Monday, April 3, 2017

CAME-TV Boltzen 55w Fresnel Review

Light.  You can't have too much of it.  Of course, when you really think about it a good video light is a technical marvel.  It needs to produce a lot of light, silently, with excellent color rendition, and no flicker.  I was hopeful when I heard about the CAME-TV Boltzen 55w focusable LED Fresnel.  I wanted a powerful light, and Boltzen came with some add bonuses (which I'll get to in a moment).  So how'd it stand up in real life?

CAME-TV Boltzen 55W Fresnel - It's tiny!

CAME-TV:  CAME-TV doesn't play with the big boys in high end gear like Wescott, but they are a name you can trust.  They produce quality gear at a relatively reasonable prices, and typically aren't considered innovators. The Boltzen is something of a bargain in the their line up, and is surprisingly innovative in design.

Size:  The first thing that surprised me was how small it is.  The Boltzen is about the size of an extra large travel mug.  It would be easy to pack six of these in a carry-on suitcase, making it great for traveling.  Light stands are now the burden for the mobile videographer.  Extra bonus:  built in barn doors.  Some folks expect they will give sharp defined edges to the light, but that's just not how Fresnels work (that's the job of an Ellipsoidal).  This is more gentle shaping.

CAME-TV Boltzen 55W Fresnel Review - Hurricane Images Inc
CAME-TV Boltzen 55W Fresnel

Construction and set up:  They feel very sturdy.  You never want to throw a light around, but I don't get the sense I'll have to coddle it.  It has separate On/Off and light level knobs, which is nice because you don't have to guess the level if you turn it off to conserve power.  Some buyers have complained that you have to disassemble the light from bracket to fit it into the carrying case.  It's true, but honestly it took me 60 seconds to set up the first time.  Slightly more troublesome, though, is that the bracket nobs come complete off, leaving the possibility they'll get lost.  I may try and find a way to attach them.

Locking mini XLR power cable

Another very slight downside is that the length of the power cord to the brick is fairly short, leaving it dangle in mid air.  I tied my to the light stand with one of the wire twisties that came with the packaging.  The cord locks into the light, which makes some folks happy about the solid connection and others nervous about kicking the whole thing over.

"The big question is power"

But the big question is power.  I haven't seen any reliable specs on lumen, but I'm more of a practical application person anyway.  I set it up against my RPS Studio 100w LED for a real world comparison.  The RPS is a very good light for the price (about $280), though it suffers from light fan noise (I've yet to swap out my fan, which is recommended).  At distance of six feet, a shutter speed of 1/60th, and an ISO of 500, my meter reads f/8 for a perfect exposure with the RPS on full.  In the same conditions, the Boltzen gave a reading of f/5.6 wide open and f/8 with the narrow beam.  Which is impressive, given it's just 55 watts.  Housed in the reflector, the RPS produces a wider spread of light than the Boltzen, so that's where the additional wattage is going.  But if you don't need the spread, the smaller Boltzen provides just a stop less light wide open.  The narrow setting on the Boltzen is really quite narrow.  I'll be interested to see what happens in a softbox or reflective umbrella, because it's very small and hard otherwise. I haven't done a direct comparison yet, but the CAME-TV seems to be about as powerful as my Apurture 672 panel, with slightly better color rendition.

CAME-TV Boltzen 55W Fresnel Review - Hurricane Images Inc

The color of the light between the RPS and the Boltzen seems quite similar.  I don't have a way to test for color accuracy, but I don't see a tint as yet.  And daylight temperature is a bonus-- you don't find that in real Fresnels which are traditionally tungsten. 

The fan is very quite.  In fact, I thought they had sent me the 33 watt unit without a fan.  I had to go back and listen for it. The fan will probably be noticeable if you have three lights going in a small room, but I don't think you can do better without going fan-less. Mic well and you'll have nothing to eliminate in post.

Wifi.  There's a mysterious reference to Wifi (and a micro USB plug) on the unit.  I've downloaded the app (which appears to be new as of March), but there are no instructions and it doesn't auto connect.  UPDATE:  I emailed the folks at Came-TV and they said they are working on a wifi module that will attach the the Boltzen.  Shame that it's not built in, but even so it has the potential to be very useful.  The app appears to be able to control six separate lights, and it would be great to be about to adjust levels while looking at your monitor.  I imagine future versions of the Boltzen will have wifi built in.

Those bonuses:  Smaller than I thought.  Barn doors help shape the light.  Separate Power and Level knobs.  It can run off a Sony NP-F960 battery, but you need to get the larger capacity version.  My 8700mAh only lasted about 40 minutes at full power, but that's still great in a pinch.  Oddly, my battery barely fit and I really had to wedge it in the slot.

Though a full stop weaker, the Boltzen is a smaller, quieter, and more adaptable light than 100W studio lights like the RPS.  At the moment, light in the $300-$400 range will generally be 55-100 watts, which is only the difference of one stop of light.  The difference between your choices are all about build quality, color quality, and features.  In that respect, the Boltzen does very well. 

CAME-TV has a solid reputation, and they get a lot right here.  It's a solid, professional instrument, and I could see owning two of them at Hurricane Images.  They make a Bowen adapter so you can attach it to softboxes, reflectors and grids, though I'm more likely to shoot through a scrim since the Fresnel-style Boltzen can "grid" itself. 

CAME-TV Boltzen 55W Fresnel Review - Hurricane Images Inc

The CAME-TV Boltzen 55W Fresnel review:  worth the money, especially if you like the form factor.

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