This article is going to give you insight and testing of the Cinestill CS-LITE when used in a camera scanning system.
The first part is about the physical properties of the packaging itself, while the second part delves into the details of using it, the power, settings and light evenness.
In the Box
The unit comes in a custom printed box like this:
Inside the box you find:
The light itself
The Universal holder plate
When lights are shipped from VALOI after 01.12.2022, you will also find:
Stick-on rubber feet that can give more stability if you are using the light as a platform
A card giving you tips about the various parts
The unit has a control on the cable that is used for turning on and off the light as well as choosing what kind of film you are scanning - Negative (colder light), black and white (white light), and slides (warmer light).
The light is powered via USB-A. To use it, you need a power brick typically used for charging phones. You need one that provides 5V at 1.6A - this is very common and you very likely have a power brick within this specification already.
The holder plate that comes with the unit is meant to go directly on the CS-LITE. You have to 'click' it in place by pressing on all four corners.
The VALOI 360 Holders fit straight into the holder plate. This masks out most light coming around the holder and means the holder sits tight on the light instead of floating around.
However, the light is very light, and for anyone serious about scanning we recommend getting our heavy metal platform for it, the VALOI 360 Light Adapter.
The light housing has a cable coming out on one side, as well as a tripod socket. The tripod socket is used to lock the light into the VALOI 360 LightAdapter when used in conjunction with that.
Scanning light sources should be as even as possible. This includes having even distribution of light across the panel, as well as avoid hot spots or dead spots on the panel. For example, a dark area could mean that a negative scan ends up with a bright spot in the middle of the picture.
To test light evenness, we set up the camera so it can see the whole light source. We then focus on it and stop down the lens to a narrow aperture. Then we adjust the shutter speed until the light meter reads +/- 0.
Here is the raw file without adjustments. This is a very good result for a light source of any type, let alone one in this price range.
The CS-LITE light source as seen by the scanning camera.
To see the actual unevenness of the light, we can compress the curve in a RAW processor. This will show all of the uneven spots, though it is a completely unrealistic scenario for the light as no process of a negative would go this far.
The Cinestill CS-LITE: The same picture as above, but compressed massively so the uneven light can be seen.
If you are unused to looking at light sources like this, it might look really bad. However, this is a very normal result and a very good results for a light in this price range.
The Raleno PLV-S192
For comparison, here is a very well regarded light source, the PLV-S192, with the exact same RAW processing settings as the above picture, copied over. As you can see, the pattern is slightly different, but the overall amount of unevenness is about the same. If anything, the CS-LITE wins when it comes to the 6x9 area in the center of the light - only the very edges are a little too bright. The Raleno PLV-192 has more vignetting in the area just within the edge, that the CS-LITE does not have.
We conclude that the Cinestill CS-LITE light will provide essentially perfectly even light for your scanning purposes.
The Scanning Modes
Turning on the unit first, you can then change the settings. We recommend you use the appropriate settings for each type of film, as these are calibrated to give you the best results.
A Note on Daylight Balanced Light
It is a common misconception that a scanning light source should always be daylight balanced. This is not the case colour film. For negative film, a colder (bluer) light will help compensate for the orange mask of the film. For slide film, you will get better colour separation and saturation when scanning with a near-tungsten warmer light - this is, after all, how the film was made as projectors back in the day would use tungsten bulbs.
Results from different modes
Here we will show you the same negative scanned without moving the camera or negative, but changing to the different colour modes of the light source.
Converting negatives is very subjective and we have therefore chosen not to try to make a final image. The reality is that all of these could probably be made into nice images, but we want to show that choosing the right setting will mean that you have to stretch (manipulate) the file much less to get a good result. This is important, especially for those with older cameras, as files from digital cameras only have a certain amount of 'room' to be stretched.
Below you can see the modes, from warm on the right, white in the middle and cold on the right. The negatives were converted using the Linear + Contrast profile from Negmasters as this is the most subjective way of looking at a negative image while still being able to convert it. The images were then white balanced from the base of the film. No further adjustments were made.
Tools like Negative Lab Pro apply a lot of correction and balancing and so don't provide an objective result a a starting point.
As you can see from the images, the file on the left, scanned with warm light, lacks contrast and separation from the others. This is because the warm light filtered through the orange base means the digital camera only sees a very narrow range of colours -essentially shades of orange.
This is improved somewhat with the white setting, but you can still see the base is still a little dull and grey. The contrast in the image is also lacking.
In the final image on the right, you can see the improvement that the cold light makes. The base is almost completely black and the contrast in the image is overall good. This image could easily be exported just like that, and then final adjustments to white balance made.
We think the result is quite interesting, because it suggests that manual conversion could be done much more easily. A simple linear profile, some contrast and a light white balance adjustment is all you need when you have a light source adjusted for scanning the medium that you are scanning.