Switronix BOLT LED Review

by planetviking9 Comments

I’ve never really been a fan of on-camera lighting solutions. I know that in some shooting situations they are absolutely necessary; however, for the most part I have avoided using them my whole career. My main complaint with them has been that they are bulky, add unneeded weight to the camera, and unless you are shooting red carpet or party situations, the results they produce just look god-awful. My memories of them included really hot tungsten lighting that plugged into a belt pack and added a heavy belt pack which was just another inconvenience. But LED technology has brought them quite a long way since I considered using one.

A couple of months ago I was sent a Switronix BOLT LED from their TorchLED line of products, and over the last several months, using it has changed my opinion of on-camera lighting solutions. Actually I should say that its marketed not just as an on camera lighting solution, but as a normal 200Watt light. Being mentally free of that concept, I have found a variety of uses for the light so far, and am sure the longer I use it the more valuable it will become in my lighting arsenal.


Coming in at a 200 Watt equivalent, with energy consumption at only 22Watts at full output, it’s pretty impressive to me considering that the best you could do on a tungsten light would be around 80 Watts to stay at the same consumption level, and an HMI light would have to stay around 25Watts to match the power consumption. Not to mention that the price of a true HMI on-camera light would be nearly 3 times the price of a BOLT LED.  So right off the bat I was pretty impressed at how much LED technology had changed things regarding output vs. energy consumption and true 5600K color temperature.

What really impresses me is the mix of color temperatures and the dimmers on the BOLT which allow you to mix it up, or should you have to match a particular color temp from 3200K to 5600k, the dimmers let you do that too. Also having a true 5600k solution is awesome again considering that a true HMI on camera light is triple the price, but I guess these days everyone has shifted to LED over the old-school style on-camera lights.  At $380 on B&H, it comes with the light, hot shoe mount, and power tap cable for use taping into larger Anton Bauer style battery systems, and a snap on gel holder as well as diffusion cover. For added diffusion you can also look at a small softbox solution made by Westcott for around $30. You could also opt for B&H’s kit, which comes with a Sony L-series compatible battery and a light stand.

I’d like to talk for a bit about batteries in general.  If you look on the BOLT page on the Switronix site, you will notice a disclaimer that “using a low capacity, or off-brand L-series compatible battery can reduce runtimes dramatically”.  So I decided to see what an off-brand battery would give you, just so you the reader could have a frame of reference, because battery prices on name brand can be nearly double the price on the off-brands. Sony has 3 NP-F L-series batteries in its lineup, they are:

NP-F970 7.2V = 6600 mAh

NP-F770 7.2V = 4400 mAh

NP-F570 7.2V = 2200 mAh

So using an awesome app called “Circuit Playground” by Adafruit Industries, we can figure out the consumption pretty easily.  Using the “power calculator” feature, we can just plug in our numbers.

At max output: 22W

At given voltage of the batteries: 7.2V

We can determine that the BOLT will consume 3055.5 millapre (mA) per hour (h).

Now 22W is using both 3200K and 5600K (which produces a 4100K color temperature) LEDs together at the same time I assume, so using one or the other should result in using only 11Watts, thus cutting your mAh in half, so exactly 1527.7 mAh. Now you can start to see how that figures into the Sony battery ratings. So back to giving rough estimates of time on each Sony L-Series battery.

NP-F970 7.2V = 6600 mAh  giving you roughly 2 hours at 22Watts or 4 hours at 11Watts

NP-F770 7.2V = 4400 mAh  giving you roughly 1 hour at 22Watts or 2 hours at 11Watts

NP-F570 7.2V = 2200 mAh  giving you roughly 30-45 minutes at 22Watts or 2 hours at 11Watts

A quick glance at the Switronix BOLT page tells you that at 100% output an NP-F970 will last about 2.5 hours.  This number was confirmed by a quick call to the sales staff. They told me that NP-F970 clock in at right around 3 hours. This is really good performance based on our quick equation.

Getting back to my “off-brand” test, I decided to head to my local electronics store to buy the NP-F970 equivalent battery.  I decided to use the LENMAR LIS-950H which is a 5550 mAh battery. So figuring our equation in at 22Watts or 3550.5mAh, this battery should last me between 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. I took it home, charged it up and put it to the test. Here were my results:

At full blast of both 3200K and 5600K (22Watts), the battery lasted just over 50 minutes; far less than anticipated by our equation.

Just using the 3200K at full blast (11Watts) the battery lasted just over 3 hours.

Just using the 5600K at full blast (11Watts) the battery lasted just over 3 hours.

You can clearly see that using an off-brand battery has produced results below its own advertised mAh rating of 5500mAh. You can take that bit of information how you will, but I know there has always been debate as to whether or not off-brand batteries perform just as well as name brand, and you can clearly see the one I purchased did not at all.  Had I a bit more time for the review I would have ordered a Sony NP-F970 for comparison, but we will be taking Switronix testing as gospel. In my opinion, if long battery life is something important to you over saving money on name brand batteries, then I would opt for name brand batteries. However, if you consider that you could buy two off-brand batteries for the same price as one name brand, then that would be something to consider as well. I should also mention that with the battery I bought the fit on the BOLT was not great, with a heavy jolt the battery came  off many times, even with a slight jolt. I was not pleased by this as it sent the battery crashing to the ground. I’m not sure if a Sony brand battery would be any better, but I thought I would mention it.

Moving on to light performance. I thought I would also include the Photometrics Chart Switronix includes on their website so you can get an idea of what you could do when mixing color temperatures or boosting the light for maximum 200Watt output over long distances: say perhaps using them as a standard light on a stand as opposed to an on-camera light solution.


The first obvious use that comes to mind for these lights is in interview settings. At 200W max output and exact 4100K color temp, you could use these for close quarters interviews. Especially if you are traveling consistently and paying the extra baggage fees for your lighting case is getting out of hand, these BOLT LEDs provide a good lightweight solution. You might need to bump up the ISO a bit, but it’s better to have a small lightweight bag of lights rather than a full 50 pound suitcase to drag around with you. Not only that but they don’t really get hot so set up and break down is quick and painless. At max output I did notice they did get a little warm, but still not hot to the touch. So you will never have to wait for them to cool before breaking them down. Within 30-60 seconds of turning them off, it’s like they were never on.

Another great use I found was as a follow fill light, especially in the outdoors. Just have one of your buddies follow the subject so your negative side gets a little bump without having to use a reflector and contorting your body to find the sun. An added bonus to this is the instant mix to 3200K as well so you can attempt to match color temps during magic hour as a follow fill. This is quite handy in my opinion. For event videographers and photographers this will be right up your alley.

The BOLT also works nicely in cars. I own a Kino Flo Mini-Flo car kit. The kit is quite expensive and doesn’t really do much for you in full daylight. The output on the kit by itself just wasn’t that strong so having the BOLT added a little something but not much. The BOLTs output is a bit higher and could be used in daylight with the moonroof open. This method would be using it again as a fill light underneath the subject to even out the shadows.

Food photographers will also find this light pretty handy for shooting in restaurants. It’s small enough to get away with shooting right at your table without drawing too much attention. For those macro style food shots, it’s perfect, and it still works for wide place setting shots, which is great if you need to shoot some quick shots for a newspaper review, etc.

As you can see, I already found a variety of useful ways to use the Switronix BOLT LED light. It’s proved itself worthy of “must-have gear” status in my travel bag. As I said in the beginning of this article, I’m sure over time I will find more and more uses for it. I imagine that it will become as indispensable to me as my 35mm L series Canon lens.

planetMitch note: We also used the Bolt on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III shoot that we'll be posting next week – keep an eye out for more on that!

(cover photo credit: snap from planetViking)


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Comments

  1. N.K.Osborne

    How does it compare to the Z96 LED light? The Z96 is the go to light that works well on camera and off camera. Huge output and features.

    Check out the Z96 LED light if you could.

  2. James Rhodes

    Hello,

    Not too familiar with the Z96, but I did find a review of it on Youtube , comparing it to Litepanels array.

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtWd8RBnTK0&feature=related

    As you can see at around 6:30 the Z96 has some problems with flicker. Now thats not saying its not an isolated incident. However when buying gear, I like having the piece of mind that there is a reputable company behind the product that I can deal with should the need arise. I can’t find a website for the company that makes the Z96, and the only people selling them seem to be on Amazon and Ebay, which doesn’t bode well for the customer should you need to return it.

    From what I’m read right now about it there seem to be a lot of knockoffs, which is the problem with not buying a brand name. Just like I mention in the review about the battery, yes it may produce more light, yes it might be cheaper, but in the end should you have problems with it or need service for the light I suggest buying from a reputable company.

    Just some food for thought. Thanks for reading the review !

    James

    1. N.K.Osborne

      Flicker happens when you power them with AA batteries and the batteries begin to die. If you use Sony batteries that won’t happen.

      F&V is the company that make the Z96 LED lights. I have 4 of them.

      The Z96 beats Litepanels on-camera LEDs also. I suggest you to grab a Z96 light, it’ll blow you away.

  3. bMac

    I have two of these so far and will definitely buy at least one more. The small size makes them very functional and the light they put out is amazing. The brightness and wide range of temperature is awesome.

    Simply a great tool for any videographer.

  4. TIm

    Hi Mitch,

    Great review.

    One thing I’ve found with LED lights, is despite reports of some being exact colour temperature matches, the green level is often unspoken of. And as a result lights can provide an overly green or magenta hue.

    The cheap one I bought off eBay is terrible for this, makes skin tones look very green indeed.

    Can you comment regarding this for the Bolt? As it ticks every other box!

  5. James Rhodes

    Thanks Tim !

    In my use so far I haven’t seen any color temperature variation. One thing that is nice about this light is that it uses separate LED bulbs for 3200K and 5600K. You really don’t see that in the lower end LED lights, usually they are just LED with some CTO gel to stick in front of the light. I think you run into problems with CT variation that way, because it leaves the door open for using cheaper LED bulbs which can cause the infamous green cast.

    You don’t really see separate CT bulbs in use until you get into the high end of the LED light spectrum, like the Arri LoCaster, and the Dedolights, which are both companies that have a reputation to uphold and go through extensive testing. I would say the same from Switronix products, tirelessly tested for quality. With that said, at this price point, having bi-colored bulbs is a huge plus.

    Hope that helps,
    James

  6. Robert

    I purchased the Switronix Torch LED Bolt in Dec 2011 from B&H (they were on sale for $300 for almost the whole month of December).

    The light output/throw was excellent and I tested the color output against two other lights – the much cheaper CN160LED and the Bi-Color 240LED. The Switronix produced noticeably less green cast than the CN160 and similar color to the Bi-Color 240LED, but with much more power. That part was great.

    However, for me the light was a big FAIL and I returned it to B&H for one simple reason —it could not be powered by my Sony NP-F Batteries.

    My NP-F930s can power the CN160 & Bi-Color 240 Lights with ease for hours on end, but when I plugged them into the Switronix Torch LED Bolt, it ran for approximately 20 seconds before shutting down. I fully charged my batteries and tried again, but with no success.

    I’m sure the light would have operated wonderfully if I invested a few hundred dollars in a larger Switronix (or alternative) Battery Pack.

    For me however, that would be too large an expense and too much weight and hassle dealing with an additional battery pack and cable.

    If you are just using either the Daylight LEDs or Tungsten LEDs then perhaps the Sony NP-Fs would be sufficient, but I had bought this light to use it at full power and that just wasn’t possible with my batteries.

  7. James Rhodes

    Hey Robert,

    Strange about your 930, I looked them up and and they have about 2200mAh so they definitely wouldn’t have lasted you very long at full blast (3350mAh) especially if they are older batteries. You would have been lucky to get 30 mins out of them. However I am curious as to why they only lasted 20 seconds. Must have something to do with how the battery cycles. At some point I’ll order a real Sony NP-F battery to see if the Sony brand hit the mark, or give the same time as the off brand. Switronix I think is better know for their battery systems, but I could be wrong, have only owned one big end battery system and that was Anton Bauer for my Steadicam Flyer.

    But I would definitely say if you aren’t using the bigger batteries on these BOLT lights, I feel you will quickly become frustrated with changing out batteries. So the added weight and awkwardness of the mass with the larger batteries on can be a draw back in certain situations.

    1. Robert

      They are “Official” Sony Batteries and they say 4050maH on the label. “Sony NP-F930 Battery Pack 7.2V 4050mAh Li-ion”

      I have since purchased (2) 312 LED Daylight, (not Bi-Color) On Camera Lights along with (4) NP-F960 Knock Offs which appear to have a lot of power – the label says 6600maH).

      I like these 312’s (found on Ebay & Amazon) for a few reasons.

      1. The way the batteries attach is more secure. It can hold (2) batteries at once and they do not fall off yet they have a quick release button which works well.

      2. The light output is very white – I did tests against other LED lights and these show no signs of a green cast at all – I was surprised.

      3. I did not purchase the “Bi-Color” version because you only get half the light output at any given time and from experience I have rarely used the tungsten setting on LED lights. I’d rather have full output 90% of the time and put on the (magnetic) tungsten filter the other 10%.

      One drawback – the tiny magnets are so powerful that two stayed attached to the light when I removed the filter and I have yet to buy superglue to reattach them to the filter.

      The 312’s are very powerful and with (2) of the knock off NP-F960’s will last about 3 hours. We recently shot a Reality Pilot out of the country where the only non practical lights we used were the two 312’s and they performed well.

      I would have really liked the Switronix Torch LED Bolt if it were not for the battery issue because having fewer large LED’s give you more throw when you need it.

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