Interfit Super Cool-lite 455 Twin Head Kit: Cool Lights Are Hot!

Several of my fellow portrait photographers have been using cool lights for years. Interestingly, they have not abandoned their flash units but continue to use both, depending on the situation. Having been a strobe/available light photographer for the most part, I was eager to both find out how well they worked and for what subjects they’d be most suited. Interfit was kind enough to send me their very economical ($340 street price) set of two lights, each with an eight-sided softbox, so I could find out for myself. Could they do everything my studio flash units could? Were they a better choice for some subjects than others? After a few weeks of testing, I had my answers.

When I opened the box from Interfit, I found a compact set of lights that could be used for a wide variety of applications. Like most photographers, I immediately started to put the lights together. Mistake. After placing the base unit on a light stand, I screwed in the light bulbs and then tried to put the softbox over them. I could see I needed to put the Octobox on first. But I still needed more help. Luckily, the Interfit setup comes with a DVD that tells you how to assemble the units, among other things. Even then, I managed to tear off one of the hook-and-loop fastener strips holding the rods.

This portrait of Erin Callahan was taken using one Octobox light plus a reflector. I also used the modeling light from a flash unit to act as a warm kick light you can see on her hair. Note the beautiful catchlights formed by the Octobox. Nikon D300, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm, ISO 400, 1⁄60 sec at f/3.2.
All Photos © Steve Bedell

Light setup for Erin minus the reflector.

Once you have the boxes assembled, it’s time to put the bulbs in. Each unit holds four 55-watt fluorescent bulbs that look like giant yogurt pretzels. Once you have them in, you simply pull the outside diffusion material over the box. To control power output, there are two switches on the back of each unit. One switch controls the two vertical bulbs, the other the two horizontal bulbs.

Light setup for the image of Katie Doucet using column for posing prop. Note the openings on the Octoboxes to release heat.

The supplied DVD not only tells you how to put the units together, it also tells you how to set your camera and has a sample product shoot and a couple of portrait sessions. Since shooting products and portraits seem to be the logical application of these lights, I scheduled those types of sessions. One thing I found out immediately is that I preferred a custom white balance over the daylight balance that the DVD recommends. I found the daylight setting on my Nikon D300 to be a little cool for my taste.

Left: I love this classic image of Kate Bruton. I created it using one light and a reflector. The WYSIWYG feature of these lights really helps in judging just how strong you desire your reflector or fill light to be. Nikon D300, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm, ISO 400, 1⁄60 sec at f/3.2. Right: In this image of Katie I used one Octobox as the main light with a reflector to the left. I used the second unit to strike both her hair and the background. Nikon D300, Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 lens at 60mm, ISO 400, 1⁄125 sec at f/3.5.

I think the big question on the minds of most photographers is, will these replace studio flash units? The answer is no. Both have their place in a contemporary studio. Flash units offer tremendous power, allowing us to use small f/stops when needed and the ability to freeze motion. Cold light units give us true WYSIWYG shooting, just like daylight. The trade-off is that you will most likely be shooting at wide apertures and slower shutter speeds or using a tripod. Even with the tremendous gains that have been made with higher ISO speeds, I still prefer the results I get at speeds under 400.

My light setup before adding the reflector. Note how that beautiful background is just a piece of cloth from the fabric store. I also test my exposure using a super white plastic column that I can just place in any set where I want.

Construction
The kit comes with two complete units. Each unit has a small pneumatic light stand and the bases are hard plastic. The units are switched on with a simple switch on the cord. It ships with nine 55-watt bulbs that are carefully packaged. I guess the extra is in case one breaks, as one of mine did, in shipping. Everything appears to be well made with the exception of the Octobox, which I managed to damage slightly as I put it together. I find that designs that mount like an umbrella are much more convenient.

I “borrowed” this $3000 bracelet from the Village Goldsmith Gallery (www.jimliver moredesigns.com) in Dover, New Hampshire, for a product shot. I used one Octobox from above and close for a big soft light. Nikon D300, Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 200, 1⁄200 sec at f/5.6.

Design
These are pretty basic units and of all the Interfit cool lights, these are the smallest and least powerful. With the Octobox diffusion material fitted over the outside of the box, it leaves little room for options. And that’s OK. They are so small and lightweight that they are perfect for the occasional product shot or portrait. Photographers who do not have nailed down studio lights will find that these come in very handy because of the WYSIWYG approach that cold lights foster. All you need to do is take a couple of test shots for exposure and white balance, and you’re ready to shoot.

I jury-rigged the light to hover over the product and used an old commercial photographer’s trick of putting the product on a piece of plexiglas and the background pillow below. This allows you to change backgrounds, add gels, etc., without disturbing your product.

Shooting
The first thing I noticed is how bright they are. According to the packaging, each 55-watt bulb puts out the same brightness as a 275-watt incandescent bulb. When you put two of them in a small studio you’ll probably think all the house lights are on. You need to be very careful where you aim them also. With no louvers or grids, light scatters everywhere. Your camera will like all that light because it makes it very easy to focus. Once you have your lights set up the way you like, you can then begin taking photos, using either your camera meter or an incident meter. I prefer to use an incident meter because I’ve been doing it so long that way the meter seems to grow out of my hand. Lock in your exposure and start shooting!

The first thing you and your subjects will notice is that there is no flash popping off. This really makes a big difference. To begin with, it creates a more intimate atmosphere. Flashes can be pretty jarring, especially to animals and children not used to them. With a constant light you just keep on shooting, and they don’t really know the exact moment of exposure. You also never have to wait for a flash to cycle or live in suspense wondering if all your units fired. It seems to contribute to a very relaxed session.

Here you can see by the catchlights in Kate’s eyes that I used both lights, one as the main and the second as the fill. Her eyes really sparkle with the two lights. Nikon D300, Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 lens at 80mm, ISO 400, 1⁄60 sec at f/3.2.

With all four bulbs on, I could get an exposure of 1⁄125 sec at f/4 at ISO 400 at about a 4-foot distance. That’s fine for most single subjects that are past the diaper stage and I really prefer to use as wide an aperture as possible anyway. I used the lights as a main with reflector fill and also as a main and fill light. I controlled the intensity of the fill by distance and by switching two bulbs off. One of my favorite portrait setups was to use one light as a main with a reflector and use the second light for the background and/or to accent the subject’s hair. It should be noted that there are more powerful units by Interfit and others that would provide more light for possible family groups and other sessions where more depth is needed. I did find that using a tripod or studio stand is also a pretty good idea if you want a higher ratio of tack-sharp images.

Here is my light setup for Kate Bruton’s image. Note how both the fill and main are to camera right to avoid any cross shadows.

Conclusion
I believe we’ll be seeing more and more cool light units, and that I might be using them more and more in my work. Just as digital cameras have taken some of the mystery and suspense out of photography with instant playback, WYSIWYG lighting does the same. Setting up studio flash units requires careful testing for balance and output. With cool lights, you just set them up, check the results, make any changes you like, and start shooting!

My only reservation with this particular set of lights is the construction of the boxes and the lack of light modifiers, but that’s why they make bigger, more expensive units. I think these are perfectly suited for the occasional portrait and are ideal for product photos.

The kit has a street price of about $340. For complete specs on this and other Interfit products, go to: http://interfitphotographic.com.

Steve Bedell has been a portrait photographer for over 25 years. To subscribe to EPhoto, a free e-mail newsletter with tips for photographers, contact Bedell via e-mail at: sb@stevebedell.com. Also ask about his lighting DVDs.

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