Pure Frickin’ Brilliant–Flexlite, the Flexible LED Panel for Filmmakers

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I like stuff that’s simple, smart and compact.

Being a great fan of LED lighting for the home, I felt it was time to check up on the advances of LED technology for the film industry.

I was never happy with the bulk, fragility and horsepower-lack of my flouro softbox lamps, so I went to the Broadcast Video Expo in London earlier this year to see what the LED crowd was up to. They were up to a whole lot of things it turns out.

But of the vast array of impressive LED lights, one particularly caught my attention–the Flexlite, manufactured in Korea by Neonix Co., Ltd.  I spoke with the London distributor Prolight Direct Ltd.

Flexlite

 

 

It’s designers didn’t follow the traditional path of encasing it in an aluminium housing. Rather it is on a flexible backing.

It has a clever, compact mounting bracket that slips into elastic bands on it’s backside. Or, using its velcro tabs, can be mounted just about anywhere.

You can curl it up into a cylinder, bind it with rubber bands and drop it into a Chinese lantern for 360˚ illumination.

You can stick it on the end of a monopod or selfie stick and, with a battery, use it as handy fill for vox pop interviews.

And, of course you can stick it in a softbox.

Is it durable?

I asked this of the distributor at the Broadcast Video Expo. To answer that, he took the lit panel and threw it down on the floor. “I’ve been doing this all day”, he added.

It’s currently available in 5600K adn 3000K versions only. Bi-color versions may come in the future.

Cost is £413 available at Prolight Direct Ltd.

Full technical specs and related accessories, including battery and cable can be found here.

U.S. Distributor (Wescott) here.

The battery offered by Prolight Direct is a single unit with built in charger, but any Vlock battery will attach to their belt-clip V lock battery holder. If you already have V lock batteries, all you need is the adapter cable provided by Prolight Direct or any future distributor.

It comes with a power adapter and dimmer, adjustable from 10-100% maintaining a constant color temperature throughout the range. It also comes with a compact support frame, adjustable light stand mounting hardware, and an extension cord for the dimming unit that can be employed as the case demands.

Flex lite kit

 

Following a video review I did  demonstrating the light, showing samples of its use and demonstrating its brightness and constant color temperature at different brightness settings using its dimmer.

Note: I’ve uploaded over 180 videos to YouTube with no trouble and for unexplained reasons, this one was a nightmare. 3 aborted uploads. Finally made it as a 720p upload, but the color was quite red. Thought it was a fluke, but uploaded again with same results. Finally in desperation I altered the red in the edit by several points and did several test uploads until I got what you’re about to see. It’s still not as nice as the original edit which had absolutely no color correction, but I was getting fed up. Anyone else have trouble recently with Youtube uploads being altered in color by YouTube? 

Sony PXW X70–AVCHD vs XAVC-L, Some Sobering Thoughts

4k-Ultra-HD1 Like everyone else I was intrigued by the possibility of shooting 4K when I bought the X70 (4K upgrading coming out in June at a cost).

I say intrigued. It’s not that I really needed to shoot in 4K. When the 4K upgrade does come out, I’ll be interested to know if it has any improving affect on the camera’s native 1080 HD resolution by reason of the software. Otherwise, I’m not very inclined to go that way.

Here are the sobering facts:

1. To shoot in 4K you will have to use the Sony SxS Pro+ cards (not the SxS-1 or SxS Pro cards) and for that you’ll need a reader/writer than can take them. Or, as one commenter said, get and use an Atmos Shogun  4K recorder/monitor or something similar for about £1500/$2200.

2. The 64 GB SxS Pro + card costs over £600 or $900 and will get you 32 minutes of record time (or less by some reports).

3. The 128 GB SxS Pro+ card costs about £800 or about $1200 and will get you an hour of record time (or less).

4. There is now a free plug-in for FCPX that will allow you to import off an SxS card, but the expenses don’t end there…

5. You’ll need high-end graphics cards and a 4K monitor. Your MacBook Pros and iMacs won’t handle the image processing without making you go mad. You’ll need the Mac Pro which was built for 4K. PC users will have similar hardware issues, particularly for graphics cards.

So what about these SDXC cards we all bought? Well, they’re good and they’re fast and you CAN record XAVC-L on them if you want to, but why bother if your output is HD? Is there some small advantage? Apparently there is if you’re into minutiae, but in the scheme of things I don’t think there’s any discernible difference or advantage–except your files will be larger.

Unless you’ve got money to burn, stick with HD. It will be years before the prices on 4K equipment and media become affordable for most, and for that to happen, 4K will have to be all the rage. And that may never happen except in a small niche group of producers.

On the other hand, as another commenter pointed out, if you shoot in 4K for regular HD export, that gives you a host of advantages in post production (image cropping, stabilisation without image size loss, etc). Some blogs are suggesting that clients are requesting 4K shoots for HD export. It gives the option of later re-issuing the same video in 4K.

The question remains for X70 users, will we be able to record 4K at 60mbps on an affordable SDXC card and edit using proxy files? It remains to be seen.

As I said in the original X70 review, if you want a 4K camera, don’t get this one. Get one that’s already ready.

When it is ready, I hope I will have to eat my words–‘cuz I think I’ll want to start shooting in 4K for 1080 HD export.

 

Flexlite–New Review Coming Soon

Flexlite–The Flexible, Dimmable, Versatile LED Light Panel

Just one more thing to get out of the way over the weekend and I’ll start putting together a review of the Flexlite LED panel.

Flexlite

Flexlite–the flexible LED panel

 

Like everything I review, I own it. And I only review it if I really like it. And I only buy it if I really like it anyway.

LED lighting is coming of age in the film and video industry. There are a LOT of good LED lights out there. This one was the only one of it’s type–the rest mainly being encased in aluminium housings of one sort or another.

But for sheer functionality without the weight and bulk, this may be the perfect solution for the run and gunner.

IMG_9649

Innovative holder for use on light stands or even ‘selfie sticks/monopods’ for hand holding

 

You can snap in its holder for regular light stand mounting or even put it at the end of a selfie stick or monopod for hand-holding (say for fluid man-on-the-street interviews).

Or, using the velcro already sewn into its corners, you can velcro it to a surface or even to the inside of one of your existing soft-boxes (which I did). It’s brighter than the brightest spiral flouro lamp.

Dimmed to its lowest setting

Dimmed to it’s lowest setting

 

IMG_9647

Full brightness

 

What I intend to do is some testing to quantify its brightness and colour temperature.

I’ll also show it in use during an actual corporate shoot (nice to be able to sit in the chair with the viewfinder flipped so I can see it and simply dial in the correct exposure).

It’s also apparently quite durable. The fellow at the BVE show in London earlier this year threw it down on the ground while it was lit to answer that question when I asked it–and said he had been doing that all day long.

You can curl them up into a cylinder, wrap with rubber bands and drop into Chinese lanterns for 360˚ illumination.

Pretty clever.

Anyway, hope to get the review up within the week.

 

 

Video Whisperer Blog–New look

I’ve been wanting to update the look of the Video Whisperer blog for some time, but couldn’t get up the nerve to do it. I had no idea of how the content would migrate. Well, it turns out to have been relatively painless.

I updated it to integrate better with my Video Whisperer website and the Run and Gun Videography Blog, both of which have white backgrounds and black type which is easier to read. (that white on black was SO last century).

More importantly, I wanted it to be easier to navigate, and I think now that has been taken care of.

I hope you like it.

Best regards,

Joe

P.S. I mentioned the Run and Gun Videography blog. That was created as a supplement to the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–the Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.

It has its own content specifically posted as supplements to some of the chapters in the book along and will evolve with more resources specifically for the run and gunners. At first I was simultaneously publishing the same material to both blogs. I’m going to start phasing that out.

The Video Whisperer blog will remain as it is and the Run and Gun Videography blog will orient more to stuff of interest to lone shooters, small production companies and those who are just starting out in the industry. For those in that category, I suggest you subscribe to that blog.

Pure Frickin’ Magic

Some newcomers to the blog might not appreciate the significance of the phrase ‘pure frickin’ magic’ that I’ve now used on two camera reviews and which I’m likely to use on future reviews–mainly because I tend to only review things that I really, really like.

It comes from the original post for the review of the Sony HXR NX30:

Urban Legend has it that buried deep in the guts of the Boeing 747 somewhere is a little black box.

A young engineer once noted that in the schematics, the box was given the cryptic designation “PFM”. It seemed no one knew what the letters stood for.

Years later he tracked down one of the original engineers and asked him.

“Pure F..ing Magic” is what the old man told him.

My next review will be in about a week on an amazing LED light I found at the London BVE (Broadcast Video Expo). It will probably be called, ‘Pure Frickin’ Brilliant’.

FCPX Grading Tools

 

FCPX and grading

The other take-away from BVE London was an eye-opener for me. The world of color grading.

There’s a London-based outfit called SOHO Editors which is the largest pool of freelance editors throughout the UK and Europe. They also teach classes in London and Manchester in all the disciplines (editing in the major NLEs, Motion, After Effects, Divinci Resolve, etc.).

They had live presentations all day and I watched a few of them relating to FCPX and Divinci Resolve.

It was clear that these guys were top-notch. Teaching is a part-time job. These were industry professionals.

The first thing I noticed was that FCPX was their weapon of choice. Without getting into all of the reasons why, a point was made that was rather telling. FCPX is faster. Period. The speaker said that alone is the major reason why major networks and production companies are moving over. It’s economics. And that is the reason to no longer ignore FCPX. But what I didn’t know (and this was a bunch of geek stuff), FCPX is set up for the future to such a degree that many of the other major NLEs will be forced to majorly upgrade anyway. Changes are coming. FCPX is already there. And this, from a guy who ran the team of editors for the World Cup on FCPX: it is hands-down the best multi-cam editing software out there, bar none.

But I digress.

The hands-down best grading tool out there is Divinci Resolve by Black Magic. That was also made clear.

And the same guys who use FCPX for editing, use Divinci Resolve for Color grading (which works pretty seamlessly with FCPX).

I had NO IDEA all the things that can be done in grading. I was stunned. I mean I was gobsmacked, a quivering mass of jelly on the floor.

Talk about ‘pure frickin’ magic’.

Color and looks aside, you can practically re-light a damn set with Divinci Resolve.

Plus they pointed out that the FREE version of Divinci Resolve has everything the paid version has bar one thing: The De-noise tools. Everything else is there in the free version. And it’s really free. Not a trial. You can download it today right here.

What they were demonstrating was light years beyond anything I’d need to do in corporate videos–or weddings or anything else of that nature. But it was clear to me that I could make anything I produce look way better, no matter how well it was shot to begin with.

I was intrigued.

There’s one problem.  You’re not just going to download it and ‘figure it out’. It will take some basic training. And that, with the SOHO group–who I would implicitly trust to get me up and running in either their one or two day course–is a few hundred dollars for a day or about $1500 for the more intensive two day course. They’ve got a 3 day course in the works.

I spent time time discussing my exact needs and trying to determine if I needed the one or two day course. I was pretty determined to work out a schedule whereby I could go down to London and do it at the earliest opportunity.

Then serendipity struck on Linkedin.

There’s a colorist in the U.S. who has just released a product called ‘Color Finale’. (It runs on FCPX Yosemite only)

There’s no mention, but I’d bet anything he’s a Divinci Resolve user and I think what he’s done is produced a program that has the most crucial tools found in Divinci Resolve. If so, I should be clear: Divinci Resolve is the bees knees and has everything you would ever want as a colorist. But clearly, not all of us need all those tools. Just as clearly, we could all use some of the basic magic available that goes beyond the scope of what we can do in our NLE of choice. And I think that’s what he’s done.

The really good news is that if you buy it by 3 March, you can get it for $79. After that it will be $99.

Furthermore, one of the things that Divinci Resolve has that is mind-blowing is ‘masking and tracking’. In Resolve it’s absolutely magical how easy it works. (say you change the color of a shirt in the background and someone passes in front of it–well, masking and tracking is how you deal with that and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it easily in Resolve). Anyway, that feature will be coming to Color Finale in a ‘pro version’. However, if you buy it now, you are grandfathered in and you will get the future upgrades with no further charges.

So far he’s got a couple of good tutorials on his site with, undoubtedly more to come.

So…a few hundred dollars plus travel and expenses to London for a day…or $79 for a program that does everything I need to make anything I produce look better?

I’m sold.

Here’s the link: Color Finale

 

BVE (Broadcast Video Expo) London

BVE London

(from the Run and Gun Videography Blog, published here as well for your info).

(2 March update: I now own two of th0se amazing flexible LED light panels mentioned in this post and will do a complete video review them next week, including B roll of them in use during a corporate shoot I’m doing tomorrow)

There are a few take-aways from the BVE Expo in London for the run and gunner.

LED lights

1. My primary area of interest in attending was LED light technology because I figured that’s where the industry is heading. And I was right. Boy, they sure have made fantastic advances. Prices are still high but they will come down.

The first thing I noticed is that they’ve been making the equivalent of 1K and 2K fresnel lamps (focusable point source lights). The run and gunner doesn’t really need anything that powerful, BUT–that means we’re no longer restricted to soft box lighting as the only practical means of lighting location shots. Fresnels are lenses on lamps that allow you to ‘spot’ and ‘flood’ a light. And, being a point source, you can also easily control (with barn doors or external flags and gobos) where the light hits. This is what Hollywood uses to light sets.

Anyway, they also had smaller point source LED lamps, but from what I saw, they dropped down to the 100 watt range. There were a lot of these tiny focusable LED lights complete with barn doors, but oddly I didn’t see anything in a mid-range equal to, say, a 500 watt tungsten lamp.

But…

While that was good news generally, that’s not what I was looking for. I was looking for a quality replacement for what I currently use which is flouro soft boxes which, with the biggest bulb, barely equate to a 300 watt tungsten halogen. And these are the things that most run and gunners are using. You really have to get them close to achieve any sort of modelling in a typical corporate shoot in a daylight lit room.

There have been LED panels available for a few years that weren’t much better in term of luminance. And most came from China.

This is the area that has seen fantastic improvement. There was a plethora of LED light panels of various sizes. And the main thing I noticed was that they were all amazingly BRIGHT.  Furthermore, most companies provided a model that will give you both daylight and tungsten (interior) colour balance.

But they’re still rather pricey. At least now, if you can afford them, they’ve got enough ‘umph’ to way outdo anything you can do with the current flourescent soft boxes. And they come with various filters that can either focus that output to a 30% area, or diffuse it further. And they’re dimmable, controllable from smartphones, and all sorts of fancy usable stuff like that.

However, it wasn’t until I found one small booth that I got really excited.

Let me explain:

There were half a dozen or more companies offering some very attractive and high quality LED panels ranging from about £400 to almost £1000. I’m talking small panels such as a run and gunner would use for interviews. The high-end expensive ones were worth it for what they could do. But still, that’s a lot of money.

The one thing common to ALL of them was that they came in metal housings with barn doors and slots for filters, jacks for batteries, and control panels on the back. I wasn’t expecting anything else….

Until I found this small booth.

What caught my attention was an LED panel wrapped around a 1 liter water bottle sitting on a desk. I noticed it while talking to an American that was responsible for a very high quality German design which I quite liked (but which was a tad expensive).

Turns out that panel wrapped around the water bottle was the product sold by an outfit called Pro Light Direct (who also distributes the German design I mentioned).

It was brilliant.

That little LED panel is probably what is behind most of the other LED panel designs. I mean, if you looked inside of their fancy aluminum casings, essentially what you’d find is what this guy was selling without the fancy box. And it was flexible.

Flexible LED Panel

Currently available in either 56K or 32K dimmable units. Bi-coloured versions coming soon.

So here was this amazingly bright LED panel on a flexible backing that could be velcroed to a wall, a ceiling, a car windshield…, or put in the very simple aluminum frame provided so that it could be put on any light stand or clamp. I asked if it was durable. To answer that he threw it down on the ground, still lit. Yeah, it’s durable.

At the show he had a softbox (which was a prototype, not yet available) that could be affixed to the supporting frame .

LED panel in it's supporting aluminum frame attached to its softbox with velcro.

LED panel in it’s supporting aluminum frame attached to its softbox with velcro.

But the whole thing was feather weight and would take up practically no room in your light case.

It’s currently only available in 56K panel or a 32K panel, but he says they’ll soon have a bi-colour version of the same.

THIS is the one you want!  It’s still about £400 or so with its controller  (I forget the exact price), but of everything I saw, this is the one that got me excited.

Furthermore, unlike the cheap Chinese ones you can get on eBay, this one is close too 100% accurate on colour temperature (as most of these products that I saw at the show were). And, it’s really BRIGHT!

That said, there was another really clever one that caught my attention. It’s expensive, but very clever. It’s an LED block system whereby you can plug 2 or more together to whatever size or configuration you want. I’ll just give the link so you can check it out. They’re made in France: Exalux

Stabilising Gear

The other thing that was prominent was stabilising equipment for DSLRs.

It was sad.

I saw guys suited up in some stuff that looked more gruesome than a Steadicam wobbling around like Frankenstein with a DSLR attached, not to mention other DSLR set-ups that looked like they might cost as much as an Apollo mission.

Guys–don’t go there.

I can do better than what they can do with all that with my Sony PXW X70.

Oh, and Sony announced a couple days ago that the 4K upgrade will be available for the X70 in around June 2015. I think there’s an upgrade you can get right now that deals with a few things like improve facial recognition.

Also heard from Sony that Apple may have an XAVC plug-in in a couple of months. At any rate, they say it’s in Apple’s hands now, as Sony has given them all they need to be able to do it.

Orca Gear Bags

In my ebook Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide, I discussed the merits of soft bags versus hard bags and specifically my case of choice from Lightware in the U.S.

In short, hard cases (such as Pelikan and Anvil) with hard foam cut-outs for your equipment still transfer all the shock directly to your equipment if you were to drop the case. They’re also heavier.

Lightware cases are built around tough Lexan (the perspex that aircraft windows are made of) boxes padded with foam and encased in a very tough fabric with moveable velcro dividers inside. You could throw it off a moving truck and your gear would be safe because the case gives slightly and absorbs the shock without collapsing while your equipment just jostles around within the padded partitions.

Now meet Orca.

Orca bag

Made in Israel, this bag was an instant hit for me. It probably isn’t as tough as a Lightware case, but is built on the same principle. For those who don’t make a habit of throwing their stuff out of moving vehicles (it would probably survive that too though it might get scuffed up more) it’s a fantastic line of cases. Plus, as you can see in the photo, they have a cool LED strip that lights up the inside of the case. If you’ve ever been backstage during show-time looking for a spare battery or something, you’ll know how brilliant that is.

Instead of a lexan box, the structural strength comes from an internal honeycomb frame with an exterior strengthening aluminum frame.  They’re even lighter than a Lightware case, but importantly, they’re also cheaper. In fact I was surprised at the price. The one shown here was £225. They come in various configurations (bag, back pack, LED kit, sound rig) but nothing on the large side yet. Here’s their site: Orca

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