The dark winter evenings are upon us, but is the Ice Light 2 the perfect tool for painting subjects at night? Michael Topham finds out if it's worth the high price tag

Westcott Ice Light 2 car

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, 20secs at f/11, ISO 50

Westcott Ice Light 2 at a glance:

  • Power 1740-lumen output with 96 CRI
  • Colour temp 5500K
  • Control 18-step dimming from 5% to 100%
  • Support 1⁄4in-20 threads for easy mounting
  • Website www.fjwestcott.com
  • Price £549

There’s no shortage of LED panels on the market for anyone who requires a bright and constant source of light. Rectangular and square-shaped LED panels come in all shapes and sizes, with different power outputs and colour temperature controls. While they’re great at providing a large pool of light across a wide area, they’re not best suited to all subjects and shooting situations.

Lighting manufacturer Westcott was quick to acknowledge the demand for a slightly different type of LED panel and announced the Ice Light, or lightsaber, as it affectionately became know, in 2013. The idea was fairly simple – a long thin tube of LEDs creates a narrower beam of light, but can be handheld and transported very easily. When I tested the original Ice Light (AP 14 February 2015), I loved the way it diffused the light evenly and facilitated creative painting in the dark in virtually any location thanks to its in-built rechargeable battery. Since then, Westcott has created what it claims to be its enhanced version of its predecessor, responding to feedback from those who regularly use LED panels in the field. All wrapped up, I headed out into the cold on a dark winter’s night to discover if it meets its promise of being one of the best strip-light LED panels currently available.

Westcott Ice Light 2 side

Features

The original Ice Light provided a 1160-lumen output, but this latest model is even brighter. Engineered with patented LED technology, it provides a 50% brighter output than its predecessor and successfully squeezes its1740 lumens of daylight-balanced (5500K) light into its compact cylindrical housing. On a scale of 100, the Ice Light 2 has a high Colour Rendering Index (CRI) of 96, which should see it render all frequencies of the colour spectrum faithfully. The daylight-balanced LEDs are tested and rated for 50,000 hours of use, which equates to a life expectancy of more than17 years, if used eight hours a day. To support its brighter output, the Ice Light 2 features a new and improved removable lithium-ion battery that can be charged inside or outside the unit, or replaced with a spare that will set you back around £70. If you set the Ice Light 2 to full power, you can expect to get just over an hour of constant flicker-free illumination, making it ideal for photographers and videographers alike.

Unlike similar products on the market, such as the Gloxy Power Blade (£130), the Westcott Ice Light 2 has a built-in diffuser designed to protect the LEDs and provide a 73° beam angle. Rather importantly, a matt-black casing surrounds the back of the tube to prevent unwanted light being traced during long exposures. Included in the kit is a smart protective carry case as well as an in-car charger to replenish the battery level on the go between locations. Users also have the option to control the Ice Light 2 wirelessly from an iPhone or iPad using Bluetooth technology via a new Ice Light app that’s currently available only for iOS users.

Westcott Ice Light 2 rechargeable battery

The Ice Light 2 has a rechargeable battery that can be removed. This allows users to buy spares, which can be dropped in as and when required

In use

At either end of the Ice Light 2 is a 1/4in tripod thread. It’s often a challenge focusing when you’re working in complete darkness, so having the option to mount the Ice Light 2 to a tripod and locate it next to a subject before returning to the camera to pre-focus and lock the focus makes the whole process of shooting at night just that little bit easier. I found the large on/off switch lets you turn it on and off easily when you’re working with thick gloves, and the two silver up/down buttons let you take precise control of the power output across its 18-step range.

The digital indicator above displays the power-output setting, and by holding down the up or down buttons it’s possible to get from the lowest output to the highest, or vice versa, in just over two seconds. There were numerous times when I turned it on and off between shots to conserve battery power, which drew attention to its automatic power output memory function. When switched off, it’s programmed to remember the last power setting before returning to the same power setting when it’s switched on again. This is very useful and helps to maintain consistent results in a series of shots. The battery-level indicator turns from blue to orange when the battery level is running low and then to red just before it runs out completely.

Westcott Ice Light 2 battery indicator uncovered

Note the blue streaks running through the image

Westcott Ice Light 2 battery covered

Applying tape around the handle solved the issue

With my best results being created at a power setting of 4, I found I never got close to depleting the battery during 45 minutes of on/off use. If you’d prefer greater control of the spill of the light to create a narrower beam, Westcott also produces barn doors for the Ice Light 2, setting you back a further £60.

My only gripe with the Westcott Ice Light 2 is not having the option to turn off the bright-blue power output and battery-level indicators on the handle. When my hand wasn’t covering these, I noticed that my long exposure shots suffered from long blue light trails. This was relatively easy to resolve out in the field by covering both with black gaffer tape, but it would have been more convenient to have a built-in function to switch these off.

Westcott Ice Light 2 – our verdict

While there’s room for improvement, the Ice Light 2 is the best portable and continuous light I’ve used for painting at night. It is also good for portraits, which is its principal purpose. The Ice Light 2 has intuitive controls that are easy to operate in the dark, it provides daylight-balanced light that’s wonderfully diffused and has sufficient power to illuminate large subjects. The main drawback is its price of £549. Cheaper alternatives are available, and there’s the option to create your own LED strip panel using budget LED inspection lamps from hardware stores, although they’re unlikely to offer the same level of versatility, sophisticated control and power output as the Ice Light 2. But if you’re after the best LED strip light money can buy, look no further.

Westcott Ice Llight 2 small studio set up

Great for illuminating large subjects outdoors, the Ice Light 2 is also suitable for smaller studio set-ups

SCORE: 4.5 out of 5

Westcott Ice Light 2 – For and against

For

  • Quick and easy to use
  • Supports wireless control with Wescott app for Apple iOS users
  • Offers beautifully diffused light
  • Strong and robust build quality
  • Built-in power-level memory

Against

  • Expensive accessories
  • Battery indicator doesn’t show a percentage level of the remaining power
  • Battery and power indicators can’t be switched off during long exposures