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Buyers' Guide: Lighting Kits

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Webcam Lighting

If you’re in an office, you probably have fluorescent light fixtures on the ceiling. Using this light alone can lead to the “forehead looks fine but the lower face is too dark” look on the left in Figure 4 (below).

Figure 4. The image on the left features the ceiling light only, while the image on the right is boosted with a small light above the webcam.

On the right, I’ve boosted the light with a 160-bulb 5,600 LED lamp that’s probably just a touch too hot on my forehead, but does a great job of illuminating the bottom of my face. This provides additional detail to the webcam encoder, which will help the image stay crisp after compression. This is the setup I use for all of my video meetings and webinars. The light is a Neewer CN-160 on-camera LED lamp that I’ve repurposed for webcam use by mounting it on a small tripod behind my 4K HP monitor. If you already have a battery-powered on-camera light, perhaps you can do the same.

Otherwise, there are multiple solutions you can use to achieve the same effect (Figure 5, below). On the left is the Pixel G1s RGB Video Light with Tripod. This USB-powered unit comes with 70 LEDs that you can adjust to temperatures ranging from 2,500 K to 8,500 K, with infinitely adjustable brightness.

Figure 5. Products for supplying webcam lighting

In the middle of Figure 5 is the Lume Cube, which attaches to your notebook via a suction cup. The unit has 60 LEDs that you can adjust between 3,200 K and 5,600 K. Or, if you’re not happy with your current webcam, there are two webcams with integrated lights—the 2020 NexiGo and the Vitade 960A—on the right in Figure 5. There are also many ring lights originally designed for smartphone use that you can repurpose behind your webcam.

Whatever the light you choose, if you’re looking for one to augment your existing webcam, make sure that it extends high enough for your setup. I use a standing desk with a large 4K monitor, so I need a light that’s about 27 inches high from my desk. While the Pixel G1s light shown in Figure 5 can extend this high, several other similar products max out at about 11 inches, which is way too short.

In all cases, you’ll want a light that has infinite brightness adjustments as opposed to three or four steps. If you’ll be broadcasting from multiple locations and lighting conditions, you’ll probably want a dual-color LED unit so you can dial in the necessary color temperature. If you’ll be broadcasting from a single location, be sure to get a unit that matches the color temperature there.

Most units will come with some kind of frosted diffuser that you can slide in to soften the light from the individual bulbs, which is necessary since it will be within 2–3 feet of your face. Finally, consider how the unit is powered, with USB power a nice convenience and battery-powered operation essential.

Other Kits

Once you transition from webcam to camcorder or DSLR, there are dozens of different lighting techniques that require anywhere from one to three lights or more, depending on how many subjects you’re lighting and whether you’re lighting the background as well as the subjects. Beyond the items that I’ve already discussed, like the number of bulbs, color temperature, and CRI, here are some additional factors to consider.

In the Neewer kit shown in Figure 6 (below), note the barn doors on the light fixtures, which can be useful when you need to focus the light. Note also that these units can be battery-powered as well as AC-powered, which can be convenient for some shoots. Another consideration is noise; if the lights have a fan, it may be too noisy for video shots, which is a factor that Amazon or other reviews will typically disclose. Also, check reviews for the sturdiness of the light stands; if a stand is too flimsy, you may want to consider buying some sandbags or other weights to steady it.

Figure 6. A two-light kit from Neewer

If you’re lighting yourself, the ability to adjust the lights via a remote control can save you a bunch of time and irritation.

Some units, like the Neewer lights in Figure 6, come with a standalone remote; others do this via apps. Also shown is the carrying case, which is convenient for storage and if you’ll be taking the lights to remote locations.

Summary

You’ll need to ask yourself some questions before buying any LED light kit. Once you answer the following, you should be in a great position to buy the perfect light kit for your video shoots:

  • What is the color temperature of the existing lights (if applicable)?
  • What is the color temperature of the bulbs in the light kit?
  • What is the CRI value? Shoot for 90 or higher.
  • How many bulbs are there? Around 40–70
    should work well for a webcam light, and
    150–200 should be OK for an on-camera
    light. But you’ll need 450-plus for a decent standalone light, particularly if it has an adjustable color temperature.
  • Does the fixture come with a diffuser? This
    is necessary to soften the light and to prevent multiple shadows from different bulbs.
  • Do you have infinite control over intensity or
    just a few stops?
  • Can you control the lights via a remote control or an app on your mobile phone?
  • Do the lights have barn doors or similar implements for focusing the light?
  • Can the lights be operated by battery and AC?
  • Are the lights noisy?

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