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Old September 29th, 2011, 10:33 AM   #1
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reasons to NOT buy Cheap Chinese HMI lights

I'm looking at getting a set of 1200 and 575 HMI lights, and of course am tempted by the low prices of the Ebay Hong Kong Arri-clone ones, which seem to come in at either $1000ish to $3000ish, depending on whether or not you want their "flicker free" ballasts. In general, I think most of their marketing is misleading, so I'm skeptical that they are anywhere near what you'd get from Arri.

Can you guys give me reasons why I wouldn't want to buy them and if any are better/worse than others?

And I'd add in the Cool Lights HMI as a possible low cost option.
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Old September 29th, 2011, 12:46 PM   #2
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Re: reasons to NOT buy Cheap Chinese HMI lights

Depending upon how much you can afford, there may be little reason not to.

A while back, I wrote some unauthorised handling notes for the Steven Studio 1.2K HMI with flickerfree ballast which can be read here :-

Steven Fu is the vendor. The lights and ballasts of similar if not identical build, appear to be marketed by a few other players in China.

The 1.2K HMI that I bought is still going with about 40 hours up. That is only an estimate as it does not have a Hobbs meter fitted. One would of course expect that it should be still working at the $3,000 or so it cost.

In addition to my original notes, the only issue which has arisen since has been the switch knob on the ballast having come loose on its shaft. I haven't got round to tightening it yet.

I purchased the light to use on my own projects after being let down a couple of times trying to rent a 1.2K. In a local environment here of indies helping out on each others films, it has been going out on a few of those. I have not rented it out and either supervise its use or operate it myself.

If you intend to rent out the Chinese lights, then you might need to examine their compliance with your own national safety standards for electrical appliances as your liability cover may be affected.

CE compliance is claimed by the vendors. I do not know how to verify this. They may be some database or register which might be searchable on-line.

Cool Lights version might be worth examining if you want greater assurance of compliance with your local power and safety standards. Richard Andrewski participates in the discussions here from time to time so would speak for the compliance of his offered products if you ask. I can't speak for the Cool Lights product myself as I have not had my greasy hands upon it.

Last edited by Bob Hart; September 29th, 2011 at 12:54 PM. Reason: error
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Old September 29th, 2011, 01:51 PM   #3
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Re: reasons to NOT buy Cheap Chinese HMI lights

Hey Bob
Thanks for the reply! I've had dealings with Steven Studio before and none of them have ended well for me, broken knobs, shipped the wrong heads, failed to include components, high failure rate... and that's out of the box, not as rentals.

I'd much rather deal with Richard/Cool Lights, though the cost difference is leaning me towards the HK ones if internals are the same (though from a different vendor than Steven) since your experience was positive overall with the HMI. I've tried the Arri clones from a few different HK vendors to compare them to real Arris (which I have a fair amount of). Despite what most vendors claim, they seem to all come from the same factory. Build quality is generally very very good, but quality control is not. If they work, they work great... if they fail, they fail within minutes.

Anyway, hope Richard chimes in here on the HK HMI (yes I know its a brand name) vs the Arri ones.
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Old September 29th, 2011, 05:37 PM   #4
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Re: reasons to NOT buy Cheap Chinese HMI lights

We spend a great deal more time not only on our own model to set us apart but also in QA.

You have to know that there are at least 35 vendors actually making some of these tungsten clones in China. Only a subset of those make an HMI product. A whole bunch more of what are known as "trading companies" which represent the output of one of those factories and they may simply silk screen on a different name.

Another thing to know, there really isn't much made in Hong Kong these days. That's one of the "brain" centers of Asia and not a lot of heavy lifting going on there. So if someone in H.K is selling something, its 99% sure its coming from within China somewhere and re-branded. Labor is simply too high in H.K. to make it otherwise.

My goals for Cool Lights were that we wanted to do things a bit differently and we weren't going to order things remotely from China with no supervision. That's why I live over here. We look at "off-the-shelf" things all the time but rarely sell anything without some changes of one kind or another. That's always way beyond cosmetic and goes into functionality.

Things that set Cool Lights units apart:

1). Yoke. One thing that always bothered me about these "stock" Chinese models, even on some Arri units, was the inability for the yoke to stay at the set angle especially with a front heavy load on it like a softbox. There are known ways to fix that so we solved this issue by putting what I call a "yoke clamp" on the side you tighten. On the fresnel side there is a shallow cup attached to the fresnel and on the yoke side there is a bit smaller cup with cuts along the edge. The clamping ratchet handle goes in through the two cups into the bolt behind all this on the fresnel and the tightening action forces the smaller cup into the larger cup and for very little tightening you get this positive hold that really keeps angle even with the softbox. That's been on all our fresnels at least since 2010 and 2009 on some models.

2). Metal stand adapters. Many of these clones still use the nylon stand adapter. We did too in the beginning. We went with metal because occasionally you'll get someone that likes to over-tighten on the stand and then the metal set in the plastic can strip out. Now we only use all-metal to avoid this problem.

3). Ballasts. On 575w and 1200w HMI units we use a different 575/1200 ballast from most of those available on Ebay. I like this one better and have found it to be more reliable. The one we use is a bit larger but thats not a bad thing as it gets the heat out more efficiently.

4). Cold start vs. Hot start. We really started this trend about 3 1/2 years ago and started making the cold start units available. Our first unit was the "CDM 150" followed by CDM 70 and hopefully a CDM 400 in the near future. The ballast is simpler than hot start and therefore less expensive. The inconvenience is waiting about 5 minutes before you can relight for the bulb to cool down. Some of the higher wattage ones you find on Ebay are very noisy with fans and other noises from the bulb itself. The 1200w unit commonly seen sounds like a jet taking off when you're using it. We've been working on a 400w CDM for quite some time, polishing and perfecting because I wanted it with no fan to keep noise to practically nothing at all. That's not easy to do so its taken some time but I think we're finally getting close on that. A lot of these people trying to sell cold start units just don't get it right and they're way too noisy and they often use plastic connectors between head and ballast--bad idea.

5). Hot start units. Our 575/1200 is very quiet. Whisper fan inside, you can't hear it unless you put your ear right up against it. Some units are 110v only or 220v only. Ours operate anywhere in the world. Also our 575/1200 is a bit larger than the common one seen on Ebay but that only helps in heat management and is another reason its quieter and more reliable than the commonly found smaller 575/1200 on Ebay.

6). Cables. Many units, both HMI and tungsten, use cheap aluminum plated copper wire and this is the source of the gripes we hear many times about wiring on Chinese units. We use copper wire. Tin plated where-ever possible.

7). Connectors. Particularly on HMIs you have to be careful about what kind of connector you use or you can have a lot of problems. We use the higher quality quick release "bayonet" military or aviation grade connectors these days.

8). Lens. Particularly on our 1000w and 650w models we made our own lens because I didn't like the common ones used and they have all kinds of little issues. I changed those models first because they're also used in our 575w and 150w CDM/HMI models.

Those are the main things we've concentrated on. Many of the things people gripe about are simply what I would call "generational" issues. Another problem is that no one that's actually used a fresnel in real practice is often involved in making one in these factories. I've tried to make things I like to use in general and a lot of people agree with my iterations of some of these products because of that.

Overall, we want to genuinely improve, so we listen to feedback. I'm sure anyone that wants to be around a long time does the same. The question is then whether they actually do something about it. The goal is to improve from generation to generation just like any hardware or software could be expected to improve over time.

A lot of what people call "quality" is really just maturity and evolutionary improvements over time that result in a fairly polished product, but that rarely happens overnight.
Richard Andrewski - Cool Lights USA - RED #114
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Old October 26th, 2011, 01:09 PM   #5
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Re: reasons to NOT buy Cheap Chinese HMI lights

Footnote to my earlier post.

The 1.2k HMI remains trouble-free.

The three 650watt tungsten fresnels have lasted through three sets of correct globes. I did get a cracked fresnel on one. I took the precaution of loosening the clamping screws, bending the liltle clamps then retightening so that there is only a light clamping force on the glass to give it space to move when it heats up.

The three stands for the 650s have suffered badly in the hands of those who borrowed them recently and I have ruled off on any future pro-bono. People just do not care when it does not cost them. Along with the makers, shakers and creators, you find users, abusers and losers in any profession, film-making not excepted.

The thumbscrews need not be overtightened, however the clowns who used mine overtightened one leg extender and broke the clamping strip which then fell out. They then overtightened the bare end against the column and wrecked it by punching holes into it.

With the other, they over-extended the inner tube outside of the column and the internal clamping strip fell inside, then the same overtightening punched holes in that column as well. So one survivor out of three.

In my own use of them I did no damage, nor did the students at the high school who used them.

However as rentals, the smaller Chinese stands may not see too much life unless modified. On the other hand, the bigger aluminium stands which seem to share some subassemblies with their C-stands, are much more robust and no one has broken one ---- yet.

The 2K halogen fresnel, as you experienced, has had a cracked front spot-flood adjusting knob. I replaced it with a stove knob which fits. It was however abused by the same users by being pointed directly up at the ceiling which cooked the front, luckily not breaking the fresnel glass.
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