Led lights are a great alternative to the classical, but expensive, tungsten lighting setup. Before we have a look at some examples for LED lighting, let’s have a look at the differences between the two light formats. For those who want to skip reading the article, you can watch the video version below.
From watching behind the scenes footage, you might be familiar with seeing film lights look a lot like light featured on the right. This is a typical Fresnel light – the s is silent – they are called a Fresnel light because they use a Fresnel lens, which is recognised by the ‘stepped’ moulding on one side of the lens, texturing on the other side. This type of light produces a very even focused hard light, which becomes soft at the edges, and because the edge of the light is soft, it will blend easily with the edges of other Fresnel’s to give smooth coverage. The problem is, these lights cost a pretty penny for basic power coverage. An Arri 300w can cost around $400 at a good price, and that’s just for one light that has a very narrow and soft coverage. This is where LEDs can come into play. So what are the main comparable differences between the two setups?
- LEDs cost a significant amount less.
- LEDs require less power. The Aputure Lightstorm 1 (LS1) for example requires less than half the amount of power a 300w requires, yet it’s as bright as three 300ws.
- LEDs are often more portable. Many have the accessibility of being battery operated, either with standard AA batteries for smaller models or with batteries like the v-mount battery for larger LED light panels.
- A predominant feature for LED lights is that they only heat up to a fraction of the temperature a 300w tungsten light would heat to. To make adjustments on just the barn doors of the live 300w you would need gloves, or to at least wait a small amount of time before making any adjustments. Yet, a small LED light that has been on for 25 minutes straight may bear the same heat you would find from your phone after 15 minutes continuous use, which is next to nothing.
- However, the downside of LEDs is that sometimes the colour cast can be distasteful from cheaper models.
- You can actually get a fresnel light with LEDs inside instead of a tungsten bulb, which provides the best of both worlds. However, these lights are going to deplete your budget
- Another downside to LEDs is that multiple non-diffused LEDs from different brands may cast incoherent colours and unwanted shadows. Cheaper LED’s may also cause a flicker when their batteries are starting to die. Something that would not happen with a tungsten light powered from the mains.
- Although in comparison with a Fresnel light, LEDs can often seem that their build is cheaper. The barn doors as usually plastic, and from my experience when a Fresnel light has been knocked over, the sturdy metal barn doors have saved the lens being smashed more than once.
For budget level prices, under £100, what LEDs are available to us?
The light above is an F&V Z96. It was one of the first lights I ever bought back in 2011. You can pick this up on Amazon for $80 or £39.99 from eBay here in the UK. For such a small price, it packs a lot of power; it boasts 96 LEDs at a daylight temperature of 5500k. You can dim the light from 100% to 25%, and add further diffusion by adding the included white diffusion panel. The Z96 also comes with a hot shoe adapter so you can mount the light on top of your camera. The light only weighs around 400g so it won’t offset the weight of your camera too much.
This isn’t going to be enough to illuminate an entire scene, but an LED like this is great for adding little bits of light into a scene. Perhaps you need to illuminate an object in the back of the frame and you can’t place a light close enough, the Z96 is so compact, you can place it more or less anywhere and hide it from view.
Personally when filming exterior macro shots, I like to attach this light to the hot shoe attachment of the camera, and ever so slightly increase the brightness for some extra exposure in that micro world.
It’s a really nice, small, compact tool to add your arsenal of lighting gear.
From various online outlets, you can also look at picking up a set of Yongno 160 LED lights for around $60/£40. These lights, as the name suggests, have 160 LED lamps and produce a brighter output than the Z96. Although The 160 feels slightly cheaper, perhaps the low price is a result from that. The 160 also comes with a hot shoe attachment that allows for the light to tilt up and down. With a secondary attachment, you can then easily place the light onto a light stand for practical use on set.
This frame is from a short film that is currently still in production.
The actor is lit by the 300w coming in from behind the camera, and the lamps to the side of him, this casts the actor in a warm glow, although with the grading the entire scene looks a bit cold. Then to the right, I’ve placed one of the 160s. This helps break the actor away from the dark background and adds some colour variance to the composition.
These lights are fast, portable, and great for adding fill or a rim light into a scene. Again, this isn’t going to be enough to provide key lighting for your composition.
This is where we can look at a light like the Aputure Lightstorm.
It was only released two weeks ago so this will borderline as a review, as well as a guide on using a larger LED panel.
The Lightstorm gives the same output as a 1k light, although if you were to have a look at some other 1k LEDs on the market, you may notice that they usually have this 1×1 size format, and the LEDs are placed in lines quite far apart from each other. Yet the Lightstorm is incredibly compact and still displays the same amount of light.
Aputure is able to combat the size by placing the LEDs into a honeycomb structure. Usually having this many LEDs close to each other does cause some concern for heat but the back of the light has a housing that acts as a heat sink that absorbs all of the heat.
With this, the controls are moved off the device and to a control panel. When I first received the light I was initially put off by this. I had all these different questions running through my head; Is this going to dangle on the stand all the time? If I don’t have anything to tie it up with, is someone’s going to have to hold it? Then ever since I’ve used the light it’s all made perfect sense.
When I have a light that is pretty high up and I need to adjust the placement of the beam angle, it either involves me lowering the light or getting a stool to stand on. Having the controls below allows for easy access and speeds up efficiency on set. A simple turn of the dial and I’ve increased or decreased the brightness.
I can’t talk about the greatness of the control panel without talking about the luxury of the remote.
The light comes with a remote with a 100-meter range. This is great for those filmmakers who might work as a lone-wolf operator. If you were caught in an awkward position and moving from there would result in a need to disassemble your equipment, the remote would be able to decrease, increase and turn off the light without even taking a step.
Currently the LS1 is priced at $695. If you’re entering into the world of DSLR filmmaking and looking for lighting solution, this light might not be for you as it may stretch out of your budget constraint. I think the price may deter a lot of DIY and entry-level filmmakers, but as always I think you need to look at the context you can play this light in with terms of power or light display.
The light gives off the same luminance as a 1k light, but a 1k light would cost you well over $1250. For that amount you could pick up two LS1s and have 2k luminance.
The light coverage for the price is worth it. The design of the light is slim and sleek, even stylish. It’s robust and it has some weight to it.
A good handful of LEDs on the market are able to change to colour temperature, this model is not able to do that. Aputure also offers an alternative version where you can change the temp to 3200k. In all my experience I’ve never used an LED with the intention of changing its colour temperature, I prefer the use of gels as sometimes I find certain colour temperatures from LEDs can look too artificial. The Lightstorm finds itself based on a daylight colour temp of 5500k.
The control box also allows for V-mount or an Anton Bauer battery to be attached. The battery will provide around two hours of constant illumination. Two batteries would be more than enough to complete a standard scene outside.
Initially upon first receiving the light, I found that my go-to stands (which are pretty cheap) wouldn’t hold the light steady. The thing is, with a Fresnel light, the central mass of the light is circulated right above where you would connect the light to the stand, however, the Lightstorm’s mass is spread equally out past where you would connect the light and stand. Therefore, there’s a lot of weight spill. A more durable stand would stop the swaying.
I really wanted to find something to harshly to criticise the Lightstorm about. That being said, other than the fact the light isn’t necessarily DIY filmmaker friendly in terms of cost, it’s a really solid light to add to your gear.
I will definitely be adding more Aputure equipment to my arsenal in the future.