Every so often and not very, I feel compelled to review a product because it impresses me so much, it hasn’t been reviewed very much or not from the point of view that interests me. This is a case where all three apply… Writing is not my forte and I tend to review things strictly from my point of view and experience as opposed to objectively and with tons of technical detail.

Those of us who are combination wedding, portrait, and commercial photographers have a wide range of gear requirements. As a result we tend to collect a lot of items that do the same job but are better suited for some situations than others. This can apply to cameras, lenses, and in this review, lighting. What makes the Cheetah CL-360 so interesting is it kind of gives you the feeling that this is what you would get if you left a speedlight and a studio strobe alone for a weekend on a deserted island with nothing to do. It combines so many features of both which gives a high degree of versatility.

Cheetah Light CL-360Fill light on a very bright, sunny day. Couple in the shade balanced with sunny back ground.

So many choices…

Some (me) would argue that the Canon 600EX-RTspeedlight is one of the best things to happen to portable photography in years. It is small, powerful enough for many situations, it’s wireless (the useful radio kind), and can be used on camera and off. As a bonus (and it’s a big bonus), you can shoot in ETTL and high speed sync modes. Neither of these are perfect but they help when used properly and allow you to do things you just can’t do otherwise. The downside of speedlights is the power output. They measure out at roughly the equivalent of 80ws.

At the other end of the spectrum are studio strobes. The differences between on-camera speedlights are many but the most important for me is that studio strobes are very powerful when you need them to be. Unfortunately they are also large/heavy and they require a plug or hefty batteries (with the exception of a surprisingly reasonably sized battery from Alien Bees) so they don’t exactly encourage you to bring them on wedding shoots. I personally don’t enjoy lugging studio strobes to commercial shoots either since I often work alone so even then, I’m reluctant to bring them along. To top it off they are quite top heavy and not great for carrying around during a wedding.

This is where I started collecting lighting gear years ago. The first set of lights I purchased after those above are some made by a very smart company of engineers called Quantum. The appeal at the time when I bought these was that they were double the power of a speedlight (150 ws), and they had very reliable radio control at a time when you could really only use Pocket Wizards to trigger a speedlight. I have to say that of all the gear that I have ever owned, these lights have been true workhorses that have always worked when I needed them to. They are fantastic for many applications from events, portrait shoots, fill lights, etc… So then, why doesn’t the story end here? They just are not quite powerful enough and while portable, they get heavy after awhile thanks to the batteries. They are also pretty expensive ($5000+) when you have 4 T5D-R lights, 4 Quantum Turbo batteries, and a wireless trigger.

The Elinchrom Quadra Kit came out right at a time when I was looking for more power to overpower the sun. It does indeed overpower the sun when used with a silver softbox and no diffuser. The light is truly beautiful and the battery and transformer take up all the bulk while the light head is tiny and outputs as high as 400ws. The added bonus was that my studio lights were also Elinchrom so all of my Skyport triggers could be used simultaneously giving me all kinds of flexibility. What I found was that I never used them together and often I wanted to use 2 Quadra lights. This would mean buying the kit with 2 heads, 2 batteries, and one transformer but then if you wanted to use 2 heads without being plugged into the same transformer, you would have to buy another transformer and battery at a very high price. This is where the wish to keep buying stuff ended and I never bought the second transformer. I only ever used one head while at weddings.

And now the point of this review…

Finally, a few months ago reports started coming out about the Cheetah Light CL-180. I breezed over a few reviews and comments on forums that either highly praised them or dismissed them as Quantum clones. It was true, they did look almost exactly like Quantum T5D-Rs with the exception that the transmitters and receivers were much smaller. The batteries were also completely different and much smaller and lighter. They are rated at the same power power output as a Quantum T5D-R so of no use to me and my large collection of lighting gear. Coincidentally I ended up on the phone with Edward Tang who owns the Cheetah brand. I had ordered a Cheetah boom stand and as he so often does with clients, he called me to confirm a few things. The fact that he personally calls his clients is really quite remarkable but that’s another story. During the conversation the CL-180 came up and I wished out loud that a double power version would be made. Well as it happens…

Luckily for me I was able to get a couple of these lights from a very small order before they even went on sale. Currently they are slated to be available at the end of July along with a bunch of accessories that will make them even better and more capable than they are for me right now.

Wakefield-Belvedere-Wedding-01360 degree backlight – not possible with a speed light…

At this point I have shot 3 weddings, an event, 1 commercial shoot, and 2 portrait shoots.

  • At weddings I use one light on a mono-pod carried by an assistant as a fill light in the sun. With 300ws as my disposal, this is enough to overpower the sun as long as the sun is not in the shot and with no diffuser on your softbox.
  • For the event, and wedding receptions, I use 2 CL-360s off camera on the dance floor and speeches for more dramatic lighting.
  • Finally for the portrait shoots, I used one CL-360 in a large diffuser, a second in a stripbox for highlights, and a third studio strobe to blow out a white backdrop (this will be replaced by a third CL-360 asap).

Cheetah Light CL-360Single spot on bright day to darken sky – CL-360

Pros for the CL-360

  • Very powerful for the size and weight
  • Very light so worth bringing along and easy to carry
  • Half to a quarter the price of some alternatives
  • Bare bulb which works better for some modifiers and allows for 360 degree lighting when needed.
  • Lots of accessories
  • High speed sync (all the way up to 1/8000th of a second) – available soon
  • Can actually be used on camera in manual which isn’t something I would do a lot but can be handy in super dark, light sucking places
  • Incredibly easy and fast to use with multiple lights with different settings without getting confused

Cheetah Light CL-360
3 light setup. Main light, side light with strip box, third light to blow out back ground.


  • No TTL (this would be nice but not essential for me)
  • The receiver attaches with a standard USB port and is easy to have fall off. Embedded into the light would be nice to have.
  • No camera side indicator if your receiver and transmitter are on the same power channel. This can result in you thinking you are changing the power level of a light when you’re not. This likely won’t happen more than once.
  • Flash won’t work while camera is in live view. UPDATE: On the 5D Mark III, Live view defaults to Silent Mode. You have to disable this function from the menu. This will allow the flash to fire in LV.

Any of these shoots could have been done with only Speedlights, only with studio strobes, or only with Quadra lights but in all cases, it would have been, much more expensive to achieve or way more of a pain due to cords or heavy batteries.

Specifications for the CL-360

  • High Power: True 300 W/S
  • Approx. 28 mm flash coverage when operating on a camera with the standard reflector.
  • Bare bulb: Provides even 360 degree illumination
  • Precise Output: Adjusting from 1/128 to full power in 1/3 stop increments
  • Good Portability:The CL-360’s compact and lightweight body provide easy portability even with accessories
  • Stable Color Temp: 5600k, 200k over the entire power range
  • Advanced Functions.: Multi flash, Focus-assist beam on/off & Hi-Speed sync triggering (with optional transmitter). HSS will be available with a new trigger in late July for my Canon 5D Mark IIIs.
  • Wireless Commander: Controls flash functions and triggering
  • External Power Pack:Cheetah Lithium Battery Pack 11.1V/4500mAh
  • Wide-Range Accessories: softbox, reflector, fold-up umbrella, and beauty dish, etc.

Cheetah Light CL-360Back light with parabolic deflector for directional lighting.

What about modifiers?

Thanks to the strobist crowd, speedlight modifiers have been getting more sophisticated over the last few years. You no longer have to be a big DIY fan and you can get great quality from a number of companies. You can get a lot of garbage too mind you as I have discovered by destroying a few Westcott strip boxes with one use (round polls next time guys). By destroying I mean opening it as it is supposed to be opened and bending a rod because one piece catches on another. These can’t be unbent and render a softbox useless. After some trial and error, it turns out that Cheetah also makes my favourite modifiers since Edward himself designs the gear and makes sure that it’s durable. I’m know that I sound like a fanboy or a paid infomercial at this point but I have done my homework.

These modifiers all work exactly the same way with speedlights AND the Cheetah Lights. I will continue to use 2 sets of lights but finally only one set of modifiers. An added bonus is that all Norman and Quantum modifiers work with the Cheetah Lights.

An exhaustive review of the Cheetah CL-180


Where to get these lights:



Andrew Van Beek is an Ottawa Wedding Photographer, Ottawa Commercial Photographer, and Ottawa Portrait Photographer with 12 years of professional photography experience, and over 30 years of general photography experience.