Controlling Light—Indoors and Out

By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2003

Originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video Magazine Camcorder & Computer Home Video Magazine Logo

In the July issue of C&CV, Robert Irwin provided tips using lights with camcorders to fill in shadows and produce even illumination. He even suggested you use lights outside and explained how reflectors are used to bounce more light onto the subject.

Here we will go into detail about the kinds of lights and reflectors that are currently available and the shooting situations that are relevant to each type. We will also show you some lights that incorporate some newer technology designed to work with low light camcorders and camcorders that double as digital still cams.

Camcorder-Mounted Lights

While some camcorders have built-in lights, they quickly drain power from the camcorder battery and reduce your overall shooting time per battery. If you use one of these camcorders, you can purchase a high-capacity battery (if it will fit on the camcorder) to extend shooting time.

Accessory lights come with either their own slip-in battery or with a larger battery pack that attaches to your belt. An entry-level light is the Panasonic PV-DLT9 (MSLP$39.95). It is a 3-watt light that operates with a slip-in camcorder battery (not included) and is designed to work with camcorders in close proximity to the subject, usually closer than 12 feet.

The Sony HVL-FDH4 (MSLP $149.95 without battery) is a dual-purpose camcorder light. It has a 3 watt bulb for videography plus a flash for illuminating still images. The video light will turn on and off automatically when you start and stop recording when plugged into a camcorder with a “hot shoe,” a specially-designed accessory mount that senses when you are in the record mode. Sony calls this the “Intelligent Accessory” shoe, although other camcorder manufacturers offer a similar feature.

Canon makes a similar 3-watt hot-shoe camcorder light but without the still-image flash feature. Designed for the Canon Optura PI, the Canon VL-3 (MSLP$55) may be set to turn itself on or off when the camcorder operates, or it may be set to provide continuous light.

For stealth videographers the Sony HVL-IRC (MSRP $69.95) is designed for Sony camcorders equipped with NightShot, the ability to shoot in very low light. The HVL-IRC emits an infrared beam, that according to Sony, allows you to shoot up to 100 feet away from your subject in total darkness. It has an adjustable light output and operates with either a rechargeable Sony InfoLithium battery or with AA batteries. It does not need a hot shoe to operate.

To cover a wider repertoire of shooting situations you may be better with purchasing a 10-watt light. The auto exposure function of your camcorder will prevent overexposure and you will be able to shoot subjects that are farther away than 12 feet. The Sony HVL-10DC (MSRP $70) video light attaches to the accessory shoe and may be powered by a Sony NP-FP 20 or 30 lithium battery or another brand battery that has the same dimensions.

The JVC VLV3U (MSRP $89 without battery) is a 10-watt camcorder-mounted light that automatically adjusts its brightness depending on the distance the subject is from the camcorder. This auto-sensor helps conserve battery power.

Sunpak makes the Readylight 20 camcorder light (MSRP $89 with battery and charger). This 20 watt light weighs seven ounces with the battery and is said to provide up to 17 minutes of running time. For (MSRP $109) you can get the Sunpak ReadyZoom CZ200 that comes with a sliding zoom lever to adjust for wide-angle or telephoto shot. The light can also be bounced off the ceiling for a soft lighting look and provides up to 27 minutes of light according to the manufacturer. The Sunpak CZ200 Auto ($???) has an auto-sensor that adjusts brightness depending on the distance to the subject. The company says you can get 27 to 45 minutes of running time with this light.

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