My buddy forwarded a link to me for a portable lighting solution for iPhone photographers (see below).  As far as the device is concerned (appropriately named “the Kick”), I sincerely appreciate the creators sense of entrepreneurship and wanting to help iPhone enthusiasts overcome the limitations of their onboard flash.  At first glance it appears to be a practical solution to enhancing one’s lighting options when photographing and videoing with one’s phone.  While viewing the informative and highly entertaining video, I have to remind myself that marketing is everything.  I like the idea behind the Kick if for no other reason than its clever and well-orchestrated promo (note the creator’s demeanor from :45 – :55.  I should incorporate a comparably sobering lexicon and critical intonation into my own marketing pitch).

While Volvo, Ikea and Nokia are also the result of savvy Scandinavian marketing, not every Scandinavian product push has been with open arms (see brief video here).

OK, let’s cut to the chase –

Kick Pros:

  • Portability (then again, hotshoe flashes are pretty portable… I carry 3 of them in my camera bag at all times).

  • The device can sync to multiple Kicks and thus creates the potential for configuring myriad lighting scenarios (e.g. An outdoor portrait at night, I could use 3 of these – main light, fill light, and one to light up that cool looking tree 30 feet behind my subject).

  • Controlling multiple Kicks all from one central device (an iPhone).  Say goodbye to spending $20 – $150 per remote per flash to trigger an external light source.

  • One can adjust the color temperature (and color) with pinpoint accuracy- I suppose that this is a benefit, especially if one does not use photoshop / lightroom, however, the white balance sliders are usually among the first ones that people learn to use in Lightroom.  The purpose of these sliders is to correct for color temperature or add a bit of warmth / coolness (In my Hands on Intro to photography workshop we learn how and why we set different white balances and the affect they have on our final images).  Personally, I prefer to solve this a priori in camera.  Lightroom is the failsafe in case one forgets to make this adjustment ahead of time.  Also, with respect to color variation, I’ve grown accustomed to relying on gels to vary the background / foreground of my photos.  A full set of gels for a hotshoe flash can be purchased for under $30.

  • One can see how the variation of color temperature will affect the final image a priori.  This is a cool feature, but bear in mind that most cameras produced within the past year permit one to do this when viewing their subject in live view mode through the cameras LCD panel.

  • Instantaneous feedback via the iPhone as to how my subject will look under this light (see above).

  • It is tripod mountable.

  • One can reproduce any color in the spectrum instantly.

  • The video mentions that it is fun and creative, and it is!

Kick Cons:

  • Biggest concern: Its still a relatively small light source.  There is a reason that I recently acquired a 4’X6′ soft box – In a nutshell: all things equal, larger light sources produce softer light and thus create conditions which are more aesthetically pleasing than smaller ones.  I did not see a mount on the Kick to attach a light modifier (umbrella, soft box, flash card, etc).

  • The battery is not removable.  For events (and even for some studio work when I decide to use my hot shoe flashes), I’d hate to be the guy who had to ask the client to wait around for a couple of hours while I plug this thing into the wall for its battery to charge.

  • Currently it is not android compatible (who cares).

Kick Unknowns:

  • What is the range of the wifi from Kick to phone?  Five feet or five hundred feet?

  • Battery life (4-5 hours) sounds good, but so did the 7-8 hours that Apple promised me for my retina mac.  If using the Kick continuously at full power, how long will it last before I need to find a power outlet.

  • How many times can one re-charge the Kick before the battery is completely depleted?

  • How quickly does the maximum charge that it can hold decay with use?

  • How many flashes can one get out of the Kick before the device needs to be replaced? (hotshoe flashes are put through a rigorous testing whereby they are dumped at full power every 20 seconds until they fail.  In lab tests this is typically 1000 – 5000 pops.  Reality provides us a much longer lifetime as no one uses their flash at full dump continuously).  Also, when the hotshoe flash does in fact fail, one merely needs to replace the bulb (typically).  Can one replace a single led on the kick?

Kick Application:

  • What is the subject that one will be shooting?  If its “your kids” Lego action figures on a coffee table, or a shoestring attempt to make Fear and Loathing part 2 in a small hotel room, etc, then the Kick is the definitive go to device.  If one intends to use this for lighting a car, house exterior, ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (dont try this one), portraiture for paying clients, etc., I’m not so sure.

  • For wedding and event photographers who are roving around a location, this could be a pretty cool gadget, but again it would work best if one could get kickstarter funding to design some type of a diffuser similar to this for the Kick kickstarter project.  I like diffusers. I know, I’m a lighting snob…

  • Personally I see this as more of a boon for videographers than for photographers.  We are accustomed to seeing harshly lit subjects in news reporting, wedding videos (on the dance floor), etc.

Kick Concerns:

  • My major concern is that I have yet to uncover the intensity of the light as measured in watt-seconds or guide number.  Since I have yet to complete (or start) my dissertation in particle theory and radiometry, its tough to discern how powerful these 400 lumen lights are when applied to the photographic realm.   In laymans terms, does the Kick emit one candela of light, or one million candelas of light?  My profile photo (click here) of me in front of that waterfall was created by fully dumping a 1600 watt second studio strobe placed maybe 3 feet camera left of my face, diffused with a 36″ bounce umbrella, all shot through a 10X variable neutral density filter.  I would be amazed if the Kick had enough kick to reproduce a similar photo.

  • When operating more than one Kick remotely, can one use an iPhone to vary the intensity and color of each Kick independently of one another?  It would kind of suck to have to light my entire set red if in fact I wanted a red foreground and blue background.  Also, it would suck even more if all of my synched Kicks have to emit light at the same intensity (thus i’d be limited to adjusting my ratios via distance from light to subject… sort of how things were done in the old days and thus the Kick would not be much of a technological leap).  If they do not operate independently of one another, it sort of obviates some of the functionality of using the iPhone with these devices (i.e., one has to walk over to each Kick and manually adjust the light, walk back to the phone, click the shutter and do this all again until one gets the desired effects.  Not a big deal if all lights are within arms reach, otherwise its a surrogate for hitting the gym).

I remember the device to end all devices for all early 1980’s wannabe lead-vocals and disk jockeys – Mr. Microphone (see hilarious 1980’s commercial here).  Finally, restless kids all around the country could project their voices much further and much louder (and with much more unwanted distortion, feedback and interference) than what they had previously dreamed.  All that was required was a slow Xmas party, some bratty kids and an FM radio.  It satisfied a demand and delivered what it promised – instant DJ status and the attention of one’s friends in an otherwise peaceful setting.  Was it entertaining?  Yes.  Did it help millions of otherwise annoying kids around the country develop their vocal skills?  Absolutely.  It provided endless entertainment (well, at least until one’s voice grew hoarse) and provided a thoroughfare for self expression. It wasn’t until years later that an entire generation of kids realized that Mr. Microphone was no substitute for good vocals, a soundboard, mixer, soundproof studio and a mic that cost more than an erector set.

I think that the current iteration of the Kick has several good features and if I were a die hard iPhone photographer I’d be slightly skittish about being an early adopter.  It would be a pity to drop $170 on a light that is still in its nacent stages only to discover that a more robust model will be introduced next year (think iPhone and iPads… the originals are now dinosaurs).  As far as using it for professional purposes, I’d give it another iteration or two until some of the more substantial concerns are addressed (e.g., adapters to use with modifiers, enough intensity to use from more than 5 feet away, etc).  For hobbyists and techies, I’d give it a green light.  When used within the confines of its limitations, it will definitely enhance one’s iPhone creative abilities.  Just remember, the end of the day, light is light.

Bear in mind that most of my above initial thoughts are predicated upon viewing Kick’s 2 minute marketing video and  a brief scan of their website.  Also, I have taken maybe 4 photos with my camera phone since purchased 2 years ago.