier on the fingers to grip. In addition, the Lumopro’s knobs tighten and loosen far more readily than the Evo’s. Considering the number of times these components need to be actuated during setup and throughout the shoot, small ergonomic things do add up quite significantly. I need to turn the knob twice (each turn around 180 degrees) to get it sufficiently loosened to make adjustments. Tightening is the same operation in reverse – in both instances, the screw is noticeably stiff. With the Lumpro, one deft twist is all it takes.
Another ergonomic consideration with the adjustment knobs: when they are all lined up, the knobs are of a design and size that they will interfere with each other’s operation. Additionally, the extension and retraction of these sections can sometimes be quite stiff, even if the knobs are fully loosened. However, there seems to be some air cushioning action going on as well, even though the Evo is not described as being air cushioned.
So the key difference for the Evo is the adjustable leg. The sample I got had one of these adjustment knobs twisting around a bit loosely. The Philips screw wasn’t quite tight, and I easily fixed the problem with my screwdriver. That said, it does not bode well for the build quality.
I tested the operation of the legs by varying the levels of the floor surface. No surprises here – it works as advertised, and is quite stable.
While the light stand, when normally extended without the leg extensions, seems to be a bit shorter than the Lumopro (which reaches around 1.9m), the extendable legs add quite a lot to the height, allowing the light stand to reach 2.25m, which is taller than what the Nano-type clones are capable of.
The Evo light stand is considerably more stable than the Nano due to the tube legs and the greater standing area it takes up. Of course, if sandbags or other weights are being used to keep the legs stable, the folding mechanism means it is possible to flatten the legs to the ground, just like the Nano clones.
A comparison of the legs. At the end of the Evo’s leg is a rubber knob. It’s a bit less grippy than the Lumopro rubber foot I am used to, but will serve its purpose. No spike though, but it’s not such a critical feature.
When folded up, the Evo light stand is noticeably bulkier than the Lumopro. It is also around 1 or 2 centimetres longer, and with a weight of 1.65kg, around half a kg heavier than the Lumopro. However, all these are within the tolerance of my bag.
Unlike the Lumopro light stands which only have one reinforcing metal strip for each of the legs, the Evo has two. Unfortunately, variable build quality applies here as well: note that the metal strips are bent, and are supposed to be positioned so the bend goes outwards from the legs. Look at the outermost leg of the Evo in the photo above. One of the metal strips has been flipped during assembly so the bend goes inward, toward the leg. I can’t fix this, unfortunately. It doesn’t affect the performance as far as I can tell.
The Evo light stand is a great concept, and it resolves a classic problem for the portable off-camera flash user. While it is bulkier and a bit lengthier than the Nano-type light stands, the improvements in positioning versatility, maximum height, and stability tilts my opinion in its favour.
However, the execution of the product itself does leave a bit to be desired. The relatively stiff and difficult to operate knobs, the interference caused by the size of the knobs, the jerky extension and retraction action for the riser sections, and the variable build quality indicated by the random loose screw and flipped support piece – these indicate manufacturing practises which have prioritised cost over useability. To be sure, the price of AUD$74.95 is quite tempting for the features, but for someone who uses light stands heavily, those little ergonomic annoyances will undoubtedly add up.
That said, the benefits of the Evo cannot be discounted. It has found a place in my regular shooting kit. I only hope that I will be able to get used to its little quirks in time.