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Dustin Schmidt

"Best" Key Light for Travel

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I know "best" is a relative term, so I'll put some parameters in place.

Here's what I'm trying to figure out. What options are out there for a key light that is small enough to fit in a carry-on, powerful enough to light up a 6x6 (or even an 8x8 would be great) and has a very small power supply, or even better, a built in battery or is easily run off of a single V-mount?  Also the ability to use modifiers directly with the light. 

The goal is to find a good, powerful, portable key light for interviews that can scale from lighting a single talking head to possibly 2 people at the same time. 

Looking for LED primarily. No tungsten or hmi solutions. I'm trying not to go as large as an Aputure 300dII or even a 120dII. Looking at something like a Hive 200c or a Light and Motion CLx10. I currently own a Light and Motion Stella Pro 5000 and love the form factor and size, but would love to find something that's bi-color and has more output. (Yes I know they make different heads for the Stella Pro to go between daylight and tungsten.)

Maybe the answer is one of the more powerful Stella lights, I don't know. Willing to consider flexible LED mats but would prefer a point source.

And I'll make it even easier and say money is no object! Ok, it always is...but I don't want budget to drag this conversation down. If the solution is good enough, it's worth it.

Any thoughts from those who are also traveling light?

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I feel you on this one. Have been using 2 x Lupo Supepanels for a few years and while I love the output, have been itching to try some of the newer tech that's on the market.

For me the biggest thing to consider is actually what kind of softbox of diffusion I can get that will easily travel with the light and ideally keep it all on the 1 x c stand. I've been using DOP Choice Snapbags for the Lupos (think theyre made for Creamsource but still fit). Aputure has a great range of domes that fit their lights so have been very tempted there.

If I was to go to a fresnel style light I think the Aputure 300X looks pretty good. Bi-colour with a really high output and all kinds of diffusion and softboxes available. I'll be interested to know how much it'll cost here in Aus and when it'll be available.

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I've used Astra 1x1's quite a bit in the past but I want to stay away from that form factor for traveling. They definitely do a fine job into a 6x6 bounce or diffusion though. They just don't quite pack into a carry-on easily.

Love the Aputures, and the light domes, but the light domes don't really pack down small enough. You can take a 4x4, 6x6 or even 8x8 and fold it up so it'll fit in the front pocket of a carry-on. No speedring to worry about. Ultimately I'm either going to bounce or go through diffusion for the key, if I can take a small size, point source with a decently broad beam angle and get it to fill a large bounce, that's ideal. 

The 120dII or the 300dII are still a bit too large for this "unicorn" light I'm looking for here in this thread. 

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I have a pair of Hive 200C's and you're not going to fill a 6x6 or 8x8 with one.  That's a relatively huge surface area and pretty small light source.  You'll need something pretty big if you're trying to fill a silk that large for a key.  I'm not sure if my 800 HMI would do the trick effectively.  You'd probably see at least a 1200 doing that job.

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13 minutes ago, Run&Gun said:

I have a pair of Hive 200C's and you're not going to fill a 6x6 or 8x8 with one.  That's a relatively huge surface area and pretty small light source.  You'll need something pretty big if you're trying to fill a silk that large for a key.  I'm not sure if my 800 HMI would do the trick effectively.  You'd probably see at least a 1200 doing that job.

Perfect! You sound like just the guy who can help. Ignore the 8x8 comment. Basically just saying it's more easily packed into small spaces than Aputure's light domes.

My primary ask is really the best, small, portable light for a single talking head or MAYBE if it can push to lighting two people. The 200c is a light I'd considered from reading about it, but I have not used it. I have used Hive's 100 before, but found it lacking a bit in output.

Do you think the 200c can fill a 4x4 reasonably well and MAYBE if you put two Hive 200C's together on a single stand, on something like a long double baby pin side by side, would they fill a 6x6?

What if they had a Profoto reflector of some kind to widen the beam angle? Would they still have enough juice to get it done? 

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5 minutes ago, Dustin Schmidt said:

Perfect! You sound like just the guy who can help. Ignore the 8x8 comment. Basically just saying it's more easily packed into small spaces than Aputure's light domes.

My primary ask is really the best, small, portable light for a single talking head or MAYBE if it can push to lighting two people. The 200c is a light I'd considered from reading about it, but I have not used it. I have used Hive's 100 before, but found it lacking a bit in output.

Do you think the 200c can fill a 4x4 reasonably well and MAYBE if you put two Hive 200C's together on a single stand, on something like a long double baby pin side by side, would they fill a 6x6?

What if they had a Profoto reflector of some kind to widen the beam angle? Would they still have enough juice to get it done? 

I know the Hive has a 180 degree beam angle open-faced. Would be looking for the best compromise in direction/output. 

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5 hours ago, Dustin Schmidt said:

but the light domes don't really pack down small enough

That's why I kept my Light Dome mkI for ages (I still have it, along with a mkII) - because it packs down completely flat. Can easily slip it into a tripod case or similar.

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Does this have to fit into a carry-on? Are we talking THAT portable?

If not, I would reconsider the point source element to this and steer more towards a flexible LED mat if you're wanting to fire it through a 6 or 8x. You're better off starting with a larger source to begin with to try and fill the frame, plus it will be softer right off the bat and could therefore use thinner rags if you need more punch. 

To that end, I would suggest a 1'x4' LED mat from Aladdin or the 1'x3' flex mat units from Westcott. I own the Westcotts and a colleague I work with a lot for multicam shoots has the Aladdin and they're equally impressive. We usually use 2 of them (though one would be plenty unless background is super bright) through a 6x Magic Cloth as an interview key and it's beautifully soft and wide enough to key the talent and interviewer sitting across from each other.

The nice thing about the Westcotts specifically is that the framing system allows you to make custom framing sizes, I often combine 2x 1x3s to make a very bright 3'x2' source OR a super-long yet lightweight 1x6' source, which after draping a 6x in front of gave more than enough for a 5 person interview, much less 2-person. They weigh very little, which makes rigging them higher much easier and also have good softbox options.  

 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Erik A. said:

through a 6x Magic Cloth as an interview key and it's beautifully soft and wide enough to key the talent and interviewer sitting across from each other.

I would say this guy know how to light. Any good punch light trough this fabric will make a great source. So spend 100 bucks on the cloth. Then look for your options on the light source. I would push for a godox 150 watt led with gels: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1342001-REG/godox_sl150w_5600k_150w_led.html

Or some Menik small led lite mat. Even some small lights like the lupo smart panel even if it's the same price as the godox but a small led top camera fixture for run n gun. https://www.newsshooter.com/2020/04/10/lupo-smartpanel-dual-color-review/

Edited by Clair Denuages

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Depending on how portable you need,  look at the Hudson Mozzie.  While the unit and ballast aren't tiny,  you won't need any extra grip or frame work.  I've been travelling with my Hudson Redback for the last year and regularly all I take is it and one stand.  Mozzie is the half sized version.

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Also depends what frame size you mostly shoot interviews .. I know the client dictates ,but if its specific shoot / client you do a lot for ,if its a tighter frame ,you'll get the same softness from a smaller source closer in ,as a larger one further  back..   Im also on the look out for the same thing but think a Mat light is the way to go..as Eric says.. just start out with a large source in the first place.. then your soft box can be a lot smaller ..or just a diffusion over the light ..

 why do you need to have to carry on though ? .. out of interest .. 

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On 5/19/2020 at 9:18 PM, Dustin Schmidt said:

Perfect! You sound like just the guy who can help. Ignore the 8x8 comment. Basically just saying it's more easily packed into small spaces than Aputure's light domes.

My primary ask is really the best, small, portable light for a single talking head or MAYBE if it can push to lighting two people. The 200c is a light I'd considered from reading about it, but I have not used it. I have used Hive's 100 before, but found it lacking a bit in output.

Do you think the 200c can fill a 4x4 reasonably well and MAYBE if you put two Hive 200C's together on a single stand, on something like a long double baby pin side by side, would they fill a 6x6?

What if they had a Profoto reflector of some kind to widen the beam angle? Would they still have enough juice to get it done? 

I’ve actually never used any of my Hive’s to key with(2x 100’s, 2x 200’s), just background/accent/painting duty.  But I was going to suggest, like Eric and others, to check into some of the rollable/foldable LED’s that are already decent sized to begin with.  Someone on another forum just recently posted a picture of a few 2x2 foldable LED’s pushing through what was probably at least a 6x6.

If you had a way to hang it/mount it/support it on location and not have to travel with it’s frame and specific diffusion, the Intellytech Mega LightCloth(3x4.5) is completely soft and foldable and rollable(not rigid and segmented like the 160’s that can only go down to 1x1)) and could easily fit in your suitcase(maybe a carry on).  Although the PSU/control unit is pretty big and heavy, it could still pack reasonably well.  Just a thought. It’s big and has a lot of power.  I think it would work with a 6x6, easily.

Matt just did a review on it recently and I have a few pics posted on the Roll-up LED thread from a shoot with it earlier this year.
 

 

https://www.newsshooter.com/2020/05/06/intellytech-mega-litecloth-3x-4-5-foldable-led-mat-kit-review/

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14 hours ago, Mark Broadbent said:

Depending on how portable you need,  look at the Hudson Mozzie.  While the unit and ballast aren't tiny,  you won't need any extra grip or frame work.  I've been travelling with my Hudson Redback for the last year and regularly all I take is it and one stand.  Mozzie is the half sized version.

That thing looks really neat! Would love to try that sometime, I've somehow not heard of it until this post. Looks like it fills a softbox with minimal depth like the Dedo Panaura system does, and that system produces a beautiful quality of light.

It's obvious from the design how it would fill a softbox well and be flattering, but have you used it much in any of the other configurations? Also, how's the output? Unless I missed it, I don't see any photometrics on their website and while the light quality of Litemat units is very good, I've found they lack a bit in punch compared to others.

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2 hours ago, Run&Gun said:

I’ve actually never used any of my Hive’s to key with(2x 100’s, 2x 200’s), just background/accent/painting duty.  But I was going to suggest, like Eric and others, to check into some of the rollable/foldable LED’s that are already decent sized to begin with.  Someone on another forum just recently posted a picture of a few 2x2 foldable LED’s pushing through what was probably at least a 6x6.

If you had a way to hang it/mount it/support it on location and not have to travel with it’s frame and specific diffusion, the Intellytech Mega LightCloth(3x4.5) is completely soft and foldable and rollable(not rigid and segmented like the 160’s that can only go down to 1x1)) and could easily fit in your suitcase(maybe a carry on).  Although the PSU/control unit is pretty big and heavy, it could still pack reasonably well.  Just a thought. It’s big and has a lot of power.  I think it would work with a 6x6, easily.

Matt just did a review on it recently and I have a few pics posted on the Roll-up LED thread from a shoot with it earlier this year.
 

 

https://www.newsshooter.com/2020/05/06/intellytech-mega-litecloth-3x-4-5-foldable-led-mat-kit-review/

Thanks for the info and linking to this thread. It definitely sounds like a chorus of voices here pushing for flexible/foldable led mats as a better solution for what I'm looking for. I don't love the idea of all the extra pieces, with more cords and ballasts, etc., but if it gets the job done in a better way then I'm for it. I'll check this out in more detail. 

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13 hours ago, Robin Probyn said:

 why do you need to have to carry on though ? .. out of interest .. 

I don't necessarily have a job coming up that requires flying, especially with where the world is right now. But a carry on is a familiar size to most of us so I wanted to use that as the baseline for how small and lightweight I'm looking to travel.

My work is usually solo to very small crews and the easier and lighter I can work, while still putting together a versatile lighting kit that can get the job done, the better. 

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We've finally started hitting that point where we're not really sacrificing quality(or not much, anyway) strictly for the convenience that LED's variations offer us, like bi-color, variable color and foldable/rollable fixtures that can give us large sources without set-ups that are power hungry and take up a large footprint on-set.

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5 hours ago, Dustin Schmidt said:

I don't necessarily have a job coming up that requires flying, especially with where the world is right now. But a carry on is a familiar size to most of us so I wanted to use that as the baseline for how small and lightweight I'm looking to travel.

My work is usually solo to very small crews and the easier and lighter I can work, while still putting together a versatile lighting kit that can get the job done, the better. 

ok thanks.. .  I always hand carry my camera / lenses and that pretty much uses my carry on weight/ size allowance,,well sometimes even that gets questioned and I have to fight for it  ,my lights would be low on my list of priorities ,which was why I asked .. last year I had alot of flights and so far travel with a kit of 2 x Astra lit panels in a custom Pelican case ,with stands and a couple of mid size soft box,s.. its not too bad compared to the lighting kits we used to haul around .. but I think the Mat lights have to be the way forward for travel.. 

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7 hours ago, Dustin Schmidt said:

My work is usually solo to very small crews and the easier and lighter I can work, while still putting together a versatile lighting kit that can get the job done, the better. 

I completely understand the sentiment and when working like this, logistics and efficiency are paramount. That being said, experience has taught me that "lighter" or minimal is not necessarily synonymous with better or more efficient while on set. 

I don't know what clients or budgets you're working with, but the bottom line is that it's often LESS efficient to try and bend a location to limited choices. One or two small(ish) lights might be light to wheel up and enough to get a basic job done, but your flexibility is really compromised.

In the quest for a unicorn of a keylight for the types of interviews you describe, I think it needs to be LED certainly, and as large as reasonably possible. The larger a source you start with, the softer it can be for talent. It also has to have a whole lot of output, as you often have to be able to fight bright windows, overpower existing practicals, or have flexibility as to how far away you can put it from the talent. All this is especially important if you can't see the location ahead of time. Bi-color, of course, +/- green adjustments even better, and being able to mount it almost anywhere you want are also important, I think. Large, high-quality flex-mat types are really your best bet here while also maintaining some semblance of portability. 

A single, awesome keylight, even if it's not super low-profile, ultimately saves a lot of time and aggravation when you have a unit that can work with almost anywhere you get thrown into, or conversely, to be able to take advantage of an unexpectedly great spot that would otherwise be unworkable if you didn't have the firepower.

Unless you are being MANDATED to keep gear to certain dimensions, you'll be much better off going for the unit that is the most useful in the most circumstances. You might not like to schlep it around, but personally, I'll accept (some) portability concerns for peace of mind that you can handle almost any space you reasonably encounter on shoots like this any day of the week.   

 

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I don’t know if there is such a thing. There are so many factors when choosing lights and it really comes down to what you are doing, where you are doing it and how you are getting to and from the job. 
 

One light that may work well for one person, won’t work well for another. 
 

I used to spend 300 days a year on the road in different countries filming. I have tried numerous different solutions. They all have their good and bad aspects. 
 

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2 hours ago, Erik A. said:

I completely understand the sentiment and when working like this, logistics and efficiency are paramount. That being said, experience has taught me that "lighter" or minimal is not necessarily synonymous with better or more efficient while on set. 

I don't know what clients or budgets you're working with, but the bottom line is that it's often LESS efficient to try and bend a location to limited choices. One or two small(ish) lights might be light to wheel up and enough to get a basic job done, but your flexibility is really compromised.

In the quest for a unicorn of a keylight for the types of interviews you describe, I think it needs to be LED certainly, and as large as reasonably possible. The larger a source you start with, the softer it can be for talent. It also has to have a whole lot of output, as you often have to be able to fight bright windows, overpower existing practicals, or have flexibility as to how far away you can put it from the talent. All this is especially important if you can't see the location ahead of time. Bi-color, of course, +/- green adjustments even better, and being able to mount it almost anywhere you want are also important, I think. Large, high-quality flex-mat types are really your best bet here while also maintaining some semblance of portability. 

A single, awesome keylight, even if it's not super low-profile, ultimately saves a lot of time and aggravation when you have a unit that can work with almost anywhere you get thrown into, or conversely, to be able to take advantage of an unexpectedly great spot that would otherwise be unworkable if you didn't have the firepower.

Unless you are being MANDATED to keep gear to certain dimensions, you'll be much better off going for the unit that is the most useful in the most circumstances. You might not like to schlep it around, but personally, I'll accept (some) portability concerns for peace of mind that you can handle almost any space you reasonably encounter on shoots like this any day of the week.   

 

Yes agree ..  my need for lights primarily is for interviews .. as I suspect would be most corp/ doc camera people..   so there would be no point taking a light / soft box thats so small that even a head and shoulders interview , up close ,it would not be soft enough for any wrap around .. the source has got to be big enough to make it worth while in the first place .. I still see these video,s on line of people putting diffusion straight onto a small light and then saying it makes it a soft light ..

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10 hours ago, Erik A. said:

I completely understand the sentiment and when working like this, logistics and efficiency are paramount. That being said, experience has taught me that "lighter" or minimal is not necessarily synonymous with better or more efficient while on set. 

I don't know what clients or budgets you're working with, but the bottom line is that it's often LESS efficient to try and bend a location to limited choices. One or two small(ish) lights might be light to wheel up and enough to get a basic job done, but your flexibility is really compromised.

In the quest for a unicorn of a keylight for the types of interviews you describe, I think it needs to be LED certainly, and as large as reasonably possible. The larger a source you start with, the softer it can be for talent. It also has to have a whole lot of output, as you often have to be able to fight bright windows, overpower existing practicals, or have flexibility as to how far away you can put it from the talent. All this is especially important if you can't see the location ahead of time. Bi-color, of course, +/- green adjustments even better, and being able to mount it almost anywhere you want are also important, I think. Large, high-quality flex-mat types are really your best bet here while also maintaining some semblance of portability. 

A single, awesome keylight, even if it's not super low-profile, ultimately saves a lot of time and aggravation when you have a unit that can work with almost anywhere you get thrown into, or conversely, to be able to take advantage of an unexpectedly great spot that would otherwise be unworkable if you didn't have the firepower.

Unless you are being MANDATED to keep gear to certain dimensions, you'll be much better off going for the unit that is the most useful in the most circumstances. You might not like to schlep it around, but personally, I'll accept (some) portability concerns for peace of mind that you can handle almost any space you reasonably encounter on shoots like this any day of the week.   

 

This is a great take and I couldn't agree with you more. I typically pack the kitchen sink when I'm getting ready for shoots, just to try and cover all of the eventualities you describe. 

The question I posed and the ensuing conversation has been incredibly helpful when it comes to seeing what others use and why. These answers will inform what I choose to do moving forward.

Hopefully when I'm going from location to location in a single day and speed and packability are paramount, I'll have a larger knowledge-base of small solutions that have worked for others to choose from.

When I know I'm going to be in one location all day and have an hour and a half to setup, I know I can go for something larger that gives me more options in how I massage the framing. 

Asking for the "best" answer to something has generated a lot of great feedback on this topic. Even though we all know there is no "best".

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On 5/22/2020 at 3:55 AM, Erik A. said:

It's obvious from the design how it would fill a softbox well and be flattering, but have you used it much in any of the other configurations? Also, how's the output? Unless I missed it, I don't see any photometrics on their website and while the light quality of Litemat units is very good, I've found they lack a bit in punch compared to others.

Here are the Redback photometrics.  Not sure how the small Mozzie compares as I haven't used it - https://www.hudsonspider.com/photometrics

As for configurations I've used it in all kinds.   For interviews though if I have the space I'll run it bounced into a 7' umbrella,  or in standard configuration.  Check out their instagram for a bunch of different uses - https://www.instagram.com/hudson.spider/

Some of the accessories are designed more for gaffer use with various rigging and space for storage however can be scaled back to simply the light head on a c-stand arm.

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