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