Light-emitting diode (LED) technology is opening up creative options for professional video lighting, offering greater punch, cooler operation, enhanced control, and adjustable color temperature output. On-camera LEDs are known to be brighter, lighter, cooler, and less power-hungry than other bulb-type lighting solutions, such as halogen or quartz. LEDs are operationally rated in the tens of thousands of hours, not just the tens, and there are no delicate, expensive filaments that need changing or replacement on a regular basis. The catch is that LEDs are growing in popularity and functionality, which means that those little lights we once paid $30 or $40 for are now available in kits priced more than $1,000!
Sima’s universal LED light (model SL-10L, left) is an entry-level introduction to LED lighting gear. Still priced at less than $40, the small lightweight unit (it’s about the size of a box of wooden matches, and it weighs barely two ounces with batteries) can be mounted on just about any camcorder with an accessory hot shoe.
The light puts out a nice, even, color-balanced (6000 degrees Kelvin) illumination—good for outdoor daytime shooting or even interiors where large windows and daylight illumination dominate a scene—from either two AAA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries, or an AC power adapter (the two latter power sources are included in the lamp’s package price).
The lamp needs 8–10 hours for the first charge, and can run for up to 90 minutes at a time after that. Output is good for up to about 8–10 feet, and is nice and even across the throw distance.
Sima also has a Xenon video light (SL-9X) with a little greater output—50 lumens or so—for slightly better overall illumination; it’s priced about $10 more.
Bescor’s LED 10 lamp is priced around $50, and is powered by three AA batteries for about 80 minutes of runtime. Its 5600K balanced daylight illumination comes from five Starburst LEDs.
The LED 10 is a basic, straightforward on-camera light, with a 10 W output for short throw distances or soft fill effects.
Punchier LED lighting offerings from SWIT Electronics now include the S-2000 and S-2010 on-camera models, both available in the $300–400 range, depending on configuration and mounting options. You can find the same basic S-2000 LED system named SWIT or VariZoom.
The new S-2000 camera light combines four advanced LEDs for an equivalent output of some 40 W at 5600K (a 3200K filter is included for color temperature matching with other lamps and light kits). The 550 lux output is rated at a consumption of only 12 W, according to SWIT, so the light unit can last in excess of 100,000 hours with no spare filament bulbs required. Barn doors and diffusion are included as well for good light control and shaping.
The S-2010 camera light (left) is specially designed for mounting on DV cameras with F-type adapter brackets (also an option from SWIT). It also features four dimmable LEDs, with 5600K daylight and 3200K filter-compensated output.
Sony released its own LED this year, the HVL-LBP, part of its expanded HDV product line-up. The light system’s power source and connector is specific to Sony’s L Series InfoLithium batteries (NP-F970/F770), and is rated for about three hours of operation with the 970, drawing about 16 W.
The 10-element lamp head is said to provide the optimum spread for wide-angle (and 16:9 ratio) shooting with cameras like the HVR-V1U. Output is daylight balanced at 5500K. The unit features a flip-out diffusion filter for spreading, an optical condensing lens for centering, and two barn doors for controlling the light.
Some say the LBP LED system is a little hefty (just short of a pound) and price ($610 list, $500 dealer).
IDX’s X3-Lite (left) is a camera-mounted LED luminaire, delivering about 35 W of 5600K daylight (output measured at some 300 lumens at three feet).
The X3 comes in a molded case with side vents, so there is no heat output to speak of at the front of the Optional barn doors and a filter set are available ($85) from IDX as well for controlling and shaping light. It has a built-in dimmer for even more control over light output, from zero to 100%.
Optional four-pin XLR power cables and short two-pin D-Tap connectors are available for $60.
For features, options, and overall performance, the last in our LED list are not least.
Zylight recently introduced a new LED lighting package that supersedes its award-winning predecessor. The new Z90 LED also features the switchable tungsten/daylight, or 3200/5600, color temperature output as the Z50 (left), but it adds built-in color gels, some 400 of them via the Gel Mode.
Color selection is managed through an integrated digital display, and user favorites can be stored. Wireless remote control capability is available as well.
The palm-sized Z90 can be controlled with one of up to 10 wireless channels for use in multi-light shooting environments. The same single Zylight you use on top of your camera can be chained together with other units to form a nice bank of light with a soft, wide output.
Snap-on adapters for mounting standard three-inch lighting accessories, such as barn doors or a soft box, help control the light’s output. Powered from AC or 7–24 V DC source, the Z90 can also be stand-mounted.
With all these features, it should come as no surprise that the Zylight is not cheap. A studio lighting set is priced around $950. The ENG kit, with articulating arm accessory adapter and choice of XLR or D-Tap battery cable, is priced at $1,050.
Finally, while they are not LED-based, and they weren’t even available at press time, the new offerings from Balcar deserve a quick mention as well because they will match the price points of the LED-based lights and work in similar scenarios, albeit with different technological underpinnings.
Particularly interesting is a dimmable ring light (in other words, it surrounds the camera lens) called the Roundy (left). The fluorescent lamp unit is rated by the manufacturer at 40 W, or about 830 lux at 3–4 feet with coverage to about 10 feet. According to Balcar, the Roundy allows a wide choice of f-stops and better control of depth of field than lower-wattage ring-lights.
The light can be mounted elsewhere than on the camera itself, but when surrounding the lens, of course, it should virtually eliminate on-axis shadows while still providing a soft, even light on objects that are closer.
Initial shipments are expected in July; North American price information was not available at press time.
Lee Rickwood is a media consultant and freelance writer.