04.01.2011 01:00 PM
DP Praises Lowel Rifa eX Softlights

LOS ANGELES—I'm a DP who shoots a lot of documentaries, from interviews to B-roll. I usually work alone and need lightweight, convenient gear that can work in a variety of situations.

The Lowel Rifa 55 eXtra Flo 80 Kit
That's why I started using Lowel's Rifa eX softlights. For starters, they're very quick to work with because they open and close like an umbrella. I can literally have a Rifa out of its case and on a stand in about 90 seconds. Better yet, Lowel designed them to accept both tungsten and fluorescent daylight balanced lamps. You simply twist a different lamphead into the Rifa and it's ready to take one kind of lamp or the other. I have a Rifa eX 88 as a key light for interviews and such, as well as a Rifa 44 for occasional fill.


My only disappointment was the power of the daylight I could produce with the 27 Watt fluorescent lamps that came in my original Rifa kit. I use Lowel's FLO-X3 lamphead, which takes three of the fluorescent lamps at a time. Each 27 Watt lamp produces the rough equivalent of a 95 Watt incandescent bulb, so three of them deliver almost 300 Watts. Unfortunately, that's just not enough if I'm shooting in a bright room with plenty of window light. In those scenarios—which are pretty common—it provided a faint fill-light, when placed even a couple of feet away from my subject.

But that's all changed since Lowel began shipping new 80 Watt fluorescent lamps. By using three of these in my Rifa, I get the equivalent of about 800 Watts. Now we're talking.

I've had a chance to work with these lamps several times, and they definitely fulfill the Rifa's promise as a daylight source in a bright room. I still need to keep the light within a few feet of my subject for best results, but that's rarely a problem. When I need a little less light, the FLO-X3 lamphead lets me turn off each lamp individually.

The only hitch for some with the 80 Watts lamps may be their size. They're about 11 inches long and 2.6-inches in diameter. I couldn't squeeze three of them into the tube case I use to carry my Rifa 88, so as an alternative, I've been packing them into Lowel's type FLO-X63 protective plastic tubes, and then placing them in a small backpack (or occasionally squeezing them in with the rest of my lights). Lowel also sells a small hard case that accommodates four lamps together, their GO-85X product.


Size aside, these new 80 Watt fluorescents give me a reasonably strong source of daylight, along with the flexibility to go to tungsten anytime I'd like, up to 1,000 Watts. I could have gotten similar results with a bigger fixture, but my 32x32-inch Rifa eX 88 is lighter in weight, controls spill better (with an egg crate), and gives me both a bigger and softer light source. In my kind of work, the Rifa eX system really does give me the flexibility to handle almost any job.

Helmut Kobler is a Los Angeles-based documentary cameraman. He's also written three editions of "Final Cut Pro for Dummies." He may be contacted at helmut@lacameraman.com

For additional information, contact Lowel-Light Mfg. at 800-645-2522 or visit www.lowel.com.

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