Small on-camera LED lights are now a dime a dozen in the market-place. But “on-camera” is a term that defines a category of compact lights. These lights don’t have to be mounted on a camera and their quality varies significantly by design. Here are the differences in pro quality and cheaply designed small lights.
Today, virtually all basic forms of lighting have incorporated LED technology. The reasons are simple. LEDs burn cooler and longer, using less power. Bulbs rarely burn out and many smaller fixtures can be battery operated. That eliminates the bulk of power cords and other electrical gear.
Whether focused Fresnels, LED soflight panels, backlights, key lights or fills, a small LED fixture is now available. However, there is a big cost variable in these lights.
When working in pro video, several factors are important. These should be considered.
One is color temperature. Most pro-quality lights give users a choice ranging from 5600 degrees Kelvin daylight temperature to 3200 degrees Kelvin tungsten temperature. Whether shooting indoors or outdoors, lights are needed with the right color temperature to ensure that all the lighting sources match correctly. Otherwise, the color can be a mess.
A sign of quality in an LED light is it’s color accuracy rating — measured either in CRI (Color Rendering Index) or TLCI (Television Lighting Consistency Index). Both indexes show how accurately a given light source renders color compared to an ideal light source like the sun, which has a rating of 100.
These ratings apply to all LED light kits, light panels and even flashlights. Look for lights with ratings in the nineties on either scale for the most accurate color rendering.
Also, light output is an important consideration in lighting options. Never buy a light based on how many watts it uses. Light output is measured in lumens, not watts, which is the amount of energy needed to power the light. The more lumens, the brighter the light. It is a common mistake to mix up these numbers.
Hard lights, including spotlights or fixtures without a shade, cast shadows with hard edges. Fresnel lights are a subcategory of hard directional light that allows videographers to focus the beam of light. Originally designed for use in lighthouses by French physicist, Augustin-Jean Fresnel, Fresnel lenses have made their way into all types of fixtures.
Soft lighting, on the other hand, offers a more even source of light ideal for times when shadows are undesirable. The key to effective soft light is in diffusion. Most professional quality on-camera lights provide soft light, providing an even field of illumination.
Among on-camera lights ideal for small video crews is the Rotolight NEO ($394.95), a round-shaped fixture using 120 LEDs with an output of up to 1,077 lux at three feet. It is powered by six AA batteries or AC. NEO’s bi-color LED system, with an accurate color temperature display, delivers color rendering of plus 95 CRI.
Round lights like the NEO provide a ring-light effect that creates beautiful soft lighting for interviews, making it a favorite for news crews. It can also be a secret weapon wherever a key light, fill, extra kick or catch-light is needed.
Another popular portable light is the Core SWX TorchLED Bolt 250-watt equivalent on-camera light ($299.00). It has a variable color dial from 3200 to 5600 Kelvin temperature and dims from 100 percent to zero. It pulls 13-watts of power, is compatible with Sony L-Series batteries and includes a D-Tap cable for 14.4 volt batteries.
Manfrotto’s LYKOS bi-color LED light ($449.88) has a lightweight, slim design and a handle on the side. It features 48 surface mount LEDs designed for improved optical efficiency, features above 93 CRI color accuracy and provides 1500 lux max brightness at 3.3 feet.
The color temperature is adjustable by a dial on the side from 3000K tungsten to 5600K daylight, and this will allow for use in different environments. Brightness is adjustable flicker-free by a 100-0 percent dimmer next to the color dial.
The color and brightness adjustments can also be made remotely via an iPhone app by incorporating an optional LYKOS Bluetooth Dongle. This can be useful when the light is mounted on a tripod and especially when using multiple units.
One of the tiniest and most useful small lights is the Lume Cube 1500 ($79), a waterproof fixture that can be used just about anywhere. It has a 1.5-inch cube-shaped form factor and integrates with a ¼–inch 20 mounting socket.
Because of its light weight and compact size, the Lume Cube is also suitable for use with Go Pro cameras and on drones. Kits and mounts are available for many popular drone models.
The Lume Cube has a 6000 K color temperature and one to 1500 lumen dimmable output. Bluetooth connectivity from an iPhone can control up to five fixtures.
Finally, iKan’s Micro Flood and Micro Spot on-camera LED lights ($89.95 for the pair) are both low-cost and practical in many situations. They provide both an on-camera flood and spot light. Both light units are daylight-balanced and are dimmable from 100 to 10 percent brightness.
The Micro Spot (CRI: 76) incorporates a set of barn doors, featuring two doors for spill control — one that is a built-in diffusion filter and one that is a CTO conversion filter.
The Micro Flood light (CRI: 93) is small enough to fit in a hand yet provides a wide beam spread. It features a magnetic filter attachment system and comes with a diffusion filter to soften the light even further. Both lights incorporate a non-removable battery that charges via USB.
As with all video gear, quality comes at a higher price. But with a kit of three high-quality compact, battery-operated lights, most video crews can build a great general-purpose light kit for less cost than the earlier days. And one can throw away the extra bulbs and electric gear needed for long-distance power.
Don’t buy based on cost. Buy based on the tools that will help you do the best job on your project.
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