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Things to Consider When Buying a Portable Light Kit

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Portable light kits can be an expensive purchase, so make sure you know what you are buying.

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    A Critical Element

    Lighting is one of the top things to consider when using digital video. Light allows us to see what is around us, and it communicates valuable information like the mood and layout of a given location. Without quality lighting the images you capture with your digital video camcorders are less than useless, so when thinking about purchasing additional equipment to help you with digital video recording a portable light kit should be high on the list.

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    Know What You Need

    Portable light kits are inordinately expensive, so you first need to consider where you are from a financial standpoint and what sacrifices you are willing to have. The most important lights you need to have are the ones that are essential for creating a 2-point lighting set-up. This would be a key, or Tota, light, and a backlight, which can be some kind of spotlight. The best light kit would give you two of these Tota lights and two of the spotlights so you would also have one for background and for the fill side of the face. Also make sure they have at least one type of screen or reflector for each of the lights.

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    You also need to consider mobility and weight for the light kit you are purchasing. If you will be doing a lot of stationary recording then it is alright to have heavy lights, but if you are going to be moving around quite a bit it is important that the entire set-up is not so massive that it is hard to transport. Try to get a kit that has good light stands that are also lightweight.

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    Brands are also a good way to differentiate light kits, and there are some that are known for being cost effective and better used for specific purposes. Lowel gear is a well-known brand, but some independent producers shy away from these because the quality does not match the price. For a basic three-light set-up the Lowel Omni set is a nice deal and it comes with barn doors, a quality case, scrims for lights change, and light diffusion screens. JTL Everlight also has a good reputation, but may run a little more money depending on where you are shopping. Light kits are the kind of technology that tend to have a good life span if they are treated right so check out used equipment when you can.

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    Build Your Own

    The best way to get a good lighting kit is to purchase the items separately and construct your own. This way you get exactly the kind of lights you need, the right kind of attachments, and the perfect case. Lighting kits are often designed to be an “all purpose” solution for those who do not know what they need. Make a checklist of everything you would like to get out of your light kit and then make your purchases accordingly.