F&V Ultracolor Z800S Soft – LED panel lights


F&V Ultracolor Z800S Soft – LED panel lights

Well few products come on to the market that get the attention of both Photo and Video professionals, especially when it comes to lighting.  Most people are looking at sexy cameras, lenses and software.  However lighting is such an important part of creating decent images.

We have all purchased cheap ‘might, do the job’ lights, and lusted after the very expensive movie and TV lights that need a very understanding bank manager,  so when equipment comes into an affordable price range, and does the job well, it’s worth reviewing!!

I was an early adopter of LED light panel technology, as well as still being a user of studio flash strobes, I love the ‘what you see, is more or less what you get’ approach. I came from a career in the film and TV camera department, so I am comfortable with constant lighting, and love the way you can subtly feather and shape light and play with colour temperatures easily to create depth!!

After a successful career in the film industry, I have been running a busy commercial photographic/video studio in London, for the last 12 years.  We specialise in food, products and interior photography throughout the UK and Europe.

Ten years ago I was using fluorescent lighting , Kino Flo’s, Diva’s, Tungsten Fresnel and Dedo lights – whilst these were good for most assignments, they drew a lot of power, and running hot, they melted and wilted the food very quickly on many shoots.

So LED technology came into the foray – in my opinion it has certainly revolutionised studio and location food photography – it’s lightweight, cool touch, low power nature make them ideal for travel and space saving.  All those years back LED’s were expensive, and temperamental, and usually had a green spike in the colour spectrum you had to eradicate through gelling the lights, or fixing in software!!

Over the last few years , LED research has improved and the new breed of LED light is bright, colour accurate, and there are many manufacturers and styles – but F&V seems to be in a unique category offering Quality, Robustness, Reliability, at a price point that makes it affordable to most studios and photographers.

Three years ago I invested in four of their K4000 daylight LED panel lights, and I am pleased to report that they all still work, having been around Europe numerous times, and in and out of planes, trains and cars constantly.  After hundreds of shoots, they still look like new, and I have had no problems whatsoever.  So it’s not surprising that F&V are gaining interest from many Filmmakers and Photographers from Amateur to Professional, as they offer the quality and cutting edge equipment, to fit most budgets.

When they announced the F&V Ultracolor Z800S Soft – LED panel lights – and trusting their past build quality and value, obviously I was eager to try them out.

With my food Photographer hat on, the holy grail is to have a soft, controllable, powerful light source – as large as possible.  Were these the answer?

I used to stack 2 x k4000’s on top of each other, and soften them with Lee 216 diffusion.  Whilst this did the job – the diffusion would kill 50% of my light – and then I would be struggling with extraneous ambient light sources in restaurants, hotels and bars.  Not ideal.

F&V very kindly let me borrow two Z800s Soft lights for a few weeks, and here is what I think…

First appearance – 


The two lights came in a large, very durable wheeled carry case – whilst fairly heavy, it gave the sense that the contents would be safe when going in the back of a car.

On opening the case – the lights and accessories were thoughtfully laid out, and distributed well to even weight while carrying.

In the case; 2 x F&V Ultracolor Z800S Soft – LED panel / 2 x mains power packs / 2 x Honeycomb Grids/ 1 x barn doors

On taking the lights out – my first impression is how well built and lightweight they are.  On closer inspection I noticed they have the usual F&V style with toughened edges in an all metal, well vented body.

There are a few new features added, including a new clip system for the accessories, and and LED readout on the back.




Each light measures approx 60cm long (with yoke), 38cm tall and 8cm thick and weighs in about 3.6kg (without power adapter)


There are also 2 x V-lock battery plates on the back for running totally on batteries (not tested). The image below has the power adapter docked neatly on one of the ‘v lock’ mounts.


Plugging up –

I placed the lights on my studio stands and clipped on the ac power adapters – these units add a little weight to lights, which some people might like.  I would prefer a longer cable from the power unit to the light head, and keep it off the light (will explain later).

I then switched on the light – wow!!! they’re bright.  On inspecting the back, I noticed they were only on approx 60% – on turning them up to 100%… even more WOW! – only drawing 180watt these are seriously bright.

The light doesn’t have a fan so it does get quite hot when left on for long periods of time.

There are Dimmer & colour knobs on the back, the Dimmer ‘dims and brightens’ in nice gentle increments – with the LED displaying the percentage as you go – a nice touch!!

A matching knob next to the dimmer is for Colour temperature, I feel I would like to see clearer markings on which knob is which, as in a dark studio looking down on the lights, its hard to see – but I am sure you would get used to which side is which!


The colour temperature goes from 3200k to 5600k, and does the range in a fairly smooth transition, the light has a lovely wide 130 degree beam angle and the front of the light has a lovely white perspex diffusion panel built in.  It gives just the right balance of even softness to light power – no more softening lights with rolls of expensive diffusion paper – Result!

The power of these lights is impressive, what you are getting is two 1×1 panels in one housing – so these double up on the specs and power that a 1×1 panel would achieve.  At 1 meter the lux rating is approx 3500lux in Tungsten(3200k@100%) and 3700lux in Daylight(5600k@100%)

Accessories –

Honeycomb grid – the quick release clips are a great design, great to be able to push this on the light with a reassuring click.  You can narrow the beam angle to approx 45 degrees, a very useful item.

Barn doors – again these work on the same click system – very well made thick all metal construction – and work well – personally for my type of photography/video, in my opinion not such a useful addition as I prefer to flag light closer to the subject.  With such a soft light they are very subtle in edging the light – maybe they should be a little longer on the side flaps, but they would work well for other types of shoot.

First Shoot With The Lights –

One of our regular clients is Giraffe Restaurants – they like to get the fresh feel of their food to come across in their dishes – we are shooting for their A boards outside their restaurants, as well as printed material and for newsletters and menus online.

There are a lot of fresh ingredients that are all temperature sensitive – so I usually shoot flash, which can sometimes be frustrating for the client as they cannot see the shot until I fire the shutter and it appears on the monitor tethered to the computer.  So I wanted to see if the power of the F&V z800 soft’s would be able to cope.  I explained to the client that we were trying a new lighting system.  As soon as the first image came up on the monitor – they loved it. Lots of positive noises coming from around the monitor!  Which I’m pleased to say, continued throughout the shoot.


© giles Christopher

As we could put the camera on ‘live view’ on the monitor, the constant lighting meant Beth Davis our stylist, could dressthe shot ‘live’ – no longer having to pester me to keep pushing the shutter.


© giles Christopher

For this food / drinks shoot I used the two Z800 soft heads, one with an egg crate the other with the barn doors, a small LED fresnel plus a handful of small reflectors to lift shadows – the shoot went well – here are some of the results….


Shoot 2 –

Martin Millers Gin – The brief was to shoot cocktails for social media and web use.  This is a client I have used the k4000 F&V lights for in the past – but have to shoot with higher iso’s than I would like.  The z800 softs are perfect for this type of project, and allowed me straight away to shoot with much lower iso’s.

One of the main features I love about these lights is the fact they have a double drilled spigot, allowing me to mount the lights vertically (so important for the vertical strip light seen in bottles).  This is where I mentioned I would like a power supply to have a longer cable, as the weight of the supply in vertical mode makes the light slightly unbalanced, and you have to over tighten spigot to avoid gradual tilting.


© giles Christopher

As you can see the light works in this format, along side the two Z800’s heads, I added a dedo light LED to pinpoint details on the table, and a Lupolux 800 daylight HMI to control the background– they both complimented the z800s softs well.


© giles Christopher

Here are some ofthe finished results


© giles Christopher

Shoot 3 –

The Gin Foundry – they know everything about GIN!! – Again the brief was to shoot cocktails and stop motion for website use and online marketing.  This time I used two vertical z800 soft lights bare faced with the lovely diffusion panels,  and an extra softened one with a roll of 216 to give an extra soft feel.



© giles Christopher

We also shoot video/cinemagraphs for this client – so the Z800’s were perfect for doing both – the client was particularly impressed with the quality of the lighting and the speed we could switch from stills to video.



Shoot 4 –

Made.com – big sets and furniture for popular online furniture and products sales!!

No, sadly the Z800’s are not that good for big sets.  I had to use my flash for this as I shoot with large depths of field.

However, all was not lost, Made.com have a team who shoot video details for their social media and behind the scenes, and they started sniffing around the new bits of lighting kit with interest.  So, to keep them happy, and to put the lights through another test, I lent the z800’s to them to put them through their paces.

Previously they have used my F&V k4000’s and some fluorescent lighting.  However, these do not have the punch for what they require and have previously had to shoot at higher iso’s to get better results.

The z800 softs allowed them to get much more shaping light into the mid shots they do of products, they saw a big difference in the footage they shot, and asked if they were staying!! Unfortunately I had to disappoint them, and told them they are going back.  I think they want a set for themselves when they are released!


© giles Christopher

Conclusion –


After three busy weeks of photo shoots, I was very impressed with these lights.
They are very durable, well constructed ,powerful and relatively lightweight.
These lights have good colour accuracy, and are a serious contender for photo and video professionals looking to buy LED lights.

I was very sad to give them back, but will be ordering a couple when they are released!!