The iKan S400D Fluorescent Light
a review by Pete Bauer
With the rising popularity of fluorescent lighting for video, I was all too pleased when Chris Hurd asked if I would take a look at a light by new DV Info Net sponsor iKan. Since they are based here in Houston where I live, I simply drove over to chat with Mr. Kan Yeung, the president of iKan, and picked up a model S400D, which sports four 55-watt tubes. In their huge new location, iKan has a retail area alongside their expansive production studios, conference room, and educational facility (I felt lust deep in my heart for their beautiful green screen wall!). Mr. Yeung stated that in addition to direct sales, he also retails through Dvinfo.net sponsor B&H, and would be pleased to expand his dealership network for this and other iKan products to other highly qualified retailers.
In stark contrast to the “big guys” of fluorescent lighting who sell their tubes, barn doors, ballasts, dimmers, and/or gel frames separately, iKan provides an all-in-one solution. Their fluorescent lights are intended to be a convenient, integrated light system for imaging enthusiasts and professionals. IKan offers a light that includes not only an integrated 56 KHz ballast, but:
- Four hammered-finish aluminum barn doors with
Velcro “fingers” to control light spillage;
- 3000K Osram-Dulux L 55W/32-930 4-pin compact bulbs
with rated life over 8000 hours and CRI >90;
- A built-in 100-step digital dimmer;
- A yoke-type mount system which makes it very
easy to handle from just about any direction.
Optionally, a built-in DMX-512 capability (5-pin standard in- and out-jacks for a third party DMX setup) can be had for just $50 more than the non-DMX version. Although I don’t currently have a DMX setup and was therefore unable to test that feature, iKan does use their own DMX lights in their studios.
This particular model has outside dimensions of 23″w x 15″h x 4″d, excluding the barn doors, handle, and yoke. At 15.6 pounds with the bulbs removed, the iKan was only slightly heavier than a Kino Diva-Lite 400 or the more equivalent DMX Image 20, both of which Kino lists at 14 pounds. Mr. Yeung reports that iKan is nearly ready to release egg crate assemblies for their light; watch their web site for updates. For gel frames, the lightbox has slots to allow up to two frames or flags to be slid into place if they are sized to fit the 14½ ±? inch height between upper and lower slots. Or perhaps more simply, as is often done in studios anyway, just gaffer-tape the gel to the frame or barn doors – which is probably what I’d also actually do if using thin-film type filters.
One easily overcome glitch was apparent as soon as I opened the box: the included 5/8″ screw-top stand fitting couldn’t be tightened properly on the yoke. A quick visit to Home Depot for two 15 cent galvanized washers, and all was well. Since the test light was an open-box unit directly from iKan’s business location, I can’t say whether units shipped through retailers normally include spacers or washers. Mr. Yeung was surprised about this when I mentioned it and, although it is a minor thing, was looking into it to ensure that it isn’t a problem for customers.
As one would expect, removing and replacing a tube is straightforward. Pull firmly to overcome the spring metal retention clips in the base and slide the tube out of the dual 2-pin socket; reverse to install. Fluorescent tubes in various color temperatures are readily available from a number of vendors for around $15 a tube.
Although the barn doors fold flat for storage and thereby offer some protection for the fluorescent tubes, they can actually rest against the tubes. A forceful bump or pressure could result in the heartbreak of shattered glass. If you don’t choose to remove the tubes for shipping or transportation to a location, I’d strongly recommend placing a sheet of something like foamcore or cardboard between the tubes and the barn doors – the wider gel frame slot will serve to hold the foamcore quite nicely – as well as packing the whole light in a well-padded third-party case. There is a gap between the barn doors and the lightbox, so in certain situations one might wish to use gaffer tape or similar to control light spill to the side.
Using the light is entirely straightforward, although a lack of documentation leaves it up to the user to already be aware of such things as making sure vertically oriented ‘flo tubes should have “tips down.” Simply plug the 15-foot standard 3-prong electrical cable to the wall and flip the power switch. As with any fluorescent light, the iKan is dramatically cooler and draws much less power per lumen than a similar intensity incandescent bulb. It is difficult to compare exactly since the character and spread of the lights are different, but camera exposure in front of the 220W iKan was roughly similar to that of a 500W open-face reflector.
To dim the light, just press the white DOWN arrow and both displays – one on the rear in the control area and one along the bottom edge of the light – rapidly count down as the light dims. To brighten, press the white UP arrow. The lights range from FULL to self-extinguishing at about 7% on the display. I found that from FULL down to 60%, the light doesn’t dim all that much, while below 60% the output drops substantially.
It is important to note that the color temperature does decrease basically in proportion to the brightness. This is one place where a more expensive competitor may have a design advantage; for example, the Kino Flo DMX Image series allows individual tubes to be extinguished so the lit tubes don’t need to be dimmed so dramatically when adjusting the output. That will result in less color temperature difference between scenes. Perhaps a touch speculative, but I wonder if the dim end of the iKan’s range could be so red that some video cameras may not be able to adequately white balance it. If that were to prove to be the case, the dimmer would not really be useful at the low end…unless perhaps one was simulating a golden hour shot! Nevertheless, from FULL to 60%, the change in luminosity and color temperature is very gradual and a nicely implemented feature.
Warranty and Documentation
I asked Mr. Yeung about the six month warranty period, versus larger competitors who have one and two year warranties, and about the lack of a user manual to accompany the light; only a glossy advertising sheet was in the box. He expressed confidence that his lighting systems are very unlikely to fail and that he would certainly be happy honor the warranty for a full year. He noted that a user manual is under development and that he would ensure that a warranty statement covering one year was added. In the interim, he referred me to the iKan web site at http://www.iKancorp.com. There is a short online video that, although appearing to be intended as advertising, suffices as a demo of the main features of the light pending publication of a printed manual.
I also then noticed that the web site’s contact page was updated to indicate iKan’s new location at 3903 Stoney Brook in Houston (phone 713-988-2818) which is in the midst of a local hotbed of computer, photo, and video services. Great location for their offices and studio! Also, on the web page for the lights I saw the addition of individual graphics indicating the brightness in lumens at varying distances for each light in the iKan product line. Previously, there had been a single placeholder graphic repeated for each model.
The iKan fluorescent lighting systems provide an excellent value for dollar in a no-fuss package. By the time you’d spend an extra $100 for tubes, another $150 or $200 for barn doors, and more for an external dimmer, and so on and so forth, the overall cost for more well-known names would be in the neighborhood of double. With iKan, all the hardware is integrated and ready to go when you open the box. Just plug it in and flip the power switch, color balance your camera, and you’ll have superb soft light for your shoots. As a reminder, if you need to use the dimmer button between shots rather than distance to control brightness, as with all lighting, pay extra notice to your color temperature.
We can look forward to the availability of the user manual that hopefully will discuss such things as normal use and care, specifications, recommended replacement tubes and other parts, and written repair and warranty policies. In the meantime, the web site will serve as the primary source of support for the lights. As long as you’re comfortable with a bit less polish on these side-issues while the iKan people feverishly work to settle into their new location, the lights themselves are worthy and surprisingly affordable workhorses from an up-and-coming company.
Please direct questions to the DV Info Net Community Forums.