Looking to Up My Lighting Kit: Focusable and Hard Cuts
So, I'm a relative newbie and have only been really making films for the last 3-4 years (discounting the stuff I did in high school) and, as such, have been mostly using LED panels and those softboxes with the 4-way socket thing in them. Pretty much staples of the low-mid indie scene where I live. However, I've got a big-ish project coming up that I want to try some new things on lighting-wise and I find what I keep wanting is to be able to:
1. Focus down to a spot
2. Cut with barndoors
Neither of these two things have I been able to achieve with my panels - the biggest issue seems that because they're made up of so many individual light sources, the barn doors they come with really don't do anything at all. What I seem to have come up with is finding a COB LED light (such as the Aputure 120D that seems to be the standard all the reviews I've seen measure against but rather out of the price range of someone who isn't yet able to make a great deal of money from this to justify the expense) and add barndoors or a fresnel lens (both of which I've found as Bowens mount accessories on eBay).
This is the cheapest one I've come across however I'm a little concerned that the numbers on the light output are either not correct or I've got the wrong end of the stick. Problem is, it's new and not actually due to be released for another 3 weeks so there are no reviews. But it is about $100 cheaper than what I was initially looking at, the Came-TV Boltzen 55w, and (supposedly) almost twice as powerful (provided I am wrong about the lux data).
Is there anywhere else I should look? Any brands that are worth considering? No battery was initially a dealbreaker but that's only really necessary for night-time exteriors of which I only have one in this project and can probably work something out.
Yes... LED panels are great (I use them every day), but they are definitely soft instruments. My go-to instruments for soft LED lighting are the LItePanels Astras and the "flapjacks" from FotodioX.
But... those are all definitely the wrong tool if you want to cut the light with barndoors, or focus them down to a spot.
To do those things you are really going to need fresnels.
Back in my tungsten days I was a big fan of LTM Pepper fresnels and used them like crazy. Now that we are pretty much all-LED here now, and when I want harder light I use the exact instruments you mentioned earlier, the Boltzen 55 fresnels... and am pretty happy with them. I will say though that even those are not true fresnels (it's not a real fresnel lens in them) and the LED source inside is (exactly like that Studio Essientials one you linked to) a single largish LED, so you still don't get quite the focusability and cuttability with it, compared to a real true fresnel. In most cases though it is very adequate.
That Studio Essentials instrument is interesting... it seems powerful and the price is right... but it's open face design shows us that it was really made for softbox use. I briefly looked and I didn't readily see what modifiers are available for it... most are probably going to be things like dish-type reflectors, snoots, and that sort of thing. I didn't see anything that would turn it into a true focusable instrument... maybe there is, but I didn't see it.
To me, the killer on it though is the lack of battery power... and that's a total deal breaker. For the last couple of years we've gone only to instruments that are battery powered, and it has been unbelievable in how freeing that is... I can't imagine ever going back to hardwired instruments (maybe on stage on occasion, but never on location). If I never have to run a stinger again it will be fine by me. Our only exception here is when we need a lot of firepower, we'll still run HMIs off AC... but that's it. And frankly I can't wait to replace those with battery-powered instruments, now that the real big and bad LEDs are available to give me the equivalents of those.
Oh... and the Aputure you mentioned is in the same boat... it is essentially an open-faced instrument... it's probably cuttable to a degree with barndoors (and probably much more so with flags), but it's not focusable down to a spot (well, maybe with a snoot).
I'm not really sure what to specifically recommend... but to do what you want you should be looking at fresnels.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
I was quite taken with the Boltzens, I have to say but it would be nice to have more power for when I needed it. Battery-wise, I have a stack of those NP-F batteries that so many of the panels use and I was lead to believe that the 55w wouldn't run at full power with a single one of those and you needed a special dual socket one that connected to the D-tap to run it off battery. And trying to run 100w lights and up on them is impossible. I've had a look at V-mounts and they're almost as expensive as the lights as far as I can see and not an investment that seems greatly worth it just at the minute. In future, perhaps, but I have AC power for almost everything so it's not really an expense I can justify.
As for the accessories, I agree with you that's probably what it would be marketed as. The site has barndoors and 7" reflectors etc. but this is a video talking about the Bowens mount fresnel lens I mentioned. You can skip to 5:10 (he goes on a bit - which is rich coming from me!). It may not be perfect but it would potentially do the job.
Hmmm... no the Boltzens run just fine at full power off an NP battery, that's what we do all the time. I will say they are a little bit power hungry. If I use them full blast they will probably exhaust a larger-capacity NP battery in 30-40 minutes or so (maybe even less), but we always travel with a crate full of them so it's never been an issue. There have been a couple of times shooting a live event (which is not what we normally do) that I knew I was going to need continuous light from them for a 90 minutes or so with no opportunity to change batteries, so I didn't use the on-board NP batts... I used goldmount bricks. The Boltens come with a standard powertap cable so we were able to just plug it right into the brick battery and that was a good solution for longer run times.
I have to say sadly I do not know the exact photometrics on the Boltzens, but they are plenty bright enough for any use I've put them through. Then again, the sensitivity of cameras today is a far cry from back when I was shooting 35mm film (when an ASA of 50 or 100 was the norm, and 500 was considering unbelievably fast), so I'm using much less firepower light-wise than I used to, and often my lighting plots are as much subtractive as they are additive... it's not uncommon for me to use the Boltzens at nowhere-near full power, and I'd say the same with my other instruments... I rarely if ever use my Astras (we have the 4x models, before the 6x ones came out) at full power, except maybe during daylight exteriors.
That frensel attachment is super interesting, I'm not sure I knew something like that existed... but I'm not really up on all the Bowens attachment accessories that are available (since Bowen-mount instruments and modifiers are really much more thought of as something in the still photography world). I really like the Studio Essentials instrument itself, too.... except for the AC. I'm a bit dumbfounded that they don't have a battery option, it certainly would be easy enough for them. That's a total deal breaker for me, I'll never again even consider an instrument that's not battery powered, or at least has that as an option. Others may not feel as strongly about that as I do... but after powering instruments with AC for 30 years, being able to "cut the cord" is one of the biggest game changers we've ever experienced (and I'm not going back...period). If you are planning on shooting primarily on stage or on locations where you are certain you will have AC, then they might be a good option. They are certainly cheap enough and the throwaway price means you don't have to consider them a huge investment... if you only use them on the one project then even then they might be a decent choice.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.