Last month we posted an article about a unique LED lighting solution called “Strahlen” that was crowdfunding. On paper, the specs of these lights look great, but how well do they perform in a real production setting? I got my hands on a kit of Strahlens, and after an interview shoot with them I found out that they were the real deal.
LED lights for production have been around for a while, but the design of the Strahlen is a noticable departure from your average 1x1 panel. Like other LEDs though, the Strahlens emit very little heat and consume less power than hot tungsten fixtures.
The Strahlen came about when filmmaker Andy Waplinger decided to purchase an LED light kit, but ultimately found that the market was filled with over-priced, inflexible options. He decided to try his hand at making his own LED light, and after much work he created several prototypes. The next step he saw was to crowdfund in order to mass produce the lights. Here’s their campaign video with more information on how they were conceived.
The Strahlen LEDs are primarily for video production, and they come in either daylight, tungsten, or bi-color, with a variety of add-on options for light modifiers. You can certainly use them for photography, but I’ll let you decide if they would work for your photo needs or not. I got a kit with one of all 3 of the Strahlen lights, and modifiers including a dome diffuser, fresnel lens, and a 3’ photodiox octabox.
At this point I should mention that the kit I received for testing was considered “prototype” and according to Andy, and might not completely indicative of the final product. Regardless, each unit felt rock-solid, and was about the size of a small shoebox. They were slightly larger and just a touch heavier than I imagined they would be, but still smaller and lighter than say, an Arri650. I can see these holding up well to getting tossed about– something you can’t really do with a large panel LED design. A large handle on the back end is convenient for carrying them around and protecting the plug and controls.
An interesting consideration for the build of these is their simplicity. With only a switch and a knob, a smooth, rectangular black casing, and no gaudy logo or colors, they eschew unnecessary detailing. I appreciate this kind of design.
The front of the unit has a bowens S-type mount, for which you can add all sorts of adapters, softboxes, diffusers, etc. What you can’t see though, is that the add-on fresnel and dome diffuser attach with magnets, which is really awesome. (One might even call it a miracle) No fuss with screws or snaps, just align it properly and you’re done. Having a glass accessory fall from 8 feet onto a hard floor was a concern at first, but very quickly I could tell that wasn’t going to happen. The magnets hold.
Controls are simple and work fine. A power switch turns the unit on, and a dimmer knob lets me dim from 10% to 100% intensity. Both are located on the back of the unit, along with a plug for power. No adapters or bulky power supplies.
Something unique about the bi-color Strahlen is that it’s not a dialable color temperature, as with some other bi-color LEDs. The addition of another switch on the back makes it daylight/tungsten switchable, but never both. The single dimmer controls the output of either one. Another thing to note with the bi-color is that while the magnet add-ons typically attach in the center, the bi-color LEDs are spaced above and below one another. This means you have to shift the magnetic mount off center. It works, but it’s not as precise as center mounting on the single color models. I believe this is being addressed for the final product.
I used the Strahlen kit to light a simple video interview, which I felt would be a pretty typical application for a kit like this. Using only Strahlen LEDs for my key, fill, and back light, the challenge for the shoot would come from the fact that we would be working in a mixed lighting environment. Reflected daylight was spilling through the windows in the front of the restaurant, while tungsten fixtures filled the interior of the restaurant.
The lights set up without issue, and the add-ons turned out to be worth their weight in gold. The octabox was a pain to set up, but the light wrapped beautifully as a keylight. Being able to tweak intensity by turning the dimmer made getting the exposure I desired very easy. I wanted a soft fill light, so I used the bulb dome diffuser, which added just a little bit of light and was perfect.
The trickiest light for me was getting a nice back or hair light. I typically place a pepper or other small hot light on a C-stand arm, so I can position it just above and behind the subject. I felt the Strahlen light was a bit heavy to do that with safely, so I positioned the silver side of a reflector above and behind the subject, and blasted light from directly below. I used the fresnel lens to focus the light and a small dish to control some of the spill.
I never noticed any banding or flicker issues. The fans that are built into the unit made virtually no noise, as I never noticed them. The lights performed great, and I was happy with the final results.
Some other testing
I did some non-scientific tests in my photo studio (AKA garage) to get some readings for reference.
Strahlen (bi-color) Tungsten, open face, 100% power: 3000K, 0 +/- Tint
Strahlen (bi-color) Daylight, open face, 100% power: 4550K, +12 Tint (adding magenta)
Strahlen (bi-color) Tungsten, open face, 50% power: 3000K, +4 Tint (adding magenta)
Strahlen (bi-color) Daylight, open face, 50% power: 4550K, +13 Tint (adding magenta)
What I conclude from this is that the color temperatures stay consistent when dimmed. I'm a little surprised to see the temperature read at 4550K for the daylight setting, as I was expecting it to be a touch higher.
I then did took light meter readings with the Sekonic L-308DC. All readings were taken at a measured 4 foot distance from the light source. (the LED in examples 1 and 2, the front of the octabox in examples 3 and 4)
Strahlen (bi-color) Tungsten, open face, 100% power: 100 fc
Strahlen (bi-color) Daylight, open face, 100% power: 180 fc
Strahlen (bi-color) Tungsten, octabox attachment, 100% power: 42 fc
Strahlen (bi-color) Daylight, octabox attachment, 100% power: 80 fc
The output of the daylight LED is spot on with output levels for other LEDs I've tested that were a bit more expensive. The tungsten setting was about the same as what you would get from a LitePanel 1x1, but less than what you would get from a Zabolight Z1.
What Could Be Improved
Working in a mixed lighting environment, I did find myself wishing that I could have dialed in the color temperature somewhere between daylight and tungsten. Using some CTO/CTB is the obvious solution to that, but I'm used to using more expensive LEDs that let me get away without gelling them.
The magnetic attachments were a bit finicky for the bi-color, but I believe this is going to be addressed in the final production run (these were prototype models) along with a few other minor tweaks to the mount systems.
If I were to buy a kit of these, I would buy two additional items that I didn't have for my shoot: a lightweight, small 150W-200W source that I could use for a back light on a C-stand, and a couple sets of barn doors. With another small light and some more light crafting accessories, this would make a great interview lighting kit.
A single color Strahlen is expected to cost about $1,000, but for people who contribute to their campaign, they are only $800. The bi-color is $1,400, or $1,200 for contributors. I feel the price is a competitive one, and in line with the cost of other similar output LEDs. Some units are more, and others are less, but this is a unique system with some pretty inventive methods for utilizing attachments and modifiers.
What I liked
Robust build, I could kick these around without fear of breaking them
Don't get hot
Noise from fans was not noticeable
Light output appeared flicker free
Magnetic mounting is awesome
Enough output to light an interview at less than 100%, with the octabox, at these settings: f4, ISO500, 1/48
What I didn't dig
Can't dial color temp on the bi-color between daylight and tungsten
No battery options... yet.
Would like to see more options utilizing the magnetic mount
Would like to see Strahlen link to or make accessories like barndoors, gel frames, etc
The Bottom Line
I liked this kit. I would use it anytime to shoot video interviews. For a $1,200 bi-color, the cost is slightly less than what I would (and have previously) pay for a robust, versatile LED light solution. You will want the add-ons for sure, and it helps if you already own some Bowens mount modifiers. If you can live without a dialable color temp, or you don't mind using CTB/CTO, they will work great should hold up to the rigors of production.
To learn more about the Strahlen, check out their Indiegogo page.
Stills and bts video footage courtesy of Kyle Cahall.