Do I need a camera light?

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with VideosByAddress

Video lighting is always an issue so I decided to purchase a camcorder light from Amazon.com for less than $35; an LED light (Sima SL-20LX Ultra Bright Video Light). The cost is reasonable so it was a no brainier for me to buy and test. As you can see from the picture, this light is very bright. Still, the question is, can this light be an effective tool when shooting a room where the objects are 10-15 feet away. I took my point-and-shoot Samsung NV24HD camera, which can shoot HD videos (from, where else? - Amazon.com. I know...I'm starting to become an Amazon.com spokes person....but I really do shop quite a bit at Amazon and don't get any special treatments), and took three video clips. First is a completely dark storage room with no light turned on; second is a basement with minimal lighting; and final of a room with lots of windows. All these videos were shot around 6:30 pm on a cloudy day to maximize the effects.

First, not so well lit basement:

This is a storage room without any windows and the overhead room light wasn't working. Also, because the room is so dark, I adjusted the exposure setting and you can barely make out images, but the image is also very grainy as you can tell in the first image - with the camera light OFF. The image with the camera light ON - WOW - just look at the difference! What's even more amazing is how the spreads to all sides of the room really well. The only concern with this shot is that you really won't be taking many videos of completely dark spaces (at least I hope you don't).

Second, a dark basement with a few windows:

Because you probably won't be creating videos of rooms that are completely unlit, I took another video of a room that is fairly dark. I again adjusted Samsung's exposure and white balance settings to work under those conditions. The room is actually much darker than it really is and just adjusting the settings presents the view really well. Again, the dark room means more noise as you see in the first image when the camera light is turned OFF. With the camera light ON, you can barely tell the difference in the picture but you can tell the difference if you watch the video of the two .

If you notice the picture with the camera light OFF, you see that the window the right is a big light source so the areas around the window are fairly well lit but not so much for everywhere else, making the image inconsistent. However, with the camera light ON, you can clearly see how the camera's focal point (the treadmill here) is very well lit. While the entire shot isn't perfectly lit, the shot is more consistent with the camera light ON. On the flip side, on problem I did notice is that the light is a little too bright and the light casts a hard shadow behind the treadmill.

Finally, the living room with lots of windows:

Again, this is around 6:30 pm on a cloudy day. One more thing about this shot is that the camera is about 18 feet away from the back wall, whereas the first shot was about 12 feet away; so this is a good test to really see the camera light's strength. The image with the camera light OFF again shows bright windows with not so bright room, but the image with the camera light ON shows the rest of the room (walls and furniture) much better.

Conclusion? For $35, you can't go wrong!

I think most people prefer to purchase a better camera/camcorder than buy accessories like this, but I say buy a cheaper camera and buy lighting accessories like this one. There's no need for you to go buy an expensive HD camcorder when majority of people won't be able to view them. Web video playback technology is still lacking so there's no need to get the most expensive camera right now. Buy a budget camera now, wait a few years until the technology catches up and then buy an expensive HD camera/camcorder.

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Comments (17)

Eric Reid
Renaissance Realty Group of Keller Williams Atlanta Partners - Lawrenceville, GA

Really seems to make those colors pop and chase the shadows out of the corners

Jul 19, 2009 01:55 PM
Al & Peggy Cunningham, Brokers
RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage - Brampton, ON
Our Family Wants To Help Your Family!

Thanks, taking pictures of interiors are always hard at best.  Hard to get the exact lighting you need.

Jul 19, 2009 01:57 PM
Kenneth Cole
Weichert Realtors Appleseed Group, 2043 Richmond Ave. S.I.N.Y. 10314. office phone 718-698-9797, Appleseedhomes.com... - Staten Island, NY
NYS Licensed Real Estate Salesperson

Your best answer is to shoot with both light and without,  then you make the call which looks better.  Pratice makes "better"

Jul 19, 2009 02:00 PM
Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573
MOOERS REALTY - Houlton, ME
Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker

Like flash with stills, anytime you can pull off images/video without lighting flash the better, more real, more life like. Cellars are a bugger but for starters turn all the lights on, have the fax whirling slowly, put those toilet seats down and have at it. I have a night vision option for last resort but mixture of pans on outside, combined with stills drifting in and out..can do the job.

Jul 19, 2009 02:05 PM
Ray Hwang
VideosByAddress - Washington, DC

I completely agree.  Practice makes perfect and there's no one solution to lighting problem.  Capturing photos and videos inside the home is difficult, but that's what makes it a very interesting topic!

Jul 19, 2009 03:15 PM
FRANK LL0SA Esq.- Northern Virginia Broker .:. FranklyRealty.com
Northern Virginia Homes - FRANKLY REAL ESTATE Inc - Arlington, VA

Thanks for taking the time to blog about this.


Frank

Jul 21, 2009 03:22 AM
Ray Lane
OpenHouseHD - Salt Lake City, UT

Lighting makes a huge difference.  Even an expensive camera will still look terrible in low light, just not as terrible.  A cheaper camera with good light is going to look better than a a good camera in bad light (in most cases).  However, that being said, lighting is not always the primary problem.  The problem with the cheaper cameras is backlighting.  A good camera will allow you to control the exposure to adjust for backlighting (a bright window), a decent camera will allow you to lock the exposure, and a cheap camera will do whatever it wants.  The bottom line is that even with a camera light, you won't be able to compete with the sun coming through a window.  This means that as you pan across a room and that window comes into view, the iris is going to shut down and give you a dark image.  The light will help, but it will still be a problem.

Overall, if your going to do it yourself (which I don't recommend for 95% of the population), I would invest in a good light and a good tripod (and I don't mean a tripod from Best Buy).  Those two items will be more helpful than spending an extra $300 on a camera.  In fact, the camera I use for real estate right now is actually less expensive than my tripod and light.

Visit B&H Photo & Video to see some nice tripods.

As always, if it's going to cost $500-$1200 for a decent camera, $300 for a tripod, $35-300 for a decent light setup, many, many hours to get competent using the equipment, an hour for each home you shoot, $100-1000 for editing software, time to learn the editing software, 1-3 hours per house to edit the video.  Wouldn't it make more sense to hire a professional for about $200 per house?

 

Jul 29, 2009 01:29 PM
Ray Lane
OpenHouseHD - Salt Lake City, UT

Looking at the video of the exercise machine, I liked it better off than on.  With it on, it looks too much like a flashlight, and when the camera moves, you will see that.  I would recommend spending a little mare and getting a light on a stand, and placing it in each room.  A good cheap option is to get those worklights from walmart (the yellow lights on the stand).  They use 500 watt bulbs, and do a much better job.  When using those, I recommend pointing them at the ceiling and bouncing the light so the shadows aren't too harsh....or getting a photo umbrella and rigging it to the stand.

Jul 29, 2009 01:35 PM
Ray Hwang
VideosByAddress - Washington, DC

Ray - Thanks for your comments.  I def. enjoy our discussions.

Ray and I (who's name is also Ray) both agree on many facets, including the importance of lighting and that a professionals can do a better job.  And if you have the money, I def. recommend buying high quality lights for your camera.  B&H is a great source, but I also like ebay.com and Amazon.com; mainly because you can find better deals (but you have to pay attention!). 

However, my goal is to show other agents that you don't need to spend a lot to produce "high quality" videos. Yes, the expensive equipment definitely produces the best quality, but I want to show agents that they can produce 90% of what professionals can for 10% of the price.  Which is what this light can do.  This small, cheap LED light can really produces high quality light for the price.  If you're in a small space and feel the light is too harsh, then you can consider diffusing the light......a cheap way to do this is to put a piece of paper in front of the light.  And, of course, you always want to white balance.

I agree that worklights from Walmart works as well, but def. not much better.  Remember, the video was produced with a point-and-shoot camera and is playing back on youtube.com's low streaming setting.  Plus, worklights are not portable, while this light is.  

Jul 29, 2009 02:17 PM
Ray Lane
OpenHouseHD - Salt Lake City, UT

I don't mean to sound negative or argumentative, but while I like the idea of people making videos, they cannot realistically make a video that is 90% as good with cheap equipment and little experience.  Just like I couldn't sell a home 90% as well as a professional realtor.  They might be able to do OK video, but it will never be 90%.  The main factor is the tripod.  Without using a tripod, the videos are usually unwatchable (just look at YouTube, and you'll know what I mean).  Using a cheap tripod makes the videos better , but still not very good.  The cheap tripods do not pan smoothly and easily bump.  Using a cheap tripod, and creating shaky video, is not a good idea, it will make the agent look worse, not better.  This would be the equivalent of making business cards with index cards and crayons.

As for the on-camera light being just as good as a 1000 watt work light, that is just not true.  I have a $300 on-camera light that is far more powerful than the small LED light that you are using, and even that comes nowhere close to the kind of light that a 1000 watt (or 500 watt) work light can produce.  Also, because the work light is not moving with the camera, you don't get the 'flashlight' effect that an on-camera light gives you.  The work light also spreads the light across a larger area so that you don't get the vignetting.  And, best of all, the work light is no more expensive than the on-camera light.  The only downside is that you have to bring the light into the rooms with you vs. having it on the camera.

Jul 29, 2009 04:59 PM
Ray Hwang
VideosByAddress - Washington, DC

Ah - my friend, here's our main disagreement.  I agree that youtube videos show horrible videos but it's not always the equipment that nets you the best results but HOW to use the given equipment.  You don't have to have the best camera and equipment to produce high quality videos; you need to learn the correct techniques - camera settings, natural lightings, etc. Equipment isn't end all be all.  Take golf for example, you can get the best and the greatest equipment, but if you don't know how to play, the equipment is worthless.  Meanwhile, Tiger Woods can take old wooden golf clubs and still play pretty well.  Same concept applies to videos; if you know the techniques and concepts then you can produce high quality videos.  I guarantee you that if you have a competition between a true professional protographer with a point-and-shoot camera and an amateur photographer with an SLR, the professional photographer with a point-and-shoot camera will out-shoot the amaeteur photographer for just about every shot.

Further, we have to understand how we're delivering our videos. Most of the expensive cameras and equipment were designed for large TV or DVD screens.  Our actual delivery method is streaming over the web on a small screen so some equipment is overkill.

As for lights, I agree, a more powerful like is the best and diffusing and bouncing the lights give the best effect.  However, a simple cheap light with changes in your camer's gain and exposure settings can produce 90% of the effect you will see over the web.  Again, it's all about techniques and not the equipment.

Jul 29, 2009 11:54 PM
Ray Lane
OpenHouseHD - Salt Lake City, UT

We don't really disagree, as I said earlier, a cheaper camera will perform well with the proper lighting.  In fact, I even said above that investing in a decent tripod and light would be smarter than spending a few hundred extra on a better camera.  But what you said above actually emphasized my point.  Just like the pro photographer with a point and shoot will do better than an amateur with an SLR, a pro video shooter will do much better than an amateur.  In fact, when it comes to video, I think that is even more pronounced.  

The biggest problems with amateur video is the crazy factor.  the camera is all over the place to the point of making people motion sick.  The number one way to solve that is with a good tripod (I'm talking $100-300, not a fortune).  

That being said the other big problem is that the cheap cameras give you no control over the exposure.  No matter how much technique you have, if you can't control the exposure, the iris will shut down when it passes by a window or bright light source.  The only solution is to make sure you either avoid the windows, flood the room with light, or get a camera that can lock the exposure.

Jul 30, 2009 01:00 AM
FRANK LL0SA Esq.- Northern Virginia Broker .:. FranklyRealty.com
Northern Virginia Homes - FRANKLY REAL ESTATE Inc - Arlington, VA

Let us not loose site here of what we are talking about.

 

Consumers wanting more information about a house. They don't expect a cinema extravaganza. Heck, call it organic! Stick with a super wide with image stabilizer and exaggeratedly (is that a word) slow pans and a mini light like this, and it will do great for your seller. 

 

I just ordered the light, thanks Ray.

 

Frank

Jul 30, 2009 01:12 AM
Ray Hwang
VideosByAddress - Washington, DC

Ray (Lane) - I respect your opinion and agree with you on tripod/crazy factor/techniques.  Where we disagree with video production with cheap cameras and equipment.  I'm finding more and more of these cheaper camera are coming with these great features and, with some "home made" techniques, I feel agents can get to 90% of professional quality.  Of course, cinematography is an art so I def. understand what you are saying.

Like I said before, as long as you're a video believer, I'm all for what you're doing!

Jul 30, 2009 01:59 AM
Ray Lane
OpenHouseHD - Salt Lake City, UT

I think we're going in circles with this.  As I said three times now, I agree that a cheap camera is perfectly fine.  Even as a professional, I use what would be considered a fairly cheap camera.  The main reason was because the bigger cameras have a tough time capturing smaller rooms.  I have been so impressed with the image quality, that I have started using it on other shoots because the picture quality is actually better in the correct lighting.  My whole point is that a stable image is the most important part.....and good audio, but that's for another day.

Jul 30, 2009 06:01 AM
Peter - Toronto Real Estate Photo & Video
StoneHome Photo & Video - Toronto, ON

Forget the camera light. Whatever you are using is too weak to make much of a difference. Increase exposure, turn on all the lights in the house, open all shades, open doors, etc, to bring in as much natural light as possible. Use a tripod with a fluid head and consider a handheld stabilizer like the blackbird to reduce shake from video walkthrus. Slow pans, nice transitions, some nice music...don't do narration unless you have a good off camera audio recorder.

Sep 29, 2009 03:45 AM
Mike Crosby
Mike Crosby Realty - Placentia, CA
Placentia- Yorba Linda Real Estate - 714-742-2897

Nice post. Good photos and video to show your point about lighting

Nov 03, 2013 07:50 AM