We’re seeing LED technology moving forward at a fantastic rate, and they appear to offer a do-it-all solution for the hybrid professional, but what should you be looking for before taking the plunge and investing?

AT A TIME WHEN so many image making professionals are looking at working across both stills and motion the need for kit that can straddle both disciplines has never been greater. The coming of age of LED technology has been hugely welcomed therefore, and it’s been incredible to see how rapidly this has been moving on over the past decade or so. Once LED fixtures were universally high priced, low in output and liable to technical issues, such as failed individual diodes, but now they’re formidable and reliable accessories. This makes them the perfect solution for those looking for a versatile and flexible lighting solution, either in the studio or out in the field.

The key advantage of LED lights is, obviously, that they are continuous, and so are perfect for those shooting video alongside stills They are also generally lightweight, use up much less in terms of power than a conventional light, meaning that they can easily be battery operated, they’re silent, don’t put out any heat and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This means they can just as easily be sat in a camera hot shoe to provide some useful fill during a piece to camera for a vlogger, while a bigger more pro-end version, such as Rotolight’s mighty Titan fixture, can even hold its own in a car photography studio.

So, given their formidable qualities, are we to assume that the fight is over and that traditional lighting fixtures, such as tungsten, HMIs and fluorescent, have had their day and are effectively on their way out? It’s an intriguing thought and who better to shed some learned insight on to this question than CVP’s Technical Marketing Manager Jake Ratcliffe.

“I still believe that traditional light fixtures very much have their place in filmmaking,” Jake asserts, “but there are so many benefits to LED fixtures now that they have effectively become the go-to solution for a number of productions and for those who are self-shooters. LED lights have a lower energy draw and are therefore easier to power, they’re more efficient and they run cooler than their older counterparts. The technology is also widespread now, so they’re affordable to produce, hugely reliable and are capable of delivering instant illumination whenever required.

There is also the advent of COB (Chip-On-Board) LED lighting fixtures, where a bare LED chip is mounted in direct contact with a substrate (such as silicon carbide or sapphire) to produce LED arrays. COB LEDs come with the ability to deliver a number of useful advantages over older LED technologies, such as Surface Mounted Device (SMD) or Dual In-line Package (DIP) LEDs, most notably allowing much higher packing density of the LED array for improved lumen density.

For example, using COB LED technology on a 10mm x 10mm square array results in 38 times more LEDs compared to DIP equivalents and 8.5 times more LEDs than SMD fixtures, resulting in higher intensity and greater uniformity of light. Using COB  LED technology can also greatly reduce the footprint and energy consumption of the LED array while keeping light output constant. For example, a 500 lumen COB LED array can be many times smaller and will consume substantially less energy than a 500 lumen SMD or DIP LED array.

On the face of it that’s a formidable number of ticks in the plus box, but is LED technology just all about a series of positives? What are the areas LEDs might not be quite so adept at, and where is there still a role for the more traditional fixtures? “The biggest drawback that LEDs have had over the past few years has been their inconsistent quality of light across the different price points and brands,” explains Jake.

“They also suffered from low light output towards the higher end. However, this has changed considerably over the past few years, with ever brighter and more powerful LED fixtures hitting the market, together with lights that offer decent quality while becoming ever more affordable. The 1200d from Aputure, for example, (CVP price £3230.77) is a 1200W daylight COB LED fixture that’s comparable to a 1600W HMI, so it’s a decent performer with all the benefits that LED brings to the table.”

MULTI COLOURED LIGHTS

The comparatively recent development of RGB technology has moved LED capability on yet another significant notch. Already there are lights out there, such as the latest Rotolight AEOS II and NEO III and the Aputure LS 600c Pro-RBGWW full colour point source light, freshly launched at NAB, that have taken this feature to a high level, and it’s clear to see that there is massive potential for yet more development in the coming years as things move on.

To really take on board what RGB technology can offer, you only need to think back a few short years to the time when, if you wanted to colour a light, you needed to reach for a gel and then physically tape this over the front of a white light. With a traditional fixture there would be a huge amount of heat involved and so the gel would inevitably melt fairly quickly, and it was a messy and fiddly job, particularly if the lights happened to be mounted in an inaccessible position.

Now, if you take a light such as the Rosco DMG Lumiere Mini Mix you have a fixture that features a proprietary blend of six LEDs – red, lime, green, blue, amber and white – and this enables the generation of a huge gamut of colours, along with a highly accurate range of Rosco gel matches. The flexibility of such a fixture is off the scale, and it’s totally changing the landscape of lighting right across the board.

“More and more colour tuneable LED fixtures have been popping onto the market over the past few years,” observes Jake, “and there is now a good range available on the market. The key benefit of these fixtures is the ability they offer for really precise colours to be dialled in. This allows you to match gels and lights with different colour temperatures, as well as to dial in some more obvious colours.

“Having the ability to quickly and easily tune your fixture to the exact colour you want without needing to carry around loads of gels is really useful, and makes experimenting with the colour of your light so much more flexible and fun. Bi-colour fixtures, which aren’t as tuneable as full RGBenabled units, are also now commonplace, and these allow you to dial in the kelvin of your fixture so you can, for example, easily switch between tungsten and daylight balanced settings within seconds.”

What about the special effects that so many lights might have built in now? Are they, as some feel, something of a side show – police cars, flickering fires, candles etc – or might they actually have genuine uses for the professional filmmaker?

“The effects that are commonplace on modern RGB LED fixtures can be seen as a gimmick,” Jake concedes, “but only

until you actually want to try to recreate one of the lights that these fixtures can emulate. Different brands do things slightly differently and some effects are harder to recreate than others, but they can definitely be useful in some scenarios.”

And so to the million dollar question: what should someone who is planning to use an LED light for both stills and motion be looking for in a fixture, and how much should they be prepared to pay? This is where a retailer such as CVP will come into their own, since they will carry a good stock of products while their brandagnostic approach will ensure that you won’t have a particular make foisted on you if it doesn’t happen to be offering exactly what you need to take your business forward.

“Good quality LED fixtures are now relatively affordable,” says Jake, “thanks to brands such as Aputure, who service both the low and high ends of the market. You’ll find that tech that starts out in the top-end fixtures will work its way down into the more affordable units, while some of the more pro-level filmmaking features might have been stripped out along the way to keep the price down. Things to look out for are build quality, since this can vary massively, and it will be up to the individual to decide how robust they need their kit to be, how colour accurate the fixture is, how the fixture can be controlled and the ecosystem of accessories that sits around it. These are all areas we ‘re happy to advise on, and we’ll never sell anyone any product that they don’t need.”

WHAT TO BUY

With such a huge selection of lighting products to choose from it can be a challenge for a hybrid photographer/ filmmaker to know what to go for. Given issues of size, features and, of course, pricing, there’s a lot to be considered in terms of kit choice.

“If you’re relatively new to photography or filmmaking I would say RGB is definitely a luxury for most fixtures at the lower price points,” Jake suggests. “Just at the outset there are more important features to consider if your budget is tight. Recommending a lighting kit to cover everyone’s needs isn’t easy, but I would say that the trend of using COB LED fixtures as both hard and soft lights has made them a pretty universal and easy recommendation. Brands such as Amaran, Aputure and SmallRig offer some great options that are affordable, easy to use and shape, using the massive range of modifiers that are available for Bowens mount.”

There are also other options to consider, such as complete LED lighting kits that  come together with mounts in an easyto-carry case, and at a price that’s substantially less than buying all the components separately. “There are loads of brands that offer bundles of fixtures,” Jake confirms, “and these can be a smart way to save a little extra cash and to get a good storage solution designed specifically for a certain lighting bundle. However, if the bundle you want doesn’t exist, we can work with you to help provide a good solution for storage, while also making sure you’ve got everything you need to use the lights.”

These are indeed exciting times on the lighting front, with technology moving things along at record speed. It’s not easy at times to know what you should be going for, but if you’re struggling to keep up then speak to an expert and rest assured that there is sure to be something out there that will be precisely tailored to your needs and with built-in future-proofing on board to ensure your money is well spent.

ONE OF CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography, he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.

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