Way back in 2010 I posted A one-case lighting kit ready for travel that pretty much was the kit I used for three short documentaries and freelance work. That was eons ago. Fast forward to the present. Last year I had a need once again for a portable one-case lighting kit. Lighting technology has changed significantly since 2005 when I put together the first version of the kit I wrote about in 2010, therefore, I started from scratch to design a one-case lighting kit ready for travel designed around LED technology and a smaller case that’s easier to transport. Here are the components of the kit:
- Two Intellytech Pocket-LiteCloth units (a foldable bi-color LED mat kit w/ 2 NPF-550 batteries that fold in half for easy transport, includes 1/4 x 20 mounting accessories, two NPF-750 rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries, chargers, and AC adapter for wall powering) along with two Intellytech Pocket-LiteCloth Softboxes (these turn the Pocket-LiteCloth into an excellent little soft light that comes with a 45-degree grid to reduced spill, a controllable soft source is highly desirable, I think Intellytech should include this as part of their Pocket-LiteCloth as they do with some of their other products, I consider the Pocket-Lite-Cloth incomplete without this);
- Two Intellytech Pocket Cannon Mini 5600K units (these are LED hard lights with a lens and w/ barn doors for “Fresnel-like” performance, includes 1/4 x 20 mounting accessories, one NPF-550 Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery, charger, and AC adapter for wall powering);
- Three Manfrotto Nano Lightweight Light Stands (these fold-up compactly and fit perfectly in a carry-on sized case);
- Two Apurture MC RRBWW LED panel units (these little critters are perfect for accent and effects lighting and are also well-suited for tabletop work, they can be controlled via a smartphone app, and sport built-in Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries that are charged via a USB port);
- One Anker PowerPort 4 Ports USB charger (good for charging the Aperture MC units along with your phone, tablet, etc.);
- One Gerber Multi-Plier 600 Basic (an essential accessory, you never know when you need to tighten or loosen something, this multi-tool provides most of the tools you might need on a shoot);
- Two Small Gorillapod gadgets (these little critters are good for mounting the Apurture MC lights in all sorts of places);
- Variety of small grip items including a CAMVATE Universal Super Crab Clamp; (these are good for mounting the heavier lights to things other than the light stands);
- Variety of expendables including translucent face powder (no-color, matte finish) and disposable pads for application (to reduce shine), assorted gels, gaffer tape, and C-47s (clothespins);
- All these items are housed in an HPRC 2550W wheeled travel case, purchased without interior components and customized using Pelican TrekPak case dividers I had leftover from another project, however, there are several other options worth looking into when it comes to creating a custom divider system. To keep small items accessible, I keep them in previous generation Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes.
I started with the design requirement that all of the essential items must fit in a standard carry-on size rolling case. Another design consideration was I wanted to have a combination of soft and hard sources in order to have the flexibility to light a variety of scenes. Bicolor broad sources that can be configured to work as soft lights offer flexibility in terms of coverage as well as the ability to fine-tune the color contrast in a scene. I’m a big fan of having a softbox and grid option with LED panels, you can see the value in the illustration below:
I would like to have a larger and brighter key light (the Intellytech LiteCloth LC-160 2.0 2×2 foldable LED mat is on my radar), however, this kit involved sacrifices to maintain portability. And an important question when it comes to using these smaller units, is it bright enough? Using the Intellytech Pocket-LiteCloth at 5600K as the key light for a recent interview setup provided sufficient lumens to expose a medium shot with an f/5.6 aperture and a 1/48 shutter speed (shooting 24p) at ISO 800 which is a reasonable setting for most cameras, as noise is not a serious problem at ISO 800 or under.
Another design consideration was all of the units should be powered using the same batteries to reduce the number of chargers one has to travel with. Sony NP series batteries are widely used and easily replaced. While the Apurture MC does not meet the same battery requirement, given how small it is, the built-in battery option makes sense, so it was allowed to sneak in. The Pocket Canon Minis are available as either 5600K daylight or 3200K tungsten units. I decided on the daylight models as I would rather have full daylight power and gel the unit when I need a warmer or tinted source. The kit was enhanced with a strategically chosen collection of gels along with grip gear, tools, and expendables as needed.
If you don’t need an ultra-durable travel case, an ordinary carry-on suitcase will suffice for this kit, and it will be also less conspicuously a lighting kit. While this kit fits comfortably in a carry-on-sized case, it does not qualify as carry-on luggage due to excess weight. The point of this case is robustness, portability, and a manageable size perfect for transporting gear when working as a crew of one or two, and the hard case can double as a seat when needed. A baseline kit for me consists of the lighting case along with a backpack, and perhaps a tripod in a case. Over the years when traveling with production gear, I check most of the gear except for the camera, lenses, and batteries that I keep in a backpack.
Each NP-F battery included in the lighting units above comes with an individual charger with its own power cord making for quite a mess of cables and a power strip when charging all of the batteries. On top of that, the chargers do not indicate the change level of the battery. Since I use Sony NP-F batteries for a variety of devices in addition to this light kit, I am able to charge eight batteries at the same time using a pair of SWIT LC-D421 4-ch Multi-type Chargers (with Sony NP-F adapters). SWIT also makes the S-3602F 2-ch Sony NP-F Charger that can charge two batteries at a time and also offers battery charge status indicators.
Some folks have asked me why the HPRC case and not a Pelican case? I own several sizes of both brands. I can say from many years of experience that the HPRC 2550W is a good value, the design parameters are different than the Pelican: The HPRC 2550W is lighter than the Pelican 1510, and as a result, I prefer it to Pelican. The handle mechanism on the HPRC 2550W is more streamlined and less bulky than the Pelican system. The Pelican 1510 is perhaps a little more robust, I will grant it that, but you pay for that in added weight plus the Pelican 1510 is more expensive. So in the end, is the added cost and weight providing added benefits that really make a difference for your use case? My HPRC 2550W has been banged around for well over a decade (it used to be my audio kit case before this project), including several international flights, it always goes with me as checked baggage, and it is still is in good shape. I like both brands. Each has its charms.
So far I’m happy with the new kit. Most of my shooting has been close to home, as I continue to curtail my travel during this pandemic, but I look forward to being able to travel again soon, and this kit will be in tow when lighting is called for.
The original kit comes out of a kit that evolved through the production of three short documentaries: Smile Boston Project, Remembering John Marshall, and The David Hamilton Smith Story, all produced a long time ago and was pretty much the kit I used for interviews when I was working as a freelance cameraperson, though I often supplemented it with additional rental units (e.g. Kino-Flo Diva fluorescent lights and a variety of HMIs) along with grip gear when needed. My first adventure with LED lighting for video was back in 2009 with a pair of Zylight Z-90 RGB units that Zylight loaned me and I used them for evaluation, testing, reviewing, and production of two interviews for The David Hamilton Smith Story for which we had to work with minimal gear (the entire production kit had to fit in a single backpack) in contrast to the rest of the interviews that used the one-case kit. After that, I added a Lowell Blender bicolor LED to my kit in 2010, and I loved it, but with seven footcandles at six feet (with both daylight and tungsten banks on full) it was only usable as a fill or accent light in most situations, so I continued to do most of my lighting with quartz-halogen units. Then when I started working on Farm and Red Moon my collaborator and I chose to do most of our shooting with a combination of informal interviews (for which only a flex-fill was needed outdoors) and cinéma-vérité style shooting, so a lighting kit became less important and this workhorse with many airline miles was put out to pasture. Now, a decade has passed and the capabilities and economics of LED lighting have changed completely, they are bright and affordable enough to be part of my new (and thankfully smaller) one-case lighting kit ready for travel.