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Xenon lights and when to use them


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#1 Lindsay Mann

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 01:48 PM

I never read much about these lights, and I can't find a lot of info on them. The only setup I know of is in my Reflections book where Owen Roizman uses one for a commercial. He sends it through a window and bounces it camera right into his subject. He's also got an 8k HMI to fill the window though.

My question is, what exactly is the light quality of a xenon? Is the 2k xenon Roizman used an HMI? It says it is daylight balanced, is this the case with all xenons? Is there a ballast? What sizes do these things come in and who makes them?

I'm also curious, because I've read that a lot of DP's much prefer the look of a tungsten unit on their subject's face. Is this because it creates more natural flesh tones? Is the quality of the bounced xenon on a face any different from a bounced HMI? Aside from that the xenon will be much much harder. I mean I know I've shot some faces in front of headlights and they don't look great. Then again I'm not Owen Roizman. Damn.

That's a lot of questions, sorry.
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#2 timHealy

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 03:19 PM

Xenons are great lights for certain things. An not so great for others.

They are daylight and have a great focusable beam. Much like a searchlight. In fact you may see them in the 2k range or so on helicopters. But I think they are available up to 8k. Maybe more. I just haven't used larger than that myself

Their strongest asset is that if you really need a beam of light, it has a sharp beam, unlike a a par without a lens that has a fairly intense beam, but it is not sharp.

They can help create a sun lit look with an intense beam. I worked on I Am Legend recently where they were used to simulate sunlight coming from between buildings effectively.

You can see them on commercials and music video from time to time as well but usually for a specific reason.

They are not so great if you see the light's pattern on the wall or floor. It is kind of donut shaped with a hole in the middle and you can see the gas dancing about.

I have to say you can bounce them but they are not the best light to bounce. If you have to bounce them off something where there is no room for flags or cutters then perhaps they would be good use. Similiar to a leko but without actual blades. But most jobs do not carry them on a day to day basis.

In addition, they can be a little troublesome to operate and troubleshoot. The ballasts are very heavy and sometimes it is hard to get extra header.

Best

Tim
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#3 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 03:55 PM

I second all the above. I really like Xenons because I have found they are the best units to create what I call "chunks of sunlight", where you create a small, controlled bit of hard sunlight somewhere on the set.

The downsides are all the above, plus they are noisy and fairly massive. You can get newer Xenons with on board ballasts, but they all seem fairly prone to trouble. That said, I try to carry at least a 2k Xenon full time.

Here is an example of using one:
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You can see the Xenon is the lower light. What I had was a 12k PAR being diffused to bring in the main light, and then the Xenon was to create a hard slash of light.
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This is sort of the effect, the image is just a digital still taken before we were even done lighting, but you can see the Xenons effect on the guys hand and table.
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And you can see the effect of the Xenon carry onto the frame left actor
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#4 Lindsay Mann

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 04:10 PM

Wow. Awesome. Thanks.

I'm still curious about some DP's preference to use tungsten light on faces. I forget where I read this, but I'll try to find it. Maybe just because it's warmer. Or maybe it was fresnel lamps. I'll look it up.

The xenon seems great for the scene in which you used it, Kevin. Otherwise it seems unwieldy and just too hard to control for faces. Do people still have flicker problems with them even with square wave ballasts?
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#5 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 04:57 PM

I've never had a flicker problem with them. I don't find them any more unwieldy than a large HMI unit. I agree, I would not use them normally for a person's face. It is certainly not the most flattering light, not to mention how hot the light from Xenons are. That said, in that scene, sometimes the actors would catch a little Xenon on their face, and for the scene, it worked fine.

Some DPs like tungsten light because they like the quality of light a glowing filament produces more than they like the quality of light from HMIs. Personally, I do like Tungsten light a little more than HMI light, I just find it has a nice quality that is hard to describe.

I also like mixing large tungsten sources outside to add some warmth into the shadows:

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(another digital still)
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You can see a lot of HMI light, and then a 36-light Dino providing some warm fill.

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#6 Scott Sans

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:05 PM

Kevin,

That looks great! did they walk towards the dino in the middle of the sidewalk? if so how did you regulate the light levels as they walked closer to the light source?
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#7 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:16 PM

Thanks! I really didn't do anything to regulate the levels. It was very subtle even close to the frame. The fabric grid helps regulate it some as they get closer, but really I just set the warmth for their end mark and let them walk into it. It worked fine because, though the shot was a tracking shot, they ended up in a medium two shot by the end of the move, so you really don't notice the change in intensity. All that said, last I heard, this scene got cut from the film any ways, but at least it was good practice . . . ;)
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:35 PM

Judging from the photos, I was going to make a comment about how Kevin's lighting package seems bigger than mine, but there is no way to phrase that in a non-Freudian way... ;)
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#9 Scott Sans

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:40 PM

Judging from the photos, I was going to make a comment about how Kevin's lighting package seems bigger than mine, but there is no way to phrase that in a non-Freudian way... ;)

:lol:
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#10 Allen Achterberg

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:52 PM

Awesome set up photo's Kevin. Wish I could have practice sessions with that kind of package!
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#11 Matt Workman

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 02:33 AM

Those photos make me want to move to LA.

True.. not everyone can pull out a Dino to add some warm fill. :lol:
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#12 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 02:59 AM

Kevin always posts such great prod. photos, and his articles in StudentFilmmaker mag are always quite informative. But I've never managed to find much of his work out there. Kevin, is there a website one could go to, or is any of your work out on DVD somewhere?
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#13 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 03:27 AM

It's been a while (probably almost 10 years), but I believe I saw a 50k xenon on a commercial once. But after a quick Google search it seems like I might be wrong. The largest I found was a 10k. Regardless, xenon's are really just a specialty light and are great for situations like the one Kevin posted. The beam is so narrow it would be hard to light any more than a very small area with one, and there are much better lights for that anyway. Also, if I remember correctly, xenon's can only be tilted a very small amount, which can be an issue and force you to use mirrors to get the beam where you want it.
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#14 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 05:24 AM

Haha, feel free to spread the word about the size of my package . . . urrr lighting package ;)

Thanks Jonathan and everyone else. You can't find most of the stuff, hell I can't find most of it, I realized that while trying to assemble footage for a new reel.

In honesty, not very much of my narrative work is in distribution, and quite a lot of the stuff I have posted here is still in some various stage of post production. A lot of the stuff are shorts that have played in a few festivals but are not really available on DVD (at least not at the moment).

Most of the music video stuff I do makes its way onto the various music video outlets at some point or another, I usually will just randomly catch stuff I have shot.

I do carry a big lighting package whenever I can mainly because I just like a lot of options. Obviously budgets dictate how far we can push this. I do try to work within a budget and have good relationships with the people at the rental houses so that Frank (my gaffer) and I can work the pricing out as best as we can before production's eyes explode when they see the quotes (though they usually do no matter how high or low the price is).

Frank posts here, maybe he will have some input on this thread, you can see him in the picture with the dolly track, he is crossing it towards me, in all likelihood to punch me for pulling at this much light (4x18k + 12kPAR + 36k Dino, last setup of the day, at least we died small . . . ;) )

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#15 David Auner aac

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 05:49 AM

Their strongest asset is that if you really need a beam of light, it has a sharp beam, unlike a a par without a lens that has a fairly intense beam, but it is not sharp.


Hi Tim,

just to make sure, you mean a fresnel without a lens right? Not a PAR as most have the lens integrated into the globe? Or do you mean a HMI PAR with interchangeable lenses?

Cheers, Dave
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#16 timHealy

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 06:55 AM

Hey Dave,

I was referring to HMI par's that have interchangeable lenses. The only pars that have the lens integrated into the lens are tungsten par 64's and the like.

A fresnel with out a lens would be an open face. heheh. but some do like to open the door or take out a lens to get a shaper look. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

And Brad is right, Xenons don't like to be tilted down very much. One needs to use mirrors but also lots of heat shield as they are hot and can bust glass very easily.

Best

Tim
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#17 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 07:41 AM

Xenon runs on DC and can therefore not flicker at any speed. Unless there's something wrong with the rectifier or something.
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#18 David Auner aac

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 10:51 AM

Xenon runs on AC and can therefore not flicker at any speed. Unless there's something wrong with the rectifier or something.


Hi Adam,
I am sure you meant DC right? Blain Brown's Lighting Book says they run on pulsed DC...

Cheers, Dave
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#19 Lindsay Mann

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 10:39 PM

Strange. Reflections says, "Like the HMI the xenon oscillates at twice the power line frequency. If the power frequency fluctuates, there is a danger that flicker will occur in the image."

But if they only run on DC then it's not fluctuating. Right?
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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 10:51 PM

Well, I had a Xenon flicker when I shot at 48 fps, about ten years ago. Maybe the ballasts are flicker-free now.
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