Most photographers worth their beans know that unless you are shooting video, LED panels aren't going to provide you with enough light to shoot the kinds of still frames you can when you use Speedlights, or large studio heads. It's a given. Regardless of that fact photographers will admit that LED panels aren't going away which is why when the folks over at Roberts Camera called and asked if I'd like to play with some of these new Wescott Flex panels I said "Yea lets give them a shot". (See what I did there?)
First off I'll say as usual that I wasn't paid by Roberts or Westcott for this review and that I'm doing it for the sheer pleasure of being able to play with the newest toys first. With that said, I'll continue with the fact that the biggest issue I have with LED panels is that in my humble opinion they aren't bright enough. Simple as that. Sure, you are using a much slower shutter speed when shooting video (1/30th or 1/60th) as opposed to stills where you are all the way up to 1/8000th depending on the situation, but that's besides the point. The point is that a LED panel doesn't need to be crazy bright unless you're outside shooting where normally a reflector takes the place of a LED panel. When shooting video the LED panels can be great for just throwing some fill in, but they are nowhere near as portable as a good speedlight or reflector. Despite what you may think, a good set of LED panels can be heavy and cumbersome. NO, they are not heavy and cumbersome like a 500watt halogen, but they are still relatively bulky and you end up needing to sort out a way to transport all this stuff to and from location. Between the bulkyness and the brightness, those are some big problems for every day use on the go yea? Not so with the Westcott Flex.
The Flex is only 5mm thin, and it's totally flexible. That means that it can be clipped or clamped to just about anything, as seen above and in the video below. I don't have a Gorilla pod, but I'd imagine that a gorilla pod adapted to mount a flex on it would be incredible. Not as a gorilla pod would normally be used mind you, but with the bendy flexy legs made to attach to the Flex unit, so that you can still mount it anywhere but you keep the flexibility of your flex panel. Put it in your backpack with your laptop and take it with you. Simple as that. Forget needing a carrying case or having to worry about the bulbs breaking or ect. There is a protective coating over the Flex that protects it from most things; including water. It's weatherproof rating is for lack of a better term more like Splash proof meaning that you wouldn't want to use it in a pool or run it through the dishwasher to clean it but I wouldn't worry about it if I was outside filming with it and it started to rain a bit. It goes from 5% power to 100% power which in total is 1900 lumens at a little over 3 feet. To put that into perspective, you see that florescent light you are more than likely sitting near? That's only 800 lumens. Not kidding.
(Nikon D4s, 400ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art, 1/100th@F6.3. Nikon SB900 set to iTTL with a blue gel for the background tirggered by a Nikon SU-800 on the camera. Main light was the Wescott Flex using the 1/4 stop diffuser that comes with the kit).
Don't believe me on the brightness? Check out this video version of this blog which also illustrates how bright the Wescott Flex Actually is!
Shot with a Nikon D4s and a Sigma 35mmF1.4 Art. Camera controlled by the CamRanger for filming. Audio is only ok, for whatever reason my Rode Shotgun wasn't in its normal case so I decided to film without it.
So yea. I was shocked when I turned it on for the first time too. I have a great photo of my Shannon Grimacing when I turned it on for the first time to take a portrait of her to see how bright it actually was. I promised not to post it, which is why I can only recount the tale and reassure you it is quite the photo demonstrating brightness. The photos in this post however also describe how bright the Flex is considering the background light was a speedlight! That's right, the main light in the photos was the Wescott Flex, and the supporting light was a speedlight Speedlights! I also managed to keep the shots below 400ISO the whole time depending on what effect I wanted to achieve. (See the same shot above with different settings HERE). If I had to pick one and only one thing that you should be aware of if you are considering buying a Westcott Flex, it would be that the unit still requires some sort of household power. You can get away with using a Westcott Encore unit however, or other battery pack with a 12 volt outlet so it's not a big deal. The kit also comes with a waterproof 16' extension to the cables also giving you a lot more roaming around space. Until however there is a battery solution though, you will need to use the Encore or other outlet based power solution.
So the punchline is that the flex is a LED panel is here to stay, and in all honesty the first panel I'd consider adding to my kit. It's a beautiful piece of tech, and if you shoot video the fact that it's daylight balanced already should be a real selling point. If you're shooting video and want to snap some stills I feel like the Flex is finally to a point where photographers can consider just snapping away as they aren't going to need to crank their ISO into unheard of territory in order to get the shot at a reasonable quality. That's huge for newspaper folks who have to shoot still AND video on a regular basis.
If you're interested in a Westcott Flex follow the link to Roberts Camera here in Indy. (They also sell the Encore) Call, email or just go visit they are good people.
Otherwise, more soon.