One of the big pushes these days in lighting technology is the use of light emitting diodes as the light source. LEDs have so many advantages: low weight, durablility, long life and a low-power draw. Until recently, the drawbacks have been cost, color temperature and intensity. Innovation is starting to take care of all these minuses; prices are coming down as the LED elements get more efficient, more easily dimmable, and color temperature-variable. And these innovations have opened the way for clever designers to start changing the ways shooters have traditionally thought about lighting and lighting instruments.
The Scorpion LED lighting instrument One such clever group of designers is Blind Spot in Glasgow, Scotland. Following on a successful Kickstarter campaign last year to fund development of this light kit, they have released the Scorpion kit for general sale in two versions: light and complete.
First, a word or two about the lights.
The bulb, or more accurately “emitter,” in each light element is a high-performance, single-dye white LED. These emitters are mounted behind a lens, which ensures an even pool of light. The lights are available in either daylight or tungsten-balanced color temperatures (the set of four lights ion the kit can be all daylight, all tungsten, or half and half). The light fixture, which has an integrated set of barn doors, is a roughly two-inch metal ovoid at the end of a 13-inch flexible gooseneck with a 16-mm “spigot” with a 1/4-inch thread at the bottom, making the entire lighting unit just a bit longer than 17-inches and weighing about 14 ounces. The spigot and thread makes it possible to attach the Scorpion to a cold shoe mount (included) or one of the included “super clamps,” one for each light. These facilitate attaching the Scorpions onto almost anything, including a camera, stand, grip, or physical entity.
At the bottom end of the gooseneck is a power connector and dimmer. The Scorpion may be powered by a wallwart, D-Tap, or Sony NP-F series batteries (also provided in the kit). One of the small and lightweight Sony batteries (two are supplied with each light in each kit, along with one charger per light) will power a light for about 80 minutes at full illumination. The battery holders have a threaded screw tap and a Velcro strap for mounting options; the connection to the light is a nine-inch locking plug. One D-Tap plug, about a foot long, is also included, with more available from the company store.
The final element of the kit, which is delivered in a hard case with custom cut foam inserts to hold all components, is a selection of 10 small Rosco gel sheets, meant to be held onto the light fixture barn doors with tiny and very strong magnets (included). The selection includes corrective (changing light temperature), diffusion (frosted) and color effects (red, yellow, cyan, and magenta, all designed to the meet the specifications of Vittorio Storaro, the great cinematographer).
I used the Scorpion kit twice in rapid succession almost immediately after it arrived and was quite impressed both times. The first application involved a performance in a small theater. I was required to shoot the show on sticks from an audience position and then switch to handheld camera operation immediately after the show to cover the conversations between performers and audience. From past experience, I knew several things about the situation: first, the talkback would happen almost immediately after the applause died down, giving me a minute at most to get to a position on the side of the stage where I could cover both parts of the conversation; second, stage lighting would be good, but audience lighting was extremely limited, meaning I’d need some sort of on-camera light to be able to capture the audience “talkers” on video (but not blind them). The Scorpion filled the bill perfectly. I was easily able to mount it to my Sony EX3 prior to the show in a much collapsed form so it didn’t interfere with my sightlines while shooting the performance. When I had to make what was probably a ridiculous, ��John Wilkes Booth-ish” leap from audience to stage after the performance, I found that it was an easy move to bring the light into a useful position, dial up the dimmer to add a bit of light to the audience shots (while hopefully not blinding anyone), and aim the light using the gooseneck. For such a small light, it provided plenty of illumination and dimmed and undimmed smoothly. It added very little weight to my handheld camera and was easy to balance and operate.
The second application was a kind of “run-and-gun” series of three interviews for a short documentary on a contemporary composition for percussion ensemble. I had to interview the artistic director/pianist, one of the percussionists, as well as the executive director of the producing organization. This was an extremely rushed situation, in part because these three vital interview subjects would be in the same place for only a very small part of a morning before ping-ponging off to their individual destinations. The challenge was in being able to do quick setups in a space that gave the appearance of three different spaces, and there was no time for lighting of backdrops. I ended up using two Scorpions: one on my camera to boost the ambient light, and one in a “super clamp” attached to a chair back to separate the subject from the background. One interviewee was seated at the baby grand piano, another was situated in front of a curtain, and the third was standing by a wood-paneled wall. This wasn’t the deepest or most creative cinematic experience, but it worked as I had hoped and was quick and easy to set up.
The Scorpion delivered a very smooth and even light without hot spots or edge fall off. With the unit’s barn doors wide open, the light spreads pretty wide. The barn doors can also focus the light down to a thin strip, with the dimmers offering very smoothly gradated and precise control. The lights are small, lightweight, feature a low power draw, and are easy to position for a wide variety of uses. As the battery runs down, the light doesn’t dim or stutter; it’s either on or off. The Scorpion fixture is constructed of lightweight, yet durable, machined aluminum, and they look and feel as if they’re set to last for a long time, certainly nearly as long as the nearly-lifetime rating of the LED emitters.
I have lately become even more a fan of the creative and beautifully functional design of some tools. The Scorpion set breathes thoughtful and highly functional design in all of its elements, from the lights themselves to the mounting methods and to the power systems and travel case. The Scorpion is not a light that will fill every single purpose, or even try to. It is not designed to be a light that it is not, but through smart design and material choices, the Scorpion is far, far more than the kind of light you might expect from its size and cost. It gives great value and is worth a long look and strong consideration.
Michael Hanish operates Free Lunch, a video/audio/multimedia production house near Guilford, Vt. He may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
Portable or on-set lighting
Four lights on gooseneck, barn doors, dimmer, low-power requirement
Blind Spot Gear