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Tuff Stuff in Lighting | B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
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Tuff Stuff in Lighting

By Isaac Stackell

Sometimes, as an image creator you just can't fake it. Constructed sets and Chroma Key backgrounds can only take you so far. When you win that special assignment that demands being prepared for whatever nature has waiting for you, it's imperative to take along gear, lighting gear included, that's made to take it, Aka 'tuff stuff'.

A lighting system is only as tough as its weakest part, namely the lamp head itself, which means that lighting systems cannot be classified generally as "Ahr-nold-" rugged. I'll examine a few systems that are more rugged than most, thanks to their heavy-duty power supply construction. I will then mention a few other items in B&H's inventory that can enhance the roadworthiness of most lighting or photo equipment you may already own.

Battery-Operated Strobe is a fancy name for a flash. It can be as small as the built-in flash on your mother's point-and-shoot camera or powerful enough to light and "freeze" 100 Michael Jordans flying through the air simultaneously. Strobe power is measured in Watt/Seconds, or Joules, which is the energy required to generate a single Watt of electrical power continuously for one full second, or one watt second. This is stored energy, not output. Power output is measured by Guide Number. Since strobe manufacturers derive their specs from in-house testing, with lots of latitude provided for the highest number be it watt/second or guide number, these numbers should be viewed with the same skepticism as an automobile manufacturer's claim to a particular model's fuel economy . . . or the size of the fish that got away from your brother-in-law.

Battery-Operated Strobe

HMI (Hydragyrum Medium-Arc) constant lighting has really become the favored light of video and film directors over the last ten years. HMI fixtures require ballasts, or transformers used to regulate current flow in the lights. They are manufactured in Flood, Fresnel, PAR, and Spotlight form. They are best suited for outdoor use, to fill in shadows created by harsh sunlight, or to bring up color indexes on overcast days. AC Fixtures of 2000 watts and higher can turn night into day. The fixtures are fairly durable. HMI bulbs are currently of the hot-restrike type, which means that their filaments can be shut down and powered-up again without having to wait until they've cooled down.

CDM (Ceramic Discharge Metal) lights, a relatively new light source, are a variation of the mercury-vapor lamp. The discharge is contained in a ceramic tube. CDM fixtures often have their ballasts built into, or onto, the fixture. Light emitted from these and HMI fixtures is measured in footcandles or lumens.

Ballasts are available in two types: electronic, or magnetic. Magnetic ballasts are heavier and noisier than electronic ballasts, and are prone to cause light flickering in certain situations. Electronic ballasts have become the preferred way to regulate power to an HMI. They are much lighter in weight; virtually silent, they can take a few knocks, and do not cause recordable flickering of the fixture.

Because of their high cost, though, occasional users prefer to rent these lighting outfits. Yet, prices on lower-wattage kits (125-400 watts) have decreased enough to bring a venture into HMI lighting within reach, for many imagists. Ballasts distributed by Arri, Altman, Sachtler, and Dedolight are increasingly available in AC, AC/DC, or DC-only models, which only require your choice of battery (even a 12-volt car battery) to run. Also, many electronic ballasts have manufacturers' warranties for more than double the duration of the ones for the fixtures—up to five years. How's that for rugged?

Hensel Porty and Elinchrom Ranger RX systems

The Hensel Porty and Elinchrom Ranger RX systems offer 1200 and 1100 watt/seconds of power respectively. Both power packs have sealed controls on their top panels, and their battery drawers are located halfway up the pack sides, out of the reach of most mud puddles. Their top and bottom rims are rubberized, enabling an additional level of shock protection. Each pack can provide up to 250 full-power pops per charge, and recycle in 2.5-3 seconds at full power. The Elinchrom Kits come in a variety of models, with different packs and heads that provide Super-Fast Symmetrical or Asymmetrical distribution of power.

Profoto AcuteB 600R system

If 600 watt/seconds is all you need, try the Profoto AcuteB 600R system. Profoto is known around the world as the producer of tough, accurate strobe lighting equipment that maintains its value for many years. The AcuteB 600R power pack is currently being offered with a free flash head. This power pack offers seven-f/stop power control and 160 full-power pops per charge. It also features a built-in Pocket Wizard radio slave receiver that eliminates the need for a sync cord between camera and flash.

Arri 200 Watt HMI Pocket PAR AC/DC Kit

One of the best values at B&H for AC/DC or DC HMI is the Arri 200-Watt HMI Pocket PAR AC/DC Kit. It comes with two ballasts — one for use with Multi-Voltage AC power, and one for use with your 24-30 Volt DC power supply. It includes lots of light shapers — lenses to provide various light spreads, scrims, barndoors to dim and confine the light, a Chimera 16 x 22" VideoPro Lightbank to soften and intensify, and a filter for converting the daylight output to 3200-degrees "tungsten."

Another "tuff stuff" value kit is the Mole Richardson AC/DC DigiMole 200-Watt HMI Pro Kit. It has many of the same components as the Arri kit, minus the weight of the lenses. Its head cable is attached to the DigiMole, and is 15' (4.5m) long, significantly shorter than the Arri's 25' (7.6m) cable.

Also worth mentioning is the Altman 150-Watt CDM Outdoor Spotlight. This 120-volt fixture is rated for operation between -10° to +120° F (-23-+49°C). It is rain-resistant, made in the U.S.A, and is U.L.- and c.U.L.-listed for outdoor use. It will provide a beam of 234 foot candles 4.8 feet in diameter from a distance of 30 feet, in full spot.

Visit our Petrol Store on the B&H Web Site for specialized waterproof camera covers or the 4-foot and 6-foot + Flex Tents that can protect your lights, cameras, wardrobe, props, and personnel from the harsh elements on the most remote of field assignments. The camera covers allow access to all controls. The tents have zippered flaps located at convenient heights for aiming your camera or lights. They set up and collapse quickly. The four-footer even has a camouflage pattern.

Matthews RoadRags C-Vival Kit

If your assignment requires you to alter nature's lighting in subtle ways, consider the Matthews RoadRags C-Vival Kit. It comes complete with scrims for diminishing light, silks for softening, reflectors for filling in shadows, a flag to block light, clamps, arms, very tough C+ Century Stands, and a wheeled kit case to carry it all.

Impact Empty Sandbags Lowepro Photographer's Gloves

In windy weather, add two or four Impact Empty Sandbags which you can fill and empty on location. They come in black and bright orange. They are also available in pre-filled models of different weights.

For cold-weather imaging, check out the Lowepro Photographer's Gloves — made of Lycra, with DuPont Thermax to whisk away moisture. The gloves have Control Dots to ensure a firm grip on otherwise elusive camera and lighting controls.

And don't forget your umbrellas:

Profoto 41" White Umbrella

Blasting your subject with direct, hard light is down and dirty, but the tough among us will stick around to finesse the light a little bit, using the Profoto 41" White Umbrella, with a weatherproof black backing. It mounts to most strobe and HMI heads. It renders your subject in a natural softness, and fills in harsh shadows.

If you work in glaring sun or a steady rain and hate wearing hats, try the Omega Probrella. It will fit any camera with a tripod screw socket, or mount directly to the tripod screw. It won't protect your coif, but it will keep your camera dry.

MultiCart R12 Rock 'N Roller All Terrain Cart

This is just a small sampling of the B&H stuff that's "tuff enuf." Be sure to order at least one of everything, and don't forget the multi-position MultiCart R12 Rock 'N Roller All Terrain Cart with which to haul it all. It's an adjustable length, 2- or 4- wheeled truck with pneumatic wheels.

Happy imaging!

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