I recently got an email notice from Switronix about a new light the company claimed would "change things." Being an event shooter who works in many dimly lit venues and who would love to see things change for low-light shooters, I was interested. I've reviewed a few Switronix products in the past, including the TorchLED TL-50 and the Powerbase PB70. I have always found them to be good-quality products and to function as well or better than most competing products on the market, so I was eager to try out the new light, which Switronix calls the TorchLED Bolt (Figure 1, right).
Bolt by the Numbers
I made a few phone calls to Switronix and learned a little about the new light. I received a unit for testing as soon as it became available on Oct. 5, 2011. The Bolt had some interesting specs, as listed on the Switronix site:
• Dimensions (Light Body): 5.59"L x 4"W x 2.95"H
• Color Temperature: 3000K-6000K
• Illumination: Approx. 1800LUX (3200K, 1m), 2000LUX (5600K, 1m), combined over 200W
• Weight: 1.15lbs.
• Electrical Consumption: 22W
• CRI (Color Rendering Index): 89
• Power Supply: DC 7.2V-16.8V, Sony DV Battery
• Dimming Range: 5%-100%
The specs indicated that the Bolt was a little larger and heavier than most lights. Upon inspection of the Bolt, I found I was right; it was bigger and heavier than most lights I have used. But I still thought a little extra size and weight would be worth it if the Bolt lived up to the abilities mentioned on the Switronix website.
With claims of adjustable color temperature and a 200W equivalent output in an LED, it looked like a very capable light. The Bolt allows you to adjust color temperature of the light via two dimmer knobs on the back of the unit. There is one knob for 5600k and one for 3200k. Turn just the 3200K and you get nice 3200K light; same with the 5600K knob. By turning both of them on, you can get a mix of the two lights (and more light too) to produce the color temperature you need. Also included with the light is a camera cold-shoe mount and a diffuser to cover the lights if you need to soften it a little.
I noticed on the specs that the Bolt will run on a Sony DV battery, and since I no longer have Sony cameras, I have no remaining Sony batteries to test on the Bolt. But I did have a Switronix Powerbase lithium-ion battery pack in my kit, and Switronix included a tap cable to pull power off the Powerbase. The Switronix website indicated that the Bolt will run about 90 minutes on the large Sony camcorder battery, but I was curious about runtime on my Powerbase.
I first hooked the Bolt up and turned it on with the setting I thought I would use at a wedding. I plugged the light into the Powerbase, turned the 3200K to full power, and turned on the 5600K just a small amount to give it a little more punch. I let it sit on my desk until the battery ran down. After a little more than 3 hours, it finally quit. I didn't have a camera running off the Powerbase at the same time, so if you're running both a camera and the light off your Powerbase, the burn time will be a little shorter.
I do have a reception light kit that consists of a 75W dimmable halogen light made to sit on a light stand high above the dance floor at a reception. I power the halogen light via a 12V brick gel battery with a four-prong XLR-type plug common for video lights. I was hoping Switronix would send the Bolt with an XLR-type power cable. I called Switronix support and was told that the company didn't supply them, but the rep I spoke with made one up for me, and a few days later, it arrived. How's that for good customer service? I immediately plugged the new cable into my brick gel battery and powered it up using the same amount of light I used in the previous test. Just a little more than 6 hours later, the light finally went off. With the halogen light, the brick battery would only last about 70 to 90 minutes on 50W output. Now I can leave that extra battery at home and save a little weight in my gear bag.
Real-World Reception Tests
Now that I knew the runtimes, it was time to put the Bolt through the paces in a real-world test at a wedding reception. Here in Wisconsin, our receptions are usually very poorly lit, and that's being liberal with the definition of poorly. So this event would give the Bolt a good test.
The first time I put the Bolt to use was for the grand march introductions. In this particular venue, the couples were coming down a set of steps from a balcony in a dark corner of the room. I positioned myself about 20'-25' from the bottom of the stairs with my trusty Canon XH A1 and powered up the Bolt. Figure 2 (below) shows what I was shooting with all my lights off. Welcome to the world of Wisconsin receptions. Yes, it was that dark.
Figure 2. A typical Wisconsin wedding reception shot with the Canon XH A1 and no additional light
Figure 3 (below, left) shows how the reception looked on camera after running the 3200K at full power, and Figure 4 (below, right) shows the image I got at full 3200K and a little 5600K mixed in. As you can see, it's still a little dark, but I got decent exposure on my Canon XH A1 with 6 db gain and a 1/30 shutter speed. (Note that on the playback monitor in the studio, it appears brighter than the frame grabs.)
Figure 3 (Left). The same reception shot with the XH A1 with the 3200K TorchLED Bolt at full power.
Figure 4 (Right). Same shot at full 3200K and a little 5600K mixed in.
Figure 5 (below) shows the bride and groom as they got closer to the camera and walked by. I expected to have some hot spots on the bride and groom, but I was using the included diffuser on the front of the Bolt, which provided a nice, soft light.
Figure 5. The Bolt's included diffuser applies a nice, soft light to the bride and groom as they pass.
Once the dancing started, I mounted the Bolt on my light stand near one of the band's lights on a corner of the dance floor. LEDs are known for being really bright up close but dropping off fast as you move farther away from the light. The big LEDs in the Bolt seem to burn brighter and throw better light as well. I was still running the light at full 3200K with a very small amount of the 5600K mixed in. I was getting good light to obtain decent shots about halfway out on the dance floor.
Figure 6 (below) is a frame grab from my wife's camera shot from the balcony. The light was positioned at the lower-right corner of the dance floor. You can see in the image that the light reached pretty far out on the dance floor, providing a usable exposure level. On my output monitor, the gentleman indicated with the arrow is still showing usable exposure.
Figure 6. The Bolt throws light unusually far for an LED; note the well-exposed danced called out in this shot taken from the balcony with the Bolt on a light stand in the lower-right corner of the dance floor.
One of my concerns, which I expressed to Switronix, was the price point for the Bolt ($350-$360). There are many generic-type LED lights available for less online. I also felt many event shooters have an unwritten rule about not spending more than $300-$350 for a good camera light. Though the TorchLED Bolt hits at the top of that range, it's still in the ballpark of my criteria for a good quality, affordable camera light, and price shouldn't be a deterrent for event shooters who regularly need artificial lighting for dimly lit events.
My overall impression with the TorchLED Bolt was good. It really puts out a lot of light and doesn't drop off that quickly over distance. Switronix claims it can be used for a fill light on an outdoor shoot if needed (I didn't get to test it that way). Using my light stand at a reception, I can turn it on and leave it for the entire event and not worry about turning it off to save power and runtime.
It supplies enough light for good exposure, but not so much that it ruins the mood of a reception that's intentionally dimly lit. If you use it as a camera light, you should use a tripod or monopod support. The weight of the Bolt, especially with a Sony battery, mounted on the cold shoe of your camera makes for a heavy camera, and depending on the location of the cold shoe on the camera, it could make the camera very front-heavy. So it's not especially well-suited for handheld shooting unless you have a shouldermount camera. As a reception light, it really shines up on a lightstand. Shooting with the Bolt at the poorly lit reception where I tested it, my footage was better exposed all night long, and I never had to worry about changing batteries, which made it much easier to cover the event and get the shots I needed.
The Bolt seems well-built, with an ABS plastic case and solid-feeling knobs and switches. I did have to use a small piece of tape to hold the diffuser in place on the front of the light; it's not very secure and could easily get lost if you aren't careful. It isn't a perfect light for all situations, but it's a useful tool if your typical wedding-day workflow includes using a stand-mounted light.
If I had to give it a rating on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it about a 7 because of the power, runtime, and color temperature adjustments. I'd dock it two points for the weight (as a camera light) and one for the fact that it currently only has a mount on back for a Sony battery. What's a Panasonic or Canon shooter supposed to do?
Philip Hinkle (philip at frogmanproductions.com) runs Madison, Wis.-area video production company Frogman Productions. A 2008 EventDV 25 honoree and nationally recognized EDIUS instructor, he won a 2008 WEVA CEA Gold in the Social Event category and a 2006 4EVER Group AAA Diamond. He was a 2009 WEVA CEA judge and a featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2009. He is co-founder and vice-president of the Wisconsin Digital Media Group.