Rotolight enter the competitive LED lighting market with a compact, battery‑powered offering and plenty of accessories.
As the demand for less and less expensive camera equipment increases, so too does the demand for equally wallet‑friendly lighting. Many cinematographers use the analogy of 'painting with light' to describe their craft, and it follows that the shooting location doesn't always present the artist with a perfect palette. All too often, the lighting available in an allocated space will be less than ideal, leading to improvisation and augmentation of the available light sources with further artificial illumination.
LED lighting has become very popular in recent years among video enthusiasts. LEDs are now relatively inexpensive compared to a few years ago, they don't run hot, they use very little power compared to traditional tungsten and fluorescent bulbs, and they're much more difficult to damage than both of the above too. The number of LED‑based lighting products is rising sharply, meaning that the Rotolight RL48A and the larger Rotolight Interview Kit have been released into quite a competitive marketplace.
The Rotolight RL48 is one of the more innovative LED-based lighting products to be launched in recent years. Its lightweight, ring‑shaped, plastic body houses 48 direct‑daylight balanced (6900k) LEDs that are covered by a clear plastic disc. The disc provides protection for the LEDs, as well as a method for housing custom‑made Lee Filters gels, described a little further into the review. The innovative form‑factor allows the Rotolight to be mounted on the soft foam wind-shield of a shotgun mic, but if you choose not to use a shotgun for a particular shot (or use a larger wind shield) there are accessories included with the Interview Kit to provide alternative mounting on the camera's hot‑shoe mount or a standard quarter‑inch tripod thread. The RL48A runs from three AA batteries, and is specified to squeeze about three hours of use from a good set. The battery compartment is in the back of the light and uses a twist locking system: simply grip the back half of the light and twist to remove it. This compartment also serves as a perfect storage space for the ring‑shaped filter gels.
The Interview Kit includes two Rotolight RL48As, two Rotolight hot‑shoe or quarter‑inch screw‑thread mounts, a number of gels, and an extremely compact case to keep it all in. The case also has space for six AA batteries (that's two spare sets) and even has a crafty pocket designed to hold an iPhone. This package gives the user a simple two‑point lighting system that's quick to set up and fits (minus a stand for the second light) in a very compact case.
Our visual system is adept at helping us adjust to the colour shift of light as lighting situations change, but a camera's systems are not quite so well automated, and white balance needs to be set. If you're using a mixture of both naturally occurring and artificial light, it's easy to run into problems involving colour temperature, where the tone of the light sources is different and the resulting light mixture has an uneven, sometimes unattractive, cast. As already stated, the standard temperature of the LEDs is 6900K, which equates to bright daylight with slight cloud.
The default temperature can be adjusted by using one or more of the included filter gels, which are housed inside the rear of the light itself, in the same place as the batteries. The included Lee Filters gels allow you to match the colour temperature of the Rotolight to your surroundings. As well as filters for achieving temperatures of 5600k (daylight), 4100k (mixed lighting), and 3200k (Tungsten light, achieved by using the other two filters together) there is a diffusion filter, both half‑ and one‑stop ND filters, and effect gels for special use. A handy ring‑shaped piece of paper is included, upon which is printed a key to help you choose the correct combination of filters to meet your lighting and effects needs.If that's not enough for you, a 10‑gel pack is available too (Rotolight Accessory Options Box), and is also included with the Interview Kit.
Something that deserves special mention is the build and finish quality of all aspects of the Rotolight, especially when compared to other units of equal or greater expense. Each Rotolight has a rubberised matt finish which is satisfying to the touch and feels anything but cheap. The clear plastic cover is thick and extremely sturdy, and does a great job of protecting the LEDs too, not that they really need it!
The twist lock mechanism is sturdy, and the front‑mounted on‑off switch feels as though it'd take a lifetime of use to break. Even the extra accessories are solidly finished: the shoe mount is fashioned from thick plastic, while the metal centre piece is machined aluminium with a large, sturdy clip to hold it in place. The carry case is nylon and well stitched, with a little padding on the inside and well‑sized compartments and pouches.
The RL48A isn't designed to light a large room, but will manage around two metres (six or seven feet) of illumination. While shooting a live, solo music video with my friend and band‑mate Sam Russo, I decided to use one RL48A mounted on top of the camera in the hot‑shoe mount for some cutaways, and also to use a pair of them in a more improvised manner for the main still shot. Shooting in a relatively dark room, I used the diffusion filter and a few of the warming filters to achieve a nice warm tone. I placed one Rotolight on top of a duvet behind the sofa to create a little depth and interest, and one on the table just out of shot to light the subject.
I was impressed with the results! When placing the Rotolight on the table, however, I noticed that while the light from the front of the LEDs was perfectly toned, unfiltered light escaped from the edge of the plastic cover. I had to improvise by sticking a little gaffer tape around the edge to stop the 6900K light bleeding out and muddling the lighting. I didn't need to change batteries for the whole of the shoot, which was about two hours all told — though I did remember to switch off the lights when they weren't in use.
At the recent Summer NAMM show in Nashville, the SOS team used a single Rotolight mounted aboard a Canon XH A1 for interview shots, and it was reliable, bright, and lasted a long time with a set of batteries. Quite a wide-angle lens is recommended for interviews, as if you have the Rotolight camera mounted but don't use wide angle, you may find that you have to step back quite a bit to get your shot, reducing the effectiveness of the light.
The Rotolight is not just another LED box, such as I've seen many friends importing via eBay, and offers some significant benefits over such budget products, and even some over more expensive models. The gels are brilliant, and on their own make the Rotolight versatile and budget‑friendly enough to negate savings you might make on cheaper alternatives — not to mention that very cheap lights aren't usually so well‑balanced, colour wise.
I can only think of a few features I'd like to see included in the next Rotolight. My first choice would be a dimmer knob that keeps the light at a constant temperature throughout brightness adjustment, as with the current model an ND filter must be fitted in order to reduce brightness. The second would be an option for a DC adaptor, as it seems a shame to have to always use batteries when a wall‑socket is nearby! Lastly, it'd be nice to have an optional plastic cover with blacked‑out edges for use with more involved lighting work — although the way I was using the lights is arguably a slight deviation from their intended use.
Even without these extras, the Rotolight Kit is versatile, easy to use and very solidly built, and stands out as the most complete package in the competitive LED lighting market. For most general-purpose, close‑up video work it comes highly recommended.
If you don't feel like purchasing the entire Interview Kit, the kind people at Rotolight have decided to make all of the individual parts available separately. This way, you can add extra filters or a stand, for example, at a later date. Even the accessory pouch itself is available separately, meaning that you could build up to having a full kit over time if you're trying to save money right now.
Rotolight RL48A: £99$125
Rotolight Stand: £35$45
Replacement Filter Pack: £20$28
Colour Filter Pack: £23$29
Accessory Pouch: £23$29
Pictured here is the colour filter pack, which includes the following creative filters: Cosmetic Peach, Moroccan Frost, Pale Blue, Bedford Blue, Medium Amber, Light Red, Sunlight Yellow, Liberty Green, Light Lavender and Bright Pink.
Though most of these will find less use than the standard filter pack, some are great for certain subjects. When conducting an interview, for example, a second RL48A mounted on a stand using the Cosmetic Peach filter and the standard Diffusion filter in combination could be very flattering. Similarly, a shot of a warm environment may be enhanced by the use of a Light Red filter. Given the low price of the additional filter pack, it's definitely a good creative accessory for anyone who chooses just to buy a single RL48A.
To see the music video I shot while reviewing the Rotolight Interview Kit, head over to http://www.vimeo.com/14136318
- Bright, daylight‑balanced lighting.
- Lightweight, portable and convenient.
- Solid and considered construction.
- Great selection of accessories.
- Could do with a dimmer knob and DC power.
The Rotolight RL48A, especially in Interview Kit form, provides an extremely compact and well-made solution to a wide variety of lighting requirements. Highly recommended for close‑quarters video work.
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