2017 was full of innovation in on-set products, and here are a few favorites.
As people who spend (or aspire to spend) their working lives on a film set, it's been a big year for new tools that make our lives easier. Since the biggest news has been the massive improvements to LED lighting and stabilization for cameras, we picked a few of our favorites in those categories this year.
Overall, this was definitely the year that power came to LEDs. For the longest time, HMI and Tungsten had been our default units, with LEDs used to fill in the gaps in the small unit lineup. We've all been waiting for LEDs, with their low-power draw and cool operation, to get stronger, and now they have.
With the 300d, Aputure is pushing hard into the "small shoots" space where all you need are battery-operated lights. One discovery we made while testing was the joy and convenience of battery operation on smaller location shoots. While there might be power inside, those nests of cables are often frustratingly run to spread your lighting all over the house. Thankfully, this product offers the ability to run in a battery unit for a last minute kick outside a window, or shoot into the ceiling, for some base fill. The fact that you won't have to worry "what circuit has more room free?" or "do I have enough stingers to run this to the garage?" is huge.
Continuing the dream of "do-anything on a battery" is the Tile, from Blindspot. Small, simple, lightweight, and powered with wall power or a Sony NP, the light stands out for the great thought that clearly went into its design. Thumbs up for the huge punch the unit puts out at even the smallest setting. It's light enough to easily rig to your camera or gimbal ring, and it provides that extra bit of fill that brings people out of the shadows. Combined with its innovative, fold-flat softbox that takes the last bit of edge off, it can even make a useful key or eye light. It's so small and easy to travel with (even in the softbox) that it should live in every filmmaker's suitcase, trunk, or kit bag. It's there to sneak in when you need it and it seems to last forever on the bigger NP batteries.
Kino Flo FreeStyle
When we were introduced to this light back at NAB, we called it a "DP's dream" for so many features: It can detach from its fixture to become a lightweight panel, it can adjust brightness depending on the situation, and it adjusts the Kelvin from 2500-9900, which gives you a lot of range. Most excitingly, the built-in gels are incredibly diverse and, because you can input RGB values, you can adjust saturation and color hue to match any color on the color wheel.
Is this lighting and grip? It's classified as "support" and so we're sneaking it in. The Teradek Serv is one of those tools that just makes life so much easier on a set, especially for your gaffer. That's why it gets a "Lighting" best-of inclusion.
It broadcasts video over WiFi to up to 10 iOs devices, and that means the gaffer, rather than jostling for room at the hero monitor with clients/producers, can watch footage on their iPad and sometimes even while out in the field tweaking lights. Between its usefulness for the lighting team and its ability to let Hair and Make-up have last looks without crowding others out from the key monitor, the Serv will be a huge hassle-saver this year.
While an amazing number of gimbals hit the streets in 2017, the clear leader in conversation mindshare is the Ronin 2 from DJI. After last year's improvements from Freefly to the MoVi with the Pro and XL, it was nice to see DJI respond and win the competition so quickly (The Ronin 2 showed up at NAB in April). For the longest time, more powerful gimbals felt like an owner/operator unit that required a ton of practice, specialized rigging knowledge, and customization to make work.
With its internal cable routing (including SDI), variety of power options, intuitive control screen, and hot-swappable batteries, the Ronin 2 finally feels like a unit you could rent and get up and running in a reasonable amount of time. Look for these to start showing up on ShareGrid, as DJI has made a unit that should perform well enough for both demanding pros and non-experts looking to get their feet wet.
Matthews C-Stand Bags
A bag for your C-stand might not seem that exciting, but we love it. If you've ever poked a hole in the upholstery of your car trying to get a C-stand out in the dark (or had to drag some stand with you on a flyaway shoot), you know that there is nothing quite as annoying. The thought, attention, and style put into these bags by Matthews will make it easier for smaller, indie, run-and-gun filmmakers to get their kit to and from set without poking someone's eye out.
If you're a grip and lighting obsessive like we are and think something is missing from list, let us know in the comments below.