Gear & Now: The Lighting Side of Videography
Posted Oct 6, 2004

Despite what you've heard about today's light-sensitive cameras (some even promise to shoot in the dark), DV imagery looks best when light—and shadow—are used to enhance technical and creative objectives. And with HDV cameras (requiring much more light than standard DV) on the horizon [see Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen's HDV article in this issue, pp. 60], lighting solutions will be more important than ever before.

This article highlights some of the popular and effective lighting kits available for the independent videographer.

Hard vs. Soft Lighting
Strong and directed light, preferably from a focusable lamp (such as a fresnel), provides good key lighting. This hard light is used to place shadows, add contrast, or increase depth between foreground and background. Focusing helps spread or narrow the light beam for even greater control, turning a standard light into a hair light, keylight, kicker, or accent light.

Softer, diffused light (bounced off an umbrella, or coming through a soft-box attachment) provides good base illumination throughout a scene. Soft lights can also be used as keylights when a more gentle, sculpted look is desirable.

Kit Components
Good kits should offer a range of light outputs (such as 250, 600, and/or 1000-watt), in order to give more creative control over the end image. Depending on the shooting environment, kits should accommodate daylight (5600K) applications, indoor tungsten (3200K), or a combination. Accordingly, HMI, quartz, fluorescent, and now even LED lighting kits are available to meet different shooting and lighting requirements.

Kit accessories include light stands, clamps, or other mounting devices; dimmers, barn doors, scrims, or other light control tools; cables, extra lamps, and even the type of carrying case itself. These are all important options.

Naturally, there's a wide price range, from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars.

Some of the least expensive lighting kits are still suitable for basic video lighting, such as two-person interviews or simple on-camera presentations.

Quartz (3200K)
Kits Owens' Originals offers a 2000W total output continuous lighting kit, available for $329 (www.owens-originals.com). The 2000W kit will get certain types of jobs done at low cost. The 3200K lamps do generate some heat, but are rated at 300 hours, operating on 120 volts.

The $329 Owens kit includes:
• four 500W Quartz lights (2000 watts total)
• two 40" white reflective umbrellas
• 5-foot tall steel construction light stands
• Swivel clamp mounting adaptors.

Available from the same vendor are Interfit lights from England. These fan-cooled 1300W, quartz halogen units provide a nice soft illumination from twin-bulb models that can be operated independently. Note that fan noise can be an issue in some shooting environments. The $629 kit includes:
• two light heads and heavy-duty stands
• two 24" softboxes and 8" reflectors
• four 650W lamps
• one case for stands; one for lights.

Britek lights (www.briteklight.com, and dealers such as Rostronics or Safer Seas) are available in mid-range lighting kits. Priced around $400, the twin 600W kit comes with lights, barn doors, a 24" x 24" softbox, light stands, umbrella holders, safety straps, power cords, and bulbs. At just over $500, a larger 1500W kit features three lamps, one a focusable spot. It also includes broad lights, soft boxes, stands, and accessories, all fitting into two traveling cases.

Britek 3200K color-corrected lights have a focus knob to direct the light. They do get quite warm to the touch, but no fan is needed, so they aren't likely to produce extraneous noise that your mic will pick up. The lights can also be used with 300, 500, 600, or 650W bulbs.

The Smith-Victor (www.smithvictor.com) professional quartz light kit (K-70 Pro) is priced around $950; the made-in-America kit includes three 600W units, with barn doors, scrims, and stands for each. Black-backed umbrellas, a gel pack, and holder, as well as a carrying cart with wheels, are included.

Lowel (www.lowel.com) has dedicated packages for the DV shooter, including different configurations of its DV Creator kit that include one or more of its well-known lights.

Compact and rugged, Lowel's Tota-light is used as a soft key, fill, or backlight. With adjustable reflectors and a multi-use tungsten halogen light source, it can be used to illuminate a normal-sized room evenly from one corner, and is available as 750W or 500W at 120V. The lamps feature large, cool knobs for positioning, and a protective front screen (which should always be in place).

The wide focusing range of Lowel's Omni-light makes it suitable as a key or backlight. But add some diffusion, and it's a nice soft fill. The light can be powered via battery as a handheld, as well.

Lowel's Rifa-lite is both light and softbox. Although it takes a little practice, it can be set up in about a minute. With its box-like shell and front diffusion fabric in place, it washes any scene in a soft, even light.

DV Creator 1 includes three tungsten lights: a 500W max. focusable Omni-light, a 250W focusable Pro, and a 750W max. Tota-light. Stands and accessories are included, along with a compact hard or soft case. DV Creator 1 lists for $1,020; street pricing is less at well-known dealers such as B&H or Adorama's.

DV Creator 44 contains a 300W soft light, 500W Omni, 250W Pro-light, 750W Tota, stands, and accessories for around $1,200. Gels, frames, umbrellas, flags, and other lighting accessories are also available.

The recently released Hi-Def Kit from Cool-Lux (www.cool-lux.com) features three of its well-known Mini-Cool lights (used 75W or 150W bulbs), as well as three 150W flood or fill lights and two 600W max dimmers. Designed for shooting in confined areas, the six-light kit includes filters, clamps, mounts, and adaptors for a variety of lighting and mounting situations. It may be deemed hard light, but accessories such as the Mini-Cool softbox are designed to soften the output. Listing at $1,695, this is a very functional multi-unit light kit for most any DV shoot. Just be careful touching the lamp housing and accessories; despite the name, the extruded aluminum units can get very hot!

Another long-established supplier of lighting equipment is Mole-Richardson (www.mole.com). Its compact Teenie-Weenie fixture is a focusable unit that can be mounted on a stand or camera, or used handheld (it measures about 7"x6"x9"). The Teenie-Weenie Mole Kit includes three 600W bulbs and is priced around $1,850. A complete set of stands, scrims, and frames is included with the caster-equipped case.

ARRI's Softbank D1 Lighting Kit (www.arri.com) is priced somewhat higher (list $2,350; but street priced under $2,000 at www.filmandvideolighting.com). It's not just the price that approaches heavyweight—the kit weighs 44 pounds (compared to 32 pounds for the Cool-Lux Hi-Def kit).

With three fresnels and a Chimera Softbank, the ARRI D1 is powerful, functional, and portable. Fresnel lights (150W, 300W, and 650W units—one each—are featured) can be used as keylights, backlights, or kickers. The Softbox and speed ring mount is for the 650W, turning it into a nice soft fill. Single and double scrims are included to temper the output, as are four-way barn doors that fold up to shape and direct the light. The whole kit is packed into a 32.5" x 178" x 10.5" case.

The ARRI Softbank 4 Kit adds a 1000W lamp, a larger Softbank, and other accessories, and is priced around $2,850.

Also priced in the $3,000 neighborhood is the Ianiro (www.ianiro.com) Redhead Kit 4 Fly, a hard-case lighting kit that features the self-described "mother of all video lights," the well-established Redhead. The light is great as either a key or fill, both in studio and on location.

Ianiro's Redhead (of course, the company also sells other lighting products), or Varibeam, is named after its identifying color. It comes in steel, aluminum, or fiberglass, and features a rear spot/flood adjustment knob to shape the light. The head can be loaded with 800 or 1000W bulbs. The 4 Fly kit features four Varibeam 800s, stands, bulbs, barn doors, and other accessories.

The cool, lightweight fiberglass housing is heat-resistant and nearly unbreakable. It comes with in-line on/off switch on a high temperature-resistant cable, hardened at the ends with long-lasting strain relief.

Going with the Flo
An alternative approach to tungsten/quartz lighting is fluorescent lighting, such as the Diva-Lite system from Kino Flo (www.kinoflo.com). With its built-in ballast, switchable tubes (daylight or 3200K), and full range dimmers, the Divas are very popular with videographers. The soft nature of the light output is very flattering, but it is much stronger than the comparably powered tungsten.

Especially suited for DV shooting, the Diva lights are flicker-free and silent. Kits are available with one or two 200 or 400W lights. Accessories include a focusing louver, gel frame, ball-and-socket center mount, and built-in barndoors.

The dimmer adds a great deal of control and flexibility, but it should not shift the color temperature of the lights, if kept within one F-stop. A shift towards magenta may be visible with greater ranges.

LED by Example
Finally, released this year to great interest and acclaim, are LED lights from LitePanels. These flicker-free, 5600K lights can be used in the tightest shooting scenario; they can be mounted or placed almost anywhere, including right on the camera.

Available on the LitePanels Web site (www.litepanels.com) in a $2,195 two-light kit, complete with rechargeable battery packs, power cables, adaptors, filters, and more; these lights are cool in more ways than one. 

Oh yes, about that camera that shoots in no light? Well, LitePanels will support that, too. Infrared LEDs will be featured in an upcoming release. 

For suggested resources, please see page 4

Suggested Resources

Adorama Camera, www.adorama.com
ARRI Group, www.arri.com
B&H Photo-Video, www.bhphotovideo.com
Britek Photo Ind., www.briteklight.com
Cool-Lux, www.cool-lux.com
Kino Flo, Inc., www.kinoflo.com
LitePanel, www.litepanel.com
Lowel Light, www.lowel.com
Mole-Richardson, www.mole.com
Owen's Originals, www.owens-originals.com
Safer Seas, www.saferseas.com
Smith-Victor Corp., www.smithvictor.com