Sunday, July 01, 2007

Up to par?

Well, the awesome Pro-Light, my birthday present to myself, arrived the other day - and what a treat to assemble it and hang it on my grid! It looks perfect there, and it lends my entire "studio" a nice professional look. However, as soon as i got it all set up and switched it on, I must admit to a bit of disappointment. I mean geez - I paid quite a pretty penny for this beautiful little gadget, and it turns out all it does is cast light on my set! Hell, I've got lots of things that do that! Yes, it's got ultrasexy barndoors (well, it doesn't sound very sexy, but oh yes, it sure looks hot!) - but they do so little - seriously I could accomplish more with a little cinefoil (thick black aluminum foil used to shape light beams) or some cardboard attached to a wire in front of a light.

The main advantage to this particular light - really the reason I bought it - is it has an "adjustable, focused beam" that they say is "fresnel-like". Well yes, there is a switch on the side that changes the quality of the beam. It's supposed to change it from spot to flood, but mostly it just seems to function as a sort of crappy dimmer. I suppose the width of the beam does change a little, but it's hard to tell - maybe if I had more room, but I'm using it about 6 feet from my set. Well, I began to wonder it this (rather expensive) light is really all that much better in any way than my good old par cans. So I put them to the test. Below are a series of pictures demonstrating the shadow clarity of each light under various conditions. See, that's the beauty of a focused light like a fresnel (or the Pro-Light, at least supposedly) - it's able to cast a good crisp shadow. I can think of certain situations where I'd want to use this feature.... for instance in a shot where all you see is a puppet's shadow on the wall. Here's how the lights stacked up, with a surprise contender at the end ( the object casting its shadow is my animation camera).....

Lowel Pro-Light, beam centered:
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Lowel Pro-Light, edge of beam:
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(Yes, I discovered a strange thing quite by accident - shadows are a good deal clearer at the edge of a disc of light than at the center!)

Par 46, beam centered:
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Par 46, edge of beam: (not too shabby really!)
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But here's our surprise contender folks.... by far the best and crispiest shadow yet....

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What is it, you say? Why, but of course - it's nothing more than a simple hardware-store clamp light housing an unfrosted 75 watt bulb from the corner convenient store - total cost about $3.00! Not as bright as either of the centered images above of course - those lights are 200 or so watts each, but it's about as bright as the non-centered images. Here's a nifty shot of our little hero:

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Normal household bulbs are frosted, giving them that familiar whitish appearance. This scatters the light beams, diffusing them for a more pleasing appearance - it softens shadows, see? But it also fuzzies them up quite a bit. The unfrosted bulbs are less common, but can still be found at most stores that sell bulbs, and give a nice clear shadow quality. I wonder if they can be bought at higher wattages?

Anywhoo, I'm now convinced that the single greatest feature any light can have is some form of gel frame or filter holder, so you can insert colored filters or diffusion or scrims to tailor the light. The par cans have them, and I could buy ten of them for the price of one of the Pro-Lights! In fact, I even have a swingarm desk lamp with a piece of diffusion taped over it! See, what I'm finding is that the pro quality stuff is maybe slightly better than ordinary household lights, but not at all worth the enormous price difference! (And in some cases, for certain specific applications, the household stuff is actually better.)


Tennessee Reid said...

Hey Buddy,

Great to see you back up and running.

Your lighting limitation with the 'pro' is it being fresnel 'like' without having that consentric circled glass in front of your bulb you never will get a 'spot' light effect. 'Focusing' with a open faced light is a marketing ploy - its really always going to be a flood no matter how far up the bulb moves. Get your hands on a real fresnel or an elipsoidal (has a magnifying 'lens' in front of the light) and you will rarely use an open faced light again. The key in lighting I have been told is not where you put the light but what you keep the light off of - and true control of a light can only come from a 'lens' of some sort.

Darkstrider said...

Hey T Reid!

Thanks for stopping by and pontificatin! But now i gotta say...


Just when I thought I had it all figured out, and I'd never need to spend more than $30 on a light!!! Now I suppose I need to get a fresnel (I know I can pick one up for under a hundred).

You know - there actually is a lens on the front of the Pro-light, but it's not in concentric rings. More like a screendoor design embedded in the glass - I suspect it's nothing more than elaborate safety glass.

Hmmmm. Well, maybe I'll get myself an Inky for Christams....

Darkstrider said...

Oh, and I want to also say - not only was the new toy a disappointment, it caused me a painful shallow scalp-wound last night! I stupidly stood up right under it, and rather than a blunt instrument like the Par cans are whenever I bang my noggin on them, I caught the sharp blades of the barndoors! Usually I just rub my head a little and the pain goes away, but this time my hand came away wet and red! The pro-light has drawn first blood.......

Nick Hilligoss said...

It looked promising... but I guess I'll stick with my cheap downlight kits.

Good to see the blog running again though.

jriggity said...

cool info doods!


Shelley Noble said...

Happy birfday diums, dood.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is always learning and the the primary way is through trial & error. So Mike, don't sulk too much about this.

More professional Studio light nice, they're sturdy, fast to set-up on real gigs, but PRICEY for budget-tally chanllenged. With digital age & light sensitivity of something like DV camcorders, IMO, lights can be sort of home brewed. Also, the biggest plus with digital, you just light using "what you see is what you get" technique. In film days, you could not instantly preview your lighting setup. It whas trial & error experience, f-stop forumulas, meter readings, etc. etc..

I LUV home brewing and seeing those very old popular mechanics; the retro aspects of all that, feels 'comfortable'. A feast for gadgeteers, tinkerers, do-it-yourselfers. Today, technology may be 'efficient', but it is 'cold'.

I have some old hard copy Edmund Scientific booklets, about principles of projecting & condensing light, how to make drawing projectors, etc. I found online, a page from one of the booklets, about spotlites & floods. Not easy to grasp but I suppose if one perservered & experimented one can do-it-yourself. Just finding a secret supplier of those heatproof fresnel lens is the magic ingredient, if one ever would want to attempt at DIY focusing beam studio lites.

Here is link, it will be up for just a little while .....

"Get it" while you can :)

End of private, mini blog/commentary, just for here.


Darkstrider said...

Hey, thanks Lio Anonymous!

You know, I had completely forgotten, but a while back I ebeyed a cheap old slide projector specifically for using as a focused light, and also I have a drawing projector from my old t-shirt airbrushing days.

And I definitely hear ya bud - every time I decide to stick my toe in the deep end of the technology pool I end up deciding that the home-brewed, even primitive way is best for me!

Oh, I didn'tlet it get me down at all - I knew the danger going in, and at least I have a sexy status symbol hanging in my studio now (sort of like having a ferrari on blocks in your driveway).

Darkstrider said...

And thanks Shell (even though some of your wording completely went over my head....) ;)

Ubatuber said...

Hey happy birthday, a little late.....its great to have you back in the blogosphere!!
Thanks for the lighting info, I was thinking about getting a better lighting setup, at the very least a few gels...I'm using clamp-on, hardware store lamps...having to digitally manipulate the color in every 'nighttime' scene in 'Only Skin Deep' is proving more difficult than I thought at first.....consistency is a problem, takes a lot of tinkering....

Darkstrider said...

Hey Uba! I found in iMovie that consistency is achievable by putting all the shots to be tinted one color together on the timeline and tint them all at once. You probably already discovered that, and of course if the lighting is different from shot to shot it might still not look consistent, requiring more tinkering.

Anyuway, I gots more lighting info coming up.... stay tuned. Same Dark time, same Dark channel.

mefull said...

Well First off a belated happy birthday.

Don't feel too bad about the Lowel pro lites, I have a couple of them and I have found that light spill is more of a problem. I have a couple of snoots stacked togther with black wrap beyond that. It seems to work pretty well.

They also work pretty well if you use it to bounce off a white card, of course you can do that with any light I guess.

I keep wanting to find a small glass fresnel lens and rig it up in front of the lowel to see how that works.

Either that or just bite the bullet and get a mini-mole 2801, that is what all the pros seem to like.

Great to have you back in the blogging world


Darkstrider said...

Hey thanks Mark!

I don't think a fresnel lens will work with that kind of light - you'd need a clear glass bulb with the right kind of reflector behind it - did you download the file LIO posted? I'll probably post that along with some more info on my Darkstrider site soon, after I compile some more research. But I did find a site that sells fresnel and ellipsoidal lenses - I posted a link in my sidebar for it called Premiere Lighting.

mefull said...

Ya I grabbed LIO's post, nice clear drawings.
Thanks LIO!

I would still like to try a fresnel in front of the Lowel Pro, It's not built exactly like a proper fresnel light, but it sure could not hurt to give a more parallel light output - worth a try for $10 or so.

Darkstrider said...

Actually, it might work now that I think about it. I had tried putting a Par lamp in my slide projector (thinking the two lamps I have for it won't last long) and it didn't work at all due to the design of the lamp and reflector. But actually the Pro light does use a clear lamp a lot more like the kind in a Fresnel. How sweet would that be??!!! Take the ALMOST-good-enough light and make it totally excellent! If you do try it, be sure to let us know the results.

Anonymous said...

There is something to be said for creative engineering VS pre-made, mass produced suckage.

The same thing you just discovered can be found in other areas of art, like sound design. I can't even count on my fingers how many times I've been told that my setup wasn't professional... Yet I've figured out how to record foley in a room with a noisy computer fan and bare walls. How did I do it? The same way you do--trial and error, and lots of caffeine. Here's a quick thought---if you have a day job, try thinking about something you want to accomplish during breaks and lunch. I guarantee that, because you have so little time to develop ideas for your film, you will approach it from a different perpective than you would if you had all the time in the world to think about it. That said, I come up with my best ideas while I'm at work.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I just posted that after buying a microphone I didn't need. The price? $110.00.

Ya live, ya learn.

Darkstrider said...

Hi Pram. Yeah the caffeine definitely helps! I also think about my animation and stuff at work.