DJ Clark tests out the F&V light Z96 LED – an inexpensive video light for DSLR

The F&V Light Z96
A simple interview setup with a single Z96 LED light

I have had two cheap generic LED lights for the last year and normally carry one of them in my bag when on video assignments for China Daily. At first glance the F&V Light Z96 looked much like those, which are similar in size and also have the 16:9 shape. But with two months use I have discovered that the Z96 is a very different piece of kit.

I borrowed it just a couple of days before a trip to south western China, heading off into the hills on an assignment to look for a rare monkey. My camera backpack was already overloaded, but the Z96’s compact size meant I was able to squeeze it in.

As its name suggests, the light has 96 LEDs in a relatively compact unit. Mine had a large Sony-style lithium battery that I got with the light; it can be slipped off and replaced with 5 internally fitted AA batteries instead, making it lighter and smaller. It’s also about 40% brighter than my other lights and is fitted with a dimmer switch – and it seems to run for ages. The light quality is very good, not green as other cheaper lights often are. It also comes with two magnetic clip-on filters: a CTO and a diffuser.

The next evening I left my flash in the hotel room and mounted the Z96 onto my 5DmkII (the light comes with a hotshoe mount in the kit) and set off into the streets of the old town of Dali to photograph its fire festival. I was shooting stills for the paper and found the Z96 fitted with the orange (CTO) filter worked well as a fill-in to capture the festivities in the street, looking much more natural than a straight flash. I also found it stood up to having liquids and fire thrown on it as I mingled with the rowdy festival goers (not so my arm, which picked up a nasty burn).

Using the Z96 as a fill light for stills shooting at the Dali torch festival

For my type of work the Z96 has been most useful on assignments away from home. I have carried it with an extra small tripod to light interviews over the last month and either used it along with window light, for a little creativity, or on occasions just by itself in a darkened room. The pictures below are from a “behind the scenes” video I put together in a few hours last week after a five day multimedia workshop at the Orange International Photography festival. It’s a very simple set up to do at night in a large room without the need for backdrops. The diffusion filter combined with the adjustable clean light of the LED gives a strong effect without being too harsh.

Orange International Photography Festival Multimedia Workshop from D J Clark on Vimeo.

Another nice feature of the light that I have yet to test is that you can attach multiple Z96 lights together and power them off just one Sony style battery. As standard you can stack two with supplied clips, but the manufacturer sells a small bracket so you can stack four or even six or nine Z96 lights together to form a single big light source.

Four Z96 lights attached to form a single big light

I have been delaying this post for some weeks now, not out of laziness but purely because I don’t want to give the light back. It’s a step up from the generic cheaper LED lights I was using before and highly recommended for multi-taskers like myself, looking to lighten the camera bag.

There’s more info on the Z96 in this short infomercial.

Dr D J Clark is a leading photojournalist and educator, training students across the globe in the use of DSLR video for news reporting. He is also course leader of the new MA International Multimedia Journalism starting this year in Beijing,China run by the University of Bolton (UK). DJ has been working with World Press Photo foundation helping cover the news surrounding World Cup 2010. He also works with China Daily’s website.

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