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Review: F & V Z96 LED Light

April, 2011

F & V Z96 LED Light - $245.00

Review by Steve Douglas

LED lights have hit the industry by storm and why not? There are many advantages to using LED lights and not quite as many disadvantages.

An LED light produces almost no heat at all making it comfortable for you and your subject. They produce an excellent color balance for either 3200k or 5600k temperatures and, at the same time, they are dimmable without affecting the color temperature. Another advantage is that most LEDs have an exceptionally long lifespan of up to 100,000 hours. Depending upon their placement, they are excellent for close up interviews without creating hard or distracting shadows, especially when using a diffuser.

F & V has produced a light weight, camera mountable LED light in the Z96. The HDV-Z96 is fairly small at 5" x 1.77" x 3" and weighs only 6 ounces without the 5 AA regular or rechargeable batteries that power it. Without the white diffusion or red color filters that come with it the Z96 light produces a very clean and natural color at 5600k.

What surprised me the most was how powerful this light was when compared to similar models of small LED lights I have reviewed here in the past. Utilizing 96 small LEDs the Z96 produced significantly more light than others I've seen and works well with the 16x9 format when shooting video whether on a camcorder or DSLR. A mount for the light comes with it for easy placement on the shoe mount of most any camera. The mini ball head can be tilted to most any degree you wish. The Z96 LED light can also be mounted onto a separate tripod or other stand.

The firm white diffusion filter, as well as the red filter, have small magnets on each of their four corners for a very secure attachment to the light's own 4 magnets. This is a cool feature as you don't have to worry about flimsy plastic diffusion filters slipping out of their holders or falling unnoticed by the way side. These filters are solid and will not fold, tear or fall off.

Additionally, a single link plate is included which will connect multiple Z96 lights to be connected together when more light is needed.

All LED lights are fairly directionless; their light tends to have an even throw, preventing shadows and harsh contrasts. This characteristic, however, is not always what you may want as there may be times when shadows are an important part of the ambience you are trying to create. Thus, LED lights are wonderful to have but are not necessarily the type of light you will need for all occasions. Additionally, there is a greater light 'fall off' as you move the light further away from your subject. The diffused nature of any LED light shortens the throw of the light itself. With a shortened throw comes the need for even more power output. The rule of thumb here is that you need to literally double the light output when moving the light from a distance of 3 feet from your subject to 6 feet and quadruple the light output from 6 to 12 feet. Clearly, a small cam mounted LED like the Z96 will not have the power output to satisfy your lighting needs in this type of situation.

However, for run and gun filming, close up interviews and hidden fill light needs, I found the Z96 to be superior to other small LED lights I have used. You can use the Z96 almost all day without the batteries going dead on you, they run cool, maintain a consistent color and will deliver that softness to your subject's facial features that makes for a good interview. It's build quality feels sturdy to hold, the two diffusers are solid, and even the back power dimmer knob is built in to the rear side for easy adjustments. What's more is that the F&V Z96 is both compact and lightweight and won't take up too much room in your gear bag. There is no tool that will fit all needs, however, you will find that the Z96 LED light will fit many of them just as you hoped it would.

 Steve Douglas is a certified Apple Pro for Final Cut Pro 7 and underwater videographer. A winner of the 1999 Pacific Coast Underwater Film Competition, 2003 IVIE competition, 2004 Los Angeles Underwater Photographic competition, and the prestigious 2005 International Beneath the Sea Film Competition, where he also won the Stan Waterman Award for Excellence in Underwater Videography and 'Diver of the Year', Steve was a safety diver on the feature film "The Deep Blue Sea", contributed footage to the Seaworld Park's Atlantis production, and productions for National Geographic and the History channels. Steve was a feature writer for Asian Diver Magazine and is one of the founding organizers of the San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition. He is available for both private and group seminars for Final Cut Pro and leads underwater filming expeditions and African safaris with upcoming excursions to the Cocos Islands, Costa Rica, Lembeh Straits, Indonesia, and Wakatobi. Feel free to contact him if you are interested in joining Steve on any of these exciting trips.

copyright © Steve Douglas 2011

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