Another project where using LED lights was helpful for me. And, my favorite camera of the day.

I shot the image above on Friday morning and did the post production on it and eight other candidates and delivered them via FTP yesterday morning. The client makes IP, analog and hybrid video surveillance systems. I like that they chose a bright red for the front plate of their hardware product. I used two Fiilex lighting units to light up the front of the unit and spill across the back. One was the P360 (shown below) and the other unit was a P200 flexjet which is usually used with a fiber optics pipe. I used its beam a a direct light source. The two, small LED units took the place of larger flash systems or LED panels. I used them because open face lights with tighter beams are easier to use in sculpting light and they maintain a hard edge which works well for product.

After we shoot product images as raw files at low ISOs I take them back to the office and go through pretty much the same routine every time. We drop out the background in Photoshop and layer the image with a white background on the bottom and the image on a transparent layer on the top. I add a drop shadow as a convenience for the client. It's easy to turn the layer drop shadow off if it's not wanted. Every tiff images also gets a clipping path to make things easier for the graphic designer who will end up using the image. We also supply a range of images as smaller jpegs and web optimized jpegs.

I shot the images (the one above is just a sample) on the client's conference room table. I brought along a roll of white seamless paper on which we put the star of the shoot. I closed the blinds, turned off the conference room florescent lights and held the P200 Flexjet in my hand and moved it all around the front of the unit until I found a lighting angle I liked. I grabbed a stand and anchored the light. I did the same with the P360. Neither light really gets more than warm during regular use so hand holding them is comfortable and easy. Since the light is always on it's easy to see all the effects, including rogue shadows and unwanted highlights. Once I had the lights in place I did a custom WB using a known target and then experimented with depth of field.

I was shooting with a tripod mounted Sony a99 and a Sigma 70mm f2.8 macro (which has a bit of chromatic fringing when used near wide open. Easily correctible in post). The 70mm is wickedly sharp at f5.6, f8 and f11.  Once I liked a shot and reviewed it large I'd change the camera angle until the client and I liked something else and then I'd do the process over again.

This is my current favorite light. It's pricy but it puts out beautiful light and, when I evaluate the files in PhotoShop I see that they needed very little green/magenta correction in the custom white balance which speaks to a good color spectrum. Until I started using this unit I had forgotten how much fun it is to work almost surgically with light. Most of the lighting I default to tends to be softer and have a less abrupt edge transfer. It's great for food and portraits but sometimes products really benefit from a small, sharp source.

I'd love to post a link to Amazon but they are currently only available at Samy's cameras. It's a brand new product. I'm sure they'll be picked up by high end lighting dealers in most major cities. I've been testing them for several weeks now and my take away (and my feedback to the manufacturer) is this:  "How soon can I get more?"

The P360 is the first conventional product for the company. It's not the most powerful LED system on the market but it's a good start. The LED is made in house and fine tuned for photo and video production. The construction is great and the addition of a cooling fan for the electronics means it should provide long and continuous service. The barn doors are sweet and since the light doesn't put out much heat it's easy to make snoots and stuff out of Blackwrap to hang on the front of the lights.  The P360 won't out punch daylight but I'd be happy to light just about anything I'm interested in with four of these little guys and I'd carry them around in a small Pelican case.

As I do more and more video I am progressively more interested in light sources that cross over and give me a lot of flexibility. As always, the most important components are the modifiers.  But these are a good start to the lighting chain.


Before you gnash your teeth and label me as indecisive and wishy-washy I haven't decided to toss away my big and beautiful a99 camera and choose something totally different. I just chose to work with a delightful camera today and it did its job just right. The results were exactly what I wanted and there was no downside. That's worth writing about.

The folks at Zach Theatre asked me to come in this morning and film the production (with 200 small children in the audience...) of Goodnight Moon. It's a musical play based on the popular children's illustrated book by the same name. 

I'd been going back and forth about which video camera gives me the best (sharpest, nicest to edit) video, the expensive, full frame a99 or the cheap as dirt APS-C a57. Seems there's a running debate about the integrity of the files from the FF camera in situations where one is shooting wide. Once you start hearing stuff like this you start to worry. At least I do. Until I test it for myself. So I did. And the a57 is sharper. The a99 shares it's softness affliction with all of the other full frame cameras to some extent and that makes me think there's something about the way the cameras have to throw away 90% of their recorded information from the sensor in order to fit the HD files into the HD file size shoebox. But this was just a preliminary test...

I'm in the middle of my tests and I have a few brilliant ideas but that's neither here nor there. For the moment it was the a57's turn to be tested and, in turn, to shine.

I set up the camera on my big Manfrotto video tripod with the 501HDV fluid head and put a Tamron 28-75mm 2.8 zoom on the front. It was exactly the range of focal lengths I needed. Then I set it on program (odd for me) and set the ISO for Auto and spent the next 50 minutes trying to practice good, non-intrusive shooting techniques. Slow zooms, smooth follows, etc.

The play was well lit and the scenery was perfect. I watched the footage this afternoon and I actually enjoyed it. The Rode StereoMic I used to pick up sound was great. It captured tons and tons of good, clear kid reactions.

In its 50 minute workout the camera never faltered. At 28 minutes and 45 seconds, during a non-critical spot in the play, I stopped recording and then started again, effectively dealing with the 30 minute time limit on video recording. The camera never over heated and the battery showed 51% at the end of the show.

The LCD screen was sharp and clear and now everyone is happy. Fun to be able to shoot "B" roll that looks great with an under $600 camera. Reminds me of how far all the cameras have come these days.

Tomorrow we're shooting the two cameras side by side for a long interview. That's the real test. I'll post it. If you aren't interested in video you don't have to read it. I'm a nerd. I want to know.


Graham said...

I'm curios what's happened to your a77 Kirk?

Have you noticed any noticeable difference with the a99's video IBS on or off?

Finally, can you comment on video output quality between the a77 and a57?


Kirk Tuck said...

Graham, What is IBS? Do you mean image stabilization? That's always off when I shoot video. I tend to use tripods for everything.

The a77 is doing well and is currently vacationing in drawer #3 of the equipment cabinet. It comes out as a back up for the a99. As to video, the a77 and the a57 seem the same to me until we get into the higher ISO area and then the a57 looks clearly better and, again, I chalk it up to how the files are compressed down from 24 megapixels to 2 megapixels. My take away right now is that the a57 is an awesome video/still hybrid camera for the money. Tell me what IBS is and we'll discuss further...

Graham said...

Thanks for the comments Kirk, I think I'll pick up an a57 rather than an a99 as a 2nd video body for my a77 (I'm still enjoying my a850 for full frame).

IBS is as you deduced In Body Stabilization. I vacillated between using IBS, and Sony's SSS. I see now I should have simply said stabilization (but who can resist acronyms). ;-).

I don't see any link on your blog for Amazon affiliates. Is my pop-up blocker preventing it appearing, or am I missing something?

Kirk Tuck said...

I don't always post affiliate links. I kinda of do it when I write something germane to a product. But I'll stick them down below this article. Click on any of the links to get there.

Chuck Lucas said...

Not sure if this is the right place to ask this, but I had a LED question. If you would rather I ask somewhere else, let me know. I have read your book, and from reading the blog I know that you are a fan of the Fotodiox 312 AS. My question is, other than cost is there any difference between the 312 AS and the 508 AS ? In other words, if cost is not an issue, is there any reason to pick the smaller one over the larger one?

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Chuck, I'd always go with the larger one if price is no object. I haven't seen the 508 AS, just the regular 508 which is single color versus adjustable color. Let me know where you see them offered. Thanks.

Chuck Lucas said...

Thanks Kirk,

The Fotodiox website has had it listed for several months at $349.95 ($100 more than the 312AS on their website)
Bottom left of this page:

Amazon has it for $299.95

I think the 312AS is currently going for $148.26 on Amazon:

Dave said...

Kirk you just hit a total sweet spot. I've been playing with the 312AS and pretty much like it though I'm so used to the workflow of my big lights that I haven't been able to hit it off with it. For some reason seeing the video demo of the P360 and P200 combo clicked in my head .. creating "aha" moment. Maybe its because it reminds of stage lights with a fresnel. Ha look at me planning how to use these when I haven't mastered the cheap Fotodiox units! :)

Thanks for showing these lights and how they were useful. Much appreciated.

Decoled said...

Nice work, sounds great :)

Anonymous said...

Kirk I love your articles on using LEDs. I sell a lot on EBAY and sometimes have trouble getting a good picture. Would LED lighting be useful for taking pictures of small items like silverware or glass/porcelain items? Thanks Bob