There was a time when all lights available were more or less the same. You chose the output and either bought a Mole Richardson or Arri. If you had the money, you could get a daylight balanced HMI. Slowly, new brands emerged producing LED panels. At first, they were all bad. Sorry but it’s true. Massive green tint, sometimes double shadows due to the spacing of the LEDs, and even flicker. Even with that, I was a huge fan of these battery powered panels – especially when shooting Glidecam as we could keep a soft, consistent key on our subject when tracking. Well, we’ve come a long way since then and the new F&V Z1200 Soft is something that needs to be on your radar when looking for lights.
Now I have to be honest with you all, I didn’t see what the hype was about with RGB lights when they first came out. I was satisfied with a quality light source that didn’t draw much power and still packed a punch. Furthermore, companies finally figured out how to get amazing color out of these LEDs. The good ones matched almost perfectly to the tried and true tungsten fresnels and could work alongside HMIs. But as I worked with more gaffers who had RGB lights, I started seeing the value and more importantly the speed. No more adding gels and figuring out the right combination of filters to get the look the director is looking for. There are a lot of (good) options out there which is great, but the F&V Z1200VC CTD-Soft has become a go to for me and I now bring it to every local job – have even flown with it!
So what is the F&V Z1200VC CTD-Soft Light? Lets first start by saying if you are looking for black and white specs, here is a link to their product page. News Shooter also did a great write up giving you a solid overview of the product. I want to dive into my experience with it and how I’ve been using it.
First thing you’ll notice is the awesome case it comes in and how well organized it is. I was blown away by the quality of the laser cut foam to keep this light safe. This is a HUGE deal for someone like me who flys 1+ times a month. Not to mention it will stay safe in the back of the grip truck or you car. I’m a sucker for cases and this exceeded my expectations. *Pro Tip* If you are flying with it, take out anything you won’t need (Vmount adapter, handles, etc) and put the header cable in another bag to keep this under 50lbs and avoid additional charges with your airlines. [Each airline is different so be sure to check on their website for current limitations with checked baggage]
So after gawking at the case for way too long, I began taking the pieces out as I was pumped to turn this thing on. An awesome feature with the build is the options you have with the ballast. You can screw in the ballast (which breaks down to 2 pieces) on each side on the back of the panel. At first I thought that’s how I’d set it up and leave it there. However, I have yet to do that. I love how light this panel is – can arm out on a C-Stand safely with one sand bag – no ratchet strat needed. How light you ask? It feels very similar to the Litemat 4. You also have the option to power V-mount which is phenomenal and has come in handy a few times for me.
I feel like this should come with a warning before turning on (half joking). When I struck the light BAM this thing felt like a wide spread joker 800! Could not believe the output but it was surprisingly still a soft source. This paired with a 4×4 grid or 250 diffusion makes for my favorite key light. At the time of this article I have very limited footage I can share thanks to NDAs but stay tuned for a follow up.
Build quality is important for lights. The ballast is heavy and cables are super thick. To me, it looks like they put a lot of effort on securing the cables into place so even if it gets yanked or bumped, you aren’t losing power. The header cable also screws in on each end to provide a secure connection. These little details make all the difference. When it comes to the panel itself, I’m not sure how many drops it will handle. Now, obviously, lights should never be dropped but things happen. I am personally glad they went with a lighter material for this vs something that can handle abuse (take care of your lights!). On a recent shoot I was able to pop out drop ceiling and place this on the metal dividers. A quick skirt made out of duvetyne and we were ready to rock. When mounting on a stand it has a very similar plate to that from Kino Flo.
[The above photo utilized the F&V on the right side of frame. I dialed in the exact color we wanted and had to dim down to 40%!]
The amount of features this light packs makes it a powerful tool onset. In each ‘mode’ you have presets you can save. For example, when looking for filters, you can save up to 4 of your favorites so you can quickly access. Do this on day 1 or in prep and you’ll have them for the entire project. This was really useful when wanting a specific colored look – which you can make on your own as well! Similar to competitors, there are different modes available. Party, club, fireworks, lighting, TV, and more. I’ve mentioned to F&V I’d like to see an option where the effects have a smoother effect crossfading into the next color or exposure. What’s awesome about these is they will allow for firmware updates so we may see more features and updates in the future.
I’ve yet to find something this light doesn’t do well. Being a 1×3 size (exact size) you can fill up larger frames (I’ve personally used 6xs with it) but it can also be easily hidden and rigged to a ceiling. The removable ballast is a huge advantage. If you want to rig the panel, take it off. Moving fast or doing multiple setups? Attach the ballast to the panel and throw this thing on a roller stand. I’d love to see some sort of snap on chimera to make this an all-in-one key light that utilizes only one stand.
Overall this is an amazing light producing beautiful color with an infinite of options to get the exact color you want out of it. The throw is impressive compared to the other similar RGB panels I’ve used and the brightness still surprises me. Adorama is selling them along with any accessories you need. If you have any other questions be sure to talk to the team at F&V. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram to see the latest. Happy shooting!