Skip to content
Back to list

The Golden Age of LED Technology with Robert Magness of Aputure

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester: From creative force, I'm Daniel Jester, and this is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast.


We live in a golden age of LED technology. I've said it before on this podcast, and I truly believe it. Think back to the early years of LED lights for almost any application and you might recall that those products fell pretty flat, whether it was LED Christmas lights, LED consumer light bulbs or light fixtures for the studio. Since that time, LED has come a long way. And for many applications, is now the leading option in both quality and price. Joining me to discuss this golden age of LED technology is Robert Magness, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Aputure, one of the leading brands in LED fixtures for film and still production.


Robert Magness: 2014 LED technology was okay. It wasn't nearly what it is today. And I'm not just saying it's because of us. I'm saying it's all the brands that have been in this space, moving it forward. And there are a lot of other brands out there that we look at, and we look at very positively, and we're like, okay, they're a competitor that we like, and we're going to compete on that level.


Daniel Jester: Robert and I discuss among other things where the technology is today, where it's been, and where it's going, as well as how these advances in technology could inform the consumer market for things like household and ambient lighting.


A couple of other things before we get started, I need to let you know about a couple of upcoming industry events. So the first event that we're going to be talking about is September 15th. This is the Pixelz FLOW event in Barcelona, Spain. I will be hosting a panel with a wide variety of panelists, all involved in making our shoot come together. Everything from pre-production to post-production and all of that stuff in between. We're going to be talking about what it takes to make the shoot happen. That's September 15th, FLOW Barcelona. You can check it out, look it up at Pixelz's website, September 15th, FLOW Barcelona.


And the next event following that one is September 27th. This is our friends at Henry Stewart Events putting on a virtual event, Photo Studio Operations, 2022. I'm going to be joined by my good friend and past podcast guest, Adam Parker. And we're going to be talking about flow production for the photo studio, where it works, where it needs work and all of that kind of stuff. So those are two events that you might be interested in. We will throw the links to those events in the show notes of this episode, both the FLOW event from Pixelz on September 15th in Barcelona, and the virtual event on September 27th from Henry Stewart Photo Studio Operations. So that's it. There's nothing else to say at the top of this episode. Let's get into it with Robert Magness of Aputure Lighting.


This is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. I am your host, Daniel Jester, and joining me for this episode, very, very excited to introduce Robert Magness of Aputure Lighting. Robert, welcome to the show.


Robert Magness: Thank you for having me.


Daniel Jester: Aputure Lighting. Did I just change the name of your company?


Robert Magness: No, no. We go by Aputure Lighting. We go by Aputure, Aputure Lighting. Yeah, no, you're fine.


Daniel Jester: Very good. So our audience for this show should be pretty familiar with Aputure Lighting. This is one of, in my opinion, now I've always regarded Aputure as one of the leading brands in this sort of like what I've referred to on this podcast as the golden age of LED technology, I've said it before, and I still think it rings true that the last, and you'd be better to speak on this than I am Robert, but at least the last 5 years, if not the last 10 years have seen just tremendous advances in LED lighting technology. It's astonishing what we can do today with LEDs that have benefits in almost every conceivable way over traditional lighting methods, particularly for video.


Our audience for this podcast is largely people who work in e-commerce studios, where video, there has been some fits and starts for video in e-comm. There was a lot of brands investing a lot in video. Some of them have scaled back since then, but it's becoming more and more obvious as we see shifts in social media, toward video. And just our ability to ... I mean, really it boils down to data is so cheap, bandwidth is so cheap and so accessible that why not go with video. And lighting has been historically one of the barriers, but LED lighting literally legitimately changes the game for content creators of all types. And so I'm super excited to have you. Welcome to the show. I talked a lot up top. I should let you get a word in edgewise.


Robert Magness: Sure. Well, no, thanks again for having me. It's a pleasure to be here and just to be very clear about your audience, that's me as well. Don't forget that when you did reach out via one of our connecting friends, I did admit that I am an audience member as well. We're all educators here, but we're also learning all the time. So my goal in life, but also just company related is to listen and to learn from everybody out there, including some of our customers. You can learn a lot from them. So flattered to be on the show. Thanks for having me.


Daniel Jester: Give me one of your top three episodes.


Robert Magness: Oh, I knew you're going to do that.


Daniel Jester: [inaudible 00:05:18] to the fire. I knew you were going to do that. Hold on a second, because I actually wrote it down. Ha ha ha.


Oh my God. You did. Am I that predictable?


Robert Magness: You kind of are, you kind of are. Okay. I couldn't go back and find the favorite episode because listening to this while driving, I think of stuff and I'm like, well, I try to tell my smartphone, I would say her name right now, but then she would activate and it would be an awkward moment, but Christine.


Daniel Jester: [inaudible 00:05:41] it's called.


Robert Magness: Yeah. Oh Christine. See, we call the Amazon device at home, the toaster. So people are like, why are you saying you're talking to your toaster? I'm like, because if I say it's name, it's going to ask me something or it's going to shut down my house.


Daniel Jester: Yeah, totally. Yep.


Robert Magness: But the talent retention one, which is actually fairly new. So to be fair, it's a newer one.


Daniel Jester: Yeah. Josie Diamond. That's a good one.


Robert Magness: Yeah. Yeah. Listen to that, really appreciated that one because we have a lot of talent here. So anytime somebody's mentioning talent retention in some way, shape or form, I'm going to listen in. I'm going to try to take something from it.


Daniel Jester: Very cool. Yeah. That's really cool. An unexpected one for me. I don't know why. I guess I want to silo all of my guests. You're Aputure, you're video, you're lighting. You're going to only care about the video episodes, which we've done some great video episodes.


Robert Magness: If anything, those kind of get me bored at time to time because it becomes an element of market research. I'm like, okay. Yeah, I know that. I know that. Not that market research is boring. It's just when I'm then suddenly outside of that box and looking at things from a different perspective or getting outside of some of the day to day elements that I'm in. It's great. And by the way, I got this far and I didn't apologize to your audience to say, I'm sorry, I'm not Ted. I know people see Aputure and they're like, oh my God, wait, who's this guy? Who's this middle aged looking dad that's on here? No, that's not who I was expecting. I was expecting this youthful, crazy guy, Ted that everyone talks about. So yeah. I'm kind of keeping an eye on a few things here while Ted's off doing some crazy projects. So we teamwork this one, we teamwork it.


Daniel Jester: Yeah. Well I'm happy to have you Robert. I feel like you and I kind of hit it off when we met, we have sort of a shared geographical background to some extent, and obviously in the industry that we work in. And yeah, I'm thrilled to have you as a listener too, man. It really does mean a lot to me. This has been a weird career pivot for me, but I'm enjoying every second of doing this podcast. And we had a lot of interesting conversations. So I've talked a lot on the show about working at a boutique content studio in Los Angeles right immediately pre-pandemic when every single customer came to us and wanted on figure product shots and video for every SKU. And we were a group of people who were mostly photography background, running a business, and trying to keep our costs to our customers down, reasonable budgets for our customers, keeping our own costs down. I mean, you know what it's trying to make your way in this industry in a small studio like that.


But we learned a lot about lighting and we learned a lot about what was out there in terms of LED. And we had a lot of, some of the more legacy lights, and we were heating up the studio and one of our air conditioning units wasn't running for one summer. And it really gave me an appreciation for how far LED technology has come. And my baseline for this, and you're going to laugh at this, I think Robert, but my baseline for this is always remembering back to the early days of LED Christmas lights. When LED Christmas lights first hit the market, they were super dim and they were daylight temperature, which was the most bizarre looking thing in the world. And it probably took three or four Christmas seasons before we got warm temperature LED lights and then something that roughly mimicked an actual Christmas light. So for me, that's where LED lighting started. And now we're wholesale lighting film sets with Aputure among other brands that are out there. It's wild how far we've come in LED technology.


Robert Magness: What's funny is that I have a story about that. And going through my notes, looking at the pre-show questions and whatnot, I was like, actually, there's kind of a story in there. I worked at a camera shop for several years and I was helping production companies like you guys as well on my own side. And I remember when LED started coming into the marketplace. I mean, I learned on hot lights and worked my way through that. And then LED started landing and I could sell the high end to the middle end to the absolute worst you'd ever want to sell anybody. And I don't want to admit that I sold it, but hey, I had to feed the kids.


I remember that year when my buddy and I went to Home Depot to pick something up for a production and we saw, oh my God, they have LED lights. They have LED Christmas lights. This is perfect. I don't have to worry about catching fire. I'm going to buy a bunch of them. And he bought a bunch of them and that was a Friday. We'd come back on Monday, and we each have our bags full of them, because we're going to go return them that day or sometime later. And we're like, you didn't like them either. And we both went, no, they are daylight balanced. Who wants daylight balanced on a Christmas tree? And he goes, "I turned all the lights on and we decorated the whole house and it was bright. And I felt like I was outside. I felt like somebody was about to yell action. And it wasn't well lit enough." And I said the same thing psychologically.


Daniel Jester: Everything looks blue.


Robert Magness: Exactly. Oh God. Yeah, everything was blue, which kind of could work if you're doing icicles. But that was really about it.


Daniel Jester: And now flash forward now, I mean, I guess we could spend this whole episode talking about smart homes and lighting because similar to you, it's interesting that you say that. I also have one of these toasters. I bought one solely because, at the time her competitor, who is part of our phones, couldn't handle doing more than one timer. One of my hobbies is cooking a lot. When I realized that these Amazon devices could handle more than one timer, and all you had to do was shout out how much time you wanted on your timer, I was like, oh, that sounds cool. And I had a gift card and I bought one.


And now I'm to the point where I have smart lights in my dining room because of the way that the afternoon sun comes in my dining room, I need to be able to change the warmth of the coolness of those lights in order for it to not look weird in there and imbalanced. Then I realized how sensitive I am to the balance of light in my own living spaces, in terms of being able to dim things and fine tune things. And I have all kinds. I'm going to bet 10 bucks that you have something similar right now. I developed an action in my smart home assistant for specifically when we're going to watch movies together as a family where I say a certain phrase and it sets all of my lighting exactly the way that I want it for movie watching.


Robert Magness: I've been forbidden to do that.


Daniel Jester: It's amazing.


Robert Magness: It is fantastic. I don't have any strip lights around the back of the TV for creating separation. I don't need it in my space. The lights that are the biggest problem places for me when we sit down to watch a movie and I have to find myself getting up to turn them off, I have been forbidden to making them voice activated by my wife and two children. They are Luddites when it comes to this technology. Like we're all Star Trek fans, we all love science fiction. And the moment I put this all together, I'm like, guys, we can be like Star Trek. We can be like Jean Luc Picard, walking around telling computer to turn the lights off and on. And it wasn't until my wife stubbed her toe getting from the bathroom to the bed in the middle of the night that she was like, "Okay, you can voice activate in the bedroom because that actually is useful." But the movies, TVs, any of that, they're like, "No, that's annoying. Stop dad." I'm like, all right, fine.


Daniel Jester: The bedroom was a first one for us because that issue of like, okay, I'm going to lay down in bed. I'm going to reach over and I'm going to turn my bedside lamp off. And then I'm going to realize that the closet light was left on, but I didn't notice it because the door was closed. Anyway, we're not here to talk about smart home lighting, although it is adjacent and it is kind of relevant.


Robert Magness: I promise you. So you would be half correct. So I'll give you the 10 bucks when we see each other next time, but then I'm going to bet you another 10 bucks that I'll bring that back into our conversation later about something we're about to talk about. So I promise you that's going to be in this now.


Daniel Jester: That's called a callback, guys. That's an industry term, it's a callback. We're 11 minutes into this recording and we've talked about nothing meaningful to our audience whatsoever, other than gushing over each other's bodies of work and our smart home setups. So let's get into it. I would like to start off Robert with a little bit from you about just the history of Aputure for any of our audience members who may be unaware of this brand. In my circles, considered a leader in LED lighting across the board, whether it's E-com studios, any other studios and film productions as well. Take us through the history and then we'll get into some of the specific conversations about the technology.


Robert Magness: Sure, sure, sure. So, first of all, everybody does regularly ask about our name and I can actually address that again. So Aputure, it's not spelled like your normal way, A-P-E-R-T-U-R-E, like a iris aperture. We modified it. We bastardized it to a degree or we made it our own and we love it. It's really a mix of that, but meaning future, aperture and lighting. How do you blend all that together? And that's how you get our spelling of A-P-U-T-U-R-E.


Daniel Jester: Very cool.


Robert Magness: Now it also means that it makes it really challenging for my smart device, that is an Apple device, when I say, hey, you know who, call this person? And you have to teach it, or you have to spell it like Aputure. So if anything, if people are having challenges with their smart devices and our products at some point, I apologize but we try.


Daniel Jester: I'm going to ask you a little bit ... I don't mean for this question to be tough, but I am going to ask it because we live in a world now where you can go on a certain popular online book seller and look up any product in the world that you could want to buy. Sometimes it literally is a matter of picking the brand name that looks the least like it's made very poorly. I mean, Aputure now, people in the industry for sure know that. But has there been in the past because it's like a word that's familiar to people who work with cameras and things like that, but it's spelled differently. Was there ever a situation where people maybe wrote this off? Like, maybe this isn't the brand for us, maybe this is a knockoff brand because it's slightly like the word, but it's not. I don't know. Have you experienced that? Have you gotten that feedback ever?


Robert Magness: No. You've now inspired me to ask some people though. So when I come back for another episode, if people would be interested in hearing me again, then I'll have an answer for you at that point. I don't think we ever have primarily because I think part of our history speaks for it. I think that's part of where we come in and I'll use that as your segue into our history to go through for your audience.


Daniel Jester: Yeah, let's go.


Robert Magness: I mean, we've been around since about 2005 in different shapes and forms, but it was really 2014 that Aputure really came out as the brand. And we started doing what we're doing, an iteration of what you're seeing right now. And we always say that we were created by filmmakers for filmmakers. And that's very true. Ted, the founding member, filmmaker. Came from that background. I've gone a bit more of a business way, sales way, team leading way. But I also came from a filmmaking background with a film degree. So that's where we came from. So our goal is always to create amazing content, and to talk about people with that content and engage with it in user groups and such. So we recognized that we needed to meet audiences where they were going to be. And we did, we met them there, and we also wanted an inexpensive light that we didn't have to pay a lot of money for.


And at the time when a lot of us were entering in that market, around 2014 or had been in that market for a while, the LED technology was either super expensive for okay quality. I mean, let's just be fair. Call it what it is. 2014 LED technology was okay. It wasn't nearly what it is today. And I'm not just saying it's because of us. I'm saying it's all the brands that have been in this space moving it forward. And there are a lot of other brands out there that we look at and we look at very positively and we were like, okay, they're a competitor that we like, and we're going to compete on that level.


Daniel Jester: Again, the Christmas lights is a great analog for this because if you remember, they looked terrible and they were also more expensive than the traditional ones. You got it on both ends.


Robert Magness: Now they're $5 for a strand at a Target that week. And they look fine.


Daniel Jester: You could really watch that seasonal part of your Christmas shopping experience and use it as sort of a history of LED technology in a way.


Robert Magness: Yeah, absolutely. And so, yeah, around 2014, we started with that and you probably had one of our early versions, like the Amaran 198 panel, or the HR528 or HR 672. And those lights, there was a reasoning for the name. The HR meant high color rendition, because our goal and our pillars as we started coming out and going forward were high quality color, high output, versatile, affordable. Those were our goals because as filmmakers, we wanted the best tools that we could get, but we didn't have always the budget to get those tools. So what would meet the budget? Well, sometimes that budget still didn't get you great tools. We're like, well, there's a gap. Let's go ahead and fill that gap. Let's go ahead and do something about that. And that's how we've moved forward. And then you also look at the 5D mark two revolution with Canon and cameras and what it started forcing in that world. And I think that's where we started morphing as well and found even bigger of a niche.


But it was just at the time, that expense happened. So we kept creating more and more and you'll notice they were first panel lights, which were soft lights. And we had the same challenges that everybody else had with soft lights that you needed to cut that somehow. So actually your need for grip equipment came in and grip equipment's great. But suddenly you didn't have that kind of control that you probably had when you learned how to light on those heavier, hotter tungstens that had a sharper light source that you could modify. And as we all know, it's easier to modify a high output, high source light than it is to modify a soft light. So that's when we moved into the Light Storm series is we were experimenting and pushing forward that LED technology, and creating a single source light engine and really push that Bowens Mount revolution.


Daniel Jester: Yeah. That's where I picked up Aputure. I was actually unaware that Aputure made panels until this conversation. I didn't want to admit that but by the time I was introduced to Aputure, they looked a lot more like the strobe monolights that I learned how to light on. And it's interesting to hear this from a filmmaker's perspective, because for me, I was thinking about this in advance of this conversation, this golden age of LED tech also fits so neatly in with the advances of mirrorless camera technology. I adopted Fujifilm as my personal camera platform in 2014 and haven't looked back since then, even though I sacrificed the ability to shoot tethered and to capture one for a very, very long time. I eventually did get it five years later, but it was a hard five years. But I think a lot about that, like who I am as a photographer today is deeply informed by this ability to see in the view finder exactly what my light is doing because I'm also using LED lights.


I'm a still life guy. And so I adopted LED lights pretty early on compared to other photographers because, especially if you're shooting on model, historically, and again, my actually understanding of the LED market largely was frozen in time in March of 2020, because I hadn't really set foot on a studio production since then to see how far the lights have come. But at that time they were still not quite bright enough for you to be able to take something that resembled like a monolight and then put a big giant strip box or soft box on it and achieve the settings on the camera that you wanted for, to be able to freeze action on the model, unless you were willing to push ISO. At least that was our impression at the time. I feel like you're about to correct me on that and that's totally fair. My introduction to Aputure has been mostly from that perspective. So it's just interesting to think about how all these things came together on the still life photography side. Whereas a lot of what was being informed for this for you guys was really the filmmaking side.


Robert Magness: It really has been, and it was informing that. But again, all of us that wanted to be filmmakers and were doing short films on the weekends and or middle of the week were still shooting weddings, we were still shooting industrials, we were still shooting EPK stuff. I mean you any way that you can hone the skills that you were going to use for the weekend shoots as a filmmaker, it was better than going out and flipping burgers. Nothing against that, but it put you forward more in your progress. So if you could take that route, that's the way you would go. And all of us did that in some way, shape or form. I lucked out, and then I actually got to then go to a camera shop and sell cameras as well as then be around all this technology for a period of time. I was very lucky to have that happen.


But we did look at it that way. So coming back to Aputure, we looked at it that way as well. But then we also looked at this other market that had been very much ignored and that was the YouTube market, that's content creator market. We were some of the first people to really say, oh, we really like your stuff. Because we were watching YouTube videos and channels and uploading our own shorts there. So why not watch everybody else's content? So we were sharing those lights with everybody there and getting their feedback. And it's fantastic because a lot of those YouTube filmmakers are now filmmakers, or a lot of those YouTube content creators are now full on industrial or doing studio work. They have their own business, they've somehow morphed in some way, shape or form. And I came into the company in 2019.


I have a little bit of a photography background, having come from Manfrotto and just done photography a little bit here and there. When I say here and there, it's really just when somebody was kind enough to pay me, but mostly it was just torturing my family and putting a camera in their face, and trying to just learn more by doing that and capture those moments. But we as a company as well, started going well, we're getting brighter. And I came in when we started just fully announcing the 600D Pro and that was a bright enough LED single source light to start doing more photography with. So you go into the 600 series family and now we have the 1,200 series family. We have lights that are bright enough in that market, and we're talking to more people about that, and seeing how that can blend and say, let's learn more about how we can talk about continuous lighting in a photography space so that you don't need monolights as much or that you can augment it. You can see as much as you need to.


There's still going to be a moment, you're going to need a monolight because to have something that bright on a subject, it's just too much. Even LED. It's going to blind them for too long of a period of time and no one's going to be in a mood to work. So you'll still need something in there, but then mix that with every camera that's released, I would say every day now, because I think we're at the point where there's a new camera every day. That ISO is getting better and better at what it recreates. So yeah, that's my long winded answer to yes, we're in the photography space. We're doing that. We're talking to people about that and trying to do better about it all the time.


Daniel Jester: The advances in LED technology have really unlocked a lot of potential, speaking specifically to e-commerce creative production, has locked a lot of potential for process improvement and really streamlining things. Because where historically you had to handle video separately, you had to, because for one thing, it used to be entirely different cameras. Certainly was entirely different lights. The workflow is still quite different, the way that we handle the data around video, it's still pretty cost prohibitive for a studio to get set up in a way that they can ... Whatever the video equivalent of shooting tethered photography is, we're getting much closer, but it's still one of those things. I think a lot to my time at Amazon and we literally, in the Amazon studio that I started in, our equipment manager, he was an equipment manager like anywhere else. But he also was back there Frankensteining LED lights because we wanted to be able to shoot jewelry stills and video on one set. And the common denominator had to be constant lights because you can't use strobe for video.


And so he was taking anything he could find out there and coming up with these LED panels that were dimmable and all of this stuff. And eventually the industry caught up in both terms of brightness and ability to control in certain different ways. I mean, even at that time in 2015, the idea of being able to control any of those lights from a smartphone was probably absurd to most of us. I did have a question that kind of popped in my head as you were last talking about. In a lot of these spaces, whether it's lighting, whether it's cameras, it seems like the industry tends to kind of singularly focus on one sort of attribute that they need to get better and better and better at. It feels like historically for LED, that's been brightness, that's been output, how much light can we get? Can we push out? Is that still the case today? Is it still like the race to who can have the brightest LED lights or are we starting to look at other things and measuring quality and innovation by other metrics or other characteristics of these lights?


Robert Magness: I feel like the quality of color or color quality is really the one everybody's concentrating on right now. It's definitely the one we are. And when I mentioned our first products, the HR line and the high color rendition, that was our goal because you had to make sure that you had proper daylight, proper tungsten. At the time, that's all we could manufacture. RGB was a different animal at that time, and we were starting there and then moving toward it. And now we're at that RGB line where the high color rendition in an RGB world is there. Culturally, and the consumer side were very conscious of it.


You have biohackers that are selling glasses that eliminate blue light so that we can all sleep better. We have hue lights that are giving us suggestions of how to adjust our lights and you even do it. That midday, we're going to adjust those lights so that we actually tell our brains, we got to shut off at some point, or this is healthier for us at some point. So I believe color is really where all LED technology companies are looking, not color. Sorry, but yeah, color quality. And that color is a whole spectrum, obviously.


Daniel Jester: It could be two things. It could be color output, but it also has to be that what you're outputting, what you say you're outputting is truly what you're outputting. By which, I mean, if you say it's 5,500K, or it's tungsten, or it's daylight balanced, that has to mean something in the context of the company and the lineup of your product itself. But also in the broader industry, which is still one of the kind of frustrating things. Even in my studio here, of my three favorite LED panels, they all are slightly different daylight. They all are a slightly different version of daylight, which can be obviously in still photography create ... I mean, in any photography, still or motion, it creates some problems. But still for sure, because when you lock into still image, you get to spend a lot of time staring at it and picking it apart. And then you're like, oh yeah, that highlight is slightly more yellow than the other highlights.


Robert Magness: That's around all of lighting technology. And it's funny that there are some people who will fixate, concentrate and say, well, I've got three different lights and they're saying they're daylight balance, but they're just slightly different than each other. Well, that was the case. Let's go back. That's the case with HMIs, the high output, daylight sourced, non-LED like actual bulb. People are like, well, bulb didn't have that problem. It did. If bulbs didn't have that problem, gels would've never really been created to get all the varying degrees of daylight and tungsten so that if you had a light that was slightly different or dimmed, so you had to rebalance the color, then that wouldn't be there. So we all kind of forget that because we now are having higher standards as we go out there.


But even on the consumer side, if I took a light meter to all of my hue bulbs in the house, I bet you, some of them would be slightly different and I can even visibly see it sometimes. It bothers me a little bit, but it doesn't bother my family. So those things you learn to let go, and it's not that bad, because it all mixes at some point, because you do have all these colors coming in, depending on what kind of space you're in. So it's going to happen. That's going to happen no matter what, no matter how high end it gets. And there are ways that we all get around it and that's when a gel will always help. But it's getting better. It is getting better, where you don't have these wildly different [inaudible 00:29:03]. Like, this is daylight and you look at it and go, that's so green, it's ridiculous. Whereas naked eye, you don't see it, but your camera sees . And your camera should


Daniel Jester: Yeah. Camera's pretty forgiving in that regard. Yeah. So in your mind, Robert, where do you see that there's room for the most improvement in today's LED fixtures for production. Loud and clear hearing what you're saying. We have absolutely come a long way in color accuracy, across brands and across standards. What do you think the next of phase of either, whether it's Aputure's product, how are we going to set it apart? Or just in general, where do you see the room for improvement within the industry?


Robert Magness: Overall, I'll start with the things that we're noticing the most. And that's, yes, it's going to be filmmaking centric, but it's going to be for e-commerce shooters. It's going to be for industrial anything. The challenges that we're facing are standardization. And that means standardization in a lot of different places. We endeavor to be very transparent and very informational and educational in everything that we do. There's a market out there where you have to kind of still play a game. And that is sometimes white paper specs. What one person saying their light does versus another. And we're all trying to make sure that we're talking about the right standards. We endeavor to go toward the most professional level standards in the film world as well as even the consumer world so that we do really show truly and represent our lights truly with what they can do. Some challenges there because there's really no standardization.


Number two is color and spectral reproduction. That's also one of those challenges and we just touched on that to a degree. And then there are also varying levels of what is acceptable and what's not acceptable. And what is your camera seeing? And versus how do you set your LUT. All these different factors that come in. So that's a tough standardization to get across or get involved with. We are involved with the American Society of Cinematographers and some of their science teams. And we sit on those meetings and we definitely encourage with a lot of different color scientists, different ways of creating new metrics and standards that can be used to accurately represent color and output in a correct way. You go online, you go to Amazon and you get a lot of lighting companies that advertise CRI, but that inherently has its challenges too. If you have a high CRI number, it doesn't imply that it's the best light.


Well, we prefer SSI because that has a completely different standardization to it. That actually better represents the color outputs. And I won't go into all of it here. And then there's TM30, there's TLCI, these are all different types of standardizations that still need some more evaluation. It's in no one person's benefit to make a full standard because there are so many things that are variable and we're still measuring things on foot-candles. I mean foot-candle is based on a candle measurement. So do we start changing ...


Daniel Jester: Horsepower baby.


Robert Magness: Yeah. Horsepower, which is so funny because when my kids were in school and Common Core math came around, I had a lot of people complaining about it. I'm like, well, wait a minute. I use Common Core math every day because I'm transferring foot-candles, to Lux, to ISO. You're doing all this stuff. That's basically Common Core math in the real world.


Daniel Jester: I'm similar in the same way with Common Core. I realize a lot of the ways they teach you to problem solve was the way I was doing it in my head already. I didn't have too much problem with that. It's just breaking it down in a way that's a little bit more digestible. I had never heard of SSI and I Googled it right now. And Sekonic, legacy light meter manufacturer has a video, CRI Versus TLCI Versus TM-30 Versus SSI Explained with the Sekonic C800. I honestly did not know. There was anything other than CRI.


Robert Magness: Well welcome to today's rabbit hole. That's your rabbit hole for the day. We'll talk about it later. I think maybe most of your audience will find that to be a rabbit hole that they're never going to go down, but that's one area of color spectral reproduction and standardization that we see challenges that we'd like to help overcome. And then also user's hyper specific requirements. That's a challenge in the LED world because what is the audience, what is the user really going to want and do with it? And are we going to be able to meet that? Or by meeting it, are we just going to spend so much time losing the broader audience, losing the right thing? Again, it goes back into we're moving into a world that is more consumer with lighting. It's about how you're seen, how you're seen on the conference call, how you're seen on a podcast or a vlog, how you're seeing movies and television, it's all that evolution. So I think that's where LED's got its challenges, but also where it's kind of going as well to solve some of those challenges.


Daniel Jester: We're just about at time for this episode, Robert. I feel like we could probably just kind of shoot the here for another 30 minutes on whatever we wanted, but I wanted to ask you a couple of things. Two quick questions. The first one, what do you think we can expect to see in the next, let's say the nearish future, the next three years coming out of the LED lighting space? I mean it can be things that Aputure's working on, but also I'm always down to do pie in the sky ideas. Like, wouldn't it be cool if ...


The second part of that is your best advice for studio leaders today, listeners of this podcast who are revisiting, like I said, video and e-comm we know has seen fits and starts. People dipped in, they dipped out, they're coming back, they're building it out, they're rethinking it. What's your best advice for the e-comm studio looking to build out video capabilities. So those two questions and we'll close on that.


Robert Magness: Okay, cool. I'll be as quick as I can and just get to the meat of it. So the first question, next three years, I'm pretty confident that ecosystems are the way to look at it. Lighting in regards of that is going to come in such a way that it's at a consumer level all the way up to the professional level. All the way to the example I'll give is my 74 year old dad can now talk to me about some of the technological nerdy specifics of smartphone technology, because it's part of his everyday life. So I'm banking on and I'm trying to make sure he makes it to 84 so that he can talk to me about the specifics of LED or just lighting in general, now that we're all in this very visual world, that's also very built about ecosystems. We started this whole conversation joking about ecosystems and how we live in them.


Daniel Jester: You did it. You're doing it.


Robert Magness: I did it. Actually that's the second callback. That's the second callback. So yeah, it's almost like I know.


Daniel Jester: [inaudible 00:35:28] so it was easy.


Robert Magness: Oh there's that too. There's that too. My life is scripted. I just write it out every day.


Daniel Jester: Yeah. That's a good idea. You're saying things Robert that make a ton of sense to me, which is that already we've seen like Phillips in terms of smart home lighting makes a lot of money selling ambient, essentially mood lighting in ways that are part of an ecosystem. And the other thing, when you said ecosystem that got me really excited, and I'm going to put it on the record here on the podcast. And just in case anybody from Creative Force actually listens to this podcast, but imagine a world where you can build in lighting output numbers as part of a style guide for a video or product shoot, where as soon as you load that product into Creative Force, it feeds something through an API to Aputure's lighting systems and says the lighting needs to be adjusted this way for this product. That use case is pretty extreme, but it would be really fucking cool.


Robert Magness: I don't think it's that extreme. I mean that's one higher end professional element. It's already kind of built into our Sidus app. By the way, when I mention ecosystem, I didn't even mention our app, the Sidus link app that controls all of our lights. And I'll go into that a little more on the studio question you asked me about. But I mean, we have an element in there that is the color picker or that is the ambient lighting element part that will change our lights to match certain elements so that it's matching the lighting. But I mean, no secret, virtual production is a big thing. And of course, any company that's worth that salt and trying to maintain its longevity is talking to virtual production elements, but technology like that is being discussed in the virtual production worlds. So why not?


I mean, why not have a light that in your iPhone or smartphone app, all you have to do is it auto corrects the color balance of whatever light you're connected with in that photo. So that if you're in daylight, your light corrects the right way and you don't have this weird yellow spot on somebody's forehead. So that's where it then ends up down in the consumer level of that ecosystem. So I think we're moving that way. I think three years away, I would hope so. 10 years away, I think that's where I think a lot of that will start really coming in between years 3 to 10.


But I'll jump in really quick since I kind of touched on it to the studios question that you have. What should they look at? What should they be doing? And as somebody who's helped studios build out stuff for the last 15 years, ecosystem, I go back to. Because we work with these studios so that our primary goal is our lights are lightweight, our lights are easy to use, functionality and they're an affordable level so you can make your studio as small as my office here to as big as an insert stage or even bigger. And it can all run on our app. And you can use that with your phone if you wanted to or log in and use it on the iPad link there. Or if you want to go even bigger, it's all DMX capable. And that's really where it comes into is I think what you've even proposed so many different times to Mr. Moneybag is create this ...


Daniel Jester: Another great callback.


Robert Magness: Right. I told you I listen.


Daniel Jester: You're going to be hosting this show soon.


Robert Magness: I told you.


Daniel Jester: Holy shit.


Robert Magness: It's to talk to them and say, it's about creating something that you want to be able to plug and play as much as possible. So that way you get the maximum amount of return on any of that investment and you're able to provide better quality to your clients. Well, that's going to be a lighting ecosystem that you just don't need to think about. That you set it up, and when you need to think about it, it's you get creative. You don't have to problem solve. That's where it comes in. And that's our primary goal throughout one of our pillars and that part of it, of being versatile and affordable is those two things enable more creativity. And that means that your clients are repeat clients. Mr. Money Bags comes back and you might even be able to get a little bit more money out of him for the next shoot, kind of thing.


Daniel Jester: Maybe.


Robert Magness: Maybe.


Daniel Jester: You mentioned DMX, and it just brought up first of all, top five favorite rappers. Nope, that's not true. DMX is not in my top five favorite rappers, but I just wanted to get a rap joke in there. No, but one of my favorite projects that I ever worked on was while I was at conveyor and I'm not going to tell you what lights that we use. They were not Aputure.


Robert Magness: That's fine.


Daniel Jester: But they were DMX ready. And it was largely because we needed so many of them. We were shooting for a watch client. And I've talked about on the podcast before. Anybody's who ever shot watches is probably aware or even is just a fan of watches that they have so many competing elements that all have to be lit in very specific ways. And it could be really, really challenging to take a brand. The brand that we were shooting for was a mid-tier brand, but their imagery needed to be luxury and needed to be totally luxury.


And so I custom built a set with lights strategically placed all over the place and I wired them all up to go. It was my first time ever doing this. I stumbled my way through being able to run them off of basically the soundboard slider thing. And being able to sit there and watch on live view, and bring up this light, and bring down that light, and see what that does to the bezel versus the crystal versus the bracelet versus everything else. It was so satisfying and so fulfilling. It was still very difficult to shoot, but it was extremely cool to be able to sit there and just say, let me just mix this to the right. I mean, it felt like artistic in a way that photography had never felt for me before.


Robert Magness: Oh cool.


Daniel Jester: It was crazy.


Robert Magness: And all stuff we can do there. Now you can do that with an iPad instead of a $5,000 DMX board. Now you can do that with any and every light in there. So it's looking at what ecosystems are out there being supported or what companies are making it an ecosystem to make it easier. And so that everything works inside of it, as well as provides every kind of element that you would need. I mean, Apple, Amazon, and a number of others. We look at that, but we also understand that appeal.


We're also just looking at it as how does it give that creativity? But we also know that's a community. So are these companies out there engaging with that community, encouraging them, educating them, taking the education back, listening and creating new product based on that feedback? If the company's doing that, then that's the kind of company you want in your studio. Hands down. Because you know that's a commitment for a long time and that money is going to be very well spent, but also that's going to make your world easier to live in, to face those creative challenges and get the best out of it.


Daniel Jester: Robert, I don't even want to say anything else. Well said. We'll close on that. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for your time. And definitely, we're going to have you back on to talk about, I don't know. I feel like we could talk about anything. Maybe we'll talk about smart home devices and just totally pivot the show. But anyway, thank you so much for your time and your expertise and for coming on with us.


Robert Magness: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.


Daniel Jester: That's it for this episode of the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. Many thanks to our guest, Robert Magness, and thanks to you for listening. The show is produced by Creative Force, edited by Calvin Lanz. Special thanks to my friend, Sean O'Meara, I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time, my friends. Oh and as always, hi Ian.

About the host

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.