Tag Archives: Stella

Shooting With Sony Venice.

I recently completed a week long shoot with a Sony Venice in the USA, so I thought I would tell you about my experience. The camera I used had a beta of the dual ISO firmware so it could shoot at both the native ISO of 500 and the second native ISO of 2500. This was particularly useful for the shoot as a lot of the filming was done in some very dark places.

I can’t show any of the footage to you yet. But I will be able to link to the finished films once they are released a little later in the year  by my client. I have to say straight away that I think the footage looks pretty amazing.

The first location was Las Vegas. I shot a number of views of the Las Vegas strip from the balcony of my hotel room in the Cosmopolitan hotel. These were pretty straight forward thanks to the cameras dual ISO capabilities. One of the shots was a day to night sequence, shooting locked off shots during the day and then at night to be blended together to go from day to night. The day time shots were done at the base 500 ISO and then the night shots done at 2500 ISO.

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Frame Grab from Venice, 2500 ISO. Click on the image to expand.

Sigma FF Fast Primes.

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Sigma Full Frame fast prime lens set.

For these shots I used one of the really nice 24mm Sigma full frame high speed PL primes and the camera was setup in the 6K x 4K full frame mode.

For most of the shoot we did however shoot using the s35mm 17:9 DCI mode shooting at 60fps, and we made quite a few  changes to the frame rates and frame sizes in the course of the shoot. The Sigma FF Primes are really beautiful lenses. Very well built, solid lenses that produce very sharp images even when wide open. The ability to shoot at T1.5 or T2.0 turned out to be a huge benefit on this shoot as many shots were done either at night or in some very dark locations.

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Shooting with Venice in Las Vegas

One thing to note here is that I was working on my own. Venice is set up as a camera for high end shoots where it is expected that there will be a camera assistant working with the cinematographer or camera operator. During the shoot I made many changes to the cameras frame rate and aspect ratio. These changes are most easily done using the LCD screen and hot keys on the side of the camera away from the camera operator. So there were many times when I had to walk around to the other side of the camera or spin the camera around on the tripod to make these changes. It’s not really a big deal, but it is something to be aware of if you are going to use Venice as a “one man band”.

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Frame Grab from Venice. 2500 ISO Freemont Street Las Vegas. Click on the image to expand.

On the operators side of the camera there is a small LCD panel where you can change the shutter speed, ND filter, EI and white balance. But for anything else you need to either use the LCD panel on the other side of the camera or go into the main menu. Talking of the menu system – it’s very well laid out and quite logical.

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The operators side of Venice with the small info LCD.

Venice is a much simpler camera to use than the F55. In part because at the moment the feature set is still a little limited – there are no high speed modes, time-lapse, picture cache or other stunt modes. But the main reason it’s simpler is the design and layout of the main LCD and hot keys has been simplified and is better organised.

The “Home” screen has they key functions that you are likely to change while shooting – shutter speed, EI, ND and white balance. There is also a control for the frame rate, although the options for this are currently quite limited with it currently normally being locked to a single fixed speed set in the project settings. The Home screen also tells you how much space is left on your media, the aspect ratio and frame size, clip name, recording format(s), the battery status. Plus there are audio level displays for channels 1 and 2.

If you need to make any other changes to the cameras setting then you press the large menu button to bring up the main menu. This is divided into 5 sections each with it’s own hot key – Project – TC/Media – Monitoring – Audio – Info. The 6th hot key takes you into further settings for some of the menu pages.

There is a simulator for the Venice menu system here; https://www.sony.net/Products/Cinematography/Venice/Camera_simulator/index.html

Something else a first time Venice shooter should be aware of is that the cameras audio input is via a single 5 pin XLR connector. This can be set up as either a 2 channel analog line/mic input (with switchable phantom power) or an AES/EBU digital input. There are no 3 pin XLR’s on Venice so make sure you have the right cables or adapters.

While Venice isn’t a big camera, it is very dense. That is to say – a lot of electronics has been packed into quite a small body. It is…. shall we say… reassuringly heavy! I guess I have been a bit spoilt by the light weight of the F55. Venice is quite a lot heavier even though it isn’t really all that much bigger. I was shooting using the R7 recorder, recording to 16 bit X-OCN files as my primary material. With the R7 and a couple of Pag Paglink batteries on the back the camera was nicely balanced with the Sigma primes.

I was pleasantly surprised by the power consumption. A single 95Wh Paglink battery would run the camera for  over an hour and a PL150 for around 2 hours which is a pretty respectable run time for a digital cinema camera. Certainly a lot more that I would get from an F65 or Arri.

20180420_155349-e1526222971788-576x1024 Shooting With Sony Venice.
A single Pag PagLink PL150 battery will run Venice for around 2 hours.

The new DVF-EL200 viewfinder is a big step up from the DVF-EL100 often used on the F55 and F5 cameras. The image is brighter, higher resolution and the dipoter adjustment much better. Venice puts the information displays outside the picture area so the image isn’t obstructed by any text information. The large rotary encoder on the front of the viewfinder controls peaking, brightness and contrast.

Rating the camera – I had already done a few camera tests with Venice so I knew that the base ISO’s of 500 and 2500 matched well with my light meter. I also knew that there is very little noise at 500 ISO and only a little bit more at 2500.  For most daylight shots I shot at 500 ISO/500 EI. I don’t feel that there is the same need to rate the camera 1 to 2 stops lower as I do with the F55, FS7 or FS5. It just isn’t necessary for normal light levels. For some scenes that had low average brightness levels I did choose to shoot at 500 ISO/320 EI as it seemed a waste to shoot at 500 EI when the scene highlights were no where near clipping. The slightly lower Ei helped to put just a little more information into the already highly detailed shadow areas of my images. For the darker locations and night scenes I switched the camera to the higher base ISO of 2500 to gain a pretty decent sensitivity boost. When using the 2500 ISO mode I found I ended up shooting at 1600 EI to keep the noise levels very similar to the noise levels at 500 ISO/500 EI.

Vegas-night4_1.1.4-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame Grab from Venice 2500 ISO, Sigma 35mm FF prime. Click on the image to enlarge.

The noise that you do get when shooting at the 2500 ISO base is really pleasing. I’m not normally a fan of any noise, my personal preference is normally for clean images as these tend to give the greatest post production flexibility. But there is something that just looks nice about the little bit of extra noise that there is at 2500. It’s very, very fine grain that is different in every frame. Dare I say it looks very film like? I need to experiment with this further, but I suspect that many people may choose to use 2500 ISO even when they have plenty of light as the noise adds some character and a pleasing texture to the shots. I’m not going to get into too much of a debate here about the merits of shooting with a bit of grain verses adding it in post. Personally I would probably normally opt to shoot clean and add any noise later, but Venice certainly brings some interesting options to the table and I would not rule out deliberately choosing 2500 ISO,  even when  there is plenty of light, to take advantage of the really nice looking noise.

Slot Canyon.

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Shooting with Venice deep in the Slot Canyon.

We shot a lot of the film in the bottom of a deep Slot Canyon. For those that don’t know what this is – it is a very narrow, very deep, steep sided twisting gully carved out over millions of years by flood water. The Slot Canyon we shot in was often only 2 or 3ft wide (1m) and around 60ft (20m) deep. In most parts sunlight never reaches directly to the bottom, so it’s often very dark. But in a few spots very narrow shafts of light just about make it to the bottom when the sun is directly overhead. This creates some areas of incredibly high contrast as beams of full desert sun penetrate into near total darkness.

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Frame Grab fro Venice, 2500 ISO. Deep in the slot Canyon. Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice was the perfect camera for this situation. The high base ISO mode and the 2500 ISO exposure rating allowed me to capture the dark textures of the sandstone walls of the canyon, while the 15 stop latitude meant that I could also capture the almost laser like light beams as they created intense pools of light. In addition towards the upper parts of the Canyon you get incredibly vivid reds and oranges as the sunlight reflects of the red rocks. To the naked eye it looks like the canyon walls are on fire and Venice did an amazing job of capturing these intense colours.

Slot-Canyon-2_1.1.8-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame Grab from Venice at 2500 ISO. Looking up towards the sky from the bottom of the slot canyon. click on the image to enlarge.

My hotel room in the city of Page, Arizona was decorated with photographs taken in Slot Canyons. In many of the photos the shafts of light were completely over exposed with no detail or texture. I’m pleased to say that the footage from Venice almost always retained some detail and texture, even in the the most extreme cases. This for me has been one of the most impressive things about the way Venice behaves. There is something very nice about the way that Venice reaches the extreme ends of it’s exposure range, something the F55 doesn’t quite do and I really like it. Venice seems to hang n to those exposure extremes just that bit better. In addition Venice also retains an amazing amount of color information in the deepest darkest shadow areas.

Slot-Canyon-4_1.1.10-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame grab from Venice. Beams of intense light pierce the darkness of the slot canyon. click on the image to enlarge.

Grand Canyon.

Another location we shot at was the Grand Canyon’s Horseshoe bend. This a well know spot and frankly, if you have good light, it’s tough to make a bad picture. This is one of those locations where everything is on a grand scale. So it deserved a big image. Time to use the 6K x 4K full frame mode and those beautiful Sigma FF primes again. In the grading suite whenever I show people the shots from Venice at Horseshoe Bend there is almost always a “wow” moment. The texture and detail in the shots is amazing and starting with a 6K image for a 4K production gives you quite a bit of room to crop in to the image if you wish.

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Frame grab from Venice. Horseshoe bend, Page Arizona. Sigma 20mm FF prime. Click on the image to enlarge.

What about skin tones? Well we did shoot some Navajo dancers doing traditional native American dances and hoop dances. Even in the very harsh Arizona light the skin tones looked great.

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Navajo dancer, Page, Arizona. Sony Venice.

With so many different locations to shoot at in one week, some of them very remote, being highly mobile was really important to us. While Venice is heavier than the F55 that I  normally shoot with, it is still an easy camera to transport. We had to lug the kit by hand across the desert to get to the Slot Canyon. I used a Miller CX18 fluid head with a 100mm bowl on a set of Miller carbon fibre legs. This is a pretty light tripod setup, similar to that used by ENG news crews. I didn’t need to go to a 150mm bowl or heavier tripod than this for this shoot because Venice is a very manageable weight and it worked very well.

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Miller CX16 Fluid head.

One  scene was a nigh time campfire scene. For  the Venice camera shooting at 2500 ISO and paired with the Sigma T1.5 primes this wasn’t really too much of a challenge. The fire was a large wood fire and it was producing enough light to illuminate the faces of the subjects in the scene. Although perhaps this could have been shot without any additional lighting it was decided to add a little bit of extra light to fill in a few shadows and add a small amount of detail into the background of the wide shots.

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Frame Grab from Venice at 2500 ISO. Sigma 25mm FF lens. Stella 5000 adding a touch of light to the background.

For this I used a Light and Motion Stella Pro 5000 Led lamp. For a one man band these waterproof LED lights are really excellent. They produce lots of good quality light and can be fitted with all kinds of modifiers. For this application I used a Fresnel lens to narrow down the light cone. In addition they can be remotely controlled using a simple hand held Elinchrom remote control. This makes getting the light level just right really easy as you can look in the cameras viewfinder while dimming the lamps with the remote. It’s possible to control several lamps with one remote.

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Light and Motion Stella Pro 5000 light.
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Campfire cookout. Page, Arizona, Sony Venice, Sigma 85mm

I shot using Sony’s X-OCN codec recording on to AXS cards in the R7 recorder. These 16 bit linear files are surprisingly easy to work with. The compact file size was a huge help. I didn’t get through more than 2 x 512GB cards in a day, even though we were shooting 4K 60P or 6K 24p. This really helped with data management in the evenings. There’s big difference between backing up 1TB of X-OCN compared to what would have been around 5TB if it had been uncompressed raw.  Yet there are no signs of any artefacts in the material. The X-OCN files are also very easy to handle in post production, I can even preview them in real time on my laptop at half resolution. In post production the 16 bit linear files handle beautifully, revealing amazing amounts of picture information.

At the end of this shoot I am left with a big problem though. Now I’ve shot a real production with Venice – I don’t want to shoot with anything else. I have been telling myself that I will stick with my F5/R5 for a bit longer, maybe upgrade the F5 to an F55 and then hire in a Venice as needed. But now I want to shoot with Venice whenever possible. Every time I pick up a Venice and go and shoot with it I come back with images that surprise me. They just seem to look great with very little effort. So now I think I might just have to figure out a way to buy one.

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Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway – Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.

I have just return from one of the most challenging shoots I have been involved in. The shoot took place over 5 days in and around Tromso in Norway. The aim was to gather footage to show off the capabilities of a new type of 4K TV from Phillips.

We shot the Northern Lights, we shot dog sledding , snow mobiles, shots of the city and sailing on the fjords. Each part of the shoot had many challenges and a lot of the shoot took place at night and at night the crew slept in cabins, tents and on the yachts. Shooting from the ice and snow covered deck of a yacht in temperatures well below zero is not something I enjoyed. And to top it all off the weather was pretty grim fro most of the shoot. Heavy snow showers, freezing temperatures and towards the end strong winds.

Because image quality is paramount for this project I choses to use the best lenses I could, but at the same time space and time constraints dictated that zoom lenses would be desirable. We were shooting 16 bit raw as well as XAVC class 480 on my PMW-F5 and some pick-up shots in UHD XAVC-L on a PXW-FS5. For the PMW-F5 the primary lens was the Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20, 20-120mm PL zoom and to ensure we had similar looking images from the FS5 I used the new Fujinon XF 18-55mm. I have to say that I’m quite in love with both of these lenses.

fujinon-xk6x20-20-120mm-t3-5-pl-mount-lens-cc1-e1490981959479 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20 PL mount cinema zoom. A beautiful lens!

The Cabrio 20-120 is a beautiful lens and it’s really nice to have a servo zoom that is truly parfocal. The 20-120 produces really nice images even in the most challenging of conditions and at T3.5 it’s reasonably fast throughout the entire zoom range. This was the lens that I used for the majority of the shoot, in particular for the many night scenes we shot. The E-Mount 18-55 on the FS5 produces images that matched really well with the bigger lens and camera. This is a combination I would love to use on more shoots where the budget will allow.

One particular scene that we had to shoot was particularly challenging. It was a set up shot of a night time arrival of a couple of snowmobiles at a Sami camp site. The Sami people are the indigenous people of Northern Norway and they have a particular style of tent know as a Laavu which is similar to a teepee or wigwam. The idea behind the shot was to have the snow scooters arriving with headlights blazing and for the drivers to then enter the tent lit only by the light of a campfire inside the tent. At the time of the shoot it was snowing heavily and was totally dark. Turn off the lights of the snowmobiles and you could not see a thing.

A007C001_170317I9snwscter-wide-1.-e1490980652498 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Wide shot of the snowmobiles arriving at the camp in the dark.

While modern cameras like the F5 are very sensitive, the light of a campfire inside a tent will not adequately light a scene like this on it’s own. I didn’t want a totally dark background, so I decided that I would subtly light the trees of the forest that we were in to add some drama and give some depth to the background and a sense of being in a forest.

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A slightly closer shot of the tent with backlit trees behind it.

As we were travelling continuously on this shoot there was no space for a large or complex lighting kit and the remote location meant we needed battery powered lights. In addition I knew before we left that there was a chance of bad weather so I needed lights that would work whatever mother nature decided to throw at us.

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A snow scooter comes into the shot. You can see just how heavily it was snowing in this shot.

I decided to take a set of 3 Light & Motion Stella battery powered LED lights. It’s just as well I had the Stella lamps as on top of all the other difficulties of the shoot the weather decided it was not going to play ball. We had to shoot the scene (and much of the shoot) in the middle of a snow storm. Fortunately the Stella lights are completely waterproof, so I didn’t need to worry about rain or snow protection. Just set them up turn them on and use the built in dimmer to set the light output.

To light the scene I set up a Stella Pro 5000 in the woods behind the Sami tent, aimed through the trees and pointed directly towards the camera. I chose to backlight the trees to provide a sense of there being trees rather than lighting them. I felt this would look less lit than throwing a ton of light into the forest from the front and I’m pleased with the result.

20170317_201335-e1490980965481 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A Light & Motion Stella Pro 5000 was used to back light the trees and tent. The heavy snow was no problem as the light is totally waterproof.

The Stella Pro 5000 is very bright for a compact battery operated light, it’s 5000 lumen 120 degree output that is pretty close to what you would get from a 200W HMI, it’s very bright. It has a very high CRI and gives out great quality daylight balanced light.  It was positioned so that the light itself was behind the tent on a small bank, about 20m back in the woods. You couldn’t see it in the shot, but the light coming through the trees created shafts of light in the snow and the trees appeared as silhouettes. It added depth and interest to what would have otherwise been a near totally black background.

20170317_203855-e1490981224538 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Light & Motion Stella 2000 used to light the forground, again the lamp is waterproof so bad weather is no problem.

Then to provide a small amount of light so that we could see the riders of the snow scooters as they walked to the tent I used a Stella 2000. I didn’t really want the light from this lamp to be too obvious as this would really make the scene look “lit”. I didn’t need the full 2000 lumen output so I used the built in dimmer to reduce the output to around 70%.

The third light was a small Stella 1000 and this was placed inside the tent with a scrunched up orange gel. The Stella 1000 would typically be used as a camera top light, but it’s full dimmable and produces a very high light quality, making it suitable for many applications. The creases and folds in the orange gel helped break up the light a little creating a less lit look sympathetic to the fire inside the tent.

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A Stella 1000 with orange gel was used inside the tent to give the light from the fire a small boost.

It allowed me to increase the illumination in the tent, adding to the light from the fire without it being obvious that the tent interior was lit. For some of the shots I had an assistant sit in the tent, out of shot and slowly move the gel in front of the light to add a little movement to the light to mimic the firelight even better.

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One particular shot on the storyboard was the silhouette of the drivers entering the tent. The Stella 1000 really helped punch trough the canvas sides of the tent.

At the moment I can’t show you the footage. That will have to wait until after the launch of the TV. But I’m really pleased with the way this scene came out. It’s challenging trying to shoot in the dark, in a blizzard, in temperatures well below freezing. Every aspect of getting this scene was hard. Opening a flight case to get out some kit meant getting snow on everything inside it. Just positioning the light up the woods was tough, the snow was up above my knees as I waded through it. Operating the camera is so much harder when it has a rain cover on it. The viewfinder was constantly misting up as snow fell on it non stop. Seeing the witness marks on the lens is difficult (although thankfully the marks on the Fujinon 20-120 are huge and easy to see).

20170317_205922-e1490981701785 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
The Fujinon Cabrio XK6X20 lens all iced up at the end of the day. After shooting out in sub zero temperatures don’t take the camera inside until you are sure you have wrapped for the day!

But sometimes it’s challenges like these that make the job interesting. I know I was cursing and swearing at times trying to make these shots work, but seeing the scene come to life in the grade is all the more rewarding.

I’ll be writing more about the Fujinon 20-120 very soon, so why not subscribe to my blog using the subscribe bottom on the left.

Stella 1000 and Stella 2000 Camera Lights.

20161012_141332-1024x576 Stella 1000 and Stella 2000 Camera Lights.
The diminutive but incredibly bright Stella 1000 from Light & Motion.

I have been loaned a set of 4 Stella lights to test. I have the Stella 1000, 2000, 5000 Pro and 7000 Pro to play with and test. I’m going to take a quick look at the 1000/2000 now and will write up the 5000/7000 in a later article. These lamps are made by Californian company Light & Motion (www.lightandmotion.com) and I have to admit that this is a new brand to me. The portable lighting market is full of many different lights from different manufacturers, so it’s a tough market to stand out in. However these lights really do stand out from the crowd for many different reasons.

Build Quality: If you are going to stick a light on the top of a news camera it had better be tough. It’s going to get bumped, bashed, knocked and generally have a tough life. The Stella lamps are all beautifully made. The bodies are made from a very robust feeling plastic material while the lamp surround is made out of anodised aluminium that acts as a heatsink to keep the lamps cool. They have been built to withstand being dropped onto concrete from 1m multiple times without breaking and while I haven’t actually tested this, I do believe that they would survive this and the rigours of life on top of an ENG camera.

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The slightly larger Stella 2000 lamp.

Power: The lamps have built in high capacity batteries. You don’t need to buy batteries or run the lamps of the cameras batteries. The internal battery in the Stella 1000 will run it for an hour on full power and around 7 hours at low power. The brighter 2000 will give about 50 mins at full power and 6 hours on low power. If you want longer run times you can attach an adapter to run the lamp from an external power source. Re-charging is fast at a little under 2 hours from flat and you can pack these in the hold of an aircraft as the battery is installed internally and under the current restrictions for Li-Ion batts on aircraft.

Control: The lamps have a built in dimmer that allows you to select one of 6 different brightness levels. Being LED units there is no  color temperature change as you dim the lamps. The dimmer control can be locked in the off position to prevent accidental operation, plus the lamps have a thermal cutoff to prevent damage if left on by mistake when covered or perhaps packed in your luggage. There are 3 LED’s that indicate the batter state and dimming level.

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Dimming and power control of the Stella 2000 portable video light.

High Quality Light: Instead of the more common LED panel design with an array of a large number of small LED’s the Stella’s feature a single high power Chip 5000K LED.  This gives a beam angle of 120 degrees and the light is very uniform across this entire spread. The lamp heads are designed to take modifier lenses that can be used to reduce the beam spread to 50 degrees and 25 degrees if you need more of a spot light. I used the 25 degree fresnel adapter to turn the Stella 1000 to a mini spot light and it was very effective.

20161012_141432-1024x576 Stella 1000 and Stella 2000 Camera Lights.
The high intensity 90 CRI/90 TLCI chip LED of the Light & Motion Stella 2000

The quality of the light from these lamps is very good. The have a CRI of 90 as well as a TLCI of 90. They are also flicker free so suitable for shooting at high frame rate. In use I found the lamps gave great skin tone rendition and I didn’t see any of the green cast that is often common with lower quality LED lamps.

These are surprisingly bright lamps. The Stella 1000 is 1000 lumens and surprise, surprise, the Stella 2000 is 2000 lumens. That’s one heck of a lot of light from such a small and compact unit. Everyone that I have shown these lights to has been impressed by the intensity of the light output. The Stella 1000 is similar to a 75W tungsten lamp and the 2000 close to a 200W tungsten lamp. As the Stella’s are daylight balanced if you are using them as a fill light when shooting into the sun there is no need to gel them as you would with a tungsten light. Add to that the ability to use a clip on fresnel lens to narrow the beam angle and you are approaching the performance of 300W gelled tungsten fresnel fixture but with a compact battery operated lamp. I would consider the Stella 2000 as a replacement for an Arri 300 fresnel in many applications.

Waterproof! The Stella 1000 and 2000 are waterproof! Not just shower and splash proof, but completely waterproof. They can be operated underwater at depths of up to 100m with needing to buy any extra seals or fit any bungs or plugs. I know that when I shooting in adverse weather conditions this will be a big deal as normally the camera will have a nice fitted cover, but the top light is almost always left exposed to the elements. Now I don’t need to worry.

Light and Motion have a wide range of accessories for these lamps including all kinds of different mounts and handles.  As well as the usual barn doors there are some clever light modifiers including the clip on 25 degree fresnel lens, a clip on 50 degree lens, a clip on diffuser, gel holder and glo bulb.

So far I have been really impressed by what these small lamps can do.  They may not have variable color temperature, but the consistency and quality of the light they produce is amazing. The companies tag line is “Beyond Bright” and I’m inclined to agree.

I’ve also been loaned the Stella 5000 Pro and 7000 Pro to test. I’ll be writing about these beauties in the coming weeks!