Fotodiox Pro LED-100WB-56 Studio LED Kit
$1000 | fotodiox.com | Buy Now

The LED100WB-56 is a wall-powered, dimmable LED light source with that should be a little bit different. Fotodiox has done quite a bit, not just to negate the issues of using LEDs for continuous lighting but also to address some inherent issues of using continuous lighting in general. This is enough to warrant a closer look, as it could make these more useful for a wide number of users.

The lights are sold as single units for $299, and as a 3-light kit for $999. Included with the 3-light kit that we tested are three lights, reflectors, slip-on diffusion covers, power adapters with XLR cables (not pictured), and a set of remotes. The kit also includes a set of light stands as well (not the short one pictured above), making the 3-light kit an entirely complete set for those getting started, as you are given more flexibility with three lights for a key, fill, and hair light, than you are with two.

One inherent issue with LED lights is the source itself. Bright LEDs are never a single diode: they're often an array of diodes arranged closely together. At first we saw LED panels grow in popularity, which spread single individual diodes in a grid to create a big and bright source. The issue is the individual diodes when spread out act like a series of point light sources, with each diode creating its own set of shadows. These complex shadows get distracting very quickly, and the bare bulbs are tough on the eyes.

As time has moved on, the diodes have shrunk down to a tight grid on a wafer, much like the chips in our cameras, just not quite as dense. Fotodiox has taken a panel like this and then put it back behind a glass lens with a frosted back. The back of this lens becomes the single light source instead of the hundreds of individual LED spots, creating an even light source with a single shadow, much like a classic tungsten source. 

Speaking of 'classic' tungsten sources, one of the biggest advantages of LED lights over these sources is heat production. Anyone who has used even a120-watt modeling light knows these things get extremely hot. So hot, in fact, that any skin contact with the bulb will leave behind oil residue that creates a hotspot - eventually resulting in the bulb's failure. While the Fotodiox does produce some heat, a small quiet fan keeps inside temperatures steady. During use, no outside part of the light becomes hot to the touch.

Another historic issue with the LEDs as a photographic light source is color - or lack thereof. This handy YouTube video dives a bit more in to the issue:

The Fotodiox is rated at 95+ CRI, which is quite a high rating for the price. This is also a drastic improvement over Fotodiox's own LED100WA, which is only rated at 85 CRI. CRI isn't a perfect way to assess color output but the spectrum Fotodiox shows for the lamps shows a fairly consistent output across most colors, with the only significant spike being in the blue region, meaning there shouldn't be any nasty surprises.

So these lights promise to take care of the light source and color issues, what else? How about flicker? All lamps flicker to some degree if they're powered by the alternating current of mains electricity but different lighting technologies have different dimming characteristics during the 'off' half of the power cycle. Tungsten bulbs stay fairly hot (and hence bright) throughout the cycle while poorly-designed LEDs abruptly switch on and off as the power cycles. You won't always notice this with the naked eye but set your shutter speed faster than the frequency of the lights and the difference can become apparent.

This effect can be seen with the Sony a7R II in 'low light' mode with 'electronic shutter' and maximum ISO in our studio scene - the line-by-line readout of the sensor happens at different parts of the light's power cycle, resulting in exposure differences that render as bands across the frame, despite the use of a tungsten bulb.

Fotodiox claims its LED100WB lights are flicker free, so we tried it out for ourselves by shooting some super slow-motion with two of the lights and a Sony RX10 III.

In these clips, the lights were at full power with their intensity controlled by their distance from the subject. When the lights are partially dimmed banding does begin to happen at 960fps/1000sec shutter speeds, but at full power there was no banding to be seen.

So, these lights are looking pretty good so far right? They also work quite well for portraits, especially when diffused or modified. The mount is the classic Balcar type, better known as the Paul C. Buff mount. This mount not only has a lot of affordable modifiers from Paul C. Buff, but also has adapters made for mounts like Bowens (which is what we own).

In use:

You'll find this shot on the back of Dan's debut bestseller novel (if he ever writes one). Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 75mm F1.8 lens, 1/200 sec, F2.2, ISO 200

This portrait of Dan was lit with just one LED100WB shot through an adapted Bowens mount beauty dish and two sheets of foam core: black for the background, and a white 'fill card' to the left of the camera. The light was at full power, and wasn't placed very far from Dan's head. That short distance meant the light was intense enough for a short shutter speed and soft enough to be flattering and smooth. However, the requirement for the short distance means that a lot of the light's output was being lost in the beauty dish, so those hoping to use existing light modifiers may find the LED100WB lacking in power in certain scenarios.

Using the lights outdoors on a dim day can also be an interesting experience, especially when a camera is left in any sort of priority mode where it can control either shutter speed or aperture automatically. Here's why: It essentially makes the 'B' button on the light's remote an overall exposure control. Let's look at this shot of Carey to explain further:

The lights can easily balance with lower light conditions, and the 5600K temperature balances relatively well with daylight and overcast conditions. Sony a6500, 50mm F2.8, ISO 100 1/60sec F4

What I wanted to achieve with this shot was to combine an F4 portrait (where this particular lens is very sharp) while also bringing attention to the shape of 'bokeh' balls in the background. After putting one of the LED100WB's with its diffusion sock where I wanted it relative to Carey (just over my head and a little to the left), I let the camera control shutter speed as I adjusted the light with the remote and watched the exposure change through the viewfinder.

When the lights were dimmed the camera's evaluative metering was mostly reading the brightness of Carey's face, and as the light was turned down the background got brighter. As the lights were brightened, the background got darker as the camera shortened the exposure time to keep Carey's face from over exposing. I ended up somewhere in the 25-50% power area to brighten up the 'bokeh balls' in the background.

While these lights can be used in limited cases for stills, the best application for the 3-light kit is for video. A 3-light kit gives photographers or videographers a key, fill, and hair light ready to go. Plus, their extremely quiet operation means they don't get in the way of a simple sound setup. We ended up using them when shooting our Game Boy Camera video a few months back:

One frustration we encountered was with the remotes. Having them was extremely handy but the implementation is a little clunky: each light has its own dedicated remote, which can make using multiple lights at once a bit fussy to use. Also, the buttons are just labeled alphabetically, with no indication of their function. The 'A' button works as on/off. The 'B' button cycles through 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% power levels. The 'C' and 'D' buttons act as an incremental adjustment up and down, with 'C' being brighter and 'D' being dimmer. That said, they're better than nothing, and came in handy several times while using the lights.

Conclusion

At the end of the day these lights are some of the easiest to use continuous lights we've encountered. Their nearly flicker-free output allows use of extremely high shutter speeds. Their lack of heat output means they can be used with any Balcar mount light modifier, not just special expensive ones made to withstand the heat of a tungsten bulb. Plus, the remotes make it easy to adjust power level, even when the lights have been placed out of reach.

For beginners, continuous light is a great option for mastering studio work, as you get to see the light as you shape it, and with mirrorless cameras you get to preview the results constantly. For photographers that need to match or even overpower bright ambient light, these lights aren't always powerful enough, so strobes would be a better choice. However, in the studio where ambient light can be controlled, these LED lights find many uses quite quickly, and for photographers looking for a set of lights to accompany them on a foray in to the video world, this 3-light kit is a great place to start.