This week I was invited to the head office of Rotolight in Pinewood Studios, London to check out one of their flagship products, the Rotolight Neo. This is an LED light that can mount to your camera or can be used off camera using boompoles or light stands. This constant light source that can run off six AA batteries claims to be industry leading in areas such as brightness and color accuracy. But at $399.99, is it a worthy investment?
As a professional videographer, having a portable light source that is reliable and consistent is of high value. A creative and purposeful application of lighting can often bring a touch of gloss to your productions. Rotolight understands this requirement, and has invested heavily into the tech that is included in the Neo.
The official language can be found on the Rotolight product page, but key features include 1,077 lux brightness at 3 feet distance, 3,150 to 6,300K variable color dial, 0-100 percent flicker-free dimming, and skin tone replication under artificial light to 1 percent accuracy.
The light is very well built, and the dial control is simple and reliable, yet light enough to mount on top of a camera or a camera rig for run and gun shooting. Having confidence in the accuracy of the color temperature will certainly save time in postproduction when trying to equalize white balance across a selection of sequences. The light is clearly bright enough for this kind of work, especially if there is a single subject. For groups of people, the Neo will struggle, but I probably wouldn’t use such a small light source in the first place for group work.
In my opinion, the unique selling point of the Neo is in its creative and effects capabilities. This battery-powered light source can help you create a beautiful, wrapping light around your subject anywhere you are shooting, with the added benefit of getting an attractive circular catchlight in the eye. A selection of gels come as standard and are simple to fit for more creative options.
This brings us to my favorite set of features, the effects options. The Neo will replicate the light of special effects such as lightning, fire, and TV light. The demonstration of this lighting seemed very accurate, and can probably be best shown in this fascinating promotion video by Rotolight. Visual Effects Veteran Stefan Lange ("James Bond Spectre," "Batman") takes us through some of the real-use cases for these effects.
As a music video filmmaker, these tools could be of great value to setting mood and tone in narrative sequences. There was recently a case where I wanted light spill from a TV onto my subject, and the light source from the TV was too faint, so we ended up waving card in front of an extra light source to try and replicate the lighting effect.
The biggest discomfort is the price point. Retail price is $399, although B&H does currently have an offer on them for $239. At this price you could pick up four cheap Chinese-made battery-powered LED lights. So is it worth the money? Lighting is one of the most important tools you have as a filmmaker, so investing well in the right gear that will provide consistent results is of great importance. I’ve used cheap battery powered lights for some time now and am always delighted that I have them in my bag, but setup is often trial and error to make sure I’m getting the right exposure through the camera.
Because of this, and after the impressive demonstration day at Rotolight’s head office, I was convinced enough to purchase two Neo lights and will give a full real-use review after I have spent some time with them.