As much as the low-light sensitivity of pro and prosumer digital video cameras has "improved" over the years, and as often as we shoot in what otherwise might be considered less-than-optimal lighting conditions, the video image still loves light.
Maybe it's a case of tough love, however; many light sources are often too harsh and directional to yield a satisfying image (for example, single-lamp sources, mounted right on the camera, often result in that deer-in-the-headlights look). As well, it's a challenge when mixing and matching conflicting light-source color temperatures.
But new sources of illumination are being incorporated into pro lighting gear, like light-emitting diodes and full-spectrum fluorescent tubes that offer a softer look, more natural compatibility, and some important side benefits.
LEDs are semi-conductor devices that emit light when an electric current passes through them. The light is not blindingly bright, but it is emitted at a single wavelength, making it easy to predict, control, and match color temperatures. LEDs have a very long life expectancy, as well, and very high conversion efficiency; the power they draw is converted into light, not wasted as heat.
Lumileds is one supplier of bulk LEDs (under its Luxeon brand) to light manufacturers. The company just announced its latest K2-generation LED, with an output of some 140 lumens, and a life expectancy of 50,000 hours—try getting that kind of longevity out of any vacuum-sealed filament-burning video light! LEDs are often white, but not exclusively so—Luxeon makes eight colors, including white, green, blue, cyan, royal blue, red, red-orange, and amber.
Many videographers are excited that Litepanels' new 1x1 white LED lighting system will ship soon, even though pricing is expected to start around $2,000 list. The 1x1 is a 12" square light source, designed for fixed-mount use. Units will come daylight-rated (5600 K) in flood or spot, and tungsten, or indoor, 3200 K flood models.
Thanks to LEDs' single-wavelength properties, they can be dimmed with no shift in color temperature. With the Litepanels 1x1, an integrated control knob is used to go from zero to 100% output, again with no color shift. The 1x1 runs off a variety of power sources, including a standard camera battery or car battery, from 9-30 V. An external AC power adapter is available.
The lenslite, manufactured by Gekko Technology and available through vfgadgets, is a new white-light LED device, but it is portable and mounts right on the camera base using small clamp bars. The light is circular and it surrounds the camera lens with balanced, dimmable light.
It draws its power from a lightweight, dedicated power supply that accepts power from a 12-24 V battery. The individual portions of the lenslite can be turned on or off, and the entire unit can be dimmed from 5%-100% without color shift. Accessories for filters and flags are available; a basic kit for Sony HDV cameras, for example, runs around $4,300, but it counts a daylight lenslite head, matte box, filter trays, power supply, mounting bars, and more, among its accessories.
Frezzi is promising that it will soon deliver what it calls the "world's first full-color LED light for on-camera or stand mounting."
The new light, known as the FS-LED (the FS stands for Full Spectrum), will feature electronic dimming capability, and user-programmable color presets, like 5500 K and 3200 K, in its familiar Frezzi mini-arc profile. All standard Frezzi light accessories will work with the new product, according to Frezzi; it runs from a supplied 12-14.4 V DC power source. Pricing information was not available at press time; the unit is anticipated this spring.
Frezzi is also delivering its new on-camera LED Mini-fill, a low-draw 10 W unit rated at 5500 K; prices vary based on cable/power configurations.
Although some videographers may still cringe at the prospect of a corporate, industrial, or indoor event-video shoot under ceiling fluorescent tube lights, other videographers are bringing fluorescents with them! With these lights you're likely to incur much less power draw and heat output, and the light is generally a soft, broadly dispersed beam. Those units designed for video are now available with full-spectrum or color- and temperature-specific bulbs, with ballasts that deliver flicker-free illumination.
The fairly straightforward fluorescent light banks from SLS (Studio Lighting System) have a fixed, 5200 K temp in either the two-, four-, or six-tube version. You'll want strong, secure stands for these lights, built out of carbon steel with a nice reflective inner polish.
All SLS models offer brightness control over output, and in the larger units you also get full remote DMX control. The two-tube bank costs less than $400.
iKan has a new line of fluorescent lights for video, ranging from a 110 W, two-tube model to a 12-tube, 660 W fixture. Tubes are available in tungsten and daylight temperatures, and have a dimmable, flicker-free ballast with outboard control. A four-way barn door helps intensify and direct light output.
The lights ship with 3000 K color- and temperature-specific bulbs, although others are available, and they can be mixed and matched within the same unit. Depending on configuration and bulb type, the iKan lights range in price from $799 (two-tube, 110 W) to just over $2,000 (for the 12-lamp, 660 W version).
Gyoury's dimmable fluorescent light kit uses wand fixtures, which—if you are in an adventurous mood—can double as Jedi lightsabers. More traditionally, though, this is a useful 220 W fluorescent two-light dimming kit. Each fixture consists of a 110 V AC, flicker-free, on-board ballast, two high-intensity 55 W 3200 K wands (stick-type bulbs), clip-on/clip-off main reflectors with open face, and two hinged barn doors. Each light unit mounts with a ball-and-socket joint terminating in a 7/16" diameter x 3" stud. The "Deluxe" light kit, with two dimmable lights, accessories, and shipping case is available for around $2,500, while a single 5500 K wand is about $50.
Lowel's fluorescent Caselites are uniquely packaged in such a way that the lid that holds the lights also doubles as the carrying case; stands are included.
Again, the bulbs are 55 W, and available in daylight or tungsten (at 5300 K or 3000 K) temps; the four-light kit is street priced at or just above $1,000.
What's also unique about systems like the Lowel lights is that, with individual lamp switches, you can actually load up two indoor and two outdoor bulbs, and with one flick of the switch be ready to work in almost any shooting environment.
Filament-based lamps and lighting kits are always useful; more and more tools are available to soften their often harsh output, using soft fabric bags or banks to envelop the light, diffusion or bounce materials, as well as fixed accessories.
Soft Box diffusion accessories, such as those from Cool-Lux, are available for on-camera and stand-mounted lights alike.
So if you are looking for something different, the cool, widely dispersed, and easily matched illumination that comes from either LEDs or fluorescents means that soft lighting should not be hard to create.