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)