Westcott Spiderlite TD5 Review
We are certainly fans of constant lights for beginners with their “what you see is what you get” approach and some of our favorite lights are our Photo Basics kit which we use all the time for different projects. The main problem with constant lights is the heat generated by the bulbs. On a recent product shoot we added up 3000w of lights running which brought up the temperature in the room VERY quickly and I swear I ended up with a mild sunburn by the end. This time I wanted to step it up a notch and get some real studio-quallity lights. I had thought about moving to studio strobes but I have good off-camera flashes that work great when I want to use flash and I didn’t want even bigger and hotter constant lights. This left one obvious choice, the Westcott Spiderlite TD5. The TD5 uses a set of 5 fluorescent bulbs to provide daylight balanced light and plenty of it, but without the heat. But can you really get studio quality light out of a bank of fluorescent bulbs? We ordered a 2 light kit to put them to the test and see if this is the lighting kit we were hoping it to be.
What’s in the box
The box arrived and I couldn’t wait to open it and see what I got with this early Christmas gift to myself. The picture shown here is half of the actual kit. There is one large carrying case that everything fits into and then a smaller case that the heads and bulbs go in. The two lightstands go in the bottom of the main bag and the second bag andÂ two softboxes fit on top. The quality of the bags, softboxes, and light stands are VERY heavy duty and look like they will take a good amount of wear and tear. The softboxes are nice, big, 24″ x 30″ and are rated for 1000w bulbs so using the 5 pack of fluoresencts doesn’t even begin to push the softbox material. The lighthead itself is quite good construction and is made of good quality metal components. Everything about the light head just screams quality. The light stand was a big surprise as it is now the heaviest duty light stand in my arsenal, its just massive and extends up to 10′. There are a few basic manuals included but the system is so easy to setup that you shouldn’t need anything more than that to get started.
As we have already mentioned,the Westcott Spiderlites are a unique lighting system that uses multiple bulbs to create a large soft light source. The basic kit comes with daylight balanced compact fluorescent bulbs. These can be replaced with halogen bulbs and even strobe bulbs (more on this later). With the fluorescent bulbs you get a total of 115w which appears asÂ to be about equivalent toÂ around 350 watts with a halogen bulb.
(2) Spiderlite TD5 Fixture
(2) Tilter Bracket
(2) Softbox, Silver Interior, carbon steel rodsÂ - 24×32″
10 Pack 27W Fluorescent Lamps for TD5 (120V)
(2) Heavyweight Black Light Stand
1 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty on Fixture, Fabrics and Stand
Lifetime Manufacturer’s Warranty on Softbox Rods
Setting It Up
Somewhere I read a review of the TD5′s that said he never tears down the softboxes because its a two-man job to put them together. Since I have actually had some pretty difficult softboxes I was a bit concerned that these were going to be a pain in the butt. The first thing you do is to insert the steel rods into the corner holders and work them all the way to the end. Next you start by putting one end of a rod into one of the holes in the fixture. Just push the fixture into position and insert the next rod, and work your way around putting in all of the rest of the rods. Close up the softbox with the built-in velcro. After the softbox is all assembled you can now install the lightbulbs. For me, the entire setup or teardown process takes about 2 minutes. Actually, it takes longer to screw in the 5 lightbulbs than it takes to setup the softboxes.
If you want a really diffuse light you can install the internal baffle although this will cut down on the light output somewhat. Without the internal baffle you will get a little nore light but it will be a little harsher which will add to the contrast on the image.
Additional setup shots:
The following is a video showing me setting up one of the lights so you can see exactly how easy it is.
Well, time to see what these things can really do. I use constant lights a lot so it was going to be interesting to compare the difference. First off I use my 1000w heads quite a bit so I did notice that the light output wasn’t as much as I am used to but the light color and quality as absolutely superb. The softboxes are bigger than my existing ones so the size of the light source is much nicer than I have had in the past. So let’s take a look at a few examples:
First off I setup a basic butterfly configuration (lights set at equal heights on both side of the subject) and took some shots of a wine bottle.
The tall softboxes provided a very interesting reflection on the bottle. Overall a very very cool shot.
Ok, let’s see how it does with people. I was the only home around so you get stuck with a few examples with some self-portraits.
This first setup is a typical dual-light portrait setup with the key light to camera left and the fill light pulled back a ways on camera right. The photo was taken straight out of the camera with no processing at all. You can see how nice the colors are and how even the lighting is.
With the second example we added a Photoflex boom arm to hang the light directly overhead. For the actual photo a reflector was added right (subject’s left) to fill in some dark areas. This setup created a more dramatic look with some shadowing on one side of the face and created a nice hair light (thus highlighting my thinning hair quite nicely).
Ok, so a little testing on myself isn’t going to really test these lights out and the light when you are used to overlighting everything they do take a little getting used to. So we rounded up some models for a holiday pinup-shoot. During this shoot we were moving the lights all over for different angles and were really appreciating how light they are, even the smallest person had no problem holding lights or taking them on or off the light stands. So let’s take a look at a few examples:
While the pictures were pretty good, I still wasn’t quite happy with them as I just didn’t feel like I was getting ENOUGH light, even dropping the ISO just didn’t seem like enough. In order to really get the most out of these takes a little more practice and this shot was done after only having them one day. As a final test I setup another shoot, this time I really moved the lights in closer than I am used to, but since there is very little heat off them, it was not a problem for the model. This time the results were exactly what I was looking for.
The Spiderlite TD5′s are certainly top-notch lights although they do take a small amount of getting used to if you have been using other types of lighting but with a little bit of practice you can really get some incredible images from them. If you still need more light in a given situation, an off-camera flash will be at the same color temperature as the Spiderlites providing that extra bump in light without messing causing you extra work.
What really sets the Spiderlites apart is their ability to morph into something else. You can replace the flouresencts bulbs with a set of strobe lights turning them into monolights (strobe plus modeling light). There simply isn’t a more versatile system on the market. This kit doesn’t come cheap though, at $1,350 for the two-light kit with lightstands and carrying case, this kit is certainly geared towards much more serious amateurs or pros.
Author: Kerry Garrison