I’m always on the lookout for new, bright lighting, and if it’s LED that is all the better. Sure, the first couple of generations of LEDs suffered from low output and color-rendering issues (the dreaded “green spike” is thankfully a fading memory), but every passing year provides newer, better tools. You probably know Fotodiox mainly from their very clever line of lens adapters and their ever-affable spokesman Bohus Blahut. They aren’t as well known for their lighting products, but that is changing. (Stay tuned for my review of their Pancake edge-lit LED panels, coming soon to a PVC page near you.)
The product at hand right now is the LED100WA-56 softlight. The “56” in the model number obviously refers to “Kelvin,” making this is a daylight-balanced lamp; there is a similar tungsten-balanced cousin available, with the model number LED100WA-32, and a yet larger LED200 version in both color temps. The LED100WA makes for an unusual video light; for one thing, it is based on the Bowens bayonet-mount system for mounting accessories and modifiers (barn doors, etc.) that is far more common in studio still photography.
Secondly, the device comes in two parts – the light head and a separate ballast. They are connected by a 10’ – oops, I mean 3 meter – cable with a 4-pin XLR connector on the light-head side. The ballast includes a dimming knob and a numeric display of current brightness levels. Suffice it to say that the LED100WA might be able to live in a light kit, but run ‘n gun is never going to be in its vocabulary. Included in the kit is a 12” reflective bowl and a nylon “sock” that acts as a softening filter. Since the LED “bulb” emits very little heat, there is no need to use fireproof materials for diffusion.
Right off the bat there is a bit of an issue with noise, as both the light head and ballast have fans to cool them.
Not very loud fans, but certainly audible, and I have a hard time imagining any audio person that wouldn’t have a negative comment about that. But the happy trade-off for the fan noise is a LOT of light. I measured the output of the LED100WA at 5’ with a Sekonik light meter in several modes – with nothing on the front of the light, with the bowl alone, and the bowl with the “sock”. I also experimented with what the LED100WA might look like if I mounted my trusty Chimera Video Medium softbox on it (I didn’t have the proper speedring to actually mount the Chimera, but it appears that one is available.)
At 5 feet with nothing mounted on the light, 100% power yielded 120 footcandles of illumination; adding the reflective bowl brought that up to 160 footcandles. Adding the “sock” brought the light level down to a soft 85 footcandles, and replacing the bowl with my Chimera yielded 65 buttery, super-soft footcandles at 100%. (There’s just something about a Chimera that I never see with other softboxes or diffusions.) That’s a respectable amount of light, especially considering the unit never draws more than 100 watts, even at full brightness. I can easily imagine using the LED100WA in several situations, including a soft key, a fill or as a wash to light up a background (without the reflective bowl.)
Spinning the brightness knob showed discernable steps at each percent on the display, so finding just the level you want should be a piece of cake. Fotodiox claims a color-rendering index (CRI) of 85%, and in my tests I didn’t see anything to make me think that wasn’t accurate. So if you are lighting an interview in a room with a lot of window light, and you want to brighten up your subject without melting them with the heat of a tungsten light or HMI, this is a good contender. The Fotodiox LED100WA-56 has a list price of $500, but I’ve seen it on the Web selling for $250, and at that price it is a bargain – as long as you keep the fans as far from your microphones as practical.