I have been experimenting with LED lights since I decided to light my b-roll material.
(For those who don’t know what b-roll is: from back in the time when we had film/tape and had interviews on an “a-roll,” all the other material was called b-roll. So people walking, actions, everything that didn’t have a spoken word.)
The challenge is that b-roll looks quickly flat and amateurish in a run & gun situation when only ambient light is available. I found this always problematic in my films and didn’t know how to solve this.
Especially with filming people. Did you reallize how different it looks if you are filming a person with a little light thrown into their eyes? Thanks to Judah Lazarus from Highline Productions who made me aware of this flaw.
Now, how can we bring lights into run & gun b-roll shooting? The problem is always set-up time, finding an outlet, and having a lamp that is light enough to carry around but has enough light to light the scene. That has changed since Litepanel invented the LED (I hope they did). The crux is that Litepanel LEDs are ridiculously expensive. Around $1700 for a light of the equivalent of less than half of the power of a Kino Flo Diva that I really favor.
I really wanted to find a solution and I started to shop around. There are tons of offers for LED lights on Ebay. Mostly from China. So I ordered this one here for $380:
When I received the kit it was nicely built, at first glance. Metal enclosure, solid stand shoe. After a couple of hours the light started to flicker when I turned the dimmer dial. I tried all kind of MacGyver fixes but none was successful.
I contacted the seller and had a long exchange with him. He said he would just send the dimmer part free of charge and I could just exchange it on my own. I declined since I didn’t feel comfortable with this light anymore. Who knows when this dimmer would break again if it had already broken so quickly? Thank G-d the seller refunded me the full amount minus the shipping. Well, at least…
My next research brought me to two campanies here in the US who sell LEDs and are always sold out. They’re called FloLight and CoolLights. I searched in the forums, and most of the people had good experience with CoolLights. So I ordered the coolights LED 600. Wow, the package was impressive. You’ll get a whole lot of stuff for your buck. A bag, barn doors, four different gels to convert this daylight LED into tungsten, a diffuser and a stand adapter. Everything is built nicely, even the bag wasn’t a cheapo one. Really impressive. Then I turned the LED on and the light looked great, a bit greenish but they put some magenta gels with it in order to compensate and to reach more 5600 K (the color temperature for daylight).
The next day I had my shooting and it went well. At the end of the day the light started to flicker. You couldn’t see it with your eyes but when you looked through the cam you would get these weird flicker stripes. I emailed Richard from CoolLights and he detected that the dimmer was broken. He sent a new dimmer from China and I could just install this. After 3 weeks the dimmer arrived, I installed it into the fixture and the stripes disappeared but the dimming experience was not good. It started to turn on, off, on off, the light intensity jumped around like crazy. Everything you wouldn’t want for a shoot. So, I asked if I could return this for a refund and Richard agreed to take it back. FYI the Coollights and FloLights (that I didn’t test) are all variations of the China models. They might be modified, but essentially they are all built and manufactured in China.
Heavily disappointed about all that, I bought the small, pretty expensive Litepanels Micro Pro for $370. You have to understand. The above ones were pretty big lights for light stand usage. This one is a small, flimsy, on-board camera light. But the reviews promised strong light output and I wanted a little light just for creating the great eye reflection that Judah suggested to me.
It came two days later and though it was plastic, but it felt very well-built. I turned it on, and after a couple of turns on the knob, it would increase the light evenly up to its maximum output. I was impressed by the power, the great accurate 5600K, with no green tint. It comes with two sizes of tungsten gels and a diffuser, a camera ball to mount on top of the cam and a great bag to fit it all in. It’s powered by 6xAA batteries; this makes it super-handy if you need to exchange them.
Now I have been shooting with this Litepanels LED for quite some time and it didn’t change a bit. Not the dimmer, not the bulbs etc. Everything is as it was delivered. To sum it up: yes, it’s very expensive to have LEDs in your kit but whoever needs light, strong, battery-efficient lights doesn’t even need to look into the cheapo alternatives until they all get their act together. I’m sure one day someone will find the right ‘ingredient’ for a good LED for a good price. Till then I’m sticking with Litepanels and will get one of the bigger ones soon. I’ll let you know how they come out. One thing is for sure. They are, at this point, the industry leaders, and I read that many stations have ordered them for their studios.
It’s only a matter of time until small production booths catch up with this new and exciting technology.
P.S. I bought also a small on-board LED light for around $70 from China that was just a disaster and I didn’t want to waste my time on this. All in all, I had three different LED lights that all broke after a very short period of time. So, if you need LEDs go with Litepanels. Well worth it if you do this for a living.