The homemade Kino bank–is it for real?

Let’s face it: in the world of filmmaking indie and budget might as well be synonyms. Indie filmmakers are always looking for ways to get the same great looks as big budget productions, but without burning $20,000 an hour in on-set rentals and personnel.

So if you google around you’ll find a whole bunch recipes for home-made fluorescent lighting rigs, typically taking some hardware store fluorescent tubes and building them into a DIY housing bank.Diva03

And why not? After all, isn’t professional production lighting basically the same thing in a prettier box? Why spend the extra money on a Kino Flo when that money could be spent on something more fun?

Now at Filmtools we’re all about helping you maximize your production budget, but there are a couple of significant reasons why forking out the cash for pro fluorescents makes sense. The first of these is the CRI, or Color Rendering Index of the lighting.

Even though a hardware store light might say “daylight balanced” or 5000K, it doesn’t mean it will produce a neutral representation of colors when your camera is white balanced to match. Regardless of a light’s official color temperature, the intensity of emissions will shift across the spectrum of violets, blues, greens, yellows, oranges and reds. So you can end up with subtle or sometimes dramatic shifts in the relative intensities of your reds and blues. Your whites may still look white, but the intensity of different colors in your scene will shift.

In theory the CRI measures how faithfully a light source will reproduce the colors of a given subject. The index itself is subject to much criticism (the new TLCI is considered a much better determinant of color consistency), but the concept is important: pro lighting like Kino Flo’s have been specifically designed for faithful color reproduction. Go the DIY route and you’ll light your set, but you could end up with unflattering skin tones and a host of other problems.

The second reason for going pro on fluoro lights is more widely known: flicker. Kino Flos have been designed with a high frequency ballast to eliminate flicker. Now while it’s true that there has been improvement over the years in the flicker of generic fluorescent lighting, for digital video work you’ll inevitably run into flicker problems with conventional sources, especially when over cranking your camera frame rates.