POST NAB 2014 UPDATE:
At the National Association of Broadcasters Convention & Trade Show this April 2014, I was able to check out the brand new redesigned Dracast light panels.
Very significant changes have been made to the construction that now garner them my strong support.
A revised mini-review based on the current models is now available here.
It has come to my attention from a colleague of mine on DVInfo.net from viewing this Blog post that judging by the photos of my lights that my lights may have been New Old Stock as Dracast has since deleted the 4 bank switches on the fixture. He also reports that the items I note are not present on his Dracast lights.
I’ll stand by my review of the lights I purchased but will caution readers looking to purchase these otherwise well performing lights to check them out in person before making a decision as to whether they are the right fit for you.
Before heading out on an 8000 kilometre, 1 month journey capturing 44 hours of interview footage on my new Sony PMW200 XDCamEX camcorder, I decided I needed some new highly portable lighting gear. I called up a buddy of mine who sells production gear and said “whaddaya got?”
He recommended the Dracast Pro Series LED panels due to their exceptionally high CRI (Colour Rendering Index) and matched LEDs. I said sure, send me a 500 and a 1000.
About a week later I received my two lights in 5600K Daylight – the 500 LED in Flood, the 1000 LED in Spot. Both are equipped with the optional Sony-style V-Lock professional battery adaptor for DC operation and have a 12v 4-pin XLR input as well with a supplied 120v AC to 12v (nominal) DC transformer. I have very mixed feelings about these fixtures.
- Colour rendition is excellent with these fixtures
- Dimmable from 100% to 10% with little-to-no colour shift
- Low power consumption
- Integrated V-Lock battery mount
- Relatively low cost
- Poor design of supplied light mounting yoke
- Dimmer potentiometer is rough and binds
- 12v lead from AC-to-DC adaptor too short
- Supplied carry bag zippers break easily
- Barndoors bind when opening and closing
- Retaining clips for barndoors broke off
- Soft metal on baby mount on mounting yoke likely to strip
- AC-to-DC power adaptor gets HOT!
Let’s start with the good.
I’m very pleased with the overall quality of the light from these fixtures, especially at the price point. I’ve used Lightpanels branded LED fixtures in the past and been quite impressed but these lights are significantly less expensive than the Lightpanels. These panels fit very nicely into supplied denier polyester bags with shoulder straps for easy transport. They are quick to set up, reach their operating colour temperature quickly, stay cool (especially important when working in offices in a Canadian Prairie summer when we turn the air conditioning off while conducting interviews for up to an hour or more) and can be taken down quickly with little or no concern for moving a still-hot light fixture.
An outdoor interview set-up with the Dracast 500 LED & 1000 LED powered by Sony V-Lock batteries.
The available V-Lock battery mount came in handy with a series of outdoor interviews and one indoor interview where running AC stringers would have been a bad idea from a tripping liability standpoint. With genuine Sony BP-L90 batteries fully charged, both the 500 and 1000 LED panels lasted for all but our longest interview on a single battery each.
Caveat Emptor: This is NOT the fault of Dracast but I did grab a couple of BP-L40 lithium ion packs as well as the BP-L90s thinking I could use those on the 500 LED panel. Nope. The available amperage on the BP-L40 is not sufficient to power the 500 LED panel at 75% or greater output and drained the lithium ion battery exceptionally quickly and caused the fixture to pulse in brightness. Inspection revealed the lithium ion battery was VERY hot to the touch as I was discharging it at a higher rate than it was designed for.
Only use lithium ion batteries with approved discharge rates for the wattage draw of these instruments!
On to the bad.
You can see the problem with the yoke/barndoor design here.
If the barndoors are splayed out more than 90 degrees, they don’t fit through the yoke in declination.
When one mounts the light to the mounting yoke and then mounts the barn doors, there is an obstruction by the sides of the yoke when one points the light in declination, which is common in interview lighting. The outward splay of the barndoors cannot exceed 90 degrees to the body in this case. This makes for some tight patterning of light output on an already tight patterned light fixture that needs to be worked in close due to light output – LED lights are not incredibly high output lights by nature. In interviews, I was working the lights in approximately 3 – 5 feet from the subject in order to get appropriate exposure for the Sony PMW200 wide open if there was no discernible base light on set.
As well, the barndoors are fashioned in a strange manner that involves steel wire and a wrap around design that makes one think they are going to break if opened without due care. I’m glad these items are individually order-able from Dracast as I have doubts about their likelihood of surviving in a mobile location lighting kit.
There is a lot of flex in this design and it doesn’t inspire confidence around long term longevity.
The 12v XLR lead from the AC-to-DC transformer pack is too short to reach from the floor to an average operating height in practice. For a couple of cents more, they could have made that lead 8 – 9 feet long instead of 5 – 6. I found myself finding chairs or tables or other MacGyver methods of keeping the transformer off the ground and not dangling in mid air. A serious oversight.
The light head is approximately 5 and a half feet above the ground in this photo.
The potentiometer that dims the light fixture has a nice solid heft to it that inspires confidence… until you try to turn it. Then it binds and has a nasty metal-on-metal feel to it. As well, it takes time for the intensity to change when turning the dimmer up or down, which is semi-expected of a capacitance design but gets old fast. I may be picking nits on that last bit.
An overwhelming issue with these lights (and their accessories) seems to be with the metal manufacture. The pull-tab on the zipper on one of the carry bags broke off with no abuse at all, making it difficult to pull the zipper shut. The metal construction will be a recurring theme with these lights, I’m afraid…
The metal on these lights and accessories is SOFT! Bordering on GARBAGE-soft. In addition to the zipper breaking, the clip that retains the barndoors on the fixture broke off with no abuse in transit. The light case itself bent just from bumping around in the vehicle – the lights were ALWAYS packed at the very top of the load.
This LOOKS like I dropped the light – I didn’t. It got BUMPED in transit.
Metal construction and plastic are way too soft and brittle.
The thumb screw that tightens the yoke mount to the light stand is almost sure to strip out at some point in the future rendering the yoke useless. Again, the metal is just too soft for the purpose.
After a one hour interview with lights running at full power, the supplied AC-to-DC power transformer gets exceptionally hot to the point I expect internal electronic component failure at some point in the future.
All-in-all, I’m impressed with the technology of these light fixtures and the quality of the light they emit.
And frankly, they owe me nothing after a three week shooting trip followed by several corporate gigs. As well, the 500 LED made the trip to Mexico with me on my recent scouting trip for our feature length documentary in my carry-on luggage.
Dracast 500 LED Pro Series Light Fixture on location.
Photo Credit: Wendy D Photography
Where they fail in my opinion is the all-too-common mistake being made bringing this sort of technology to market these days (and this is certainly not limited to Dracast) where the actual manufacture is done overseas in a country where mass production is key to maintaining low sales prices. I have seen a goodly number of offshore produced lighting and grip fixtures where the metal work is so incredibly substandard on an otherwise interesting and innovative design.
So, do I recommend them?
A guarded yes, with the caveat being you are not buying heirloom-quality lighting instruments. These are best used around a studio where they will not be subjected to the “tortures” of being set up and torn down regularly. Due to the price point, they are quite a decent way to get into high efficiency, high CRI LED lighting for a minimum investment. Given that LED technology is quickly changing, if you are looking to spend a lot more money on a single fixture, I’d still hold off as you very likely will get significantly more for your dollar in a year’s time.
1000 LED Dracast rear view. Note the V-Lock battery adaptor and the hefty dimmer.
Love the technology, hate the metalwork.
If you NEED LED location lighting now, these are the high-value budget alternative. If you need better build quality, buy the Lightpanels (at about twice the price). If you are looking for more light for the buck and don’t need the flexibility of optional DC battery power, don’t buy LEDs right now, buy fluorescent. Or save a ton of money and buy tungsten instruments.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: I bought these lights from an approved dealer and received no compensation for this review.