Having worked with Rift Labs’ Kick Light for several weeks now I thought it was time I shared my views on the device. After all, it has settled in to become become a major part of my light painting gear rather swiftly.
The kick Light is a great new tool, similar to your usual LED video light panels, this is a constant light source with an array of 40 LEDs. These aren’t your average LEDs though, they are capable of emitting any colour in the visible spectrum. The light has a slot capable of holding an iPhone so you can pair the two devices physically. Out of the box, the Kick Light has buttons with adjustable brightness levels and colour temperature adjustments. This is great on it’s own but using the light’s WiFi connectivity expands it’s features greatly, offering remote control via an Android and IOS app, giving access to more colours and special effects. This puts the Kick Light up there as one of the most interesting light painting tools on the scene at the moment so with some help from Rift Labs and Colour Confidence, I grabbed myself four of the units to act as a small (tiny!), mobile studio to boost my photography.
To start with, I like the fact that the Kick Light offers a small portable studio that fits into something the size of a pencil case. Some of the lighting I’ve lugged around in the past is just way too bulky but these four little lights can go everywhere my camera does without ever being a burden. The product isn’t really directed towards serious photographers, it’s marketed to be accessible to as many potential users as possible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I can see Rift Labs growing from it to produce some amazing tools in the future. Watch this space.
The lights are packaged well, and despite being a new product, Rift Labs have given the Kick Light a slick, mature appearance. Included in the box are instructions and a Micro USB cable, but no power supply.
I can understand the choice to add the iPhone slot but have to criticise it because of the restrictions this gives to Android users like myself. I was a bit disappointed with this at first, but really I have no intention of using this device with a phone’s camera so it makes no difference to me what so ever. Now I’m used to the lights I barely even notice it’s there. It could, however, be used to hold a larger external battery if Rift Labs were to ever produce one, wink wink!
The overall build quality isn’t bad, they are obviously of higher quality than your average video light but the units do have a bit of flex in them when you are mounting them using the tripod thread. I like the feel of the soft touch buttons, and they give a positive, but subtle click when pressed.
The units I have are already veterans, having been used in several soggy culverts, tunnels and in the odd abandoned building. I’m a bit heavy handed, sometimes brutal when repositioning my lights but there hasn’t been a problem yet, they’re all still in one piece. The tripod mounts have all stayed solid, despite some abuse. I keep a hot shoe adaptor attached to two of the units for convenience. The lights can be very handy when mounted on the camera, I will usually attach one to help illuminate my scene to help me with framing up and focusing at night.
The light itself is incredibly small and lightweight yet blasts out an impressive amount of light. The lights are rated at 400 lumens if that means anything to you. To put that in real world terms, just one of these lights is more than twice as bright as one of my other main lighting tools, an LED Lenser P7. That’s a lot of light for something so small.
Battery life is surprisingly good. The internal lithium battery can provide up to three hours’ use. On full power, using WiFi, I’ve had 60-90 minutes out of them. Ideally they would go all night but as they can run via USB power, a USB power bank is a handy addition to the setup. Mine cost a mere £25 and it has a rating of 25000 mAH so it will power the lights for as long as you could realistically need. It’s also great for charging your phone, tablet, go pro, anything, enabling you to stay in the field doing what you do for longer. I keep mine in a conveniently sized Lowepro phone pouch which I can strap onto things, charging the lights as they go.
As for mounting the lights, I carry lighting stands or a small tripod when I can, but I also carry a variety of bits and bobs which are useful to save weight. They all have their place and get used regularly for static lighting. Being so light, it’s easy to mount the Kick light wherever you want. I really think light looks best from a moving source myself so I also carry a cheap go pro style pole onto which I can mount the light. This helps me achieve different angles that would normally be a bit of a stretch, helping me to rake the light across a surface and enhance it’s textures.
Quality of Light
The light produced by the kick light is very usable. The lensed LEDs provide a directional beam of light, quite different to the diffuse light thrown out by most LED panels. The result is an even circle of light. The LEDs do cause some diffraction, with some visible colour fringing on the edge of the circle. This isn’t ideal when using the lighting in a fixed position, but isn’t a problem if the light source is moved during the exposure. The fringing is only evident with white light, and vanishes when using colours. If it really becomes a problem, adding some kind of diffuser to the light would eliminate the problem. The colours reproduced are brilliant, deeply saturated and vibrant. There’s no doubt that carrying a load of crusty old gels is a thing of the past. Saturation does decrease as brightness increases but I’ve not found this to be a real issue.
The WiFi connection is a brilliant feature but it’s reliability was always my worry. On the contrary, it’s been very useful- there have already been times where I’ve been very glad it’s there. Particularly when stood knee deep in the middle of a culvert with 20 metres of wading against the current to get to the lights. It’s a great tool for fine tuning the brightness of your lighting and allows you to turn the lights on and off during an exposure so you can easily balance the lighting with ambient light.
Tunnels seem to funnel the radio waves to an extent and when underground, the range has really surprised me. The connection can sometimes be tricky to set up, especially with four lights. A paper clip is always worth having on you so you can reach the reset button. If a unit plays up, resetting it will usually get it to connect and it will function straight away.
I’ve been using a 5th generation iPod touch as my controller and find the app for IOS easy to use. I head straight for the colour chart and I would really like a larger screen so I could be a bit more accurate but I want to have a device dedicated to the lights so I don’t sap the battery on my phone. Android is also supported, with the list of devices ever growing. My Sony Z1 and Nexus 7 tablet both run the app very well but I prefer the interface on IOS. The lights are all easily adjusted, with a brighness slider and colour chart for each, or the ability to control all connected units together. With a future update, I would love to have the option of programming a timed burst, and the ability to adjust lights in groups.
I have really had to think when using the Kick Light. I’m simple, I’ve always been a big fan of using white, or whiteish light and the options available when you have every colour in the spectrum can be a bit confusing to me at times. I’ve had to think how I can use them to boost my work and it’s had a radical effect. It takes me a while to set the lights up but I don’t find myself taking any longer to get the whole job done. I do find myself using static lighting much more than I did before, but in time I’ll adjust to find a balance and I’m sure they will do some very good things for me. They’re small, light, powerful, remotely controlled and technicolor. What’s not to like?