In the current economy, us lesser affluent individuals barely have enough cash-money to get by, let alone to purchase cool new film-making toys. One of the most exorbitantly priced parts of any production, and any Director of Photography’s arsenal, is the lighting. Sure, you may have an expensive camera and an array of overly-priced accessories that you floss around like it was on a TV show hosted by Xzibit, but none of that comes anywhere near to how much you will have to spend, or have already spent, on a half decent lighting kit for anything other than your basic interview setup… Unless you’re renting, that is. But who rents, anyway? Renting’s for n00bz.
In come Cinelight, a Hong Kong based company with a European supplier in Romania, who make affordable / inexpensive alternatives to most of our favourite light fixtures. Yes, I know… As soon as you read “Hong Kong”, you may feel like you want to turn in the other direction. A simple Google search for “Chinese cinematography lights” will unearth a whole bunch of threads on various forums urging people not to buy them for various reasons. But before you get too lodged up your own ass, inflexible to the idea of anything coming close to the likes of Arri, Dedolight, Lowel, Ianiro, Cosmolight or whoever, hear me out, because any of you with any sense will want to read the rest of this review.
I recently took delivery of a Cinelight Junior Fresnel 1000w light fixture, from Cinelight in Romania. It took 6 days to arrive in the UK, and 4 days for the incompetent courier service, Dynamic Postal Delivery, to NOT deliver it, before I had to go to England’s version of Detroit, Crawley, and pick it up myself. More about my experience with DPD later. Anyway, moving on! The lighting fixture came in perhaps one of the toughest cardboard boxes I have ever encountered. Seriously, this thing was SOLID. Also, the box was wrapped in white tape marked “FRAGILE” in red, which was nice and considerate of Cinelight, despite the likelihood of most couriers opting to ignore such a warning… Especially DPD.
After taking about 5 minutes to get into the box, I was presented with a thick sheet of foam core, protecting the fixture beneath. Removing the foam sheet revealed the light fixture, its EU power cable (which you’ll need to re-wire or find an adapter for if the EU plug is not native to your country), a filter frame, 2 individually boxed Osram bulbs wrapped in their own foam padding, an additional padded area where the barndoors were kept, and foam padding beneath the light and on all sides of the box for added protection. Beat that, Durex! I would have probably included more padding around the actual light fixture, such as bubble wrap and a few automated air bags, but I’m pretty fastidious… Just ask Chris Beller from Kessler Crane, or Mandy Rogers from Zacuto, or… Alright, nevermind.
One of the first things I noticed before opening the box, was something rattling inside. That’s never a good sign, right? Upon carefully removing the fixture from its box, I found that the Fresnel lens wasn’t being held still, nor in the centre of its housing. But the good thing was, it wasn’t damaged. I started to think that maybe the lens was slightly too small, or the housing was slightly too big, but after contacting Cinelight (who responded to my e-mail almost instantaneously, I might add) with a few photos and a video demonstrating the problem, I was informed that there should be a pad of heat resistant material on each of the two feet that support the lens from its bottom, which must have dislodged during transit. I checked the box, found the pads and installed them where they should be.
I’ve gotta say, though… It was hard to not confuse the pads with packaging material, as they looked like two strips of cotton padding – You know, the type your girlfriend uses to cleanse her face. Yes, FACE, you dirty bastard. But don’t fret, Arri also use this same technology to secure and protect the lens in their 1K Junior Fresnel fixture, and I think we can all agree that Arri have been around long enough to stand the test of time.
However, after using the light for around 6 continuous hours, the “heat resistant” material browned considerably and has since disintegrated, causing the Fresnel lens to be misaligned and unprotected by the extreme heat that is transferred to the lens door. I informed Cinelight of this issue, who assured me this had never happened to any of their units before. I suggested they consider using strips of heat resistant silicone as an alternative to the cotton-like pads, because of silicone’s hard-wearing / heat resistant resilience — an idea that was quickly taken on board by the fantastic customer representatives at Cinelight — and replacement SILICONE pads were sent out to me straight away. Now THAT’S customer service done right! Also, not only that, but I have recently been advised that all future production runs of the Cinelight 1K Junior Fresnel will now come with silicone pads pre-installed. So, if you purchase a lighting fixture from Cinelight, and it has silicone pads, just remember… That’s all me, baby.
Alright, so let’s talk build quality and features…
The main housing of the fixture is made from extruded aluminium (which has a smooth, almost milled appearance), so is pretty light weight (weighing in at 5.6kg), yet feels strong enough that you could swing it against Mike Tyson’s face (which isn’t recommended, by the way), without causing much of a hindrance to the fixture. The fixture’s protrusions, i.e., the front casting, rear casting, front base casting, rear base casting and lens door, are made from cast aluminium (could be sand cast?), giving them a textured finish of different quality to that of the fixture’s housing. The barndoors are slim, yet sturdy, and appear to be stamped aluminium sheathed in a matte finish powder coating. They stay exactly where you put them, and should they loosen with use, they have adjustable friction via the screws that hold them onto their frame – A nice little detail, I thought. The angle of the fixture is altered by loosening the side locking handle and tilting the fixture on the axis of its heavy duty stirrup bracket, just like the Arri 1K Junior Fresnel. This allows you a full, very advantageous 360 degrees of movement – Perfect for pointing the light pretty much anywhere you want, including at unsuspecting neighbours’ windows when they’ve REALLY pissed you off.
The focus is adjusted in the same way you would adjust the focus on an Arri 1K Junior Fresnel fixture, via a rotating focusing knob at the back of the unit. This moves the lamp carriage, inside the fixture, to and from the Fresnel lens, along a spindle and side-baffles, and provides very accurate spot and flood control, with a firm, yet smooth and responsive action.
Quality of light…
Three of the main things I was worried about before receiving this fixture were hot spots, uneven light distribution, and inferior output. Lesser expensive fixtures sometimes suffer from these issues due to the many shortcuts those manufacturers take to price down their items. The Cinelight 1K Junior Fresnel, however, does not suffer from these issues, and in my opinion, the quality of light and light output from this particular fixture are indistinguishable from that of the more expensive alternative made by Arri, and may even be a little cleaner looking, too. At full flood, you are presented with an even, controlled, circular dispersion of photons, which can be dialled down to a nice, perfectly balanced little spot with very little falloff. Flagging the light with the supplied barndoors adds even further control, capable of effectively reducing spill, and the Fresnel lens is sharp enough that when using the barndoors, the resultant light can be manipulated with enough precision to produce very distinct looking square and rectangular conformations.
While we’re on the whole “quality of light” thing…
Cinelight offers you, the customer, two different manufacturer’s bulbs, GB and Osram. Do yourself a favour and purchase Osram bulbs ONLY. The GB bulbs are more prone to blowing and don’t provide you with as good a quality of light as the Osrams. OK, yes, the 1K Osram bulbs are 13â‚¬ more expensive, but as the old saying goes, and one I always live by, buy the best and only cry once. You’ll be happy you did.
Before I wrap up this review, it’s worth pointing out that all of Cinelight’s products are wired and made from materials that comply with EU standards, so if you’re worried about getting electrocuted by the lighting stand, or the fixture spontaneously combusting, don’t be. Whilst it’s never recommended to leave a cinematic lighting fixture on whilst unattended, due to the sheer heat these things kick out, you’re not going to hear any of the horror stories associated with cheaply made, unregulated Chinese crap, said about Cinelight.
So, in conclusion…
The Cinelight 1K Junior Fresnel is a very professional looking / functioning unit, borrowing its looks and features from one of the most prestigious, recognizable cinematic lighting manufacturers in the world. It stands up with ease to the rigours of production, and at 279â‚¬ (Â£243.10 / $333.59 @ the current exchange), is inexpensive compared to other brands, and perfectly priced for the independent / low-to-no budget film market, as well as aspiring filmmakers who need excellence without the price tag. Not to mention, the fixture produces a fantastic quality of light, and is made available to you by a company who listens and knows how to treat their customers right. So whilst you could conversantly stick with better known brands, you have to ask yourself, if those brands essentially produce the same results, and you’re only really paying for the name, is it actually worth spending that extra cash when you could just go with the less expensive option and put your remaining funds towards something else you’ve had your eye on? Think about it for a moment.
“Where is all your test footage, then?”
Well, we’re currently filming a bunch of test shots / scenarios with the Cinelight 1K Junior Fresnel to show you guys how it performs, and hope to get those online within the next month or so. So stay tuned, and above all, stay frosty!
Writer, Director & Cinematographer.