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Old December 6th, 2008, 09:40 AM   #1
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DIY Lighting kit - Opinions

Hi all,

I'm seeking some opinions and advices regarding an idea I just had last night. First of all, please bear in mind that I'm an experienced woodworker and I've got tons of tools that allow me to build almost anything. I have moderate skills and tools to play with steel components or sheet metal.

I need some fluorescent lighting for video and would need something powerful enough to cover a room of let's say 12' x 12'. I'm mostly doing how-to videos on woodworking machinery and I would need a few lights of different sizes. Some very big to provide a lot of trow for large area and some smaller units I can fit around for close up shots.

Here's my idea: Build a box containing maybe 6 or 8 ballasts. The box would be vented, have switches to control every ballast, etc... I would have some plugs on the outside of the box, one per ballast to plug into my lights.

Then I'll build some light boxes out of thin plywood with a hardwood box around to house regular fluorescent T12 or maybe the Biax 55Watts. The advantage would be to have a lighter fixture (no ballast inside) and have the convenience of connecting almost anything. Since I wasn't planning on using all my lights at the same time, I would need less ballasts as if all my lights were equipped with one.

I'd like to hear you if you have any advices on this proposed setup. Maybe something I have overlook?

Thanks,

Last edited by Benoit Bissonnette; December 6th, 2008 at 09:44 AM. Reason: Corrected a few typos and added information about my skills with steel
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Old December 6th, 2008, 10:01 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Benoit Bissonnette View Post
Hi all,

I'm seeking some opinions and advices regarding an idea I just had last night. First of all, please bear in mind that I'm an experienced woodworker and I've got tons of tools that allow me to build almost anything. I have moderate skills and tools to play with steel components or sheet metal.

I need some fluorescent lighting for video and would need something powerful enough to cover a room of let's say 12' x 12'. I'm mostly doing how-to videos on woodworking machinery and I would need a few lights of different sizes. Some very big to provide a lot of trow for large area and some smaller units I can fit around for close up shots.

Here's my idea: Build a box containing maybe 6 or 8 ballasts. The box would be vented, have switches to control every ballast, etc... I would have some plugs on the outside of the box, one per ballast to plug into my lights.

Then I'll build some light boxes out of thin plywood with a hardwood box around to house regular fluorescent T12 or maybe the Biax 55Watts. The advantage would be to have a lighter fixture (no ballast inside) and have the convenience of connecting almost anything. Since I wasn't planning on using all my lights at the same time, I would need less ballasts as if all my lights were equipped with one.

I'd like to hear you if you have any advices on this proposed setup. Maybe something I have overlook?

Thanks,
Hi:

I built my own Kinos from scratch but I enclosed the ballasts in the fixture. The only issue I see is that what are you going to do when you need to shoot outside of that 12 x12 room? It seems that dragging a big box, plus your light fixtures would be a major hassle but perhaps I am not understanding your sizes on the main ballast box?

Still photographers often use strobe head and separate power packs like you propose, the only downside is that there are a lot more cables running all over the place, making it easy to trip over them of for other gear to snag on the cables. But it sounds workable, if not convenient. What I did was on my fixtures, I included an extra 10' of cable from the ballast to the tubes. That way, if need be, I can disconnect the tube from the fixture and place it under a counter, etc. Same idea really.

Dan
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Old December 6th, 2008, 10:22 AM   #3
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Benoit: SOund interesting. If you do go ahead, please post photos.

Bon chance!
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Old December 6th, 2008, 12:51 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Dan Brockett View Post
It seems that dragging a big box, plus your light fixtures would be a major hassle but perhaps I am not understanding your sizes on the main ballast box?

Still photographers often use strobe head and separate power packs like you propose, the only downside is that there are a lot more cables running all over the place, making it easy to trip over them of for other gear to snag on the cables.
Thanks Dan for your feedback.

The ballast box I have in mind is exactly the concept of the power pack use in photography. I came up with this idea by looking at some various professional continuous light system which had the ballast attach to the base of the light. I figured ganging them together in one box quick and easy to wire, I thought it would be a little simpler.

As far as the number of wires sitting on the floor, I figured it wouldn't change much... Having a ballast inside the light fixture will still require a power cord to reach each unit and may call for for a few power bars. The ballast box on the other hand would require only one outlet but provide power to the light fixtures through 6 plugs... Also, the wires are usually smaller once they get out of the ballast to reach the fluo sockets... I figured I would make several different length of those cords to match my shooting conditions.

My main goal behind this idea was to build many different light fixtures, some big ones, some small ones and maybe some others for very specific purposes (like lighting the inside of a cabinet saw). I just didn't want to buy a ballast for every single pair of fluo light fixtures I would build. Your idea of having the fluo over a 10' cord is great though and along the lines of my project.

I think the last question to answer now is if electrically speaking, there is a problem to run a 20' or 50' wire from a ballast to the fluo. I'm a big zero in electricity but I have enough experience to kind of think it might not be possible...

If anyone can confirm, I would start building the project next weekend and start posting pictures of my progress... I need a fully functional set of light for a shoot scheduled during the Christmas holidays...

Thanks!
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Old December 6th, 2008, 04:09 PM   #5
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DIY fluorescent! Some random thoughts on that that come up for me.

1). Lots of people want to do this but end up not doing it for practical reasons surrounding the wiring and connectors involved. Reasons like:

a). The cost of suitable connectors which are pretty expensive. See Amphenol, Veem, etc. for examples of costs there. The best type is a "bayonet" like we use on some of our external ballasts. Twist and lock with 1/3 turn or so. Makes for easier setup. The connectors should be rated for 600v and high frequency voltages too. We're talking about military grade stuff here. You would need a 4 pin connector for each tube to do it right with some types of ballasts (using your scheme of one ballast per tube) but some other types may only require 2 or 3 pins.

b). The wire length can't be all that long. 25 foot on some ballasts, 2 feet on other types so it varies by ballast as to whether you can do it. Some ballast specs tell you their maximum wire length and others don't. Fulham makes some good ballasts but no where do they tell you the maximum length you can run. Perhaps you can call and ask an application engineer at Fulham about it. I think that Dan Brockett uses the Fulham ballasts (as I recall) in his fixture and he confirms a length of 10 feet--so you know you can get away with at least that using a Fulham. But, is it really all that important to have a long wire length from ballast to tubes? You can make the power input run to the ballast pretty long so just place the ballast a bit closer to where your tubes are. No big deal.

c). The gauge of wire should be pretty thick for a long run. Long length runs will have voltage drops due to the resistance in the wire. Within a fixture, for normal wiring, you use 18 gauge solid core 600v rated wire and these runs are very short. You can't use that for a long external cable though. Heavy gauge solid core wouldn't be practical for rolling up. Kino Flo and some others that have external fluorescent ballasts commonly use 16 gauge zip cord and make their cables by bundling the bunch of zip cords together with a nylon braided shield. The bayonet type connector is at one end. Then at some point in the cable, the shield ends and all the zip cords just trail off to their strain reliefed dangling sockets. This makes it easy to place individual sockets/tubes where ever you want. Finding a 600v rated zip cord may be tough.

2). What will you use for sockets? It's not easy to find fluorescent sockets that work well outside of a fixture. Most are designed to be screwed to a chassis and have some 18 gauge solid core wire punched into them and there's no strain relief. The best external ones will have some strain relief for your long cable and you'd most likely have to custom mold a plastic housing around the socket to provide this wire protection and strain relief. If Dan Brockett used the 2G11 sockets that came from AH Supply for his DIY project, he'll confirm this--right Dan? ;-)

3). Don't forget to ground the chassis of your metal ballast enclosure.

4). The switch for whether its on or off is not on the tube output side of the ballast but rather on the power input side (for many reasons). This means that however many tubes the ballast drives are all switched on/off at the same time with the power input switch to the ballast. So if you want one tube switchable by itself, then its best to get a ballast that drives only one tube.

5). By the time you get through with all this engineering to do it right, you'll have a great fixture that you'll want to commercialize because of the costs and time you put into it so you can recover your investment--I know a lot about that. That might lead you to China to do it economically and we'll see you there!
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Last edited by Richard Andrewski; December 6th, 2008 at 04:44 PM.
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Old December 6th, 2008, 05:21 PM   #6
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Ahhhh... Crikey... Thanks Andrew for this very informative and concise explanation. I feared my idea wouldn't have legs... Actually, if I'm here thinking about all this stuff it's because you're out of the cool lights I wanted to buy...

With a shoot scheduled in 3 weeks from now, I don't have many more options anymore...

I will contact you by email to see what you can do for me.

Thanks,
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Old December 8th, 2008, 06:06 PM   #7
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How about an alternative setup. Instead of the ballasts & fixtures, use CFL bulbs such as Sylvania at Lowe's: 40-Watt Mini Twist Compact Fluorescents Bulbs (CFL) This one is a bit pricey, but they can be purchased in multi packs to reduce the price. Also, I know they are not all created equal, especially for video use, there are discussions about the CRI values of different brands.

You can mount them with these Cooper Wiring Devices at Lowe's: Porcelain Keyless Ceiling Lampholder, and wire groups of them, or each one to a switch.

You can make boards with grids of these to fit any area you want. Also, to make it simpler, you could skip the switches & just remove bulbs that aren't needed.

The great thing about these bulbs is that they are small, light & each contains it's own internal ballast. I wish i could find the link, but there are pre made setups just like this, with a reflective layer on the wood. Since you are good with wood, I am sure you could build the housing to mount everything as needed.

This is basicly a softbox setup. You had mentioned needing a long throw for some shots, and that's the one thing a setup like this won't do well. The light will fall off pretty quick, so if you need it far from your shot you will have to use lots of bulbs to reach.

Also keep in mind even though these create less heat per watt, if you pack too many in a small area, heat will become a problem.
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Old December 8th, 2008, 08:29 PM   #8
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Hi Justin,

Thank you very much for you information.

I remember that I've tried looking a while ago for some good CF but they usually have a few drawbacks:

- They're either 4100K or 6500K (never 3200K and 5600K)
- Low CRI
- Low lumens

At that point, it's probably better just to go with a Mogul E39 socket fluo light with a softbox... I wish I had more trow in a smaller size kit but it all seems like I'll have to bite the bullet and get the real stuff...

I did one shoot with some halogen work lights and I've swear the God I'll never do it again...

Thanks,
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Old December 9th, 2008, 10:28 AM   #9
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Benoit,

If I could indulge in a metaphor that might resonate with you...

As an experienced woodworker, you'd probably understand that if I walked into your shop tomorrow, no matter the quality of the tools you have available, I couldn't craft a fine chest of drawers simply because I'm not an experienced woodworker like yourself.

That's because it's not the equipment that makes the furniture - it's the experience of the person using them.

I applaud your desire to learn lighting. Just understand that, precisely like your other skill, buying good equipment is merely the first step in the process of getting quality results.

Expect to spend significant time learning to use your new tools - just as you spent mastering your old ones - before you can feel confident in getting professional results.

Welcome to the adventure!
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Old December 9th, 2008, 01:01 PM   #10
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I thought about making a similar thing to the cool light-(flo-version)
Lots of a differen't types of bulb

Fluorescent Tubes T8 @ GB Bulbs (UK)
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Old December 9th, 2008, 02:17 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Benoit Bissonnette View Post
Hi Justin,

Thank you very much for you information.

I remember that I've tried looking a while ago for some good CF but they usually have a few drawbacks:

- They're either 4100K or 6500K (never 3200K and 5600K)
- Low CRI
- Low lumens

At that point, it's probably better just to go with a Mogul E39 socket fluo light with a softbox... I wish I had more trow in a smaller size kit but it all seems like I'll have to bite the bullet and get the real stuff...

I did one shoot with some halogen work lights and I've swear the God I'll never do it again...

Thanks,
I stumbled across a photographic supply store online selling a two light CFL softbox kit for $315 ($338 delivered) that has heads with four sockets and four 80watt 5500k CFL's. I was a bit skeptical and half expected the bulbs to actually say 5100k 6500k when I got them as some similar kits sold in ebay havebut the bulbs are actually 5500k as advertised. I was also pleasantly surprised at how well constructed the light fixture and light stand are. I had to go out of town on a business trip and have not had a chance to attach the 32" x 40" softboxes that came with it but I am sure it is going to be a pain as most are!
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Old December 12th, 2008, 08:10 AM   #12
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Finally bit the bullet...

I finally decided to bite the bullet and get something decent...

I got prices from a friend who works in the lighting industry so I can get my hands on the right ballasts to do the job. They were awfully expensive + I had to factor in the price of the fluorescent + dimmer + the time to build something... I was already over 650$ in parts alone and didn't have anything put together yet...

Then I decided to purchase this unit from Vistek: Studio Lighting System Fluorescent Light Bank 55Wx6 DMX Studio Video Lighting FL-330DX - Vistek Canada Product Detail

Unfortunately, one fluo is defective so I've got only 4 out of 6 fluos working right now but I'm already impressed with the build quality. Even just 4 fluos trow a lot of light, I can't wait to get the 6 of them at full blast. I'm sending them back the defective fluo by Puro and they will send me a new one the same day.

Overall, I'm surprised at the capabilities of those units for the price. They can be hooked up to a DMX console and there is an electronic dimmer to control the desired amount of light... I'll buy one or two more smaller units in a near future to complement this big unit.

So far so good... I'll post a review on this product whenever I have a chance.

By the way, what are your ideal setup with fluos? Size and quantity?

Thanks,
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Old December 15th, 2008, 01:58 AM   #13
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well if its not too late I would like to recommend you to this website where you can get some great lighting for some awesome prices. Fluorescent Video Lighting - Cool Lights USA good luck with that!
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Old December 15th, 2008, 07:35 AM   #14
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Hi Adam,

Thank you very much for this information but I know Cool Lights very well. Richard is out of the flo systems I wanted to buy and won't have them stock before my project starts. Also, I'm in Canada and our currency is way down now compared to the US dollar...

Benoit
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Old March 8th, 2009, 02:27 PM   #15
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Salut Benoit,

I could wright in french but I'll do it in english for everyone to read,

I did my own lighting kit, in fact I do almost everything I need DIY style, I consider myself handy enough to do them, also the fact that this is just a hobby for now and I don't have any money to invest in such expensive equipment.

Take a look at the JPGs, I did'nt re-invent the wheel here, I just bought some basic 48" T8 fluorescent fixture you can buy at any local hardware store, then I bought some T8 tubes, 3200k / 4100k / 6500k to have them all depending on what I need to light, I also bought some cheap DJ tripods, you have to be patient and plan everything before doing it, from my experience it's alot of trial and errors, I use this kit as the KEY lighting. It cost me around 80$ for the whole thing (including lamps and tripod).

I know it's not the best quality but It still came out ok,
Here's a couple of demos I did with it (watch them in HD) :
YouTube - démo intro RSB II (the spot on the left was masked out after I noticed it)
YouTube - démo intro RSB

good luck
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