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Old January 21st, 2003, 11:14 AM   #1
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Simple light kit

Hi,

I am in the market to buy a flexible, but simple light kit, and I was wondering what people's opinions of what to go for, makes and prices are.

The main work where I use lights are indoor interviews and fairly close product shoots, and occasional outdoor shots of fairly close-up subjects (so I don't need 2KW monsters!). So far I have got by, by borrowing and bodging - I'd like to look a bit more professional now:)

Ideally I would like a pre-packed kit (so avoiding the problem of finding cases to put it all in), but this is not essential. The collection needs to be as flexible as possible - height of stands, power of lights, breadth of beams, harshness/softness, etc.
An on camera light (I have a PDX10) would also be useful.

How about opinions on gels, softeners, etc?

Price is not a show stopper, so feel free to mention anything!


Regards,

Julian
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Old January 21st, 2003, 12:20 PM   #2
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This is a question that comes up often, although usually it is predicated with, "I have very little money to spend," which is understandable for young people getting into lighting. Here is a link to a three light kit that I am testing out to see if it will be the answer for tight-budget lighting: http://www.jtlcorp.com/kits/10.html
The kit consists of three lamps that can use up to 1200w lamps, although it comes with very adequate 750w bulbs, along with three soft boxes, stands, cables, and a carrying case for the whole thing, at a price below $500.00. This is pretty amazing to anyone who has ever priced out Chimera's with Arri lights, or, similar soft box kits. OK. That's the good news. What's the bad?

These soft boxes are definitely not the rugged quality of Chimera, as to be expected for the price. But they will do what they are supposed to do, they just won't take the abuse the more high end units can endure. So, you have to treat them a bit more carefully. Also, the softboxes take a little longer to set up than a Chimera-style soft box.

The lamp units are made of plastic! That's right. They have a metal front end where the bulb slips in, but the housing is plastic! Sounds weird, but it seems to work just fine. Nice to be able to tilt a lamp without burining your fingers. How well they will hold up, is a question my testing should answer over time.

The stands are very sturdy for a kit of this price, and shows that it is possible to come up with a well built stand for a reasonable price. They are way better than the crap that comes with the basic Lowell kit. I can't imagine any future problems with the stands.

The whole thing packs into a nylon case that is not suitable for airline stowage, unless you can "beef" it up some way. But certainly fine for throwing into the back of a van. You might want to pack the bulbs in a separate hard case where they can be protected.

If you understand how to work with soft boxes, this can be a very useful kit, and will serve you will if you don't subject it to a lot of abuse. Add a dimmer, some correction gel material, and extra diffusion material, and you have a kit that will give you great bang for the buck. Excellent for interviews and product set-ups. You can remove the diffusion material if you need to add more light to your set. Options include louvres for more control. Very versatile, and from my early tests, certainly well worth the price.
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Old January 21st, 2003, 11:36 PM   #3
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Wayne,
Where can you buy the JTL kits?
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 12:14 AM   #4
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Hello Julian,
I'm sure you'll get a spate of opinions on this subject.

If read your question, with between-the-lines inferences, accurately I gather that you just need a flexible, portable kit that sets up / tears down easily and doesn't require a union crew with tree-trunk biceps to schlep. Correct?

There are many, many "kits". But, against the objectives and constraints above, not all of the "kits" are practical for a 1 or 2 person crew. Some of the big Arri fresnel kits, for example, can bathe most of a gymnasium in very nice light. But you'll need to have a circus wagon to move them.

Personally, I really like Lowell's line of kits and lights. The kit that I use features one Tota and two Omni's with stands, barndoors (for the Omnis) and gel frames. Everything fits nicely into a case with room for spare bulbs and few other necessities. The case weighs maybe 35 lbs when loaded. The lights are open-faced and very light-weight. The Omni's are extremely flexible and can be hand-held if needed (they have a flip-down handle for such a configuration). The Tota can be easily fitted with a soft-box if needed (I use a PhotoFlex soft box). All of these lights can be powered by either a/c or d/c (12v batteries), although different bulbs will be needed for d/c operation.

Yes, as Wayne suggested, Lowell's kit stands are designed to be compact and lightweight. They are also not air-cushioned. But the heads weigh maybe 2 lbs, so a little basic care will keep you from ruining bulbs due to slippage. For indoor shooting, free of wind loads, they're just fine for these heads. If you find you need heavier stands, just get a few later. They're relatively inexpensive, although heavier and gawkier.

I also like, and use, Lowell's Caselight. It's a high-output color balanced flourescent panel available in either a 2-lamp or 4-lamp configuration. Runs very cool, pumps out a significant amount of soft light. I like th 4-lamp Caselight because you can easily switch on just the number of lights you need. The lamps last forever. The whole thing, with stand, folds-up into a case that weighs maybe 20 lbs. It takes maybe 10 mins to set up. Great for interview work or other close-ups where you need soft but strong light.

Lastly, for real run and gun work, look at Lowell's Rifa lights. These are the ultimate in compact, lightweight soft lights. It's basically like carrying an umbrella or two.

One note about Lowell. They service what they sell. I shorted an Omni last year (my fault, no pun intended) and called them to see what could be done. They told me just to send it in, which I did. The same day they received it they phoned me to review the problem. I figured uh-oh, here comes the bill. Nope. They fixed it and sent it back within the week. No charge, even though it was clearly my error. Certainly, I'm not claiming that they'll always fix their lights free of charge. But I -am- claiming that they are very service-oriented, even for piddly little customers like me.

Good luck on your quest. Let us know what you finally get and how you like them.
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 04:46 AM   #5
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Wayne,

In this kit there are only soft lights, right? Not that I will need
a lot of hard light, but one lamp might be handy. What happens
if you don't have the softbox on these lamps?

Thanks for the info!
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 04:50 AM   #6
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Thanks for the info, that gives me some leads to follow up on (yes Ken, you hit the nail smartly upon the head...).

Keep em coming!!

Julian
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 06:55 AM   #7
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I really don't want to disagree with the Honourable Ken Tanaka, however, I need to give my take on the Lowell Vip kit I had.

I spent close to $1,000 on the 3 light Vip/Go kit, and was pleased at first. It had barn doors, scrims, gels, etc., to go with the 3 lights and stands. It even had a nice compact case that carried it all.

But after I had used them the first time, I noticed that they no longer stayed in position, especially when using umbrella reflectors. The plastic knobs made me nervous, as I would have to really crank them down. In the wind, the stands were often too flimsy.

Please take note- Like Bogen tripods, you may very well have to spend two or three times as much to get something that works at a pro level. This was just MY experience with MY Lowell kit. My next kit will be work lights from Sears. It won't be a "Pro" kit, but I also won't spend too much.
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 08:34 AM   #8
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Wayne,

The JTL kits look interesting, but I find that no one in New York City seems to carry them except for Adorama which has one kit that doesn't interest me. Where have you seen them?

On a related note, I like my Lowel lights but have been amused now closely the round $19 Sears work light resembles my Lowel DPs. Not the same light of course, but not all that different.
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 10:29 AM   #9
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Perhaps we can more cheaply just order a lamp head + lamp from
Lowel and put it on a sears stand? I bought myself a work stand
+ light at around $30 (for a 500 or 750 W light, forgot which one)
with quite firm stand that can be sized down quite a bit and also
stands tall... I haven't "used" it yet, but am anxious to try it out
sometime... Script first, script first
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 10:53 AM   #10
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To follow up on the JTL Everlight kit. I first encountered this kit at a local photo store, and recommend you check with stores in your neighborhood. If you looked at the JTL site, you probably noticed that most of their gear is designed for still photography, and hence you may have better luck locating these kits at a photo gear store, rather than the usual video dealers.

If you use one of these lights without the softbox, it would splay light in all directions, since the bulb actually extends beyond the housing. Probably not a good idea, except for a possible effect. As I mentioned, you can use the softbox without the diffuser to give you more/harder light, possibly to fill a large area.

Indeed, three soft boxes will not be the answer to all your lighting needs, but it is a good way for new people to experiment with different "looks" while getting good results right out of the box. And with a price of just under $500.00, you can add a harder source, such as an Arri fresnel, and still not break the bank. (The best price I have seen for the kit is $465.00)

The JTL site has a list of retailers that carry their gear, but I found it not to be up to date. Again, I recommend calling photo gear stores in your area and asking about JTL.
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 11:09 AM   #11
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Capt.Quirk: I really don't want to disagree with the Honourable Ken Tanaka, however, I need to give my take on the Lowell Vip kit I had.

To the contrary! That's exactly what makes this such a valuable place for us all. The coalition of our collective experiences makes us all more knowledgeable, like some kind of gigantic global organism, all-knowing, throbbing, ever expanding, ....

(Err, too much sci fi there, sorry.) But we -need- to freely share opinions and thoughts.

BTW, "Honest" yes, "Honourable" no.
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Old January 22nd, 2003, 01:31 PM   #12
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"all-knowing, throbbing, ever expanding"... Didn't I see that on a porn box somewhere? :)

When I referred to you as 'The Honourable', I was trying to recognize your vast amount of experience in the field, compared to my shorter hands on experience. I agree that it is the varied experiences of all involved here, that make this board a valuable reference point.
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Old January 23rd, 2003, 11:03 PM   #13
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Just my 2 cents (.032 canadian) but I too have found the kit stands to be chintzy and some of the items included not at all usefull. I built my "kit" a piece at a time.

I bought sturdy manfrotto light stands with a 20 and 11 lb rating. The 20 lb 04 master holds my Photoflex softbox. The 052's are good for the 300 watt Arri's

I wound up buying arri 300 watt fresnels for accent and a lowel Tota with a softbox.I also have several reflectors. My total cost was a pretty well even with the kit prices and I feel I have some sturdy gear. I want to buy another softbox and perhaps an Arri openface to replace my old Smith Victor. Then I can coast for a while.
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Old January 23rd, 2003, 11:11 PM   #14
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Bryan,
Sounds like you've built a kit to serve your needs well, somewhat like the component-vs-system approach in home audio gear.

How portable is your gear? Can you easily transport and manage its setup by yourself?
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