Last Updated on May 21, 2023 by Photography PX
If you want a professional-looking video, you’ll want professional lighting to ensure it looks its best. And proper lighting becomes one of the most crucial elements in filming compelling content, arguably more important than even the camera set up. And while most can get away with a budget camera or even a smartphone, you’ll have great difficulty creating a presentable image if the scene’s too dark.
It used to be that video lights were wildly expensive and limited to the reigns of professionals or creators with deep pockets. But these days, the playing field has changed with the advent of LED technology. And we’ve seen a dramatic fall-off in the pricing of most studio lighting kits.
So now, good-lighting equipment is something available to the masses. Proper lighting creates mood, tone, drama, and interest in your scene. And it also helps guide the eye to focus on the most crucial information. And regardless of your medium, the right lighting kit upgrades your content and takes your footage to the next level.
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But when it comes to lighting, there are many considerations. And if you’re a new videographer, working out the best lighting kit for your project is a daunting task indeed. There’s a vast amount of options in the budget segment, with varying terminology to define their output, color temperature, accuracy, type, and the value they offer. With that, we’ve compiled a detailed guide explaining the factors to consider and some industry tips. And we’ll also cover the best video lighting kits on the present market.
5 – Westcott Flex Cine Mat
The Westcott Flex Mat is unique in the market, offering precision most flexible LED mats lack. And it’s a modern take on conventional interview lighting. This flexible LED light features a 140-360º beam angle, 55W power, a daylight balance of 5600K with a 0-100% brightness range, and CRI up to 97.
Constructed from a heavy-duty aluminum enclosure, the Flex Cine Mat is tough. Yet, at only 1/3-inch thick and less than 3 lbs, it boasts unrivaled adjustability and its pliable design allows you to fold it for more dynamic lighting. Namely, you can fold it around and change the light spread for 360º lighting. The corners of the mat also have magnets and metal grommets, so you can easily mount or hang the light to most surfaces. But you can easily mount it to a stand via the built-in 1/4″-20 thread or hang it with the removable D-ring. Even so, its compact and lightweight design makes it ideal for traveling. But, you’ll travel with power, as these lights provide flicker-free performance at up to 960 FPS for 50,000+ hrs. Plus it uses both AC continuous power or a V-Mount battery so that you can use it on-location. Other bonuses include IP64 water resistance, a diffuser, the X-bracket, and a lifetime limited warranty.
Overall, Westcotts Flex Cine is ideal for lighting compact, tight spaces or discretely adding an accent on the set. And it’s an excellent option for the demanding filmmaker wanting utmost portability and flexibility without sacrificing power.
4 – GVM 560AS
GVM’s 560AS is a mid-range budget option aimed at aspiring creators. This two-light studio lighting kit uses bi-color LED panels. And each light features a 45º beam angle, 30W power, a bi-color range from 2300-6800K with a 10-100% control range, and a CRI of 97.
This light uses an aluminum alloy shell for added durability and helps with passive cooling for heat dissipation. You’ll mount this particular light using the included adjustable U-shaped bracket. And this light supports both AC continuous power and Sony’s NP-F series external batteries so that you can use it on-location for 4 hours. But, crucially, it also boasts built-in Wi-Fi, letting you connect remotely via the GVM app for iOS and Android. There you can control both the color and brightness of each light separately. Other bonuses include barn doors, two light stands, diffusers, and a carrying case.
Overall, GVM’s 560AS is powerful and affordable. And it’s an excellent option for studio setups where you don’t need master/slave functionality but want more flexibility than rivals.
3 – GVM 800D
GVM’s 800D is a budget-friendly means to capture both power and color. This three-light kit uses an RGB LCD panel with step-less brightness and color controls. And each light features a 120º beam angle, 40W power, a bi-color range from 3200-5600K with a 0-100% brightness, and a CRI of 97.
It uses an Aviation Aluminum Alloy Shell, designed to dissipate heat and keep the unit cool. You’ll mount these lights using a 5/8″ receiver to either a separate yoke or the included 360º U-bracket. These lights also support the Sony L-Series external batteries so that you can use them on-location. And they also have built-in Wi-Fi, letting you pair the device with the accompanying GVM app. There, you can conveniently control the color and temperature. But, as an RGB light, you can also adjust the colors hue and saturation for more creative effects. Plus, it also has master and slave modes, so you can remotely control other lights in the kit. Other bonuses include barn doors, eight special effects, two diffusers, two light stands, a carrying case, and a one-year warranty.
Overall, GMV’s 800D is powerful yet easy on the bank account. And it’s a powerful video light that’s accurate, flicker-free, and great for interviews or streams. For the price, they’re a great value and a flexible option indeed.
2 – Rotolight NEO 2
The Rotolight Neo 2 is a LED video light that’ll double as a studio strobe for photographers. This three-light kit uses an LED light with step-less brightness and color controls. And each light features a 50º beam angle, 2000 LUX brightness, a bi-color range from 3150-6300K with a 0-100% control range, and a CRI of 96.
You’ll mount this light using the integrated ¼” – 20 tripod thread or the included cold shoe adapter. Each light supports continuous AC power as well as six AA batteries or D-Tap. And with rechargeable AA batteries, expect 1 1/2 hours of continuous output at its max power or 85,000 full-power flashes. These lights also boast True Aperture Dimming, which calculates the aperture at a given distance, removing the need for guessing or using a light meter. The lights are also entirely flicker-free, ensuring you never witness unwanted changes in brightness or color. Plus, there’s no recycle time or loss in power, so it’s ideal for capturing action at high frame rates. Rotolight also includes a ten-piece filter kit with various diffusions and hues to create unique looks. And other bonuses include Cine Special effects, a built-in flash receiver, three light stands, and a hardshell case.
Overall, the Neo 2 is a revolution amongst LED lights. And it brilliantly combines the flexibility of High-Speed Sync flash capabilities with an otherwise powerful video light. And it’s an excellent complement for both photographers and videographers looking for a lightweight and portable solution.
1 – Rotolight AEOS
The Rotolight AEOS is the big brother to the NEO 2 family. This two-light kit uses an LED light with step-less brightness and color controls. Each light features a 50º beam angle, 5750 LUX brightness, a bi-color range from 3150-6300K with a 0-100% control range, and a CRI of 96.
You’ll carry this light using the integrated aluminum handles, or mount it using the ¼” – 20 tripod thread, or the included 360º ball head. Like the Neo 2, these lights also offer High-Speed Sync, which also doubles the lights’ power. Each light also supports continuous AC power or an optional V-Mount battery pack with a 3-hour runtime. They even obtain the True Aperture Dimming function to calculate the correct aperture at a given distance automatically. But, unlike the NEO, it boasts Designer Fade support, letting you create custom fade transitions for reveal shots. And it does so with a 100,000-hour lifespan with flicker-free technology. Other bonuses include a 4-piece filter set, Cine Special effects, a built-in flash receiver, two light stands, a shoulder strap, and a water-resistant nylon carry bag.
Overall, the Rotolight AEOS shines as the most powerful and lightweight bi-color LED kit around. And it’s a low-profile travel companion that’s well suited for both photographers and videographers. But one that brings tremendous versatility to any set.
Why buy a video lighting kit?
Dedicated lighting kits provide consistent color and brightness to a scene. And doing so ensures you have fewer issues in post-processing, and you can also drop your camera’s ISO setting. As such, you’ll record higher-quality footage with less noise and save valuable time in editing. RGB lighting kits also give you the creative freedom to change the colors as you need to augment or manipulate a set. And there, you’re free from merely relying on natural lighting alone. So ultimately, they create drama, set the mode, and let you tell your story more effectively.
Video Lighting Setups
For most applications, you’ll use two or three-point lighting to light your scene and subject. There are other setups, but these two are the most frequently used.
Two-point lighting features two lights in the setup. One is a key, the other a fill.
The key light sets the directionality, mood, and exposure of your subject. And it’s the strongest light within the scene. In general, you’ll place this light in front of the subject, slightly offset to one side. But, the placement depends on the mood.
The fill light, in contrast, is a softer and less powerful light that helps reduce shadows caused by the key light. And you’ll likely place this light opposite to the key light at about half the intensity.
Two-point setups are the ideal choice for beginners or those on budget. It’s a setup that can up your production value and provides a level of professionalism to your creations.
Three-point lighting setups are the most common. With this setup, you introduce a backlight or hair light into the scene. This light adds an extra level of separation, creates depth, and helps isolate subjects from darker backgrounds. This setup is the defacto standard amongst film and journalism when the lighting within a scene is critical. With the backlight, you’ll place this behind the subject, slightly above. And it could be either a hard or soft source. But either way, it shouldn’t create visible shadows on the subject.
Three-point setups are the ideal choice for those more familiar with lighting and who want to add an extra sense of depth to their scene.
Natural outdoor lighting
If you’re indoors and there’s a large window, you can use natural light as your key. However, there are drawbacks to natural light. Namely, expect the sun to cast harsh shadows and its intensity to change throughout the day. Additionally, you’ll have to tackle minor changes to white balance as it moves between clouds. And together, these will create inconsistencies within the exposure, quality, and color of the light. So be ready to battle them to achieve consistent takes.
Even so, with proper planning and adjusting as you see necessary, natural light is an excellent source of video lighting. And many films augment natural light with artificial to create unique three-point setups. For example, you can place the sun as a backlight, then use reflectors as a key and fill. Or you can position the sun as the key light, then use artificial lighting for the fill and backlight. Either way, you can achieve excellent three-point lighting setups outdoors. And it’s the most affordable way to do so, given proper planning.
What to look for in video lighting kits
Besides two or three-point lighting, you’ll also want to consider where you plan on filming. Namely, you’ll have to tackle finding a power source when shooting outdoors. Additionally, you may need more powerful lights with a more flexible color temperature range to match the strong sunlight. But below, you’ll find a detailed listing of the factors to consider. And some things to think about before making a final decision.
Soft vs. hard light
Before all else, you’ll want to decide on the type of lighting that suits the scene best. And to pick the correct lighting kit, you’ll want first to understand the types of lighting available.
In most cases, you’ll want a large diffused soft light to mimic an overcast day. And a soft light will create more flattering lighting on your subject. And it creates more gradual shadow transitions that make your subject appear youthful and reduce blemishes. However, if you want something more bold, dark, and impactful, a hard light is best. And the smaller the light source, the sharper its shadows. Hard lighting creates more contrast, deep shadows, and drama. And it’s the right choice if you want to accentuate detail or texture or add a lot of visual interest.
Now, if you don’t already have a diffused soft light, there are many ways to diffuse a light source. But generally, using a semi-translucent material or reflecting it off a wall or a reflector works best. And either technique works to control lights without dimming facility and hard lights without filters.
Types of Lighting Kits
Next, you’ll want to decide the type of lighting kit that works best. When it comes to lighting kits, there are several general types available today. Below you’ll find a list of each of the four types, ranging from most affordable to the least.
The most simple lights are clamp lights or hard lights without filters. Clamp lights are on/off lights without a dimming facility. And they’re more powerful tungsten lights, similar to household incandescent bulbs. But, considering this is the case, you’ll want to diffuse these lights if you opt for them. Even so, they offer a fixed color temperature of 3200K, and you can gel these lights to change the color as needed. And they were once standard amongst most films. The downside, though, is that these lights get hot and require a lot of power. So handle them with gloves or let them cool before touching them.
The next is purpose-built studio lighting kits. These typically use large fluorescent bulbs and often have a layer of diffusion to help soften them. Most have dimming facilities, too, so you can adjust their brightness accordingly. But, being fluorescent lights, you can’t change their color temperature. Instead, they’ll remain at a set temperature. But that temperature range does vary from 2000-6000+ Kelvin. Even so, these lights are energy-efficient and generate little heat. But, their downside is that many of these lights flicker, causing changes to their color rendering and brightness. To avoid that, you’ll have to opt for specialty video lights, which don’t suffer from this issue but are more expensive.
Next, LED panels. These lighting kits are the most versatile. They provide full-time continuous lighting and daylight balanced factory calibration. But, you can also find bi-color options, letting you adjust the RGB color temperature of the unit. Arguably, though, their key advantage is that you can power these units with batteries, reducing the need for a dedicated power source on location. Some models also have dedicated apps, letting you change the color on an RGB scale or apply special effects. But, given these features, they’re often the most expensive models on the market. Even so, they’re supremely energy-efficient, long-lasting, and heat-free. But, they don’t provide much output compared to other lighting types. So you’ll want extra lights in an LED-based set.
Lastly, we have HMI lights. These lights create the greatest light output, and they’re reasonably energy efficient. Most HMI lights are daylight balanced too. But the downside is that they’re costly upfront and require large ballast for mounting. They’re also not dimmable, so you’ll have to modify these lights quite a bit to reduce their output. Even so, they remain the de facto standards on professional film sets.
Now that we’ve covered the types of lighting kits available, let’s discuss the factors that separate each system.
You’ll want to investigate how much light the kit produces. Manufacturers use several terms and units to describe light output. But the most common are lumens, watts (W), candela, LUX, and Foot-Candles (FC). You can convert any of these units into another. But, look for lighting kits that offer enough power to light your scene based on the distance you plan on placing them.
How is the unit powered? Does it use a traditional AC plug, battery, or both? The power supply of the unit is arguably the biggest consideration outside of the type of light. And it determines how versatile the light is for both indoors and outdoors. And those filming in the studio have wildly different needs than a journalist out in the field.
If you plan on filming outdoors, look for lighting kits that support external batteries or D-Tap power. Here you can bypass having to route power cables or use a generator when on location.
Color Temperature, Color Rating & Accuracy
If you’re familiar with lighting, you’ll know that not all light bulbs are the same. And even similar sources can appear differently within a scene. So when looking at lighting kits, you’ll want to know the color of the lights present and their accuracy. Ideally, you want a bi-color light that has a wide color range. Bi-color lights let you select warm and cool colors to match your lighting to the ambient light easily. They also help produce specific color effects and set the mood in-camera, removing the need to do so in post-processing. But, if you don’t want to spend the extra for bi-color, look for a light with a color temperature that best suits your workflow. You can find lights balanced for indoors and those for outdoors.
From there, consider the light color rating, measured on the Color Rating Index (CRI). CRI is the measurement of how accurately it reproduces color. And the higher the number out of 100, the better. Typically a CRI of 95 is the industry standard for a high-quality light. You will sometimes also see a TLCI rating, referring to Television Lighting Consistency Index. This is a newer measure that detects the accuracy using a video camera rather than the human eye. It functions much the same as a CRI. But a TLCI score of 90 is the industry-standard.
Not all lights offer convenient solutions to soften the light or change its temperature. And it’s important to understand which modifiers are available for the lighting kit you’re considering. So consider checking the manufacturer’s listing to see what options are available beforehand.
Cheaper lighting kits will have small fluctuations in brightness and color, known as flickering. And depending on your camera settings, you will see these changes throughout the video. So ensure the lights are flicker-free beforehand.
Some higher-end lighting kits include Bluetooth connectivity, letting you wirelessly pair them to a smartphone or tablet. There, you can control the brightness, color temperature and apply effects remotely. If this particular bonus feature is helpful in your workflow, consider it while shopping around.
What Type of Lighting Kit Should You Use?
The type of lighting that works best for your video will mostly depend on its content and budget. If you’re recording talking head content for YouTube, then a small LED or tungsten light is perfect. While for an interview, a set of LED panel lights would offer more control and add professionalism. Most LED lights also have external battery support, giving them superior portability.
But, in general, if you’re a new videographer, stick with tungsten, fluorescent, and entry-level LED kits. But, keep in mind, these lights are harsh and usually not dimmable. So you’ll want to look into diffusers or reflectors to soften them accordingly. You can also purchase heat-resistant filters and gels to shift the color from tungsten to daylight.
Now, if you’re a seasoned videographer, consider a studio lighting kit that’s solely LED-based instead. And opt for a dimmable kit and bi-color, so you adjust its effect as needed.