Over the last couple of years, some peers have started referring to me as the Light Whisperer. I choose to take it as a compliment because I love working with light, be it the big source in the sky, flash or continuous light. I started doing this stuff back when continuous light meant tungsten bulbs that were hot and somewhat unwieldy. Later came fluorescents, either in the form of the big curlicue bulbs such as those used by Westcott in their excellent Spiderlite systems or the non-flickering perfectly balanced tubes in my beloved Kino Flo lights. LED panels were initially super expensive and fairly dim so you needed a lot to get a little. That's changed and a killer offering in the LED space comes from Bowens in the Limelite Mosaic.
Continuous light has always been thought of first for film and video applications. It makes sense since flash is useless in this area. The big tungsten lights put out lots of power, but also needed lots of power, and noisy fans and talent that didn't mind being slowly cooked. I still have a light bar of my dad's from the late 50's with four big tungsten bulbs that in addition to producing lots of light also can braise a small steak. For growing image makers, the cost and other challenges tended to make these non-starters. And as we do more work out of the studio, the need for AC power or generators further impacted the usability of tungsten.
We have better sensors with more dynamic range now than ever. We also have great cameras that will do incredible video so there is more demand for augmenting lighting in a powerful yet light and portable way. We want light that has consistent colour balance and can run off the AC mains or off a battery and have reasonable runtimes. We don't want to be replacing bulbs or dealing with super fragile kit either. The first LED panels strove to solve these problems and while they worked, their small size and somewhat awkward mounting systems relegated them to real amateur work or fixed place shooting.
LEDs can produce a lot of light per unit space. My four bank Kino Flo Tegra system pushes just under 2400 LUX at 1m out of a fixture that is 4 feet by 1 foot. It's beautiful light, but needs to be relatively close in for higher shutter speeds and smaller apertures. Yes, I use them for more than just video, they are wonderful lights for stills, made famous by celebrated headshot photographer Peter Hurley. But they need to be close and you need more than one.
Enter the Limelite Mosaic by Bowens. Each panel is 30x30cm (pretty much 12" square) and pushes 4200 LUX. That's nearly twice the power in one quarter the size. Because of the impact of the inverse square law, that extra power buys you distance and exposure in pretty significant measurement. Now, if they were just bright, it would not be enough, but they hold their colour temperature continuously and never flicker over a period of hours and do not get very hot. This makes them usable in a studio for long shoots. They also come equipped with an Anton Bauer compatible battery plate pre-installed so you can use long lasting rechargeable pro-grade batteries on them for field use.
Each Limelite has a slot on the front for a filter or other panel. They come with what Bowens calls the Opal Diffusion Panel (check your box, it's not listed but SHOULD BE THERE - a couple of my originals had these missing and you want them). The Opal costs about one stop of light but makes the light beautifully soft as if it went through two layers of diffusion material. There is not the assortment of light modifiers for this type of lighting. You can make barn doors out of black foam core or coreplast to help contain the light. Extra diffusion is really not needed if you use the Opals. You can change colour by just dropping in a Lee gel, although there is a version that does both Daylight and Tungsten white balance.
The Limelites come in a ⅝ standard stand mount frame allowing for simple tilting. You can of course mount them on a boom or knuckle to aid in creative positioning. If you are building a bank, there are supplementary frame kits to mount either two or four Limelites together to form a single bank.
The Limelites include full DMX support. This is not support for a jailed former rapper, but for the industry standard lighting control protocol used in studio boards. You connect the lights together with standard Ethernet cables, and then make settings on the board or on the back of one of the lights and all of the lights match settings. It's so convenient.
The bright LED displays on the rear can show either power level or what Bowens refers to as f/stops. They aren't true f/stop values but a change in power of one tenth in this mode, is a change of one tenth of a stop. Very useful when you want to be super precise in your lighting measurement.
Each panel has it's own AC adapter in addition to the aforementioned battery mount making them very flexible. Four panels in a frame weigh about 1.6x what a Kino Flo Tegra system weights so manipulation for lighting pros is quite straightforward.
I was looking for power and continuous colour at a price I could afford and didn't want something without a local support and service framework so I did a lot of research before concluding on the Limelites. There is nothing else that offers the power, reliability and price/performance in the market that I would trust for production work. Certainly there are excellent LED panels from other vendors, but their cost put them out of my reach.
You can find single Mosaic panels selling between $700 and $900 depending upon where you shop. Four panels would be $2,800 about $400 more than a single Kino Flo Tegra DMX system and will deliver 16,800 LUX instead of 2,400 LUX. I love my Kinos, but sometimes power and portability really matter and for this reason, I am recommending that enthusiast photographers and videographers needing reliable and powerful continuous light take a hard look at the Limelite Mosaic by Bowens.
I will be using the Mosaics in my DSLR Video Presentation at this fall's DayTripper Photo Expo in Newmarket Ontario. It will be a great event with many knowledgeable presenters. For more information go to their website. In Canada, Bowens products are distributed by and are available from Henry's. In the US, check out B&H.