Some jobs require onboard camera lighting and my go-to has always been the small rectangular LED by LitePanel. While LED lighting has the benefit of low power consumption and heat resistance they also have the disadvantage of less light output and questionable colour rendering on many of the cheaper models. These technology shortcomings are improving by the day so I was curious to see how the $139.00 variable colour temperature Genray 6200T stacked up. In comparison, it’s super cheap next to the new LitePanel ‘Croma’ that looks to be about the same size and shape but costs around $700.00. The other thing the Genray has going for it is the legions of happy customer reviews. Maybe these people are just grateful to be able to purchase a cheap LED regardless of the colour performance? I decided to order the $139.00 Genray and find out.
When mine arrived, the first thing I noticed was the nice semi-padded nylon pouch everything comes packaged in. The kit includes one battery, the LED unit, a battery charger, and even a hot-shoe ball mount adapter for on camera attachment. I recommend replacing the ball mount and the battery charger with something a bit more sturdy. There is also a nice, plastic magnetic diffuser panel that snaps into place via four small corner magnets. Nice touch. The two dials on the back, one for intensity and one for colour, turn smoothly and attaching batteries is easy. The housing is made of plastic that doesn’t feel too flimsy, nor does it give me a sense of confidence either, like the all-metal LightPanel design. However, this unit weighs less than half a pound so I like how light it is especially since it will live primarily aboard small handheld cameras. Overall, the build quality is satisfactory with nothing to either complain or marvel about. Power consumption is of course wonderful. One small battery, using it moderately might last a whole day.
Lumen output is comparable to the $700.00 Litepanel Croma. I can’t find any published photometric data from Genray so I had to measure it myself and compare with LitePanel’s published photometrics. I measured light in foot-candles with an incident meter but also measured for F-stop readings at 800 ISO/24fps/180 degree shutter. In daylight mode the Genray puts out (with the diffuser panel on) 25 foot candles at 3′ or F4.0 at those settings. At 8′ it falls off to only 6 foot candles or F2.0. When switched to Tungsten mode light output is further decreased by about 1/3 stop at all distances despite the fact that the unit has an equal number of tungsten LEDs. Detaching the diffusing panel doubles the amount of light, or gains 1 stop.
Genray doesn’t publish the CRI rating either (colour rendering index). Usually an unpublished CRI is a huge red-flag that almost guarantees poor colour rendering with a sharp green spike in the spectral graph. I contacted the manufacturer and they claimed a CRI rating of 92 which I was sceptical about. A high CRI requires a high grade phosphor coating during the manufacture process which is currently very expensive. Only the most costly LED systems have CRI ratings of 92 and above. One such LED is the Kino Flo Celeb which is the de facto standard in LED tech, in my opinion. I would have liked to have a colour meter for the tests so I had to make a qualitative assessment.
I set a still camera’s white balance to daylight/cloudy preset setting and photographed a colour chart under natural, indirect daylight. I then photographed the chart again at night with the Genray in full daylight mode and compared the colour quality of the two charts, which you can see below. For Tungsten, I repeated the same test but set the camera’s white balance to incandescent preset and shot the chart under an incandescent source and photographed it once again with the Genray set to 3200K.
The results were interesting, if not surprising. The Genray does a pretty decent job at matching daylight and the only noticeable difference is on the purple chip in the 2nd row, 4th column. Maybe the claim of 92 CRI isn’t that much of a stretch after all, at least when using it in daylight mode. Tungsten mode on the other hand is a bit of a disaster. First off, the colour is overall generally too blue under a tungsten preset. Warming it to match 3200K requires an additional +1/4 or +1/8 warming gel. This is not surprising because blue LEDs are brighter than orange and in order to keep the same level of light output in tungsten mode, you either need to have more tungsten LED’s or a little more blue LED’s in the mix to pick up the slack. Knowing this, I would have thought Genray would have included a small pre-cut warming filter but I guess this defeats the purpose of marketing their unit as a variable colour temperature LED. That said, the problems don’t end there when in tungsten mode. The Genray renders the purple patch as a completely different colour in tungsten setting. In fact, all the purple, lavender and mauve chips are all very different under a true incandescent source. Why is this? Simple. The tungsten LEDs (in this unit) clearly don’t emit light below 450nm on the spectral graph. Shorter-wavelength diodes are indeed available for wavelengths down to 240nm which would render the purple/lavender patches precisely but these diodes are substantially more expensive and it is the reason why this unit performs so poorly at shorter wavelengths and why it costs only $139.00. It makes sense that something had to give, right? Now I am curious how the $700.00 LitePanel would stack up but that will have to be another time.
At the end of the day, this unit provides a really good daylight balance that omits much of the green spikes found in early LED units from a couple of years ago. It’s also bright enough with the diffuser panel in place at traditional interview distances of 5′-7′. Tungsten mode is clearly too blue when mixed with incandescent sources and many of the colours on the far right of the spectral graph can’t be rendered at all. My recommendation is to use this unit in daylight mode only and correct to tungsten with gels for a better colour rendering but the shorter wavelength colours will still be missing. The good news is, magenta and green shift is kept minimal. If anything, the Genray may have overcompensated for green a bit too much by having it bias toward magenta, ever so slightly, but nothing to be concerned about. Finally, It’s also important to note that these chip charts all easily corrected and matched one another in Lightroom (with the exception to the far right colours). LED technology has come along way but this popular model doesn’t have the widest spectral distribution when compared to an incandescent source. A more accurate LED match still requires a bigger investment.