Best budget studio lights: 8 tested

Proline Apollo 180/180 Twin Head Kit - £265

The second cheapest kit in this group, at only £45 more than the Interfit EX150, the Proline outfit nevertheless comes in its own carry case complete with roller-wheels. But while the case looks smart, what's inside is a bit of a letdown.

The 180Ws heads are extremely small and disappointingly basic. The low-power 50W modelling lamp is an on/off affair that lacks a proportional setting, and there's no auto-dumping facility. Overall build quality feels a little on the cheap side, and the recycling/ready beep can't be switched off, which is frustrating.

The light stands are similarly flimsy, but at least you get a 50 x 70cm softbox as well as a 105cm translucent umbrella. The softbox is of rather better quality but, again, the umbrella has a fragile feel to it and our review sample soon started to come unravelled. The heads are designed in such a way that there's a small reflector built into the front end, but we still suffered a lot of light spill.

Performance

Best budget studio lights: 8 tested

At its full power setting, each head enabled an aperture of f/11 in our standard test, firing through a translucent brolly, two metres from the target. The power is nominally adjustable through a four-stop range, although in our tests it was rather more than four stops, at f/1.1-1 1. Frustratingly, almost all of the power adjustment was in the final quarter of the knob's travel, at the maximum end of the range. This made fine adjustments in flash power difficult.

At full power, the recycle time is a sluggish three seconds, which is about twice other heads on test here, apart from the Photo Basics Strobelite 2-Light Educational Kit, which takes two seconds. Power output also varied somewhat between +/-0.2EV in our tests. The inconsistency wasn't quite as bad as with the Photo Basics heads, but still rather worse than all other heads in the group.