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27 October 2016
Without light there is no photography so when we were offered the chance to test drive the Chatlight, we lit up. Sure, why not?
Created by photographer Henry Geddes and his friend Ian Shiell, the Chatlight is a small beauty light designed for video conferencing using one of those hideous built-in cameras on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. But you can use it to fight the darkness anywhere, really.
What makes it so adaptable (and easy to take with you) is its design.
It's just four and a half inches wide and 1-5/8 inches tall. It hangs onto your device with a spring-loaded clamp covered in some sort of soft, foam-cushioned paper board so your housings won't be scratched sliding it on or off.
Chatlight claims 50,000 hours and up to 90 minutes on a single charge for the unit which should work well for everyone but teens.
The light source itself appears to be a string of cool and warm LEDs tucked into the back of a cylinder made of a slightly diffused plastic.
You can also rotate the cylinder to aim the light, too. The diffuser lens only exposes half of the cylinder.
There is a small LED to indicate battery status and charging status next to the cylinder. And on the side of the unit there's a Power switch with a low and high output setting for two light levels plus the input port for a USB cable to charge the battery.
If the built-in spring-loaded clamp doesn't quite accommodate your device (say you're on a monitor), the Chatlight also comes with a strip of Velcro or putty to attach it to whatever you prefer.
IN THE BOX
The cleverly-designed shipping box (the plastic cases just slips off the cardboard section), contains the following items:
- The Chatlight itself
- A USB cable to charge it
- A Velcro or putty alternate mount
There are no instructions whatsoever. But the FAQ on the Web site should answer any questions.
There's a cutout in the middle of the built-in clamp so your camera isn't blocked when you attach the Chatlight. And despite the extremely wide angle focal lengths of built-in cameras, the Chatlight stays out of the picture.
But that aims its light straight at you like a built-in flash. We didn't get red-eye, but we didn't like looking into the light. We always prefer to move the light off the camera, anyway.
You can do that with the Chatlight. You can attach it to the side of your laptop screen, for example. The company even recommends using the long side of your smartphone to attach it. Or you can use any thin upright object as a mount.
It doesn't have the power to do much good from more than an arm's distance away but it does pretty good within that range, even with sunlight.
And if you're thinking this might make a good reading light, it does mount on a book cover but doesn't extend far enough out to light the page well. You might rest it on your chest, though.
We did actually use the Chatlight for a FaceTime conference on an iPad. There were two of us to illuminate so we handheld the unit and moved it around for special effects and it worked fine to fill in the shadows on both faces.
We tried it on both a laptop and a smartphone. We tried it in the morning with the sunlight streaming in the window, in the shade of the afternoon and in the darkness of our garage.
In every case, it was able to enhance the image. Here's a set of our three tests using a crash dummy:
Legend: 0 show Chatlight off; 1/2 shows lower output setting,
1 shows full power setting and 1+ shows full power held off camera.
In strong sunlight, it filled in the shadows on the darker side at full power and was ineffective at half power. In shadow mounted over the camera, it evenly illuminated our face even at half power. Held off camera in shadow, it nicely filled in the darker side of the dummy's face.
In the darkness of the garage test, it left the background black while clearly showing our visage.
We tried using it with a piece of white paper wrapped around it as a diffuser but that didn't really help much. The Chatlight site has a few suggestions for modifying the light (including how to make a home-made warming filter), though.
It cut the crash dummy's hair and dressed him in a nice shirt, too. Well, not really.
The Chatlight makes a helpful fill light for video conferencing and can even fully illuminate your face in dark conditions. It isn't a bad secondary light for general photographer, either.
We've grown fond enough of the Chatlight to award it all four photo corners. You can get one directly from the manufacturer for $29.99 with a one-year warranty.