Larry has been around lights and lighting for decades and this time he reveals his absolute favorite video lights.
I’ve been on camera more than 20 years and I’ve run a multi-million dollar video production studio for years. So after being around countless studio setups and working with all kinds of lights, what are my absolute favorite lights for video?
Hey, Larry here. You’re probably thinking I’m gonna mention some crazy expensive light that would make video production pros drool. No and yes. My favorite lights aren’t crazy expensive, but they do make video production pros drool and I even have proof. By the way, this episode is gonna get a little nerdy, but most people will be able to understand what’s going on.
Specifically, my favorite lights are from a company called Westcott and the specific product line is called Flex lights. They’re dimmable LED panel lights and the panels are available in a bunch of different sizes. They’re incredibly lightweight. They’re splash proof and really durable. And the flexibility means they can be mounted where lots of lights have never gone before. And if you’re into video production you’ll appreciate that they are incredibly color accurate. There are even models that come in daylight or tungsten, so video pros can match the environmental lighting. And some models are even mixable.
So let me break all this down for you…
When you’re shooting videos indoors, you almost always need to add light because you get better video quality with that extra light. You could use something really inexpensive like hardware store clamp lamps, and with daylight adjusted bulbs (we’ll talk about what that means in a second) they can do a decent job. There are some pretty sweet entry level professional lighting kits available. And there are super expensive, highly controllable cinematic lighting options on the market. The reason the Westcott Flex lights are my favorite is because they are incredibly controllable, pro quality, and they’re far less expensive than cinematic lighting, that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
It will help if you understand the absolute basics of light temperature. I’m not talking about heat, although these lights have the added benefit of very low operating temperature compared to a lot of lights… but I’m talking about the color cast light bulbs can have. Pro photographers and videographers understand that what we call “daylight” bulbs are generally said to be in the 5000º kelvin range and that kind of light helps your camera see colors accurately. Even consumer light bulb packaging uses the term “daylight.”
Some consumer packaging says “warm” and photographers would call that something like 3500º Kelvin. Traditional tungsten light bulbs have a similar warm color and this makes cameras see things with an orange tint. It’s true cameras can compensate for various light tints and mixed light colors, but if you’re setting up lights and you have all your lights with one color, like daylight or 5000º Kelvin or so, then you’re much more likely to not have to worry about adjustments to make your videos look right. For the record, I always tell people, start with daylight adjusted lights for your videos. It just makes things easy.
This was the first model of Westcott Flex panel lights that came out a couple years ago. I got my hands on an early release unit and did a review of the light for B&H Photo. In fact, if you start looking into these lights, you should watch that brief video because there’s great information in it.
So this panel is 10″ X 10″ and has 144 daylight LEDs. Recently this model was replaced by a 12″ X 12″ panel, which also has 144 LEDs and essentially the same brightness and controls, but the 1 square foot size is more standard for the industry. This Flex panel was originally released in a daylight version and a tungsten version so lighting pros could buy the panel to match the environment they normally work in.
I love that this light is dimmable and flicker free for video. LEDs and fluorescent lights often have a flicker that messes with video frame rates. Not these.
There are a bunch of additional features available with Flex lights and some of them are beyond what I need. And if you’re setting up in-house video for your business, you might want some of the extra features, OR you might not need them.
With my in-house mini studio, it’s no problem that you need to plug these panels into AC power. On the other hand, if you need a lighting setup that works outdoors because you want to add some light to somebody who’s in the sunshine but not properly lit, you’ll appreciate that there are optional batteries available.
Another more advanced option is that there are not only daylight or tungsten versions available, but there are some panels that have BOTH LED colors and they come with a dial that allows you to dim the lights OR blend the daylight and warm LEDs.
I mentioned that there are lots of size options available. Of course there’s the 1 foot by 1 foot, but there are also 1 X 2s and 1 X 3s available. And THOSE can be mounted on cinematic style frames called scrim jims which Hollywood studios love. And besides the bigger panels, there are smaller ones available. Check out this one…
This is a 10″ X 3″ panel with warm and daylight LEDs, and you can dial in PRECISE light color. This kind of control, plus the light weight and battery options make even the pros go nuts for Flex panels. I know first hand because when I hosted one of the hour long talkshows for the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas this year this happened…
[replay of NAB Video]
What’s cool is that the NAB convention is more than 100,000 broadcast industry leaders and the guys working on all this pro gear on our show were blown away by the Flex panels.
And let’s not forget the reason they’re called Flex panels in the first place…
[replay of NAB Video]
One more reason I recommend I use and recommend the daylight version of these lights is because I’m doing simple production and I don’t have lots of lighting situations where I need my added light to match ambient light. If I was getting a light for a pro mobile setup I’d probably spend a little more and get the mixable color version. But even with my daylight only lights, I can manually add something called quarter cut CTO gel, and warm up the lights a little myself. It’s kind of like cellophane but it’s very color accurate and you can get it from photography supply companies like B&H. And if that doesn’t add enough warmth, just add another sheet.
This Flex panel is available by itself or in a kit with a swivel mounting clip and a diffuser. I put my CTO gel under the diffuser or clip it to the front with a clothes pin.
So are Flex panels for everybody? No. But they’re definitely my favorite!
I’d describe them as the Lexus of video lighting options. Hollywood pros might go for a Lamborghini, and beginners might go for a Ford Focus. But if you’ve got the budget and you want lots of features to make video lighting fun, accurate, and easy, go for the Lexus… um, I mean, the Flex.
Leave a comment to tell me what you think. Do you have questions about Flex panels and how I use them? Or do you have questions about simple, in-house video production setups? Gear? Teleprompters? Microphones? What do you want to know.
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