I’ve recently taken on a project for a regional charity for the deaf, which involves producing multiple instructional video lessons, around 60 in all, for learning British Sign Language. Footage will be shot on location, at the charity’s premises, over several weeks, to easily facilitate a number of the charity’s community volunteers acting as talent. This means a mobile studio, which has to be set up and taken down several times over the course of filming, as the space will need to be used for other purposes between shoots. 

The project requires using chromakey in order to allow a variety of backgrounds to be added as required. The chromakey field also needs to be fairly large, as BSL requires some hand movements that go well beyond shoulder width on both sides of the body, with at least 3/4 of the talent’s height also needing to be seen vertically. Space is tight, so accommodating lighting fixtures with large modifiers will be difficult. One of the problems I needed to address in advance, therefore, was that of lighting a fairly large green screen evenly in both horizontal and vertical planes, without deploying lights fitted with large external modifiers. 

I decided the answer lay in some form of strip fixture, running vertically on each side of the screen, which would have a fairly confined footprint. As high-end fixtures such as those by Keno-flo are well beyond my budget, I’d been looking at Datavision’s Ledgo LED Strip Lights as a likely solution to my problem: compact, light and purpose-designed for illuminating backgrounds evenly. My issues with this system included its limited output, restricted mounting options (restricting its uses for much else) and it’s pretty high cost at £500+ for a pair (for this you don’t even get dimmers included). OK, they do have the potential for battery power, but this would almost certainly only be an advantage for outdoor use, an unlikely scenario for my particular line of work. The other contender came in the form of the Pixapro LINEAR80 system, which although perhaps not as perfectly suited to illuminating a green screen as the Ledgo, has considerably higher output and is around 40% lower cost for a pair of fixtures and related accessories. 

What’s supplied

Each LINEAR80 comprises an elongated fixture 85cm x 7.5cm, with a 76 x 7cm panel, weighing 1.7kg. Each unit has a pair of barn doors fitted in the long plane for reducing spill, a 1/4” threaded mount housed in a sliding track at the rear and a fixed 1/4” mount on one end. Lights are switched and dimmed with controls on one end of the fixture. Each panel is supplied with a ball head and also a heavy-duty gooseneck for mounting. A 2m lighting stand is also supplied. Mounting is very flexible, making these units quite versatile in use. Interestingly they’re advertised as elongated rim lights, a role in which I’d surmise they’d perform extremely well, particularly as they have barn doors, and I can certainly see these coming in handy in this role for my corporate video production work and also for the corporate portrait photography for which I’m commissioned from time to time.

Accessories include a zipped, padded carry bag with padded divider for the whole setup, with an additional drawstring bag for the fixture itself, presumably to prevent scratches from the stand, etc. There’s also an external PSU with mains lead supplied and it’s here that I have two of the three small gripes with the system as supplied: firstly, the supplied mains lead is just 1.5m in length, which is woefully inadequate for most applications, let alone for studio lighting and I’ll be replacing these with 4m leads as soon as possible; secondly, the fixed DC cable on the PSU itself isn’t long enough to reach the top of the unit when this is more than maybe 1.5m from the floor, potentially leaving the PSU dangling and putting strain on the DC cable – OK there is a velcro tie provided to fasten the PSU to a lighting stand, but an extra meter or two of cable would have been a considerably better solution. My only other issue with the equipment itself is that a simple power readout would have been useful, rather than having to estimate levels. Other Pixapro fixtures I have provide this, so I was kind of expecting it.

In use

So far, all I’ve done with these lights is light my green screen, which was my main reason for purchase and so far I’m more than happy with the results I’m getting. Face on, 1.2m from a green screen or other background, the usable field of light is around 2m high and 1.5m wide. Obviously, turning the lights to 45 degrees means that light falls off on the longer axis, but balancing this with a second fixture on the opposite side gives a more than acceptably even light right across a field 3m or more wide. Placed in this configuration and set to around 50% power, I get a great key every time, with almost no tweaking necessary in post, on even the most difficult (frizzy-haired) of talent, provided they’re well lit of course.

Setup is very easy, particularly if using the in-built 1/4” mount at the bottom end of the fixture for vertical mounting directly on a stand, the only problem here being the dangling PSU mentioned earlier. Other methods of mounting (gooseneck or ball head) would obviously take longer but would certainly add versatility if you were using these as rim lights on your talent for example.

I already use a number of Pixapro LED panels, so prior to purchase I had no concerns about either quality of output, available power or build quality from Pixapro products. Suffice it to say that he LINEAR80s haven’t disappointed in this respect generally speaking. I do have one small concern regarding the robustness of the connector at the end of the PSU DC cable, which is non-moulded and has a simple spring-type strain relief, which I’m not convinced by, particularly given the potential for this to take the weight of the PSU from time to time. OK, this configuration means that in the worst-case scenario, the connector is user-serviceable, but I’d rather it didn’t fail in the first place. I surmise that the manufacturer has chosen to keep manufacturing costs down by using an off-the-shelf PSU, which would explain some of the shortcomings in this department. So I guess an alternative would be to carry a spare.

Conclusion

Having used these lights to illuminate my green screen with more than acceptable success, I’m very happy with my purchase, particularly at such a competitive price, even if that’s all I ever use them for. However, I’m pretty sure that it won’t be long before I find other uses for them, both in my home-studio space and on location, as they have both the power and mounting flexibility to be very handy! So, in most respects, it’s a definite thumbs up for the LINEAR80, although I do wish equipment manufacturers wouldn’t be so tight with things like the length of mains cables. This seems such an obvious letdown to the user, for the sake of a couple of quid, which I’m sure most people would be more than willing to stump up. Pixapro are, I suppose, far from being alone in this respect, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Please note that I am not connected in any way with Pixapro or their UK distributors, Essential Photo.

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