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Old January 3rd, 2006, 04:18 PM   #1
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Battery operated china lantern

I have a few scenes at a beach during dusk/night. It's going to be somewhat of a run and gun shoot and I can't use a generator. I considered using a mini-flo kit, but, for the scene, i prefer the light quality of a photoflood in a chinese lantern. Is there any way I could hook one of these up to a battery belt (it would be easy enought o rent that)? Or maybe there is another light that is available to rent in the NYC area that is already battery powered that I could just stick inside a china ball? The problem is that most battery operated lamps i've come across are directional, which is not ideal to put inside a chinese lantern. My shoot is next weekend so any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!
Noah Posnick
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Old January 3rd, 2006, 04:52 PM   #2
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I've done this exact thing on the beach in Waikiki. Get a standard Chinese lantern with a regular household "Edison" medium screw-in socket. Put the brightest fluorescent bulb (or using a "y" adapter, two bulbs) you can find in it. I have found that the largest bulb I can find that fits in it is a 65W compact fluorescent from I have found up to 40W compact fluorescent bulbs at the hardware store. Use a DC-to-AC inverter with your choice of 12V source and you have an efficient source that most video cameras can work with. I used deep-cycle car-style batteries and ran the set for about 8 hours. A 65W fluorescent on a battery belt will probably only run for a little over an hour. A bright tungsten light will only last for several minutes on a belt and about an hour on a car battery. Your only other choice would be a small HMI light. I seem to recall there is a battery-belt operated 200w version called something like "sun gun".

Depending on what you are doing, you could also use a standing diffusion frame near your subjects and hit that with a directional source powered by big batteries. Chinese lanterns don't have any control, but they are good if you need to move them while shooting the subject. I doubt you could do better in this situation than a fluorescent considering the short battery life of a tungsten.
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Old January 5th, 2006, 10:16 AM   #3
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If you get a globe for a sun gun you just need to find the right base for it and wire it up to your battery. Mine uses JC12V __ H20 bulbs with G6.35 base. Fill in the wattage where the blank is, I think the choices are 20W, 30W, 35W, 50W, 75W, 100W. Any decent electrical supply should have the G6.35 bases and a good photo store will have the globes.

The nice thing about Canal Street here in NYC, is that's mostly Chinese owned businesses, so the electrical place I go to has a few photo type bulbs and electrical stuff, plus China Balls of various sizes and colors.

Check some of the manufacurer's catalogs, GE, Sylvania, and see what other options you have for 12V, 24V lighting. I noticed on B&H's site, that there is a 300W 24V globe. I think you'll also need low voltage wire as well. Just be sure you've got plenty of battery power. Bescor Batteries are pretty good and not too expensive.

Go to a website like B&H and look at what's available for on camera lighting and power, that will help you with your choice of battery and connector. You can probably get a cigarette lighter adapter, or four pin XLR. Perhaps buy a cheapo camera light and remove the reflector, so that you can mount it to a boom, or monopod and then have it be bare bulb.
Mark Sasahara
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Old January 6th, 2006, 12:43 PM   #4
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You can also buy 12 volt type A lamps that work better than flouros. Just like putting in a regular light-bulb in a lantern. Look online. RV stores sell them as do boat stores like Boat USA
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Old January 6th, 2006, 02:52 PM   #5
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Make sure you have enough current available in whatever battery you use or you will find yourself white balancing a lot toward the end of the battery life. The light will get progressivly warmer as the voltage drops.

I have shot in the field using a car battery (in the car) and a voltage inverter to get normal 110VAC for smaller lights. Watch your available current ratings if you do this.

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Old January 6th, 2006, 09:23 PM   #6
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Thanks everyone for your help. I'm going to probably rent a 12/24v block battery. I'm going to try and assemble the light in the next week or so. I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks again. I'm surprised there isn't a unit like this in production/ available to rent.
Noah Posnick
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Old January 22nd, 2007, 04:05 AM   #7
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Anyone used 'China Balls' from Jem Lighting?

Check them out here:

The fabric covered ones look more durable than rice paper.
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Old January 22nd, 2007, 08:56 PM   #8
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Haven't used them, but they're as good or better than the Chimera, depends on what you're doing. There's an actual cage which you can clip gels to. I've had to make rather elaborate bailing wire cages for my paper lanterns. Even a 250w bulbs gets hot enough to melt 'em pretty quick.

I have been using paper lanterns and a few lamps stems I made myself and they've held up pretty well. I think one of Phillippe Rouselot's assistants has a page on how to make the stems. That's where I got the info. Been trying to find the link, but not finding it, sorry. I think Phillippe uses the Jems, 'cuz he loves the light China balls make.

I also have a Chimera 20 inch Lantern that's pretty nice. Had that on the end of a Gitzo monopod that followed the camera around during a long hand held sequence.

Going to Gaff for a friend of mine and we'll use china Balls to light a gala event in a short film. That's a pretty easy way to light a large area. We both have a bunch from a job we did together, last year.

If you take care of them, the paper ones will last a while. Course a nice heavier guage metal and fabric one will last longer.

The nice thing about paper is you can spray paint it to change the shape of the light's reflection and color.
Mark Sasahara
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Old June 5th, 2007, 10:27 PM   #9
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Anybody use China Balls regularly?

i've been recently reading about the use of china balls and wanted to know exactly what is used to hang them? do they come with a stand? every website that sells them or has photos dont offer a stand. or are you forced to hang them from the ceilings with whatever you can or something?
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Old June 5th, 2007, 11:09 PM   #10
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Hi James--

China balls have widespread use because of their versatility and their relative inexpensiveness. We've used them in low budget indie productions, student films, reality tv shows, etc. I've mainly seen them used with practicals (regular house bulbs, 100w and lower) for ambience, fill, and even key light situations.

When I was a PA in Hollywood many lifetimes ago, I was told to "hang up" several china balls from the ceiling inside a very plush, very expensive four star hotel room (where was the gaffer? where was the electric dept.?). With nothing but gaffer's tape, I hung four of them from the ceiling, about three feet apart. The cords were gaffed tape to the walls (partially hidden by curtains), so they didn't cascade from the ceiling. The cameraman/d.p. apparently didn't mind my "set up" as they shot their piece the next day.

But to answer your question, no there isn't a stand that comes with a china ball, at least not when we bought them from Ikea. Good thing these things are "light" enough (pun intended :) that you can hang them using gaff tape.
I've also seen china balls safely hung from c-stands with arms.


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Old June 5th, 2007, 11:10 PM   #11
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Yes. The nice thing about these units is that they are so light, so they can easily be suspended for ceilings that would not be able to handle many other types of lighting fixtures. Also you can mount them on a boompole (or makeshift version of same, like a broom handle) as a moving fill light.

While they are still popular for certain applications like lighting people around a round or square table, ambient lighting in large interiors etc. they have the drawback of being a bit indiscriminate, with the light splattering everywhere. Not great for small rooms as a result. It is helpful to be able to skirt them (black material hung around the ball that is scored so that it can be pulled up in sections as desired) to control the output.

About 10 years ago when china balls were at their height of popularity, I was doing Steadicam on a fairly well-budgeted music video. The young DP was rather full of himself, definitely working the "flavor of the month" vibe. For a night tracking shot he rigged a large ball off a pole above the camera, and then spent half an hour personally attaching bits of duvetyne and blackwrap around it to control the spill until literally one square foot of light remained. I may have remarked that he had re-invented the 1k Ziplight, but probably not within his earshot. In any event, it started to rain and most of the black material fell off the ball by the end of the shot. I was privately rather pleased.
Charles Papert
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Old June 6th, 2007, 07:38 AM   #12
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man this is exactly what i needed to know guys thanks. that is a great tip about mounting it on a broomstick handle and having somebody hold it.

so ikea sells them?

what black material do you guys recommend that is best for controlling the light spill and won't catch on fire if that thing gets to hot?

also should i be looking for the paper china balls or the nylon china balls?
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Old June 6th, 2007, 08:02 AM   #13
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Well, any lamp hot enough to catch the paper on fire, is too hot. Most of the china balls come with a recommended wattage, I try not to push it too far, using common sense.

Yeah, Ikea sells them in a couple of sizes.Very inexpensive. I've got three of them in my closet. One I've been using for a couple of years, and two I haven't opened yet. Note that they have openings in the bottom. I usually cover these openings with a piece of baking parchment.

You can mask the sides of the balls with Duvateen, or Blackwrap. Blackwrap has the advantage of being malleable - so you can shape it a bit. One of the things about masking the balls if you are also MOVING them, is they tend to rotate a bit... making your masking pointless.

Yes, mount it on the end of a boompole, broomstick, painters pole, whatever... and you can 'hang' it over a person walking along in the 'dark'.

If you visit this link

You can see the procedure being used to supplement the light from a hand held lantern in our short film "After Twilight". (It's about halfway through the podcast.)The light on the end of the boom is actually a hard practical, but the procedure is the same. The practical has a piece of Black Wrap on the back of it to cut down on spill.

You can also see a good example of shooting 'the poor mans process' - a 'moving night interior' in a taxicab. Shot inside a small studio.
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Old June 6th, 2007, 08:52 AM   #14
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Some examples of the home-innovated chinese lantern, gaffered to a broomstick with a loose cord and plug swinging and dragging on the ground are an electrocution or fire risk searching for eventual fulfillment.

Large white translucent plastic outdoor spherical porchlights or top of column lights are a passable substitute, not quite as diffuse but much more robust and electrically safe.

For safety, the boom is a length of power PVC tube, outdoors grade lamphouse, outdoors switch and power connection are attached into weather resistant junction fittings glued onto the boom.

Use a calico shopping bag around the porchlights when not in use to stop them going all scratchy and brown. A good scrub with automotive cutting compound and a polish will restore them when they do become grubby.

More expensive than a paper lantern, but safer.
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Old June 6th, 2007, 10:32 AM   #15
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The Austrian company airstar makes professional china ball lanterns which seem to be floating like a helium balloon. They are used for sporting events like the biathlon world cup as well as film productions.
They look really cool and the light is beautiful but I guess they're a little more expensive than a 2.99 china lantern ;)
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