Saturday, June 9, 2012

Let's Build a Fluorescent Hot Light for Photography doubt you have Kino Flo in your mind when it comes to a fluorescent unit. For the unfamiliar, it is a company that makes robust, fluorescent units. Some are dimmable, some are hot only...and they put out beautiful light. Super soft.  Controllable. If you can use a Kino unit, give it a try.

The problem-to buy, they aren't in the reach of many hobbyist photogs. Even a relatively basic unit, like the 4Bank 4' unit, it's about $1100. It's a perfect short/medium throw unit-it puts out about 85 footcandles with a 100° spread, from a distance of 6'. You could comfortably shoot at a f4.0 or f5.6 and a speedy shutter.

What I recommend to most folks is to make a mimic (at least for photography purposes) of this unit.
Take the jump to learn about how I've done this before.

It has several benefits:
  • Inexpensive 
  • Changeable color temperature 
  • Big horizontal and vertical spread (great for full body or 3/4 shots)
The downsides:
  • It MAY work for video work, but will require some experimentation. 
  • You are limited in Color temperature by what is available, and the CRI available. I'll be putting together a post soon about color temperature and tube selection. 
So here we go. I'm going to try to present the version that involves the least amount of wiring, as it's something not everyone is comfortable with. If you're savvy with basic wiring, I'll give you some thoughts at the end, and then jump into the deep end of the kiddie pool with a more advanced, but pretty sweet alternative.

Most importantly: Be careful. I'm a bit flippant, but electricity is no joke. I'll say it again. Be careful. I don't take any responsibility for you electrocuting yourself for not taking good and proper safety precautions. If you are the least bit concerned, get a qualified electrician.

Here's your Shopping List. It's parts enough for one large/two small units:
TOTAL COST: $214, pre-tax, pre-shipping (or about $100 for a single 4', 2 light unit)

*Your a tad on your own on this. Easy to find-I've found them at radio shack, home depot, etc, and you have lots of options.  Read ahead and it will make sense.
**You may not need these. If your fluorescent light comes with a male edison connector, or has it already installed, save a few bucks.

  1. Pull out your fluorescent lights. This unit comes mostly assembled, so this should be pretty easy. It varies by model, but you MAY have to install a male edison connector. Remember, green is neutral.
  2. Find the balance point of the light-and this is not always the middle. You don't need to be precise to the inch, but balance it in your hand and get close. 
  3. When you find the balance point, take your Baby Wall Plate and mark it, as well as the screw holes, onto the housing of the unit. The closer the Baby Wall Plate is to the balance center, the easier it will be to work with. The only exception to this is if the balance point is extremely close to one end or the other-I would keep the mount in the center 1/3 of the length of the unit.
  4. You need to remove the back of the unit. Again, specifics will vary, depending on the model of light that you purchased. Some are easy, some are difficult. The unit specified has an included reflector which helps light output but makes this step a tad more difficult.
  5. Once the unit is open, you need to drill the holes out that you marked from the baby plate. Make sure that putting the bolts there won't cause any internal conflicts-that you are away from the ballast, wire, etc.
  6. Bolt on the unit. Make sure the head of the bolt inside of the unit. This means the excess of the bolt is on the outside and you will know if something is loosening up. I put two nuts on each bolt so that it can take a little more abuse without loosening.
  7. Reassemble! 
  8. Repeat for the second unit.
  9. Well. That's about it for construction. Pull out your Lite Stands, and put the grip heads on. Important tip for stand/grip newbies-the non round part goes onto the "spud" or the male top portion of the stand.
  10. Make sure the stand is in front of you, and the grip head (or knuckle) is to the right. Right now, you're standing behind the unit. Put the Fluorescent worklight on the grip head. The wall plate will go into the big hole on the grip head. Take a peek at this video in case this is confusing at all:
  11. Plug it in and play! 

Because of the extreme variance between worklights, a lot of this has been glossed over. I'm working on assembling some pictures in process and will update with these. Be careful. I don't take any responsibility for you electrocuting yourself for not taking good and proper safety precautions. 

More Advanced Option:

So here is the version that I've built for other various productions-most notably, we used it for a few years for a lot of the lightboxes at the Olympics. It's great, but definitely requires much more advanced wiring knowledge.

If you're reading this section, I'll give you the premise and let you figure out the specific "how" of how you would like to execute it.

What all of this boils down to is one very special bit of business: Advance Mark 10 Ballasts in particular the Advance Mark 10 Powerline REX-2s32-SC-35I. 

The biggest downside is the cost. They are about $70 each. The only other huge tip: Rapid Start/Instant On Sockets are required. Even if it doesn't, sockets are less than a dollar. Once you swap the ballasts, you can dim the fluorescents down to about 20% with standard line voltage dimming.
You can then run it off of any dimmer-hand, conventional, or wall. I personally swear by these little hand dimmers that are only $20.00.

Even with their additional cost, you are still only looking at about $450, total investment if you mimic above. Since you're not using the ballast, you could probably save a fair chunk if you some ply mounted the sockets to plywood instead of rebuilding a whole unit. Your other option is to buy a unit that comes without a ballast which would also save you some cash.

Leave me a note if you  have any thoughts, questions or success stories in building your own. I'll be sure to give you some tips and tricks sometime soon!

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