Last month I wrote a review of a specialized desktop lighting solution from Videssence. I found that the lights cast an excellent camera-friendly white light, but they had a few drawbacks. The light source was very bright and came from a small area, leading to reflection problems on my eyeglasses. They were also difficult to position flexibly enough to give me oblique lighting angles that wouldn’t reflect back into the webcam. And finally, they were $249, which might give pause to the average individual consumer.
Today I’m going to tell you about a solution for webcam lighting that falls completely at the other end of the spectrum. Thinktank Technology makes a product called the “30 LED Swivel Light.” It is made in China, it’s ugly, it’s made out of cheap-looking plastic parts, and it runs only on battery power, with no option for a plug-in adapter.
It’s also ridiculously cheap and incredibly flexible for use as a desktop lighting solution. I loved it when I tried it out with my webcam.
I could describe it, but the pictures should do the work for me. You insert three D-cell batteries (not included) in the base, making it very stable, since the rest of the assembly is lightweight plastic. There are two “wings” containing 15 LEDs each. A simple push button lets you toggle between Off, One Wing On, or Both Wings On.
Each wing can be swiveled about 178 degrees, from pointing straight down to pointing almost straight up. The wing also has a ball and socket joint that lets you rotate it at your chosen axis position. See… I told you it is hard to describe in words. Suffice it to say that you can point the lights just about anywhere you want them to shine.
With new batteries in the lamp, I found the light to be incredibly bright. You don’t want to look straight at it. But when angled to be off-axis from my glasses, I found that I was easily able to avoid reflections into the camera while completely eliminating screen reflection on my glasses from my monitor (I have a large screen monitor and even with the brightness turned down, reflections can be a problem).
The light was bright enough so that I had to turn down the brightness controls on my webcam. But even with all that luminosity, the light was well dispersed over a large surface so that I didn’t end up with a glaring point source reflection. Each wing is about 2.5 by 4 inches. With both wings extended, that gives you a 10.5 inch stretch of total light area (including the dead spot in the middle for the axis and connectors)
The LEDs run cool of course, so you can cover the wings with wax paper or parchment paper if you want extra diffusion or a little dimming. The color temperature seems to be rather white-blue without much yellow-red component. It certainly is not a true full-spectrum light, but that is no surprise.
I have some desktop speakers placed to the side of my monitor and I found that the lamps sat happily on top of the speakers to get them at or above my eye line. The height from the base to the swivel bar is around 8 inches, and with a wing swiveled all the way to the top, it extends to a maximum height of close to 13 inches.
If you are a camper or a survivalist, it doesn’t hurt to have yet another battery-powered lamp around the house. and there is a carrying handle on top so you can flip the wings down and make a rather convenient handheld lantern. Of course if you do a lot of webcasts or very long sessions in front of the camera, replacing batteries will become a hassle.
I got my lights when they were on super sale at one of those internet “Deal of the day” type sites. But even at regular prices, this is a budget solution. Just use Google Shopping Search with a key phrase of “30 LED Swivel Light.” I find prices ranging from $15 shipped up to about $21 shipped. If you are patient, you may be able to see them come around again on one of those bargain sites, but that’s a crap shoot.
Here are before and after shots taken with my webcam. First with just available room lighting. Heavy computer screen reflections on my glasses, a hot spot from the overhead light, and my white shirt looks gray:
Now with the Swivel Lights sitting to the side of my monitor and on top of my speakers. This puts the wings just above my eye level. Higher would be better, but let's go with what we've got.
Now the shirt is a bit overexposed, but the facial lighting is good and the monitor reflections are overwhelmed by the lights. The tip of my nose shows you the origin of the old cliche about women "powdering their nose." A bright light shining on your nose will reflect. Use a bit of powder if your video image is business critical for an external audience. My backdrop is a little too close behind me, so I have prominent shadows. I could put a "fill light" on the floor shining up at the backdrop or I could move it farther back to combat this.