Over the past few years, the tools we use to light for video have changed immensely. Gone are the days of needing heavy, heat-generating and expensive lighting sources for every shoot. The availability of smaller, lighter and more versatile video lighting has revolutionized how cinematographers and lighting directors visualize scenes.
Have The Tools Actually Changed How We Light?In the recent past, lighting for video or digital cinema was more difficult, largely because cameras simply weren’t as sensitive as they are today. Betacams, DigiBeta and early-generation high-definition cameras weren’t very light-sensitive, sometimes with a rated sensitivity as low as ISO 200. It took larger, more powerful lights to be able to adequately illuminate scenes. Larger lights not only require more power, and are physically larger and more expensive, but they also generate a tremendous amount of heat. The current crop of cameras are much more light-sensitive, and we’ve reached the time when LED lighting, in particular, has become so popular that the manufacturers have refined and developed innovative technology that’s smaller, less expensive and easier to use, all while achieving very accurate B-color and daylight color balance.
We, as videographers and filmmakers, are the beneficiaries of an entirely new technology, due to economies of scale from mass manufacturing for many other markets besides video and film lighting. LED lighting itself has been around for quite a while, but high-quality, color-accurate LED lighting for video and film lighting is relatively new. Early LED video lighting was sourced from technology for other uses, like landscape and architectural lighting. The benefits of LED lighting were the same as they are now—low energy consumption and high output efficiency—but early LED video lighting wasn’t color-accurate. LED panels, using first-generation 5mm LEDs, often had a prominent green spike in the color spectrum. The early-generation video LEDs were also expensive, yet not very powerful, and suffered from rapid falloff.
Some of the latest LED video lights today are using COB (Chip-on-Board) technology that allows for powerful LED, single-source, open-face and Fresnel sources. SMDs, or Surface Mount Diodes, allow for fewer light sources in an instrument with greater output than 5mm bulbs. New SMD LED panels are also rainwater- and mud-proof, with the delicate electronics and power source placed externally while the weather-sealed SMD panel can be mounted in difficult, wet or even curved locations. Some SMD bi-color video lights can output tungsten, daylight or any color temperature in between.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the most eclectic and exciting new LED instruments hitting the market and what makes them unique, and how they can help to expand your lighting creativity.
Yongnuo YN216. The YN216 is an inexpensive LED light with 216 LEDs clustered into its main panel for a surprisingly high light output for such a small and inexpensive light. Most competing LED video lights in this price and size range are flat, rectangular panels, while the YN216 has a circular output panel, ringed by four moveable barn doors. The YN216 also comes with four color temperature plates that allow for changing the daylight temperature of the light to tungsten or red or blue. The light can be powered by Sony NPF camcorder batteries or an optional AC power supply. The YN216 can be camera-mounted using its cold-shoe or can be mounted on a tripod or light stand spigot as well. It’s perfect not only as an on-camera spot but as a hair or rim light in larger setups. Price: $59.99.
Westcott Ice Light 2. The Westcott Ice Light 2 is the original LED “wand,” and it acts like a mini-strip light. Shaped like something a Jedi would wield, the Ice Light 2 provides 17,400 lumens of daylight-balanced light and has a 60-minute runtime on the removable Li-ion battery. The unit dims from 5 percent to 100 percent and can be controlled via Bluetooth. This allows the light to be mounted inside tight locations like car interiors or even held off-camera above a subject to provide a bright strip of light. The companion iOS app controls brightness and displays battery runtime. Price: $500.
Mid-Range LED Tools
Aputure Light Storm LS 1S. Moving up in cost and capability, the LS 1S is a rectangular panel that features 1,536 LEDs clustered into the same area where most LED panels would have closer to 600 or 800 bulbs. The resulting light output is extremely high for a panel of this size and price, 30,300 lux at 0.05 meters, or 1.64 feet. This is pretty close to the average output of a 1,000-watt tungsten light at the same distance. The LS 1S is the daylight version; the same light is also available in a bi-color version, the LS 1C. The panel features wireless remote control, a very handy feature for small crews or one-man-band shooting. The light also can be controlled via DMX for larger setups. The light can be powered by V-mount, Anton/Bauer batteries or AC power. Price: $695.
Litepanels ASTRA 1×1 Soft Bi-Color LED Panel. With its chassis-integrated diffusion, the Litepanels ASTRA 1×1 Soft Bi-Color LED Panel is like having a softbox built into the slim Litepanels ASTRA profile. The diffusion is designed to all but eliminate the multi-source shadow effect and lends a soft wraparound aesthetic to your subject while covering a larger, less concentrated area of illumination. Like the rest of the ASTRA series, the Soft Bi-Color is designed for professional production, with high output and high color fidelity in its full 3200K to 5600K temperature range. Adjustments of color and brightness are stepless all the way through, and the output is flicker-free at all settings. A quiet fan at the rear cools the electronics; it can be turned off during critical scenes, although the light output will be less powerful while the fan is inactive. Price: $1,620.
High-End LED Lighting
Rotolight Anova V2 Bicolor Standard LED EcoFlood. The Anova V2 Bicolor Standard LED EcoFlood is an LED flood light source with a host of features that make it a valuable tool in the studio or on location for large or small productions. Weighing 7.0 pounds and measuring 17.3 x 19.4 x 4.2 inches, the Anova V2 manages to output the impressive equivalent of 3,460 watts of tungsten light with a beam angle of 50 degrees and color temperatures variable from 3,150K to 6,300K. The Anova V2 provides wired DMX, WiFi and back-panel control options. There’s even an optional iPhone/iPad app that allows you to sample the ambient light’s color and intensity and accurately reproduce it on-site. You can then transmit the info anywhere in the world to match up multiple Anovas being used on location. A fader function allows you to control multiple lights and settings with transitions, wirelessly. (Rotolight also just introduced the new AEOS LED lights.) Price: $2,587.
ARRI SkyPanel S60-C LED Softlight. ARRI continues to broaden its LED line and reaffirm its commitment to accurate color rendering with the introduction of the SkyPanel S60-C LED Softlight. Supported by a steel yoke, the panel surface area measures 25.4 x 11.8 inches and employs interchangeable thermoplastic diffusers that range from Lite to Heavy to soften the light and wrap its output around your subject. The SkyPanel outputs the equivalent of a 2,000-watt tungsten soft light while drawing a maximum of only 450 watts. The SkyPanel S60-C is fully color “tuneable,” allowing output of a warm 2,800K to an icy blue 10,000K light, and also uses the full RGB+W color gamut with hue and saturation control for fine adjustments. Full minus green to full plus green is also possible, so if you’re lighting for bluescreen or greenscreen, you can simply dial in your chosen color. This wide degree of control is responsible for a very high CRI of 95 and a rating of 90 with the newer TLCI standard. Price: $5,625.
2017 And Beyond
LED lighting is taking off in interesting new directions. If you’re stuck in the past with your lighting for video and film, it’s time to explore what’s possible with the latest battery-powered, wirelessly controlled, cool and powerful LED technology. LED isn’t the right solution for every lighting challenge, but the versatility, flexibility and freedom LED offers us in the image business can’t be overlooked.
Writer, producer and cinematographer Dan Brockett’s two decades of work in documentary film and behind the scenes for television and feature films have informed his writing about production technology for HDVideoPro Magazine, Digital Photo Pro Magazine and KenStone.net. Visit danbrockett.com