Ode to the Diode
First came flaming torches. Next came coal-oil lamps and electrified tungsten thread. Now we enjoy the bright cool light of high-intensity Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Do a Web search sometime to learn about p-n junctions, sapphire substrates and all the advanced science in these little jewels. Or forget all that and just bask in the low-heat, low-power electroluminescent glow.
The good news is Fjordland Entertainment utilizes this space-age technology in a very practical application. The better news is that the price isn’t in outer space. These folks have created a really useful little unit for a fraction of what some LED on-camera lights sell for.
It’s a small box made of some very high-strength synthetic material, two banks of LEDs and a dimmer dial. Very straightforward. The sample reviewed comes from the “standard series” of VIDLED lights. In this series, the warmLED-40 throws out a rated 3,000K color temperature. The dayLED-40 advertises 5,600K. The coolLED-40 splashes out a bluish 8,000K and consumes 6W of power, compared to a miserly 4W for the “warm” and “day” versions.
The package contains the light itself, a shoe mount, four plastic thumbscrews and a set of Rosco gels and filters. The gel set has five color temperature orange gels (ranging from 1/8 CTO to full CTO), one quarter color temperature blue (1/4 CTB), one gaslight green and two diffusion filters. The light comes in a nifty screw-open plastic shipping container. This could serve as a permanent storage case, but a small padded case with room for light, battery, gels and whatnot would have been nice.
The thumbscrews allow mounting whatever it is you want to mount. Originally, the instructions said that the thumbscrews were to hold the gels in place, but an insert suggested holding the gel material in place with gaffer’s tape. I love gaffer’s tape as much as the next person, but some formal means of securing the gels would come in handy. We suppose we could rave about price and durability, or we could rave about gel holders… perhaps not both.
The housing has five 1/4″ mounting holes: three on the bottom, two on top. You’ll probably use one of the top ones for the battery and put the shoe mount in the center bottom one. You can use an outer hole to achieve slight offset (1.4 inches), but for real effect, you would need a light offset arm.
Power It Up
Fjordland has a number of power options for its standard series VIDLEDs; batteries, cigarette lighter adapter and AC adapter are among them. All of these sell separately as accessories. We tested what is likely the most popular one, the Digipower DPS-9000 lithium ion battery pack, which sells for $75.
The literature claims this battery will power the dayLED-40 for four hours of 100 percent usage. Our testing agreed, but there was some noticeable dimming toward the end. Press a button on the side of the battery and a row of five LEDs will indicate the charge remaining. That nice feature should help minimize surprises.
How does the light last so long? The short answer is “heat.” Or, more specifically, the lack of heat. There is only so much energy in a battery. With an incandescent bulb, a lot of the battery’s energy goes to producing unwanted heat. I left the VIDLED on full power for 30 minutes. I then pressed the housing and the LEDs to my cheek. It felt warm. I dare you to do that with a tungsten bulb! (Actually, I’m kidding. Don’t write in to say you did that.)
The more expensive VIDLED Deluxe series of lights has built-in batteries. Unfortunately, they give only 90 minutes of operation per charge. Considering that you could buy a standard series light and two batteries for less than one Deluxe light, we would choose the flexibility of the standard series.
Let’s make it very clear what lights of this class are good for. They are good for punching up dimly-lit rooms. They are excellent for illuminating adventure show hosts inside caves. They fall flat when asked to work in direct sunlight on a subject fifteen feet away.
We put the light through some realistic trials. First, we placed our talent by a north-facing window in a room with no other lighting. Initially, we left the VIDLED mounted on the test camera, a Sony DCR-VX2000. When we shot from about four feet away, the light did a very good job of taming the shadows without completely flattening the facial features. Remember that this light doesn’t have one light; it has 52 lights. This bathes the subject in a much softer illumination than a single quartz pinpoint would.
We achieved even better results when we removed the light from the camera and set it off to one side, about four feet from the subject. With a beam angle of 40 degrees, it certainly behaves as a floodlight. Keeping the light close to the subject is a must.
Going outside, we mercilessly tried to use it as a fill from about six feet away in the direct sunlight. It didn’t touch the shadows at all. We began to see results when an assistant brought the light less than two feet from the subject’s face. The color temperature of the light was good, but it seemed to be slightly on the blue side of daylight that afternoon.
Finally, we took the VIDLED to a pitch-dark room. At full power about five feet away, we had rich colors and no gain noise (graininess) at all. It didn’t quite have the strength to be used as a bounce light off a white eight-foot ceiling.
Run ‘n’ Gun
If you need a light like this, then you’re not always in the studio. I was impressed with the durability of this light, even more than with its compactness. The company promised it was tough, so I rapped it on the table and the floor a few times. Not so much as a flicker.
This light should appeal to a lot of videographers who want a simple, dependable tool for a reasonable price. And you can get it in stylish black for an extra 25 bucks.
Power Usage: 3.8W
Power Input: 7.2V to 30V DC
Power Connector: 2.1mm x 5.5mm, center pin positive
Color Temperature: Approx. 5600K
Beam Angle: 40 degrees
Dimmer Range: Approx. 10% to 100%
Weight: 9oz. (13.4oz. with DPS-9000 battery)
Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.65 x 1.9 inches (light only)
Other: Battery sold separately
- Soft light
- Low heat, low power draw
- Uses external battery
- Attractive price
- No barn doors
- No carrying case
The VIDLED dayLED-40 is a highly-usable light at an enticing price.
Greg Robinson is the owner of an independent production company.
FJORDLAND Entertainment Ltd.
P.O. Box 400
Paupack, PA 18451