I’ll admit right up front that one of the joys of the work I do is the acceptance that a lot of the kit I use is actually my own grown-up toybox. There are my favourites, there are some let-downs, and best of all there are the amazing press-nose-to-window must haves to yearn for. And the latest one of these is the Dedo Onboard LED Lamp, affectionately known as ‘LEDzilla’.
At first glance, it’s another in the litany of on-camera lamps – sun guns, bashers, reporter lamps, many of which are used like searchlights in the dark. As such, their lighting quality is more technical than aesthetic, being the equivalent of an on-camera flashgun for stills. Sure, it illuminates what ever is in front of the camera, but the subject ends up like a medical specimen or a startled rabbit rather than a beautiful picture. News doesn’t happen where the best light can be found, and there comes a point in any videographer’s work roster where your camera is going to need some help. But that’s where many of these devices sat.
The issue with on-camera lights and dark surroundings is one of the fundamental laws of physics: the Inverse Square Law. Basically, if you have a light close to your subject, the amount of fall-off is pretty huge, so the tip of a nose could be over exposed and the ears too dark. As distance increases, so the fall-off gets much better, but the amount of light in general falls off too, so you have to start off with more light, or focus that light into a narrow tunnel – and putting lenses on lights (Dedo owners have already guessed where I’m going with this) makes them heavy and not exactly camera-top friendly. Throwing more light without lenses requires a lot more power, and that brings back unhappy memories of doing a Chewbacca impression by wearing a couple of PAG belts to power a sun-gun and camera (as the camera assistant I might add – in the days of plumbicon ENG cameras) but I digress.
I’ve purchased a lovely little ‘helper’ lamp – the LitePanels Micro which has done a great job of filling in the shadows under eyes in office lighting, putting a little sparkle in hair if held over the top of an interviewee, or to cast a ‘screen glow’ from a computer display or laptop. Its light weight and battery power means it can be stuck in all sorts of odd places. But it’s a close-up lamp. The LEDs’ light dissipates too quickly for any sort of distance work beyond a couple of feet as a primary source, and maybe double that as a fill.
But overall power of a lamp isn’t the deciding factor. As cameras get more and more sensitive in low light, you need some control to perhaps lift an interviewee out of a dim background by washing just a leetle bit of light, not blasting them out like an out-take from close encounters. So the dimmability of a fill-in lamp is extremely desirable, to take ambient light up one stop, or to fill ambient light and take shadows up to one stop below.
So to cut to the chase: Rick and I meet up at a big job recently, and he’s got his new Dedo LEDzilla. In the daylit foyer of a big convention centre (okay, let’s name drop – the Palais des Festival in Cannes), he’s able to boost the shadows enough to give a nice glow to faces in a contrasty lighting area (with spill from neon, tungten and the like). The rushes are great! I get to play with it a bit – it’s a miniature, battery powered Dedolight. The Dedo lens system is there, focusing an intense beam for long throws, or putting out a nice wide glow with edge to edge evenness (no bright spots or dim doughnuts, or spurious colouration towards the edge). A flip down Tungsten filter doesn’t knock the lamp back much – loads of power to spare. And it seems to run forever on a Z1 battery.
Okay, so it’s a hard light source. Nothing wrong with that – key lights were hard for ages. It takes more precision to set a hard keylight as a soft key is very forgiving, but I’d be tempted to use it more in natural lighting situations as a filler, as well as a hard key in indoor situations like voxpops – even if it goes on a bendy arm hanging off the tripod to get it off the camera’s axis. It’s light enough and wire free to have in a stuff-bag, and whilst an Arri Magic Arm might be required for a mains powered Dedo, the LEDzilla is small enough to be supported on a gorillagrip or gooseneck.
And because it’s small and battery powered, it’s a great effect lamp too. We did a little setup where I could hide the lamp between a couple of props, and because the light is focused through lenses, there’s so little spill that the attached barn doors are for shaping rather than flagging – so its position is invisible.
In comparison with other LED lamps I’ve played with, it’s an incredibly well thought out tool: the lamp body is like an anglepoise lamp – getting the lamp away from the lens axis to get some modelling from shadows. The spot and flood control is incredible when you consider how small this unit is. The dimming is a lot smoother than the LitePanels and can do that ‘gleam’ barely-on setting that will lift shadows in dark environments. It will also throw a beam of light across a room with enough oomph to key an talking head.
Although I’ll be keeping the LitePanels, I know I’ll get far more use out of the LEDzilla, and I can even fantasize about having several as a miniature interview lighting setup.