Rotolight RL48-B ‘Stealth’ – The Little LED Light that Could

by Karin GottschalkLeave a Comment

A press release for an LED light released by a company located at Pinewood Studios outside London, titled “Rotolight LED Lighting the source of choice for Master Photographer Tom Lee!” caused me to look back on all the LED lights I have tried and rejected over the years.

I first came across English movie lighting company Rotolight several years ago at a trade show in Sydney. The Rotolight stand was somewhat removed from prime position, at the back of the hall and off to the side. They were showing off just one product – an early version of the RL48 ‘Stealth’ LED ring light – and they were putting it forward as a light that could be mounted on video cameras by placing their shotgun mic through its centre hole. The presenter, I believe, was the son of Rotolight Chairman Rod Gammons.

I didn’t take advantage of the trade show discount on offer – Rotolight’s stand was just my first stop and there were several big movie industry retailers to go, and I knew they would have a good selection of LED lights to see and try out too. There were several other brands on display that had promise, but were underpowered, too big for a one-person crew to carry or were too expensive for what was on offer. The Rotolight RL-48 remained in the back of my mind.

Some time later I stumbled across a Rotolight Interview Kit at the back of a camera store display case, looking all lost and forlorn. I remembered the larger, costlier LED lights at that trade show – they illuminated what their light was thrown upon but the light itself lacked character. I asked the salesman to get the kit out. I assembled a light in seconds, clicked the rubberized button, moved the Rotolight around the salesman’s face, observed the quality of its output and was sold.

My Rotolight Interview Kit containing two RL48-Bs, stands and filters is the centrepiece of my little collection of small, portable yet character-loaded lights now, a welcome relief from the big, black cases of quartz-halogen luminaires I used to tote about. I would love another Interview Kit and am dying to try out a Rotolight Anova or two. I had searched long and hard for something, anything, with as much character during the analog era and resorted to kludges and stop-gaps at best.

Rotolight and its products should be far better known, much easier to find and buy than they appear to be here in Sydney. The unique quality of the Rotolight RL48-B (Available in B&H) is acknowledged by some top movie industry lighting experts but not as many as it deserves. British Master Photographer Tom Lee weighs in with a positive, detailed assessment of the RL-48’s qualities too in the press release that follows this introduction.

The Rotolight RL48-B’s output is not massive, but it has positive character in droves and in my humble opinion it’s a bargain for the price. As Lee demonstrates, a two-light kit is more than enough for close-up and environmental portrait stills and take my word that it works beautifully for video as well. A second interview kit would not go astray for use in a larger setting.

Rotolight’s RL48-B really is ‘The Little Light that Could'. Though I have yet to be convinced that dangling off a microphone is the best place to put it! Move it off to one side on a lightweight stand or have an assistant hold it and see what I mean – it does wonders well off-centre as Tom Lee’s portrait of Simon shows.

Rotolight Review: Rotolight LED Lighting the source of choice for Master Photographer Tom Lee!

From Rotolight Press Release:

LED Lighting is currently the hot topic throughout the industry, seen by some photographers as ‘just a video-light', continuous lighting is becoming more accepted by the stills market as they offer portable lighting solutions for location and studio photography or videography. LED technology now enables powerful alternatives to flash that emit high-quality natural lighting, and as DSLR's offer excellent video capabilities it enables photographers the opportunity to offer another service without having to take loads of kit with them.

A keen user of continuous lighting, multi-award winning Master Photographer, Tom Lee has over 30+ years of experience as an Internationally renowned photographer. Having accumulated more than 30 International awards and member to some of the most prestigious Photographic Societies, Tom enjoys offering his expertise and demonstrating his skills to aspiring photographers and seasoned professionals. Tom recently tested out the Rotolight RL48 Interview Kit a highly portable continuous LED Lighting kit, ideal for videographers and photographers alike:

“Many claims are made by manufacturers about how good their own branded equipment is, but seldom live up to the claims or can justify the increased price tags they seem to be accompanied by. The Rotolight Interview LED Lighting Kit is an exception.

I was looking for a small but portable continuous light source for my Nikon D4 video capability that could double as a supplemental head and shoulders portrait light and found one in the Rotolight RL48-B. I am generally a dyed in the wool sceptic, and was unsure of the potential in such a small unit, however, having used the larger Anova system by the same company it was definitely worth a good workout.

The first thing to note is that it uses the same LED technology of its big brother. These patented light sources give a truer, cleaner, more accurate quality of light than any other units that I have used. Some other units have a non-linear, occasionally pulsating light quality that plays havoc with video productions. This becomes more apparent in mixed lighting conditions such as a client's office fitted with strip lights or dimmable tungsten sources.

The interview Kit (around £250) comprises 2 lighting units with mini stands, which can be fixed to camera hot/cold shoes or separate lighting stands. Each unit includes lighting guides and gelatin Lee filter packs for light calibration and colour effects, which are stored in the back of the unit cover for ready access. The filters can then be placed under the removable clear lens that protects the LED array. The kit also includes a handy belt pouch to carry the complete kit and spare AA batteries that power the RL48's.

I have two simple set-ups that I use which tend to work no matter who or what I'm shooting (see diagrams below). My preferred method (A) is to shoot with lights mounted on separate stands 180° apart. This gives good light modelling and allows me to place the units closer or further from the subject to vary the light intensity without resorting to using the ND filters (which are included in the kit). The second method (B) is less flexible as one of the units is fixed to the camera and quality will depend on the lens used on the camera, however, both produce excellent results.

Setup A - Lighting arrangement

Setup A – Lighting arrangement

Setup B - Lighting arrangement

Setup B – Lighting arrangement

Shooting still images is done in exactly the same way, or as I found out when in Malta, can be hand held by an assistant for ultimate versatility in a mobile scenario during a model shoot. (Photos C & D)

C - Handheld Rotolight

C – Handheld Rotolight

D - Handheld Rotolight

D – Handheld Rotolight

The images below (Simon) show a head and shoulder portrait shoot ‘on the fly' using the two head kit (setup A). My son had just passed his Krav Maga grading and I wanted to capture the ‘spirit' of his achievement without a complicated lighting set-up or cumbersome equipment. Although taken in my studio, it was shot against a plain background and in less than 5 mins. That's about all the time he could spare for his old man…

Simon - Rotolight Setup A

Simon – Rotolight Setup A

Corporate Head shots – Noel Farrar

Corporate Head shots – Noel Farrar

This is typical of the gear I needed for corporate headshots of busy businessmen (see photo of Noel Farrar) who have similar time constraints in their lives. The quality of the light is unmistakable and very little retouching was done to preserve the gritty nature of the martial artist that he is and trains heavily for. It's an incredibly versatile kit for very little money and will fulfil a multitude of roles where time is of the essence and quality will not be compromised. An essential part of my ‘away' kit from now on.

Tom Lee – FSWPP, FMIPP, CrSWPP
Master Photographer

(cover photo credit: snap from Press Release)


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