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Hands-On Review: Ikan Multi-K XLVariable Color Temperature Studio Light

The Ikan Multi-K XL Variable Color Temperature Studio Light is different from what most people have come to think of as an LED light. The first thing that you will notice is that it is heavy duty and built to work. There is nothing flimsy about this light.  Does this make it heavy? Not really. What the Multi-K XL Studio Light is: robust, and it gives me confidence that this light will handle day-to-day production life with ease. Would I want to put three of these in a backpack, and climb ten flights of stairs to do an interview? No, I would not but, then again, there is this new filmmaking accessory known as the elevator. Think of it this way: in an era of making gear lighter and lighter, at some point you end up with gear that starts to fall apart the first time you use it. The Multi-K XL does not suffer from this symptom at all, with its solid build quality, excellent attention to detail, and a few nice features contained in the aluminum housing.

Now that I've talked about the housing, I want to focus on the fixture's light output, which is really what is most important about it. Unlike most professional LED lights, this one does not have rows of LED bulbs packed tightly together, projecting light in the most awful grid pattern. The Multi-K XL has a variety of grouped LEDs—white, amber, red, green, and blue LEDs. The LEDs are arranged to provide even coverage. The bi-color light, variable between daylight and tungsten, features a directional 30-degree beam spread, which is good for lighting from a distance and for control. A small LCD panel on the back provides color temperature, dimming, and RGB info, making it very simple to operate. Believe me when I say even a child can put this light through its paces.

The unit features control buttons that are virtually flush with the back—you can set dimming and color temperature manually and then also control the red, green, and blue LED groups individually. So if you need a little more red, or a little less green, or blue, for example, you can control that to adjust the fixture's color balance, without affecting your color-temperature settings. The light comes from ikan preset to 5600K, but you can set create presets for 2800, 3200, 4600, 5600, and 6500K.

The light itself measures about 12 x 13", and an included sheet of hard diffusion slides into the fixture's guides. The diffusion’s metal corners protect it from chipping, and you can add gels to the barn doors if necessary. All around, this is a well-thought-out and well-made light. I would recommend using the diffusion; it helps to mix the LEDs’ outputs if you are using the red, blue, and green LEDs, in addition to the tungsten and daylight LEDs. If you don't use the diffusion, and place your cutter too near the light, you may experience some color fringing on the edge of your cut.

On the back of the unit, in addition to brightness, color temperature, and RGB control, are six Mode buttons that you can program for color temperature and brightness presets. A nifty little feature is that you can run the light with only the red, green, or blue LEDs on, without the tungsten or daylight LEDs burning, for extremely saturated red, blue, or green effects. The beauty of this light is that you can dial-in what you want, color-temperature-wise, and tweak and adjust the individual RGB content, which is a plus when using more than one fixture—you can completely match the light or make variations, from subtle to extreme. This light is, of course, dead silent, so the changes won't affect your audio.

Another of the many exciting features of this light is its DMX512 compatibility. The nice thing about using DMX with the Multi-K XL is that there isn't that much to think about—just a look through the quick-start manual, and I was up and running. The Multi-K XL supports five channels, which are dimming and color temperature, as well as red, green, and blue control. DMX lights are daisy-chain-able, which means with a large enough DMX board you could control about a hundred of these lights. That’s nice if you are working in a studio, hanging the lights from a grid, which, by the way, is completely practical, as this light has a strong yoke that should not slip over time. However, you could use a small DMX board to control a couple of these lights—I worked with the ikan IDX-1204 12 Channel DMX Console, but you could use any DMX512-compatible control console with five or more channels.

A few minutes to get accustomed to the light and board, and it was very easy to control the light via the console. A DMX console of some kind is something worth getting, even to regulate one light. After all, when shooting, it is easier to control the light from a console nearby, than it would be to send someone around the setup to get to the light, and then communicate with them during a shot. Just have the board set up right near you so you can make the adjustments on the fly, or have your gaffer do it for you, just by speaking to them sotto voce. If you have two of these lights, then you can tweak and adjust them both from the same board. Gone are the days of having to adjust and balance lights individually, sending your crew back and forth, or running back and forth between light and camera to make and see your changes. We all know, from years of running around, trying to get the light just right, adjusting backlight to match the changes in key, and now adjusting the key; we have to shoot, even if the lighting isn't quite right—but we've got to shoot, so too bad. That's all history, and I can see the value of DMX, even on a small interview setup, let alone on a big lighting set up.

One thing I'd love to see is a little DMX box with an LCD screen that duplicated the info from the LCD screen on the back of the Multi-K XL, especially if I were using more than one fixture up in a grid. That way, I could scroll through the lights and confirm my settings. One thing to consider is that, although you can use the Multi-K XL in the field, it may just be better suited to studio use. Overall, I am very impressed by this light and what I could do with it. Adding the benefits of DMX control on top of that makes it a strong candidate for fulfilling your lighting needs.

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Great, but nothing is said about the QUALITY of the light.  What is the CRI and spectrum (measured, not vendor published).  i went to Photoplus 2013 with a spectro and measured a bunch of these lights and the light was TERRIBLE.  CRI didn't match vendor specs and spectrum had holes in it.  No thanks.  Some lights were really good, but most were not.

I like your facts based approach.  Are you from Missouri?  I would like you to mention which lights you found that were really good.

I'd like to know how these and other Ikan LED lights with similar build perform for action still photography. (ie a musician). What is the strength of the lights and what is the fall off. In a dimly lit situation, would you be able to shoot at f4 at 1/250 or 1/320 at 1600 ISO and expose correctly with the lights positioned about 10 feet from the subject?

The Specifications tab on our website lists the photometrics of the ikan Multi-K XL Variable Color Temperature LED Studio Light at 5600K at 100% at 10 feet would be 241 LUX or 22.8 FC.  Rounding off and using Sekonic's EV/Lux/FootCandle Conversion Chart, the light would have an EV of approximately 6.5 EV.  Using the EV number, that would give an estimated exposure of ISO 1600, f/4, with a shutter speed of approximately 1/100 sec - 1/120 sec.  For your needs to get to 1/250 sec -1/320 sec, you would have to shoot at f/2.8 - f/2.5, or increase your ISO to ISO 3200 to ISO 4000, or move your lights closer between 5-6 feet.