5.09.2019

A Gallery Moment. Ep. 1. "Everybody gets a trophy."

From the Zach Theatre production of "Matilda." Jimmy Moore as Ms. Trunchbull. 

Fuji X-H1
Fuji 50-140mm f2.8 (at 129.5mm)
ISO 2000
Handheld. 

Latest Amazing Product Review. Light up my life. And one thing that really sucks!!! Cue the music....

Last Sunday was Cinco de Mayo. A Mexican holiday celebrating the exit of France 
from Mexico. I just happened to be at a rocking good party at the memory care
residence with my dad. Sadly, no margaritas were on offer.....
But the mariachis were surprisingly good. Some of the best I've heard. 

Before we leap into the review of the incredible new product I thought I'd talk about all the weather excitement here in Austin. We're having some record rainfall this Spring and all the lakes, streams, creeks and shallow spots are full of water. These are no gentle Spring showers... we're getting pounded in some instances by up to 4 inches per hour. This depends on where in the area you live but on Tuesday we got our share of super heavy rainfall at VSL H.Q. Ground Zero. 

I was working at my desk in the office at around 8:30pm when the wind picked up and the tree branches started thrashing around. It's been raining off and on for weeks now and the ground is saturated all the way to the center core of the planet. There's no where else for the water to go. Fortunately, we're up in the hills so flood waters would have to crest over 400 feet to totally cover our property. Still, temporary water with no place to run is... interesting. 

As I sat typing and watching the 1200+ lightning flashes (as reported by the Weather Channel) I noticed a growing pool of water seeping from the east wall, adjacent to my desk. On the other side of the wall is a low spot and I've had trouble with it before. We have a French drain there but it's been in service since 1998 so I think it's permanently clogged up. As the pool of water grew on the inside of the office I grabbed the (priceless) Shop Vac out of the closet and fired it up. In seconds we were sucking up floor water with all the power of the turbo charged vacuum. In minutes the five gallon container was full and I emptied it out on the side of the studio that doesn't flood (smart, huh?). I repeated this exercise for a while until it dawned on me that I hadn't check on the French drain in front of the house. If the intake gets clogged up with leaves it forfeits all responsibility and if the flood waters go over the side walk and into the garden under the kitchen window then we have RED ALERT and water seeps onto the hardwood floors in the living room. 

I rushed outside, battered by the wind, and rain that felt like spiteful bullets, only to find the drain well stopped up and in full dereliction of its purpose. I cleared the drain cover and then pulled it off entirely and watched for a second as the water rushed in fast enough to make a whirlpool. But I was too late. The water had breached the last lines of defense and was just starting to spread in the living room. I called out to Ben and he cast his headphones and game controller aside and grabbed a mop and bucket. We shouted out to Belinda and she started pulling Turkish carpets off the living room floor and finding old swim towels with which to aid in the water soaking-up operation. With the big Shop Vac we made short work of it and, with the drain re-opened and fully operational, the leak/intrusion stopped. 

I rushed to empty the Shop Vac and head back out to the studio. The water had spread a third of the way across the floor and showed no signs of retreat. Again and again the mighty Shop Vac sucked until it was full and then, emptied, it sucked again. Some time after 10 pm the rain slowed down and the water stopped its attack on my studio floor. 

No major harm done. The studio has concrete floors and is covered with 3/8ths inch foam tiles (the kind used in exercise areas...). We'll mop up and replace the tiles as some of them are nearing 18 years of service. But it sure showcases the wonders of home ownership and studio ownership for me. Oh Boy!
Oh Shop Vac, you are my hero!!!

We had more rain yesterday and it was also a doozy but I spent some time in a dry spell working on the drains. We've got more work to do with the ones for the studio but they held the line during yesterday's squall, and today we have some actual sunshine. And the attendant super-high humidity. Lovely, all just lovely. 
Coffee on the way to swim practice. Feeling down? Feeling overwhelmed?
Nothing a good, fast 3500 yards with friends can't fix. 
Goggles? Check. Suit? Check. No lightning? Check. 
Ready, set, swim. Yay!!!!!

Moral/take-away from my tale of water woes? Buy yourself a Shop Vac and keep those drains clean and operational. 

Now, on to our review of the latest "Amazing Product" to appear in the studio, courtesy the hardworking delivery drivers from Amazon. 

The product we're writing about today is a simple LED light. It's sold by Godox. 


I've been using Aputure LED panels for several years now and I like the sturdiness and color integrity of their more professional series of Lightstorm fixtures. But I have had my eye on their COB (chip on board) lights, the 120D and the 300D, for quite a while. These are set up with one monolithic LED chip (about 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches) so they make a harder light source and work more like a  traditional electronic flash than a panel light. You are able to use them with speed rings and that allows you to use them with modifiers like soft boxes and octaboxes effectively. I hesitated to buy the Aputure products because they seemed expensive and I didn't really have a pressing need for them. I was doing just fine pushing panel LED light through a diffusion screen for most of my work. But in the back of my mind I knew it would be nice, if they worked well, to use different lights, along with speed ring friendly modifiers because it would mean the whole assemblage could be put onto one light stand, effectively cutting in half the number of C-Stands or light stands I would have to bring on location. 

A few recent video assignments brought that idea back into my brain and I re-started my investigation into the Aputure models. But interestingly, each time I looked at a review of the Aputure 120 (around $650) I would also read about another choice; the Godox SL-60W. The color specs and basic mechanics are pretty much the same but the Godox sells for (right now, today) about $159, delivered. I continued reading. 

Both are fan cooled. Early Godox units had a reputation for being loud. More recent reviews point out that when both units are warmed up and have been in operation for about 15 minutes the fan noise is the same. Obviously, the Aputure model uses a thermostatically controlled fan which ramps up the final RPM as the heat increases toward its equilibrium while, apparently, the Godox just runs the fan at speed whenever it's turned on. The Aputure is rated at 120 watts while the Godox is 60. The difference, theoretically, should be about one stop. 

While the Aputure is more robustly constructed and has more "air" holes for ventilation there are some things I like much better about the Godox unit. The biggest is that the Aputure ( like the Lightstorm LS units I already own) separate the control box from the light unit itself. The control box is connected via an almost proprietary LEMO cable to the light and dangles underneath it. The control box has its own dangling accessory in the form of a power brick to convert the A/C from the wall to D/C. You'll need to remember, every time you pack to leave your studio and go on location, to pack: the light unit, the LEMO cable, the control unit, the power brick and the removable power cord for the power brick. That's a lot of stuff to remember. That's a lot of stuff to pack. 

The Godox SL-60W is set up like a last century appliance; there is one power cord that goes from your wall socket into the back of the unit. The cord is removable and replaceable (standard computer cable) but it's just one, standard electrical cord. Done. 

All of the Aputures can be configured to run on batteries. The Lightstorms I have can be purchased configured to work with either Sony "V" mount batteries or Anton Bauer cinema batteries. If you want to use the $159 Godox in a battery powered configuration you really ....... can't. I'm sure you could get an external battery, with an inverter, and make that work but you're back to hauling around more stuff. Godox does make a battery powered version of the SL-60W, with an internal lithium battery but that unit can't be used with a wall plug so you've got two units from Godox that are both somewhat less flexible than the Aputure 120D or 300D. Except that you'll already be hauling all those cables and brick with the Aputure units...

I bought my Godox SL-60W knowing full well that I'd be using it as a "plug-in-the-wall" only unit and I'm fine with that. 

Most of the time I intend to use the light for video work, in the studio and on location. If I want to work free from the wall plugs I've got a number of battery powered options to use in my inventory. But this is the only LED light I have that can be used in conjunction with speed rings and their associated modifiers.  Something I would mostly use for interviews. 

So, how does the SL-60W actually work? Pretty well. I opened the box, glanced at a tiny owner's manual, plugged the light in and turned it on. The light output matches the output I get (color, hue, and color temperature) from the Aputure LS units fairly closely. More than close enough to use both brands in tandem to light a shot. The interface on the back is incredibly simple; more so if you choose to ignore the small remote that comes with the light. 

I'm currently testing the light with a 42 inch octobox that has two layers of diffusion. I'm happy to say that at ISO 400 I can do portraits with the light in my usual configuration at 1/125th and f4.0. That's a perfect spot for portraits taken with the Fuji cameras. (I use my boxes in a bit closer than some...). 

I left the light on at 75% power, with the octobox mounted, for two days. The temperature (there is a readout of operating temperature on the rear panel. Put the setting dial for two seconds to toggle back and forth between centigrade and Fahrenheit) never exceeded 90 degrees F. I like to burn stuff in. I've been told that most electronics will either fail at the beginning or the very end of their useful life. This one seems to have survived. 

The light is adjustable in tiny steps. The analogy is a lens with a very long focusing ring throw. 

The only control, in addition to the temperature readout and a power knob, is a button that will allow you to "program" the unit to work on various channels or groups with the supplied remote control. While remotes always sound like a great idea I have about six of them for various Aputure lights and all the remotes are in a drawer together. I never use them. I can't understand the allure. Or the need to put up with more operational complexity. 

I'm sure someone will trot out the argument about the light being all the way up near the ceiling and how they desperately and immediately need to make a "critical" change in the light's output level but I don't use lights in the same way and am almost never in such a rush that I can't take time to lower a light and make an adjustment. 

For me, the light has two controls. One is the power switch. The other is the power control knob. That's about as simple as you can make things. 

So, to sum up: Great light for the money. Good color and output. Wickedly cheap. Lots of plastic in the construction (although the body seems to be made of metal). Did I mention the price? 

Here's the logic: One light in a soft box (or equivalent). One light on the background with a grid over the reflector. Done. Less than $400.   Nice. I think I'll buy two more. Still cheaper than the Aputure 120D. 
Buy one here. 

Large and bright rear panel with simple and obvious controls.