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Old January 21st, 2006, 02:13 AM   #1
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Cheap Lights Versus Expensive Lights

This is probably going to seem like a completely silly question......but ...what is the difference between a light for filmmaking that costs from $600 upwards.... compared to the lights you can buy at the hardware for $30?????

I've been using $30 150w Halogen lights for indoors with very nice results. They can be hung from anything at any level and I've used different almost sheer materials and colours on stands in front of the lights (furthur enough away to avoid them becoming hot).....and I have found these lights can then create very attractive different effects/moods and have been very happy with them....but...

Now..Im really curious to know...am I missing something here? What would the $600 and upwards lights give that Im not getting now? I want to know if Im missing out on something truly major by not forking out bigger dollars for a few lights???

Can anyone please shed some.......um.....light.......on this issue for me?

Tracey
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Old January 21st, 2006, 08:41 AM   #2
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I still use my Home Depot 500W worklights when I need some extra light sources. Eleven bucks each. Nothing wrong with them, bounced off a board or a wall, they make a nice light source.

The next step up is a cheap light kit in the $400-$600 range. I've got a Britek light kit off ebay, that works great. Same Halogen bulbs you get from home depot, but now you have adjustable stands to make positioning the lights quicker, barndoors to keep the light from going where you don't want it, a soft box and umbrella for diffuse lighting, and a focusable spotlight. I usually use my 250W spot as a "kicker," lighting an edge on the back of a subjects head.

The focusable "fresnel" (pronounced fur-nel) is the entry professional light source. It can be adjusted from a tight spotlight to a broad light source. A light kit with three ARRI fresnels, professional C stands, scrims, and flags can easily run a couple of grand.

The halogen's are an incandescent light source, taking a lot of power and giving a kind-of yellowish light. Many Pros prefer work with Dedolights or other brands that give a whiter light and operate at a cooler temperature. These are like your home florescent lights but specially designed to prevent the "audio hum" you normally get with your home bulbs. I believe they also run on DC voltage making them field portable, running off a battery.

Finally, there are high power HMI lights. I don't know much about them, but they stick one of these bad boys outside your window, and the whole room is lit like it's broad daylight. Stick them up high on a crane, and you have bright moon lighting in the middle of the night. I've been on a few movie sets, and seen them use all of these, but I can only afford my Britek lights.

That's about all I know about lighting. Hope it helps.
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Old January 21st, 2006, 09:38 AM   #3
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http://www.dvinfo.net/articles/lighting/spears1.php
heres a good piece of information from somebody with alot of experience. also, Check out this article for some decent info:
http://www.videomaker.com/scripts/article.cfm?id=12095
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Old January 21st, 2006, 08:15 PM   #4
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Thanks Dick and Steve for both your helpful replies.

At this point, im using the lighting mainly for interviews. And I also have the 500w halogen lights on stands...which can sometimes come in handy for various things. Dick, I think you got a bargain for $11 (everything seems so much more expensive in Australia). The ebay option is something I might check out.. for more pro 2nd hand lights. Im also beginning to think a balance between some cheap hardware store lights and some pro lights isnt a bad idea as soon as I have a little more cash to throw around.

Steve, those article links were great!!!

At the end of the day it seems to me then, that cheap lights will do the job, but pro lights make it much less hassle (and of course look better).

Tracey
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Old January 23rd, 2006, 05:39 PM   #5
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http://www.dvinfo.net/articles/lighting/hdlightkit1.php
sorry, one more. This one seems brutally honest about things.
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Old January 23rd, 2006, 06:06 PM   #6
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For a home built HMI-like solution, use a 400watt Metal Halide bulb - its what many street lamps use, they put out around 30,000 lumens.

Don't look directly into them though... ouch.
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Old January 24th, 2006, 12:25 PM   #7
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I think the main reason to go with expensive lights is control. If you want to finess your lighting, then you should go with a good reputable lighting kit.

If you just need more light or you're lighting a few items in your scene or interview, inexpensive lights will work.

The quality of a kit is less in it's build and more in how much time it saves you on set - that's why certain kits are more expensive than others. I can save money and buy an indestructible surveryors tripod and work lights, but they become a huge hassle to transport, setup, and adjust.

Having done the whole route myself, using inexpensive lights was a great learning experience and taught me a lot about what does and doesn't work and why. But now that I've gotten used to using expensive lighting kits, I don't ever want to go back, unless it's in a pinch.

Plus, having the right tool for the job, makes lighting less of a chore, and much more enjoyable. I used to get stressed over lighting when I was using inexpensive lights, but now I look forward to it. It's a lot of fun when you're using the right tools.
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Old January 24th, 2006, 12:40 PM   #8
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I would have to say control AND durability, would be the two main issues. Control over light spillage as well as color temp, which is what you gain with the lights designed for film or video, over photography kits or hardware DIY lights. Thoe ones designed for "us" have the barn doors to control where the light goes, and have accessories designed specificly to control how it is softened or directed. you can get the same control with DIY kits, but it is more work, and a lot of trial and error.

As far as durability goes, even spending $800 on a Lowell kit, you would think it would be sturdy. Not always so. Mine was rather weak in several areas, and the only justification in the price, was the name, and DV stamped on it. Of course, you spend a lot more on say Arri or Mole Richards, but you will be able pass them on to someone else down the road, after many years of rugged use.
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Old January 25th, 2006, 03:32 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Wisniewski
Having done the whole route myself, using inexpensive lights was a great learning experience and taught me a lot about what does and doesn't work and why. .
Good point, because whilst I would love a professional lighting kit to miraculously fall out of the sky and land promptly at my front doorstep(preferably in a pastel pink case), I'm finding that being forced to improvise and experiment with inexpensive lighting options is kinda rewarding and fun(at times), but more importantly, turning into a very good learning experience. I guess at least when I graduate to the more expensive professional kits, I'll be a lot more appreciative of them. That has to be a good thing.... right? At least thats what I keep telling myself!

Meanwhile, all the input/suggestions on this forum are mightily appreciated.


Tracey
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Old January 25th, 2006, 09:34 AM   #10
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Hey Tracey, you might already know about this but for diffusion material try something called "Parchment Paper". This paper looks like wax paper but it can withstand extreme heat. It is made for baking cookies on in the oven to keep from sticking to the metal pan and is a little more expensive than wax paper. It is also nearly the same paper that subway sandwich shops use to toast their sandwiches on in a hot toaster oven. The light looks beautiful when diffused through this stuff. Anyway, this stuff may be sold at your grocery store or Walmart near the aluminum foil and wax paper etc. Comes in rolls and tear off what size you need and clip on your lights with wood clothes pins. As far as the different color temperatures of the lights, yes we try and match these as much as we can but isn't this what WHITE BALANCE is for. Can't we go ahead and Mix Halogen, florencent, incadecent, natural (thru the window) all together and get the shadows and highlights you want....... and then correct with WB. That is what I was always told. Someone correct me here if I am wrong about anything because I am still just learning too.

Last edited by Steve Witt; January 25th, 2006 at 10:51 AM.
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Old January 25th, 2006, 09:54 AM   #11
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Steve,

White balance can only go so far when you are mixing sources. There's a difference between a key window light of 5200k and a tungsten fill of 3500 and lord knows what the flourescents overhead are spewing out. Bottom line is, after white balancing all of that, you'll have weird color shadows and highlights.
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Old January 25th, 2006, 10:56 AM   #12
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Thanks Richard. Is there a "Rule of Thumb" to go by on something like this as to not push the WB envelope too far.....or just make every effort to match sources. I don't have access to any light measuring equipment yet but I do want to keep my white balance happy.
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Old January 25th, 2006, 12:07 PM   #13
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Not sure what rule of thumb you might be looking for, other than to match your sources... as near as possible.

The white balance feature, looks at what you tell it is "WHITE". It then adjusts it's sensors to make that color look white. When you have different temperatures reaching the same subject, your eyes and BRAIN may be able to balance it all out, but the white balance has to pic a point (the primary overriding or strongest element that is hitting your white card) and balance on that. The result is the other temperatures are going to skew hot or cold (Blue or orange) wherever they are the predominant shade. (Often this is the shadows or highlights.
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Old January 25th, 2006, 08:34 PM   #14
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Steve, thanks for the tip on parchment paper. I know that will come in handy soon.

I want to address this:

"As far as the different color temperatures of the lights, yes we try and match these as much as we can but isn't this what WHITE BALANCE is for. Can't we go ahead and Mix Halogen, florencent, incadecent, natural (thru the window) all together and get the shadows and highlights you want....... and then correct with WB. That is what I was always told."

Incorrect information was conveyed to you. White balance sets a baseline, but it will do nothing to mix your different sources.

If you have a scene with a window on one side, fluorescent office lights above, and you use halogen lights to fill the side of an actor's face opposite the window, you have three distinct sources and the audience will be able to subconsciously determine all sources. What you will see is a bluish tint from the window side, greenish-white from above, and yellowish tint on the halogen side. It will be very obvious that you have a light shining in the actor's face. It will look "fake" to the audience.

What causes the problem is the combination of 5600K sunlight, 4100K office lights, and 2700K halogen lights. The camera picks an average and will balance about to the office lights. It may lean more towards the sun since it is such a bright source. This will make your halogen lights seem even more yellow. Add to all this the fact that cheap office fluorescents (good fluorescents are fine) have more green than other colors and you will get an unpleasant image. Green doesn't alway mix well with colors in people's faces.

How to fix this scene?

The first thing to do would be to balance your fill light (the light opposite the window that keeps your actor from being in a silhouette) with the window light. You can either gel the window or the fill light to achieve this. If you only have one window, you might consider using 1/2 to full CTO (amber gel) to bring it down closer to your halogen lights. This will also bring the often overwhelming light coming in from a window down to a more manageable level since all color gels decrease light. You could use 1/2 CTB (blue) to bring up the color temperature of your halogen lights, but CTB cuts out a lot of light. Unless you have extremely powerful lights, it is easier to bring down a window's light than to increase your fill light wattage. If the CTO doesn't bring down the brightness of the window enough, you can add ND (neutral density) gel. I found that since video has a lower lattitude than film that if I want the scene outside the window to be visible that strong ND must be used. In one scene, I used 1.2 ND (4 f-stops) to balance a scene of the ocean out a window to the available indoor light. We had only a couple thousand watts of light to fill a shot with 7 people dancing and if the windows behind them were not gelled down strongly, they would have totally washed out.

BTW, if you have gelled window in your scene, the wrinkles in the gel make weird reflections. You may have to do some work to eliminate reflections from your studio lights. If you have sufficient prep time, gels can be cut to fit a window and squeegeed in place with some soapy water. This makes the gel cling to the window and have a flat reflection like normal glass.

Next, adjust the overhead fluorescents (or turn them off and see if it looks better). To do this, use 1/4 or 1/8 "minusgreen" gels. This will help cut out the "green spike" in cheap fluorescent lights. Also, if the color temperature is still wrong, gel them up or down with a layer or two of 1/4 CTO or 1/4 CTB to blend into your other light sources.

Light sources don't all have to match, but learn how to acclomplish the match so you can start even and change the colors to suit your taste. Don't be tied down by whatever light sources are handy. Use of some cheap gels can do wonders.
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Old January 26th, 2006, 06:34 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Witt
Hey Tracey, you might already know about this but for diffusion material try something called "Parchment Paper".
Steve.... I am assuming that the thing you call Parchment Paper is the thing we here in Australia call...Baking Paper!!! And no....I must admit..I havent tried that. I've been experimenting with sheets of different partly sheer type materials in front of the lights which coincidentally also give the whole room a beautiful serene feel....

Will try the ..Parchment/Baking Paper tommorrow!


Tracey
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