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Kino Flo and Fluorescent Lighting (Going with the Flo)

By Tom Kirkman

Film Fluorescent lighting has certainly come a long way since the days when it was reviled as a "green monster" producing ghoulish skin tones, to be avoided when possible or corrected begrudgingly with many yards of CC gel. Then there was the question of ballast. Standard fluorescent ballasts not only hum annoyingly but cause intensity fluctuations which the camera sees as flicker, placing severe restrictions on useable shutter speeds and angles.

All that changed when during the1987 filming of the movie Barfly, when Frieder Hochheim, a gaffer working with DP Robby Mueller, was able to bring his experimentation with high-intensity fluorescents to fruition, using lamps from 9 inches to four feet long. By separating them from the ballasts, the lamps could be easily hidden, and due to their low heat, affixed to surfaces that would burn in proximity to standard tungsten lights. Best yet, you could shoot wide and still not notice them in the shot.

Prior to Barfly, Hochheim had been experimenting with fluorescents for a couple of years ever since a DP he was working with expressed the desire to use them - but without the ballasts. Always a positive thinker, Hochheim and his Best Boy and future partner, Gary Swink, mounted the bulbs in a lightweight block of foam that could be double-stuck to the ceiling. All that was left to do was to attach the magnetic ballasts remotely andů.it didn't work. The long list of reasons why was topped by the noise and low frequency of the ballasts which couldn't drive the remote lamps.

Swink and Hochheim didn't abandon hope and the missing piece of the puzzle came in the form of an engineering team utilizing high-frequency ballasts in copy machines. They were up and running and the word of mouth subsequent to Barfly made them very popular guys. The team spent less and less time on the set and more time in Swink's garage, which had become a makeshift workshop for their budding business where they turned out rental units that were in increasing demand.

Their thinking began to shift in two key ways. First, where they initially considered the units as expendables for limited reuse, they began to realize that more robust materials would rent a lot longer. Second, longevity meant that sales were an option. With this in mind, they plowed their rental income back into the business until the design problems were worked out and they received a U.S. patent in 1992. The next year, the units became available for sale.

The final hurdle was the development of full spectrum True-Match lamps, a process that took several years, culminating in 2900k, 3200k and 5500k lamps covering the tungsten- to-daylight spectrum, without the need for filtration. Hochheim acknowledges that Kino Flo would not have achieved its current status without their introduction. The Motion Picture Academy agreed, awarding Kino a Technical Achievement Award in 1995. Today Kino produces about 10 categories of heads with multiple variations on each, as well as other lighting esoterica and products in development available for rental, using 9-12" lamps like the MiniFlo or Barfly (200 or 100), to 8 foot units like the Mega. Uses include everything from single dashboard lights in car shots to vast overhead banks simulating sky light, or 300-foot greenscreen walls made up of multiple units. While it's safe to say that Kino is a motion picture-driven enterprise, it's the dedication to the end-users, those in the field, whose feedback keeps the company on the cusp of innovation.

Barfly Barfly in action

We at B&H have noticed a huge surge of interest in the 4Bank and especially the Diva-Lite, by small production companies and videographers who are also embracing the soft shadowless look of the Kamio ringlight for on-camera use.

Diva-Lite 200 and 400
Diva-Lite 200 and 400
Kamio in action Kamio in action
Kamio in action

Of course, the customer who plunks down their cash for today's polished Kino product isn't necessarily aware of the 20 years of R&D that went into his instrument, since light-shaping quality alone is usually a sufficient determining factor for the purchase.

Simply put, considered collectively, the benefits of fluorescent present an overwhelming argument for its use:

Fluorescent Positive Qualities

  • Light weight of fixture
  • Use of single lamps of various sizes
  • Separation of power source from lamp, making hidden placement easy with countless mounting options
  • Relatively cool to the touch, making quick changes of lamps possible w/o gloves
  • Efficient: 90-95% of fluorescent energy is emitted as light and 5-10% as heat. Conversely, tungsten emits 5-10% energy as light and 90-95% as heat
  • Low operating temperature lowers air conditioning cost
  • Long-life lamps
  • Custom spectrum lamps: 2900 Kelvin, 3200 Kelvin (tungsten balanced), 5500 Kelvin (daylight balanced), 420nm blue and the 525nm green are often used in traveling matte photography on bluescreen and greenscreen stages. Other colors available from Kino Flo include gold, pink, red and UV blacklight for set-design work.
  • Low electrical draw: runs on household AC with high output. Efficient battery and inverter use.
  • Quiet ballasts
  • Wrap-around light: combination of soft glow and low heat make possible close subject proximity to sources. Small lamps have literally been taped onto actors w/o injury.
  • Space Efficient: low profile fixtures can be used as direct sources in tight spaces, eliminating need for frames, bounce cards, softboxes etc.
  • Multi-lamp fixtures w/ switching options: possible to mix different Kelvin temperature lamps in the same fixture.
  • Low operating cost (amps): Fluorescents are approximately 6x more efficient than tungsten lights, 110 watts fluorescent produces the equivalent of 650 watts of tungsten light. It's easy to see that running costs are significantly lower.
  • While Tungsten and HMI lights will always have their place in production, particularly in the area of long-throw or tightly-controlled beams of light, even that position is being challenged. Typified by the ParaBeam and VistaBeam, a new group of fixtures developed especially for the broadcast industry incorporates parabolic reflectors that lengthen the throw and intensify the beam using only 25% of the amperage necessary for traditional fixtures.


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