Monday, February 2, 2015

Cheap LED Kino Type Lighting

As a filmmaker builds his/her kit, one usually starts with whatever is available (cheap) and then moves up to “real” equipment over time.  As such, I have a lighting kit that consists largely of things cobbled together from what I could buy at Lowe’s and Harbor Freight and on eBay and Craigslist.

500wHalogenHalogen work lights are the easiest way to get a lot of light, but they consume a lot of energy (500 watts per light for the regular sized ones and 250 or 150 watts per light for the smaller ones), so you’re really drawing a lot of electricity from each circuit at your location.  You’ll also be white balancing for tungsten, which I often actually prefer (shooting warm) because it’s easier to incorporate practicals (lights already present on “set”).  The higher wattage of halogen work lights also means you’ll need more dimmers, or more expensive dimmers that can handle higher wattage.  The highest “cheap” dimmer from the local home store goes for around $10 and handles 600 watts (so only one big light).  HFrouterspeedcontrollerYou can use a router speed control unit from Harbor Freight ($25 but often on sale for $20) as a higher wattage light dimmer (15 amp x 120v so just shy of 2k at around 1,800 watts), but the output control isn’t as precise as an actual lighting dimmer.

I have started using more Chinese manufactured four socket CFL bulb lights with soft boxes.  While they are cheap, cast a nice, soft light, and consume far less energy, they take a while to warm up for full light output.  Not only that, but when shooting at high shutter speeds (like 240fps) you run the risk of getting a lot of flicker.  Also, with fluorescents, dimming is best with just on/off (number of bulbs on), because dimmable CFL’s are quite expensive… and they cause even more flicker when dimmed.

Recently I ran across “LED Shop Lights” from Feit on sale at Costco.  They are basically a four foot shop light replacement intended for garages and work shops.  As LED, there is “no flicker” (like a cold fluorescent) and no warm up delay, period.  They are normally $39, but on sale they are $33.  The same light goes for around $60 on Amazon, so this is nearly HALF the cost (and I don’t see anything else listed that’s even close).  Even at full price ($39) they seem like a decent deal.

Each “bulb” has 60 LEDs, so each light has 120 LED’s and are rated at 3700 lumens and 4100K temperature (“cool white,” though not daylight, which is 5600K).

Direct comparisons to other kinds of lights are kind of difficult.  It seems like LED light drops off a lot faster than incandescent and fluorescent (the light gets dimmer more quickly the farther you get from the source).  Thus, when a light is rated 3700 lumens, I think it depends a LOT on how far from the light you are taking the measurement (and less so with halogens, for instance).  So even though the packing says these lights put our 3700 lumens, you have to keep the lights MUCH closer to your subject than you would with fluorescent or halogen/incandescent.

I’m also having a hard time putting together a cost comparison of these lights and the strip-on-a-roll kits you can purchase from eBay and Amazon.  With those, you would have to figure out how to mount and diffuse, which is not hard, but ads to the cost.  You also have to purchase plugs/converters, etc., whereas this shop light just plugs into the wall.  The strip-on-a-roll would seem to be cheaper at first glance, but I have a feeling that once all is said and done, this shop light is a pretty close price point when purchased for $33.

The housing for the shop light is metal with plastic over the electronics.  The LEDs are actually mounted to a metal strip, not a flexible plastic strip, and that metal strip slides extremely securely into the plastic diffuser tube, which is opaque on the back half and translucent on the front.

Most LED strip kits I’ve seen require giant transformers (like you’d use with a laptop), so the fact that this shoplight has very small electrical components (easily hidden) is great.  You could definitely reduce the size of the ends (where the electronics are housed) if you wanted to.


I tried hooking these up to my incandescent dimmers (which work fine with my LED PAR38 bulbs) and the LED’s in these shop lights definitely freaked out; I’m not sure how they’d work with LED specific dimmers (hopefully I’ll get a chance to test that soon).