K 5600 Joker-Bug 400 & 800

March 2, 2010
By Dan Havlik

Prod Reviews K5600 Joker-Bug

Once you start using HMI continuous lighting in the studio, you may never want to go back to strobes again.
I get to test drive a lot of high-quality gear for PDN Magazine but every once in a while I go behind the wheels of a Rolls Royce. In the case of a continuous light source for location or studio work, K 5600 Lighting is certainly in that class.

Recently, TREC Rental was kind enough to lend me a K 5600 Joker-Bug HMI lighting kit for a test shoot with the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV (reviewed this month) at my friend Jason Groupp's studio. Though it had been a while since either Jason or I had used HMI (Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide) lighting, a weekend with the Joker-Bug 800- and 400-watt systems was enough for us to consider saying goodbye to strobes forever (if we could afford it).

Yes, while Jokers are some of the best small HMIs around, they're not exactly cheap and, truth be told, they've made more inroads into the movie and television market than among photographers. Drive around the streets of New York or L.A. long enough and you're liable to stumble across either a film or T.V. show being made. Check out the lighting and more often than not it'll be Jokers.

Why? HMI provides gorgeous, flicker-free continuous lighting that comes very close to emulating natural daylight. (Hence, the nod to the 5600 Kelvin color temperature in the brand name.) However, even a very basic Joker-Bug set-up can cost $5,000 and up.

Photographers have been giving these systems a second look though with the advent of pro digital SLRs that can capture high definition video. But as we learned during our test of the 1D Mark IV—which can shoot 1080p HD—the Joker-Bugs were also very sweet for still photography, providing bright but not harsh wraparound light for portraits and a powerful light source for photographing a scene.

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