This month, we've asked our lighting expert Michael Roscoe to name the favourite lighting and accessory products, from a reflector that will set you back thousands of pounds to an effective prop that costs less than 40 pence.
Author: Michael Roscoe
12 Mar 2012 Tags: Lighting
Standout beauty light accessory
Two features stand out about Broncolor’s Para FB reflectors [below] before you’ve even turned on the lights. The first and most obvious is their epic scale and appearance, which immediately wows sitters and clients, especially the largest version, which has a diameter of 330cm. The other is the range of available accessories.
I’ve tended to use the slightly smaller Para 220 FB, which is no less impressive looking and surprisingly portable and quick to set up. Once it has been mounted onto a sturdy stand (such as the Avenger Super Wind Up 29) and unfurled into its fully rigid form, there is little doubt that this is a serious, high-end, piece of kit. It has 24 braces and a high-quality silver-lined interior that make up a series of precise, taut surfaces to bounce light off.
The Para FB doesn’t necessarily have to be used with a Broncolor lamp, as it has a standard sized 5/8-inch spigot that allows almost any flash head to be mounted inside the reflector. It is then possible to adjust the position of the lamp forwards or backwards to achieve a softer or harder lighting effect. The precise control and quality of light produced from the Para FB means it bears little comparison to products like a big umbrella, which makes the price difference between the two justifiable for those with a high budget (from £2899 +VAT for the 170 FB to £5699 +VAT for the 330 FB).
And although the Para FB lends itself for use in large-scale lighting setups, it is as suitable for lighting a big room as it is for full-length or close-up model shots.
Most versatile HMI
The Arri M18 is an impressive all-rounder for photographers who are serious about HD video capture (it costs €7200 in a package that includes a lamphead, bulb, cables and ballast). This HMI has 1800W power continuous lighting solution, is comparatively portable, and is daylight-balanced – and that all makes it one of the best lighting solutions for motion capture. The M18 [below right] has a tough, utilitarian feel, is weather resistant and weighs just 10.5kg, so it can be used in outdoor locations or in the studio without a second thought.
Arri claims it is the “brightest HMI you can plug into the wall”, so there is no need to worry about specialist power needs, as it can be connected to a standard mains-powered socket via a 1200/1800 Universal Ballast. Once in action, it performs almost silently so it won’t interfere with any audio recordings while filming, and it produces a crisp and punchy illumination. The light intensity can be adjusted from a spot to a flood setting, and it is compatible with a host of light-shapers, including barndoors, a spill-ring and softboxes to soften and control the cast of light. You can also reduce the power by 50 percent, or cut it in half- or full-stop increments using an Arri wire scrim.
Best light-shaper for portraits
Profoto’s Softlight Reflector White is an excellent variation on the classic beauty dish. Priced around £200 +VAT, it has a matte-white interior together with a white deflector suspended inside to help spread the light more evenly, producing a quality of output that really flatters your sitters.
Many beauty dishes have a silver interior that casts a more punchy illumination, but that’s often a touch too hard for headshots unless the model has flawless skin. The Softlight Reflector can also be fitted with a front diffuser to get an even softer illumination; or a glass deflector and a grid can be fitted to get a harder, more directional cast of light that is great for shoots with strong contrast, high impact colours that need to pop out.
It has the standard Profoto fitting, so it will fit onto all the brand’s heads, such as the Monolight, Acute and Pro models for stills capture, but it can also be used with its continuous lighting products, such as the Pro Tungsten Air and Pro Daylight Air, so is useful when shooting video footage as well.
Most versatile ringflash
Hensel may not be the first lighting brand on the tip of fashion photographers’ tongues, but maybe it should be, as its ringflash solution offers more than just a doughnut-shaped catch light. The German-made RF 3000P/PM-XS light [below] can produce a standard direct cast of light like any other ring flash model, but what makes the Hensel lamp unique is its range of first-class light-shapers that go beyond a basic reflector with a frosted or clear front cover.
There are three main compatible light-shapers that together offer more creative scope than competitor models can deliver; Hensel users can also use a beauty dish and a reflector attachment that come with a honeycomb grid for even more precision control. The Octa Sun Haze RF 90 is worth a special mention as this unique-looking softbox helps produce a beautifully diffused cast that can be adjusted further by adding or removing the front or inner diffusers. This attachment may seem ungainly but it’s light enough to handhold, and its tough material and construction make it feel almost industrial. It also delivers impressive light efficiency and a unique catch light in a model’s eye.
Hensel sells two ringflash models, but the RF 3000P/PM-XS, priced £699 +VAT, is compatible with its Porty brand of battery packs that make the solution ideal for use in the studio or on locatilon.
Best app to sync to camera
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to buy an iPad, then the Capture Pilot app could be it. This app connects the iPad with Capture One Pro software [above] via a Wifi connection. It can be used to simultaneously view, zoom-in and pan captured images on the iPad screen as they are being shot by a compatible DSLR or medium format camera, and this has proved a hit with my clients, as they can see what’s going on without crowding around a workstation. The app enables you to go through the captured image collection and rate images or give them a colour tag both during and after a shoot.
If a client isn’t present, you can use the camera control functionality, which enables photographers to fire the shutter and control the exposure setting. It’s available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
Go-anywhere battery flash
The Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX system is a superb battery flash lighting system for a number of reasons, but the main one is that you will get plenty of use out of it. Put simply, its key attribute is its size, which means you’ll be likely to take it with you on shoots because it doesn’t feel like a millstone. Of course, there are many other small flash lighting systems, but few that strike the right balance between size and enough flash power (400J) with lighting control.
Let’s take its size first. To give you an idea of the miniature scale, the pack (with the battery attached) measures a diminutive 21×15×8.5cm, which is roughly the size of a child’s lunch box, and it weighs just 3kg. Attach a strap and it can be slung over a shoulder, enabling a free range of movement, especially when it is used with a ringflash. But what sets the Ranger Quadra RX system apart from the competition is its specifically designed compatible flash heads that are as equally diminutive as the battery pack, at around the same size as a misshapen tennis ball.
But don’t let the size of the flash head make you think that there is any compromise in lighting control, as it comes with a full sized flash tube, and although the kit comes with a specially made reflector, it is possible to utilise full-sized Elinchrom light-shapers by using an adapter. Two heads can be connected to deliver asymmetric 2:1 ratio power output.
The Ranger Quadra RX system also manages to integrate Elinchrom’s Skyport radio remote system that enables you to fire the flash remotely and alter the power in 1/10th f-stop steps, from up to 120m away. But what makes this two-head kit even more impressive is that it can be picked up for less than £1600.
The reflector is an obvious essential for studio lighting, and most photographers have several variations to hand. So lighting accessory makers have been developing more versatile versions, designed to handle different situations in one handy product. And the Creative Light 5-in-1 does just as the name suggests.
The quintuplet of different fabric surfaces includes a silver/black, sunlight/white and a translucent option to bounce, absorb and diffuse light. This collapsible reflector comes in three sizes; the largest of which folds down from a 120cm to a 46cm (diameter) and fits neatly into a handy pouch. It has two main parts; a translucent reflector that is ideal for diffusing a harsh cast of light, and a reversible cover (with all the aforementioned surfaces) that fits over the reflector.
Priced from about £60-£150 +VAT, depending which size you choose, this is as simple to use as you’d expect, and I particularly like the fact that there are reflective options for fill-in light, as well as a black absorbent option to help accentuate and create a darker shadow area if desired.
Most impressive light stand
The Super Wind Up 29 is a heavy-duty stand from the Avenger brand, made alongside Gitzo and Manfrotto products in north Italy. I bought this a few years ago and it’s been a great investment. It can support a compact-sized flash head, but it is really designed for bigger and bulkier lighting setups such as large HMIs or for products such as the Broncolor Para in the studio. I also use it on location where it gives me the stability that conventional stands don’t offer, and it has saved thousands of pounds of kit from getting damaged by being blown over.
The stand [far right], priced around £850 +VAT, has a high-quality, stainless steel and chrome construction, combining to give it a utilitarian appearance, and weighs a hefty 35kg, so it’s fortunate that it can be wheeled around and locked into place by kicking down a brake plate on each wheel. Its wide 130cm diameter footprint means it feels rock solid even when a lamp is hoisted up to its lofty maximum height of around 3m. Adjusting the height of a light is achieved, as the name might suggest, by winding a handle on the side of the stand that enables a geared column to rise or lower in one direction only, without the risk of it slipping down out of control.
And, like the Broncolor Para FB, its cinematic scale impresses anyone who comes into the studio.
Best tungsten lamp head
Tungsten lamps are at the lower end of the pricing bracket for continuous lighting (priced around £350 +VAT), but that doesn’t mean you’re restricted to lamps that lack power, build quality or light control. The Hedler H 25s [below] is a robust, aluminum head that incorporates two tungsten halogen lamps to generate up to 2500W power output. A single lamp can be used to instantly cut the power in half.
It is child’s play to operate, although it inevitably generates some noticeable heat once it’s been on for a while. This is dissipated with its fan, which in turn produces a humming noise that isn’t ideal for sound recording with video capture. But rest assured, this is a refined piece of kit aimed at professionals. It is commendable for its compatibility with a number of high-quality Hedler light-shapers, including an umbrella, reflector softbox or a barndoor attachment.
Most versatile light-shaper
Most professional photographers already have a whole array of different sized and shaped softboxes in their lighting armoury. But the wedge-shaped Kicker Lite from Lastolite, priced £145 +VAT, is something that should not be overlooked. It can perform the conventional role of fill-in light with aplomb, but also produces a unique illumination when used as part of a single light setup.
The job of filling-in – or kicking – a bit more light is usually given to a humble reflector. But this product takes light control a step further, as it creates a beautifully even front light with as much control as your flash head can deliver, which is usually 1/10s f-stop increments. It is quick and easy to assemble, and it is compatible with almost any flash head, as you need to simply mount a flash head onto its frame and push it inside the Kicker Lite towards a silver reflector.
This lightweight piece of equipment has a large and sturdy waterproof underside, which means it can be easily slid around and repositioned in a studio or on outdoor shoots, and it’s not likely to blow over since it’s already on the floor. It is portable and, unlike most normal softboxes, easy to pack away, so it won’t become a trip hazard when it’s not being used.
Best-value LED lighting
When it comes to portable LED lighting products, you don’t always have to splash the cash to get a well‑made effective lighting solution. The Rotolight RL48-B Stealth Edition [below] lights cost less than £100 each but have a build quality that belies their low price tag.
This product functions best when it’s slotted onto a shotgun microphone that is mounted to a camera to complete a fully portable solution for filming, audio recording and lighting setup. Its feather-like 90g weight also means it won’t upset the balance of a hand-held camera with an attached microphone. And its small size ensures that it won’t take up much room in a camera bag, thus ensuring it’s a go-anywhere piece of kit for photographers that need to travel light. Photographers who want control of issues such as colour temperature to match any other ambient light present during filming can add some compatible filters to achieve a daylight or even a tungsten Kelvin equivalent.
No-nonsense flash trigger
Most good makers of studio flash products have their own integrated flash triggering systems, but the one that stands out is from Profoto. Its radio flash triggering has always proved extremely reliable, and its Air Remote unit makes it simple to select a channel, switch modes (from transmit to receive) and adjust the flash power remotely. But for third-party solutions, compatible with a wider range of lighting products, it’s hard to see beyond the Pocket Wizard portfolio.
A reliable performance and straightforward operation are my premium concerns, and for that I use the Plus II transceiver. Priced around £155 +VAT (as a single unit), it boasts all the performance credentials that you’d expect, such as a triggering range of more than 400m, but for me, its best attribute is that it just works, without having to spend hours leafing through a manual. One example of its no-nonsense plug-and-play capability is its “auto-sensing” feature that will automatically change from receive to transmit when necessary.
It can be used to remotely trigger a camera and flash with an unnoticeable delay of 10 microseconds. Sync speeds for focal plane shutter are up to 1/250s, and 1/500s for a leaf shutter, and it boasts a triggering speed of up to 12fps, which is faster than the new Nikon D4 can deliver. But what I find as pleasing as anything else, is that I’ve dropped mine several times and it carries on working, regardless.
Best-value prop for impact
Smoke is a very effective prop when you’re looking to add a little atmosphere to a shoot. There are several specialist dry ice machines available that can cost upwards of £500 and are ideal for filling a large space with a layer of fog, but one of the cheapest options is smoke pellets that are usually used in the plumbing trade. They cost around £3.29 for 10 and you don’t need mains power to set them off, making them ideal for use on location. The type I use burn for around 30 seconds, but a little common sense is needed – so avoid contact with the eyes or breathing the smoke in.
Rock-solid camera stands
A Cambo stand is one of the most frequently used pieces of studio equipment, and mine has been a reliable companion over the last decade or so. When it comes to ease of use and rock-solid stability, there isn’t anything that can challenge it, and I almost never use a tripod in a studio. Operation is swift, as an attached camera can be elevated skywards or positioned near ground level in seconds and locked firmly into place.
Cambo has stands for almost all budgets, and designed for every camera format, from DSLR to large video rigs, with heights ranging from 123cm to 3.6m, ensuring they fit most studio ceiling heights. The UBS3 model is the top of the range and is so well made it is likely to outlive its owner. Using it will also ensure that expensive camera equipment isn’t going to get accidentally knocked over. BJP
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