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Film Lights Comparison: Cheapest to Most Expensive

A work in progress. LAST UPDATED: 4/22/15

I’m trying to create an exhaustive list of popular light sources for indie films from cheap to expensive, as well as something that will help budding filmmakers understand the slanguage of American Cinematographer magazine (the thing to read if you’re serious about learning movie lighting). Use this as a guide along with great posts from other filmmakers like Shane Hurlbut’s Home Depot Lighting Kit.

Sunlight
Cost: Free
Advantages: Strong, free source of light.
Disadvantages: Restricted to outdoor setups; have to work with changing direction throughout the day, changing color temperature; harsh, constantly-moving shadows.
Accessories: Use reflectors to make the sun into multiple sources or control direction. Use a silk to reduce or soften harsh sunlight.

Consumer practical light bulbConsumer Practicals
Cost: Free or cheap
Advantages: Simple set-up; low cost; realistic look. Widely available.
Disadvantages: Lack of control over wattage and position.
Accessories: Unscrew the lightbulbs in regular fixtures and replace them with higher wattage bulbs. Add lamp shades or cleverly hide gels. For off-screen, use an aluminum ‘scoop’ reflector with clamp.

china-ball-on-c-standPaper Lanterns a.k.a. China Balls
Cost: $4-$16
Advantages: Affordable; soft light. Widely available.
Disadvantages: Hanging them can be tricky, especially in wider set-ups. Paper is flammable; nylon versions less of a fire hazard but more expensive.
Accessories: Different shapes available; can rig with multiple bulbs, gels.
Upgrade: Higher end Lantern Lock models from $60-$85; Chimeras starting at $200.

Work Lights
Cost: $20-$50
Advantages: Lots of light with built-in stand for afforable price.
Disadvantages: Runs very hot; less control over aim and output.
Accessories: Enterprising folks like Martian Welk can alter the reflector, build barn doors and glass enclosures.
Tip: Bounce off a ceiling or wall for softer light.

LED Ribbons
Cost: $8 to infinity
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Smith-Victor Photoflood
Cost: ~$100
Advantages: Cheap fill light
Disadvantages: Not very powerful
Accessories: Stand, reflector umbrella, softbox

Lowell Omni LightLowell Omni
Cost: ~$160
Advantages: Lightweight
Disadvantages: Hot spots
Accessories: Scrims, Gels, Softbox, Battery Power, Stand or hand grip

Lowell Tota
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Joker Bug 150
Cost:
Advantages: High output for low amperage.
Disadvantages: HMIs need heavy ballast, crystal sync generator so they flicker in synchronization.
Accessories:

Kino Flo Diva-Lite 200 Florescent
Cost: $675 MSRP / $529 Retail
Advantages: Runs cool, low power, dimmer built in, lightweight, steady soft light.
Disadvantages: Must be close to subject. No ability to do hard lighting effects, large form factor.
Accessories: Different color temperature bulbs.

Kino Flo Diva-Lite 400 Florescent
Cost:
Advantages: Runs cool, low power, dimmer built in, lightweight, steady soft light.
Disadvantages: No ability to do hard lighting effects, large form factor.
Accessories: Different color temperature bulbs.

Kino Flo 2′ Ve 4Bank
Cost: MSRP $1,055 / $913 Retail
Advantages: Runs cool, low power, dimmer built in, lightweight, steady soft light.
Disadvantages: No ability to do hard lighting effects, large form factor.
Accessories: Different color temperature bulbs.

ICElite 117 Florescent
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ICElite 200 Florescent
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Shadowcaster 100W Quartz
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Mole PARs
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LitePanels 1×1 Variable CT LED
Cost: $2,545
Advantages: Variable color temperature, small footprint, low heat
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Lowell Fren-L
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LTM Pepper 100W Fresnel
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LTM Pepper 300W Fresnel
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ArriLite 300W Fresnel
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Advantages: Top-loading.
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ArriLite 650W Fresnel
Cost:
Advantages: Top-loading.
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ArriLite 1000W Open-face
Cost:
Advantages: Standard outlet plug, lots of light.
Disadvantages: Hot hot hot. Quartz light time-consuming to change, especially if protection grate is screwed in; must be careful not to get oils from skin on light.
Accessories: Barn doors, diffusion grates, gels. Use Chimera softbank for soft light.

Joker Bug 200 HMI
Cost:
Advantages: High output for low amperage.
Disadvantages: HMIs need heavy ballast, crystal sync generator so they flicker in synchronization.
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Mole-Richardson 650W Mini-Soft
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Mole-Richardson 650W “Tweenie” Fresnel
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Magi 650W Fresnel
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Wyeth 1000W
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Joker K5600 HMI
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2 Comments

  1. With a digital canon. How can you film in the dark.. And make it still look like its dark

    • @Keith

      It depends on the lighting look you are trying to create. Try a blue gel on a high, powerful single light source for moonlight.

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