Curiosity is probably my biggest downfall, and I end up buying and testing tons of random products. Some make it on the blog, some aren't even worth mentioning. I'm busy getting back into the swing of things after CES set me back, but here's another interesting product I decided to test out and happy to say it's made it this far. These are the Ring Lights that Serge was sharing through the comments of this blog. I did a little diggin' and it seemed to be a solid product with good reviews, so I decided to give it a shot. Now as far as Ring Lights go, there is a cliche way of using them to get that unique catch light reflection in a subjects eyes. I'm all set with that from my DIY Ring Light project, so it's really not what I intended to use them for.
(Above) Popular Z96 LED Video Light
Since ring lights provide a very broad soft light source, I was curious to see what the quality of diffusion and light power output these guys had. Mainly to see if these can be used for interviews and on location use. Just to give everyone a baseline, i've compared it with the very popular Z96 LED light that everyone loves. As you all know, the Z96 itself provides a broad and fairly even light output.
LED type lighting can be very powerful at close range and very directional. As you can see from the images below, the Z96 is very directional and has high output in the center, but was not nearly as diffused as the Ring Light. (This is not a comparison between the two, this is merely showing you the difference in light output.) By the way this is shot at 1/60th F/3.5 and only ISO 200. I underexposed the image to show the diffusion properties.
With my camera at the same distance and with the same settings, here's how much diffusion two Ring Lights can provide for your video or photography. (below)
Build quality is very nice and the entire unit is extremely lightweight. The big square at the bottom is where the ballast lives (CFL's need this), and it also comes with a set of fuses.
The included bracket is designed to hold a camera in the center of the ring, and is adjustable. The bracket is lightweight aluminum with a tapped hole at the bottom. The bracket is ok, but the tapped hole pretty much sucks and is completely useless. I'll have to make my own mount if I choose to use this bracket and one of the simple ideas is to just drill and tap in a new steel insert.
(Above) Using Power Friction Arms on Light Stand
The bulbs are labeled at 5400k and throws very soft even lighting. As you can see from the next set of images (below) I shot this product using two ring lights and the camera set to 1/125th @ F/6.3. Yeah that camera setting would normally block out quite a bit of light, but these lights handled very well with near shadowless lighting.
As you can see, they diffuse light much better than LED video lights. They are also cheaper than LED panels and extremely lightweight, but definitely much more fragile. As nice as portable LED video lights go, there's also been many complaints of close up lighting situations. LED lighting is harder to diffuse if you're working with close range subjects, so these types of ring lights would better serve in those situations.
Unfortunately CFL type lighting such as these aren't normally dimmable. You get on / off and no in between. A small sheet of diffusion paper would be no problem cutting the output though since these types of lights generate almost no heat. No heat is another advantage to be used in very close range to any subject and still provide a very soft even diffused light source without bulky softboxes or any type of light modifiers. Yes they can be used with real people and would be great for interviews.
Ring Light Example 1/60th F/3.5 ISO 400
I saw no noticeable flicker using these lights in video or in photos. I even tested this with my shutter speed up to 1/4000ths. There are smaller versions of this type of light that are a bit cheaper, but I have to say the 300w ones I got would be of more use to videographers. If you do decide to try the smaller versions, there are some bundles that come with battery packs. I ended up choosing the 300w versions, which have no bundles with a battery pack. For myself though, these 300w lights worked fine with my personal portable $99 dollar battery.
So what's my take on these? I like them alot. They would be very easy to travel with and since they are very lightweight, the light stands needed to hold them need only be lightweight too. I'll definitely be using these for situations that require close lighting. A great use would be for close up product video demos on this blog and clean shadowless product photography.
My version is listed at 40w. The largest version of this ring light can be found here at a claimed 65w:
Stellar Diva Ring Light 65w Fluorescent Video Lighting