It’s David Griffin, “The Prince of Cheap,” here again!!!
Now anyone that’s asked me about lighting choices knows I am a big proponent of strobes. But today I am a changed man! After having a try with something totally new, I may be reconsidering my exclusive thinking about my lighting equipment choices. Now, on to the post…
Portraiture truly is a sweet science of light. For years I have stuck exclusively close to my strobes, totally rejecting hot lights (and absolutely any other continuous light source for that matter) as kiddish, under-powered, or just plain impractical. Today is a different story as I have become an instant convert to continuous lighting! Hold your horses there – I didn’t say hot lights though! I’m talking about the low cost, high output of Daylight Balanced Fluorescent Continuous Lights! Just think Hot Lights without the “Hot”!!!
Here the small kit and the large kit side by side:
Here the large kit shown with the LARGE fluorescent bulbs installed.
A better look at the large kit with the 40 x 40 inch soft box setup:
The Large Kit with the softbox mounted from the side:
A look at the small kit setup with the 10 inch silver reflector. It also has a small 24 x 24 inch softbox that can be mounted in place of the reflector.
As you can see, the Britek Pro-5000 has 4 power switches that turn each fluorescent light on and off – a real plus.
Now, let me walk you through my first time ever out with these hidden jewels of the industry. Since I am known here at Studiolighting.net as “The Prince of Cheap,” my goal was to shoot assuming I had minimal gear so that our newbies could be able to repeat and surpass my results. I was set for a basic DSLR (any brand would due), a kit lens (F5.6 would be the widest aperture I could use), a fastest shutter speed of 1/125th, with the highest ISO I could use being 400 (many DSLR’s image quality suffer above ISO 400).
Having such a strict set of rules could nearly guarantee if I were a beginner I should be able to get good results from the lighting. Also, I limited myself to a maximum of only 2 lights for this test – this way if I were on a strict budget only having 2 lights would probably reflect that. The kit consisted of a large bank (a single housing that holds multiple lights that are individually controlled), 40 x 40 inch soft box, large heavy duty lights stand and a 4 bulbs. The secondary light consisted of a single light head, a single bul,b and a parabolic reflector as well as an optional 24 x 24 inch soft box. My only other option would be my trusty eBay 5n1 reflector kit with stand.
A word on continuous light: continuous light is in essence an “always on source.” What you see is what you get. Traditionally continuous light sources are bright, lights from Tungsten or Halogen sources – hot and very uncomfortable for models and fire hazards themselves. Daylight Balanced Fluorescent lights on the other hand remain relatively cool and have even been color corrected to mimic the same color output as electronic flashes! Because of this, many beginners don’t believe in light meters because of the digital age of the “shoot n chimp” (take an image and adjust purely based on your cameras LCD). While I get caught in this myself, I will always start off very close by metering my situation with a light meter first. Also, remember, because of a digital sensor’s low dynamic range (ability to record both very bright and very dark areas in an image at once) it’s even more important now than ever to have a light meter! I’m sure Will Crocket would agree. My suggestion: get a light meter that reads ambient light as both incident (striking an area) and reflective (reflecting off of an area). Try the Polaris SPD100 light meter. Also, florescent light in particular only requires 25% of the electricity to make the same amount of light as a tungsten light bulb!
Heres a look at the the Daylight Balanced Fluorescent Bulbs shipped with the units:
When I setup my lights I already guessed I would have to use ISO 400, F5.6 @ 1/30th of a second (meaning I expected a very low output of light) as a couple of continuous light users have reported in the past to me with other kits. But since this was a single person, 2/3rd body shot where I wanted ultra soft light and a low key background I placed the main light about 4ft from the subject with the light from the soft box only skimming across the subject. To my overwhelming surprise, my meter read a correct exposure of F5.6, 1/60th at ISO 100! That meant that my initial thought was about 2 + f stops under what the lights could produce! Awesome! But heres a tip: because you’re burning the image to the sensor/film you will still want to keep a tripod handy. For example if I wanted a smaller aperture (which would let in less light I would probably use a longer shutter meaning a tripod would further reduce camera shake during the exposure.).
Cheap Studio, huh?! :)
This means that this single light bank WILL grant even a newbie enough power to light like a pro! After I figured my exposure it was time to shoot away. I set my white balance to auto for some and manually set it to 5600k (to make sure the light wouldn’t have a greenish-tinge) but found that the auto white balance of my DSLR did a much better job than I had! Shot after shot I have perfect exposures of ULTRA SOFT FINE LIGHT!!! Once I realized that I had never created light so soft I also realized that I had just been converted to a fluorescent light lover of the highest order! 275 images later I realized that this was FAR easier than working with my strobes! You don’t have to wait for them to recycle, no wondering if they went off from the remote trigger, if the optical slave saw the flash if the subject blinked – NOTHING! What you see is just what you get!
As you can see the Light quality of the Britek Fluorescent Continuous light System Pro 5000 produces exquisite and absolutely beautiful light for portraits. The amazing thing is that with the amount of power generated would’ve allowed me to go up to F8 without killing myself (image quality wise) at ISO 800 – an amazing feat for continuous lights!
Okay, here’s the way I see it. With Fluorescent lights inherent ability to remain relatively cool (even within inches of my subject) makes it an attractive alternative (yes I said ALTERNATIVE) to flash if you are starting out. The soft light of this kit is perfect for engagements sessions, portraits, senior sessions and any other in-studio session where everyone can just walk up and let there cameras program mode steal a great shot from the paid photographer (that’s where strobe has it’s advantage – the photographer is the only one with control over the lights on location, with a wireless triggering system that is).
Here you can see the screw in mounts at the corners of the back where the soft box is mounted onto the light housing… very sturdy!
Trust me… these lightstands are built like tanks!
Here you can see the locking mechanism where the vertical angle of the unit can be locked into place.
The last thing I wanted to highlight about the Britek Fluorescent Kit is the the quality of the hardware: from the light bank, light stands as well as the innovative soft box, it is just far,far more than what I expected! I mean this in a good way! I was actually surprised at how sturdy the large light stands were for the larger Pro 5000 kit. It can obviously take a real beating – lots of weight and lots of metal attest to this. Putting together the 40 x 40 inch soft box was absolutely a joke (as far as how difficult it was). First you pop to rods into opposing sides of the mount. Then take the Velcro square shaped fitting with brackets and place the rods into the pockets then attach the other two rods into opposing sides of the mount and then into the rod pockets. Viola! A frame is built! Now just slide the silver/black cover over it from the back and Velcro it to the frame, attach your outer diffuser and you’re done! Two minutes well spent! Coolest part: the rods flex relatively easy and don’t put tons of stress on the box! Overall, there should be no complaints as far as hardware is concerned. This setup is has been thought out and made to be setup quickly and easily! Hint, hint to all the beginners out there!
Preliminary results, this high output fluorescent kit means that I can setup a quickie shoot for 30 minutes in-studio with one background, change, move on to outdoor romantic portraits, collect the check and have an even larger variety of images to show! Make sure we understand this though… there are definitely other companies on the market such as Westcott and Photoflex just to name a few that offer Daylight Balanced Fluorescent Light Solutions. These companies have some VERY versatile systems themselves (some are even able to change the bulb for strobe heads!)! Its just that the Britek unit offers the best price per wattage you can get right now, and with me being the Prince of Cheap, how could I resist! I suspect that if Britek continues to provide low cost lighting to the masses of this quality, they’re going to be really successful!
Here are some preliminary results!
AND YES… MY LOVELY WIFE HAD A GO ROUND!
Here I used the Classic Clamshell Lighting pattern. Find out how! Click Here!!!
For more info check out the Britek website.