Prompter People Mic Light Barely a decade ago, powering camera lights was much more complicated than it is today, especially for a smaller camcorder. Most larger cameras had power taps on their hefty 14.4 V "bricks" that could provide power for a light and a wireless transmitter. Until bricks in the 90 watt range (lithium ion, nickel metal hydride, and nicad) came along, a camera light (needing 40 watts or more) could reduce the operating time of the largest bricks to an hour or less, especially if used with a wireless system. This meant toting around a bag of charged bricks for a day's shooting. Improved powering options only recently became available, and camera lights generally required their own power sources. Some of these were either clunky, short-lived or both.
Recent advances in LED camera lighting have provided a lighter, brighter alternative for small camera operators—camera lights powered by AA batteries. The economy, compactness, and wide availability of AA batteries, with both rechargeable and non-rechargeable (alkaline) options have revolutionized the camera lighting landscape for camera operators—particularly on the 7.2 V end of the spectrum, where camera system powering options are still new and a bit awkward. With an AA-powered camera light, you now have the option to continue using the camcorder's native compact batteries without all the extra accoutrements and bulk which come with an upgrade to a 14.4 V camera system option, even if available. Small cameras which don't lend themselves to a 14.4 V upgrade now have an elegant, efficient portable lighting option.
The Mic Light, by Prompter People is one of these new generation AA-powered LED camera lights, with a unique mounting design—it fastens onto a shotgun microphone, rather than to the camera body itself. This leaves the hotshoe(s) available for a wireless transmitter, LCD field monitor, or even a second light.
The arrival of a camera light that only weighs several ounces and is powered by AA batteries represents a major leap in portable camera lighting. Bypassing the hotshoe or other camcorder mounting location is a further technological breakthrough. This is precisely what the Mic Light represents.
The Mic Light's unique design is based on "ring lights," which are designed for soft and even lighting. Although they've been around for decades, most are fairly pricy and their power requirements have precluded their on-camera use until very recently. Most are also considerably larger than the Mic Light which only weighs four ounces, despite being 5.5 inches in diameter. However, it's only 3/4-inch thick and is made of a durable, but very lightweight, polymer. The result is the world's smallest ring light, the first such device to be powered by AAs and the first to mount on a shotgun microphone. These features alone make it one of the most revolutionary ring lights ever, and it's probably the first which can readily be used on a small DC-powered camera—provided they have, or can use, a standard-sized, professional-style shotgun microphone.
The Mic Light is not restricted for use on small cameras and camcorders. It can also readily be used with larger cameras, especially if they're equipped with a shotgun mic. This opens the door to a sound person doing double duty as a lighting assistant.
The Mic Light is circular and compact in appearance, suggesting a space program spin-off. It has a sleek, round, silver, space-age skin, with 48 mini-LEDs lining the outer edge of the ring in double concentric circles. Only the tips of the lamps protrude from the beveled receptacles that help shape the 30 degree arc cast by each LED. The outer section of the ring is angled slightly to help ensure that the light diffuses outwards, towards the subject, rather than inwards at the mic capsule on which it is mounted.
The instrument is designed to be simple to operate, with a single push-button on/off switch located near the center mounting hole. The three AA cells are symmetrically located for equal weight distribution. To load them, the LED-studded top ring is rotated counterclockwise by light pressure from the palm of one's hand to rotate and unlock it.
Once inside, the Mic Light's incredible lightness of being is revealed. There are only two circuit boards to which the LEDs are attached. The rest is skin: two circular half shells formed to fit like a perfect glove when snugged together. The result is a durable, ultra-low weight mic-mounted light that's roughly equivalent to 50 watt tungsten light, but one that emits daylight-balanced light (5600 K) and generates almost no heat. Alkaline AAs should power it for about two hours.
The Mic Light package I received came with 3 AA Duracell batteries, although it can operate with any AA batteries, primary cells or rechargeables. It did take a minute or two to figure out how to open the Mic Light to insert the batteries. However, once I discovered the two notches on the side of the unit put there for ease in prying apart the snug-fitting top and bottom halves, installing fresh batteries was a breeze. However, it also proved to be mostly unnecessary, as the supplied alkaline cells provided enough juice to power the Mic Light on several occasions during several days of shooting. The longest of these spanned an hour of intermittent use, with others ranging from 10 to 30 minutes or more. Of course the Mic Light was turned off part of the time.
Once batteries were installed, I powered up the Mic Light to verify that it was working. Unlike fluorescents and some other lights, there was no delay in reaching full brightness and target color temperature. The Mic Light was ready for action at full strength with the flip of a switch.
Before mounting the Mic Light on an Audio Technica BP 4029 10-inch stereo shotgun microphone, I first had to remove the mic's fuzzy windsock. With this gone, the Mic Light slid easily onto the shotgun capsule. There was also enough wiggle room to permit adjusting it upwards or downwards a bit. The Mic Light was a perfect fit right out of the box. However, it was obvious that the product could not be used on a shotgun mic with a windsock or foam windscreen.
In terms of its performance as a camera light, it worked beautifully on its first trial, while I shot landscape paintings in a darkish room where the only ambient light came from a shaded window more than 10 feet away. With the Mic Light, the subtle greens, browns, and blues in landscape paintings hung high on a perpendicular wall looked as if illuminated by a strong indirect natural light source, like an adjacent window with indirect sunlight. The net effect was beautifully soft lighting, ideal for capturing the subtle earth tones of the landscape paintings. The diffusion was optimal at six to eight feet from the paintings, as with any soft box.
In the same room at night, with no ambient illumination, the Mic Light's optimal effective distance decreased somewhat.
With the Mic Light as the sole source of light, at night, I had to get some 20 to 30 percent closer to the subject for best results. Although I didn't do any direct comparisons, my impression was that the illumination intensity (or reach) dropped off a bit faster (distance-wise) with the Mic Light, than with comparable incandescent lights I've used, and noticeably more so than with HMIs. However, at close range its intense, yet even, illumination provided compared favorably with any other type of camera lighting, especially when softened.
I was pleasantly surprised with the Mic Light's performance in rooms with ambient tungsten lighting. I anticipated skewed colorimetry, but instead got remarkably consistent after camera white balancing with the Mic Light at roughly 6 feet—the average distance for most of my subjects. Without exception, the flesh tones and other colors in most of the frame were consistent and perfectly color balanced, with a cooler "daylight" look despite being bathed in tungsten. I noticed this even as I panned around a large room full of people under mixed tungsten and compact fluorescent lighting. I was shooting from the center of the room, so most of the people that I focused on were within a 10 to 12 foot radius of the camera and light. Overall, the results were much more consistent and correctly balanced than I had anticipated, considering the mixed lighting.
Interviews, table top or macro shots, indoor B-rolls
Soft, even lighting; shotgun mic-mount; AA-battery power source
Prompter People | 408-866-9100 | www.prompterpeople.comI also tested the Mic Light outdoors, during a blizzard with blowing snow, albeit in a semi-sheltered area to keep it from "catching snow." Nevertheless, it did take on some snow—not enough to coat it—but with no apparent effect on its performance. Most of the time, the fixture was merely exposed to the extreme cold in the pocket of my parka. I was mainly shooting street scenes and my primary subject was a black dog coated with snow, some 15 feet away. It was nearly sunset and I shot both with and without the Mic Light. As you might expect, the dog's black coat was much richer, with hints of brown, with the Mic Light. Also, the texture of the snow was much more detailed. The net improvement in color and texture convinced me to keep the Mic Light on the Audio Technica 4029 and the Canon XH A1 at all times for highlighting details in less than optimal ambient lighting, even during a blizzard.
The Mic Light performed essentially as advertised, and proved easy to operate under various conditions, including darkness and extreme cold. The 5600 K LEDs balanced easily with daylight and also worked well in some situations with mixed ambient lighting, including tungsten and compact fluorescent.
Despite its thin plastic skin, the unit proved reasonably rugged and was also easy to use and carry in the field, whether it was mounted on a mic, in a camera case, or in jacket pocket. It was incredibly easy to operate, thanks in part to having only one moving part, an on/off switch. With its very modest price and compact dimensions it delivers portable lighting at a fraction of the cost for HMIs and even LED sun guns, not to mention other ring light products. As it's a true ring light, the Mic Light delivers soft daylight-balanced lighting which is ideal for interviews, dramas, artwork and other applications, whenever you're working close to the subject, and where hot lights may pose a problem. The absence of dimming doesn't seem to pose a problem, as I was able to use it at fairly close range, without blowing out any highlights. For the modest price, ownership is a no-brainer for any serious videographer who believes in a well-stocked tool kit.
Carl Mrozek operates Eagle Eye Media, based in Buffalo, N.Y., which specializes in wildlife and outdoor subjects. His work regularly appears on the Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel, CBS, PBS and other networks. Contact him email@example.com.
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