March 17, 2008
FloLight LED500 Light
$449.00 Introductory Pricing
By David A. Saraceno
Commercial LEDs were introduced 40 years ago, but only recently have emerged as an option for the video professionals. It's not surprising that the evolution took so long. First generation LED lights required more watts per lumen, and were grossly inefficient compared to the incandescent bulb. How things have changed. High-brightness LEDs now provide upwards of 100 lumens per watt, and produce a much more pleasing light than just five years ago. With a life cycle 50,000 or more hours, LEDs are a durable commodity. Different fixtures in various forms and sizes are available and pricing is competitive. With these factors in mind, I evaluated Flolight's LED500 for several weeks, and came away surprisingly impressed with its capabilities.
I was specifically interested in how LED lighting compared to traditional fluorescent solutions, particularly in interview and studio environments. We use an on-cam LED light with our HVX200 -- an effective solution for some situations, but hardly a litmus test for LED lighting overall. As it turned out, the LED500 was good performer in my testing, and I was impressed with it overall. LED lighting is not appropriate for every situation, or video professional. However, if you are in the market, the LED500 is worth a long look.
What's In The Box.
The LED500 is a surprisingly light, well-constructed enclosure that measures 14 x 8 x 3-inches and weighs about 5 pounds. The front side consists of 500 ultra bright LEDs arranged in a rectangular pattern and four screw mounted barn doors. Illumination is controlled by four (4) rear panel toggle switches that facilitate incremental output from 25% to a full 100%. A/C is supplied by a solid XLR adapter that attaches to a brick power adapter which is serviced by a long, lightweight cord, or by using portable power.
Flolight claims the unit draws 40 watts, an amount I confirmed with the company twice. Most beefy battery packs, other portable supplies or a vehicle cigarette lighter will power the light. The LED500 has a color temperature of 5600K. The LED500, to me eye, provides a slightly harsher light than a comparable fluorescent.
The unit has four removable barn doors, will mount horizontally or vertically using the two 5/8-inch pivot mounts, and is virtually heat free. I ran it for eight hours at full strength and it remained cool to the touch. Ten (10) velcro strips are used to mount the supplied lightweight fish scale reflectors to the barn doors. The unit is attractive, simple to set up, and easily transportable.
The company shipped the unit with two prototype filters - one for diffusion and the other, a warm filter. A filter pack consisting of a diffusion, warm, tungsten correction, and blue and red filters for wall washes will soon be available. Additional products include supports, C-stands, cases, teleprompters, egg crates, and fluorescent lights -- all detailed at the company's website. The unit was double-packed with A/C adapter (XLR), filters, and a small LED battery powered light that can mounted on a microphone. I attached the LED500 to a 5/8-inch head to our medium weight stand for testing.
Set Up and Use.
The LED500 was quick and simple to set up and use. Two swivel mounts permit the unit to be mounted vertically or horizontally, and rotated right/left and up/down. Moving the unit while attached to my stand was surprisingly easy. AC power is supplied by a snugly fitting XLR adapter that extends to AC brick power supply. It measures eleven (11) feet from adapter to unit. A five (5) foot extension cord extends the overall length of the cord to sixteen (16) feet. It is a lightweight cord because the unit draws so little power.
Each LED500 pulls about 4 amps at 12v, which translates to twelve amps for three LED500 units. This would require a solid portable battery source, but is doable. This wasn't an issue for me, because my work is mostly AC-powered. Make certain that you fully examine your DC power sources to assess whether they can sustain the output.
Comparisons to comparable fluorescents are inevitable. A friend provided an similar fluorescent light for comparison. We agreed that the LED500 was brighter with less falloff at the same distance to the subject. But the comparisons were close to our collective eye. While LED500 light appeared harsher when closer to the subject, the diffusion filter adjusted for this.
Things To Consider.
As I indicated before, we added some diffusion to the LED500 to ameliorate a perceived harshness. While prototype filters did a good job, consider alternatives such as a light opal frost gel or something similar to achieve what you want.
One other benefit with LED lighting is durability. These lights just don't seem to break, although my observation is mostly anecdotal. I banged around the LED500 (by accident), and the unit performed without issue. Given the 50,000 hour life span for the LED500, you won't likely have to replace the unit. Another plus is that if one LED light goes out, it will minimally affect overall output.
I was impressed with the build quality of the LED500. The two pivot/lock mechanisms stayed tight despite being adjusted multiple times over a shoot. The fish scale reflectors were easily attached and removed to/from the sides of the barn doors. The banked dimmer switches were solid. The barn doors pivoted smoothly and adjusted easily.
For the most part, LED lights occupy a hybrid position between a fluorescent and a hot light. They draw little power and are cool like a fluorescent, but have the throw of a hot light. Fluorescents provide more lumens, but not as economically as a LED. Often fluorescents provide light where it isn't needed or desired. But they are a tried and true asset for professional lighting.
Lighting choices are inherently subjective. And lightning environments dictate what type of lighting and in what configuration should be used. No one light will be versatile enough to meet every lighting challenge. However, if you are considering LED lighting and are aware of its benefits and disadvantages, then the LED500 is an excellent value. The company offers first rate customer service and the unit comes with a one year warranty.
Copyright ©2008 David A. Saraceno
David A. Saraceno is a motion graphics artist located in Spokane, Washington. He has written for DV Magazine, AV Video, MacHome Journal, and several state and national legal technology magazines. David also moderates several forums on 2-pop.com.
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