Spekular is a new modular LED lighting system that is being referred to as the Swiss army knife of lighting. For the second part of my continuous lighting series, I am going to put Spekular to the test and I am going to do my best to demystify those three letters that keep popping up when people talk about lighting… CRI.
The Swiss Army knife for lighting is a great reference for this new LED lighting system from Spiffy Gear. In case you don’t remember, Spiffy Gear is the company the brought us the Light Blaster that I talked about in this video and discussed in this article.
Spekular is a modular lighting system that can take on all kinds of shapes depending on your needs. This can save you money and the time needed to pack and set up light modifiers, especially when you are working on location.
The Tech Details
Each of these sections uses only 14.5 watts of energy, which means just 58 watts for a kit of four sections. Each section puts out 1,500 lumens of light, which is about the same brightness as a 150watt light bulb. That means 6000 lumens for a kit of 4 sections or a brightness similar to a 600watt light bulb. Unlike fluorescent lights, there is no flicker with Spekular. They are daylight balanced at 5600k with a CRI of 94+. I’ll talk more about CRI stuff at the end of the article.They can be dimmed from 100% all the way down to 10% and they output light at a beam angle of 120 degrees. And they are small – just 1.5in or 4cm square and 12in or 30cm in length.
Spekular comes as a kit of 4 LED sections. Each section is built with aluminum and ABS plastic for a total per-section weight of about 3/4 of a pound, which is 335g. One section in each kit has the power switch, dimmer switch, and plug for the power supply. Also in the case are 4 of these cool hinged connectors, a 1/4-20in mount, 8 gel holders, the AC Power Supply and Instructions.
To use Spekular, start with a control section and add a stand mount. Then depending on the configuration you want to make – in this case I am going to make a simple panel – you just slip a hinged connector on one end and keep adding pieces. They just slide right in and then you tighten them in place so that the unit is not going to come apart while you use it.
The hinged connectors also flip in the opposite direction so that you can create triangles and hexagons.
Let’s Shoot with it!
Let me say right now that I think this lighting system is brilliant, but please don’t lose sight of the fact that they are small. So if you are like me and you tend to use large light modifiers, understand that you will need to take a different approach to your lighting. That doesn’t make it bad – but it does make it different and it definitely helps if you are comfortable and confident with your lighting skills.
To prove my point, I wanted to use Spekular to create the same lighting styles that I normally do with my big modifier.
The folks at Spiffy Gear were kind enough to give me two sets to test out, so I started with a simple headshot, then moved to a simple clamshell lighting effect. I placed one set of four above the camera as my main light and one set of four behind my subject to light the white wall. Check out my video at the top of the page or click here for behind-the-scenes footage and the final shot.
I placed my subject in front of a #24 Orange Seamless from Savage, with the square arrangement pictured below, plus three additional Spekular panels behind my subject; one is creating a nice glow on the orange background and the other two are placed camera right and camera left as rim lights.
For the three lights behind my subject: I have one main bar from the second kit and the two additional ones are attached using the expansion extension accessory kit.
The expansion kit comes with two additional mounting pieces for light stands, two section-to-section extension cords and two straight connectors.
So now I have a four-light setup and a shot that was done at ISO 200 with a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second at f/4. Check out the video at the top of the page or click here to go directly to the finished shot in the video.
Next I switched to a #20 Black Seamless from Savage and used the same square as my main light and just the two rims on camera left and right. I was able to shoot a series of portraits at ISO 200 with a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second at f/4. For more behind the scenes and finished shots, click here.
Example #3- using the Star Adapter
Spiffy Gear also has a cool accessory called the Star Adapter. This adaptor lets you attach 8 of the LED bars to a central ring. This arrangement gives you a really sweet broad light source and a very cool catchlight.
This shot was done with my subject sitting in front of a #27 Thunder Gray Savage backdrop. I shot at ISO 200 with a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second at f/4.
If I add a fan, back the Spekular star up to about 4 feet from the subject you will notice the catchlight becomes much smaller and I can shoot a beauty shot with an ISO of 400, an aperture of f/4 and an intentionally slow shutter speed of 1/80th of a second to get some blur on the ends of the blowing hair.
Okay, so mission accomplished. I was able to recreate quite a few of my favorite lighting styles with Spekular – but how about having some fun with color.
Check out the video at the top of the page for additional examples, or click here.
Next I went back to the black background and placed two bars on camera left as my main light. Then I added two bars on camera right with a blue gel and then used two bars with a pink gel behind my model on camera right and one bar with a pink gel behind my model on camera left. The pink gels light up her blonde hair and the blue gel is coloring the shadowed side of her face.
This shot was done at ISO400 and 1/80th of a second at f/4. Check out the video at the top of the page or click here to check out additional variations of this setup and to see the finished shot.
Price and Accessories
In addition to the Spekular Kit, the Expansion Kit and the Star Adapter, Spiffy Gear also has a Battery Adapter that will allow you to use any DTAP-enabled V-mount battery.
The Spekular Core Kit sells for $650.00. The accessories are each priced at $130.00. Now I know what some of you are thinking… you think this is expensive and that you can by a few speedlights for the same price. You could buy a few speedlights for the same price, but you can’t match the versatility that Spekular provides at this price. Certainly, Spekular is not going to be for everyone, but as you have heard me say before – there is no one light that will meet all of your needs as a photographer.
While I have proven to you that it works great with people, I also think that Spekular is perfectly suited for shooting products and I have no doubt that cinematographers and videographers will fall in love with this system. Just to give you a comparison, a Wescott Ice Light that so many of you GEARtographers oohed and ahhed over sells for $500 dollars and has a much narrower beam output of 72.6 degrees and an output of only 1,740 lumens of light. In other words, it’s only slightly brighter than a single Spekular bar, with a narrower angle and costs almost as much as a whole Spekular kit. So, like most Wescott products, it’s overpriced for what it offers.
Be sure to follow the rest of the series that I will be doing on LED lights because I will finish with some hybrid lighting arrangements using Spekular in combination with strobes and ambient light.
You can purchase Spekular online at spiffygear.com and it is currently available at Adorama and BHPhoto with more retailers to come.
Oh…. one last tip about Spekular. Remember the gel clips that I mentioned? They also serve another awesome purpose. If you buy a roll of Rosco Cine Foil -which every photographer should have in their studio anyway- cut a 12” piece and wrap it around the back of the Spekular bar, then attach a gel clip from the back. Put one at either end and you now have a shapeable set of barn doors for the Spekular lights. You could even do the same thing with regular aluminum foil to make a reflector that will give you a slightly broader right coming from one bar.
So what’s the big deal about CRI? CRI stands for Color Rendering Index. This is not the same as color temperature; that is measured in degrees kelvin. The simple explanation is that CRI is a measure that shows us how well a light source makes the color of an object appear to the human eye and how “realistically” or “naturally” the light source makes different shades appear in relationship to each other. In other words, CRI explains how accurately a light source is rendering any color in comparison to daylight.
Is CRI important? Yes…well not really… well yeah… well, let me explain. It really depends on what you are photographing and how accurate you want or need your colors to be. If you are reproducing artwork for cataloguing purposes, you need to work with lights that have a very high CRI because you need to colors to reproduce accurately and in the proper relationship to each other. This would be the same if you were photographing products for advertising or clothing for a catalog.
If you are doing something that is subjective, like a creative shot of a model lit by neon signs on a city street at night…. you probably don’t need to care about CRI as you are not likely to be concerned about having an exact color match. The same could be said for a simple portrait.
What Is Good CRI and What Is Bad CRI?
The bigger the number the better. CRI is measured on a scale that uses 100 as the best. Incandescent bulbs have a CRI of 100 because they don’t have any color discrimination. But we all know that incandescent bulbs aren’t very efficient. When it comes to LEDs the bulbs are considered good if they have a CRI of 85 to 90, but light sources which have a CRI of 90 or higher are known as excellent and are the most appropriate for tasks that require the most accurate color.
Just like any other aspect of science, I could dig much deeper into this. The problem is I would get a headache before you do. So in short – Higher the CRI – better the color match. Regardless of the type of work you want to do, keep your CRI above 85 and you will have acceptable results, unless you need that perfect color match – then you need 95 or higher.
For Next Time…
Next up in the LED lighting series I am going to take a look at some sweet lighting panels called Edge Lit Pro from Savage Universal and I am going to put them to use in the studio AND on location.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman