Before you click through to another article, hear me out. These small lights could be your best purchase this year, and I mean it. So far, I got 3, and I’m waiting for 11:11/Black Friday deals to double the numbers. At first, I thought they would do well for shooting videos, but now I can’t live without them. VIJIM VL81 LED panels are pretty cool, (and hot), but add a thing or two, and you’ll transform it into the best budget lights one could have.
VIJIM VL81 – VL isn’t just for vlogging
At first, I was really worried. I got these for about £12 on sale on Banggood, wondering if these will be any good for video work. The biggest concern was the flickering rate. £12 wasn’t much so I got 3 of these.
The main selling points of the VIJIM VL81 are:
- brightness control
- colour temperature 3200k-5600K
- built-in battery
- USB-C charging and power
- horseshoe and 1/4 inch mounts
To unlock the full potential of VIJIM VL81 you will need to pair it with a £15 magic arm. This 11-inch-long wonder complements the lights in more ways than I could imagine. This combo enabled me to use the lights in more situations: from video work to using it as a stationary desk lamp, or extra light for painting models.
VIJIM VL81 last about 2h on the full beam. If that’s not enough, a USB-C port can be used to power up the light from an external source (power supply, portable battery). Even if you do run out of the charge, just plug it in and you are ready to continue! These are so comfortable to use, that I paired them with a Tonor mic stand to create a very unique desk lamp.
VIJIM VL81 LED panels are rated for 850 lumens, which is pretty much what would you expect from a 60W lightbulb. These are not your usual key lights, but you will be able to light up dark areas or diffuse shadows. They are too weak for use in broad daylight, but indoors you can get pretty creative with these!
My biggest concern was the PWM signal and the frequency of operation. If you are not familiar, a low refresh rate causes flickering (or stripes) when shutter speed and PWM signal interfere with each other. It’s easier to combat this when taking pictures than videos as photography is more flexible than shooting videos.
It’s not an issue, perhaps thanks to the low brightness level being set quite high. I actually run into situations where the light was slightly too bright at the lowest level. That’s ok, I will fix this.
After 2 years almost all the lights developed a fault. Some sooner, some later, but in all cases, the potentiometers inside gave up and stopped responding properly to the wheel actuation. Some are hard to set to full brightness, and others struggle to change the colour temperature. They were fun while they lasted, but at this point to make them usable again, I would have to open it up and change the pots.
Perhaps I’ll simply repurpose them for something else. Time will tell.
Making it the best lights ever!
Getting a magic arm is a must. The 11-inch model is great but at times you may find it too short. I’m actually considering getting additional small stands or simply doubling down on the number of magic arms per light.
Thanks to these, you can position the light in any place, and the clamp that comes with some of the sets listed is highly recommended. It’s more than capable of gripping surfaces around my house.
Barn doors that double as a gel holder
I mentioned the issues with brightness. I decided to fix this with my latest 3D printer – Ender3 v2 (). Thanks to that and some CAD training, I came up with nice and simple “barn door” add on to VIJIM VL81 LED.
The design not only allows to limit the angle of the light and decrease the scatter, but the snap-on case gives you an opportunity to slide in a piece of coloured film that would ask as a photographic gel filter. You can find these on the cheap online, cut to shape and use it to change the colour of the light or dim the lights even further.
The add-on is designed with a 1.75 mm hole in mind to use the filament as a hinge shaft, but I made mine a little more sturdy with a 2mm hanger wire. I had to increase the hole diameter with a Dremel-alike tool.
If you end up with wings being slightly too floppy to stay in one position, a drop of superglue on the hinge (just keep rotating the hinge until it dries off) will fill in the gaps and create enough friction to keep the wing’s position from collapsing.
I consider 3 VIJIM VL81 LED to be a minimum you should get unless you already have some lights to use. I’m getting extra lights, as I want to have them fixed in place. It’s a bit tiresome to move it from one setup to another each time I want to stream, make videos, paint models or shoot pictures. I never thought I would recommend budget lights, but for less than £30 that’s by far the best combo you can get. Got other tips? Do let me know in this Reddit thread.