By Miri-Joan de Wet
When it comes to film lighting, the wrong light can not only cost the production, but it can also set wrong tone, look unprofessional and create a completely different atmosphere than the one you intended. That’s why it is essential to get this right and where else to start but with the lights themselves.
In this battle of illumination our two competitors are considered the most accomplished and commonly utilised lights in the industry. We will be comparing the ARRI HMI M-series and the ARRI Skypanel. Here you’ll find a comprehensive review of the two types of lights and how you can use them to best illuminate your stories.
It might be best to start with the most glaring difference between the two: the one uses HMI lamps and the other uses LED. This difference might seem obvious and unnecessary to review, but it is crucial to understanding these lights and comparing the different advantages and disadvantages they bring to your set.
The HMI light is known as your ‘go-to’ for convincingly emulating sunlight. It might be a smaller light, but it really packs a punch! You can place it up to 20 feet away from your talent and it still offers great lighting. The HMI is usually implemented when high output required as they can light huge areas at once. Shadab Khan, Red Dot Films Creative Director, emphasises the HMI lights’ upper hand when it comes to being more directional, offering brighter output and creating natural shadows.
The ARRI M-series HMI lights offer that little extra with their signature MAX Technology reflector. This enables the light to give maximum light output that combines the advantages of a PAR and Fresnel with lens-less, focusable lampheads.
However, these advantages do not necessarily blow the LEDs out of the water. Some of the issues when it comes to HMIs are their massive power requirements, the heat they generate and their high-cost (extremely sensitive) bulbs. The HMI M-series also needs a patient hand, they need to be handled with care when being moved around which takes some time with cooling down and heating up due to the sensitive bulbs.
So, let’s now turn to our other competitor. The main praise for LEDs is due to their efficiency. They have low power consumption, they can be battery operated and they generally have a much longer lifespan.
According to ARRI’s website the Skypanel is the “culmination of more than a decade of research and development.” With a sleek, robust design ARRI has ensured that everything you may need is already built into the Skypanel. No need for various filters, gels or papers to be hauled around on set! “Plus,” Khan exclaims, “they’re not power guzzlers!”
Australian filmmaker, Rubidium Wu, describes the ARRI Skypanel as “the workhorse of the industry” mainly because they have become a standard lighting source on most sets. This seems almost inevitable as the Skypanel offers so much to its users.
Not only will the Skypanel save you on power but it is a massive time saver. The Skypanel offers various adjustments such as hue and saturation, gel selection, RGBW, pre-set effects and more at just the turn of a knob. The Skypanel’s firmware is also regularly updated with new pre-set effects and gel options so your console stays modern and in line with the newest trends. Another great way that ARRI is saving you time and energy is that the Skypanel can be remote controlled. This means more productivity and less climbing up and down ladders.
But, even with all these great features the Skypanel cannot replace the high output of the HMI M-series. Khan goes as far as to say that when it comes to creating natural shadows and replicating sunlight the LEDs are no comparison to the HMIs. As Khan explains, “Technology has made things easier, but technology hasn’t been able to replicate everything.”
Another thing to consider about the Skypanel and LEDs in general is their initial cost. Although they might save time and money on set, getting them there might put you back a bit in terms of budget. LEDs are quite expensive to attain for their total light output, however, when compared to the cost of your HMI bulbs they’re still worth the buck. Your HMI lamp can be priced at up to $800 and they have a much shorter lifespan than the LEDs.
Khan, along with many other industry professionals, are hanging on to their HMIs and still using them for the specific functions. “Every light has a different job,” Khan explains.
It seems the battle in illumination is not as straightforward as we might have thought. The winner of this battle really depends on what you’re trying to create on set and how you want to utilise light to tell your story.
Interview with Shadab Khan, Creative Director at Red Dot Films (1 March 2020).
AbelCine, 2019. LED vs HMI ARRI Lighting, with Rubidium Wu. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCikOunH7UQ&ab_channel=AbelCine
Arri.com. 2021. M-Series. [online] Available at: https://www.arri.com/en/lighting/daylight/m-series
Arri.com. 2021. SkyPanel. [online] Available at: https://www.arri.com/en/lighting/led/skypanel#accordion-194600
Hellerman, J., 2019. Types of Film Lights (and How to Use Them). [online] No Film School. Available at: https://nofilmschool.com/types-of-film-lights
LensProToGo, 2019. ARRI Skypanels – Are they WORTH the money?. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGYsti5NL2k&ab_channel=LensProToGo No Film School. 2021. ARRI Updates the Only LED You’ll Ever Need. [online] Available at: https://nofilmschool.com/2017/04/arri-updates-only-led-youll-ever-need