Outdoor Beamshots

Welcome to my new backgrounder on the outdoor beamshots that you will see on my new reviews here (from 2023 and beyond).

As I previously observed on my old site, external beamshots are hard to do well. The shots will never match what you see, due to limitations of the camera relative to your eye (e.g. lower dynamic range, restrictive settings, etc.). There are also numerous compensations in you brain/visual system that invalidates direct comparisons (e.g. pupil responses, dynamic white balancing, etc.). When you throw in varying natural lighting conditions (e.g. moonshine, clouds reflecting ambient light, fog, etc.), plus all the 3D topographical landscape features that can confound a single light source, you get quite a lot to deal with.

So my approach to external beamshots has always been to simply pick a common exposure point to allow you to meaningfully compare a group of lights with similar characteristics, all taken at the same time under the best local conditions I could find (i.e. clear night, little wind, etc.). For throwy lights, I am using the same closed and deserted service road for these shots as I always did. But I have added a secondary site at the other end of the road for floody lights, as shown and explained below.

Above is an updated aerial view from Google maps, showing both my original 90 meters location (in red), and my new 40 meters location (in orange). Scroll down for a more detailed description of these sites, as well as my new camera settings.

Throw lights: 90 meters / 100 yards

As you can see on the left, there is a straight red line from the pictogram position along the road to a copse of trees located ~90 meters away. There is a dead birch tree right at the red arrow-head that is a convenient marker for the photos.

I’ve also highlighted a point a little under 30 meters from my position (blue arrow). The reason for this is shown on the side schematic for this area:

As this road goes along a ravine, and there is a significant elevation drop beginning about 30 meters in. The road makes a right turn as it winds down the ravine from this point. Here is my old 2010 daylight control shot in summer, to show you what I mean:

This shot was taken at eye level, and I have centered the camera on the copse of trees at 90 meters (specifically, right in the middle of the dead birch tree – red arrow). The blue arrow indicates the point at 30 meters beyond which the road “falls out of view” as it dips down. Note the trees and bushes have filled in since then, but you can still see some of the dead birch branches.

For all the old outdoor beamshot pictures, I angled the light directly above the camera (roughly eye level), focused on the center of that dead birch tree. Because of the positioning, this meant that a good amount of the hotspot’s corona lit up the road up to that ~30 meter mark. You could thus see not only the centre beam throw and corona at 90 meters, but the corona and some of the wider spillbeam in the foreground just in front of the camera. Note however that this location never provided you a good view of the longer-distance spill (i.e., between ~30-90 meters).

As an aside, although you can’t see them in the daylight shot, there are a series of communication towers located in a clearing ~600 meters away. Although I didn’t realize it when first scouting this location, the red aerial warning lights on these towers will show up as distant red dots in the background of the night time shots. There’s also a photo-reflective sign along the bottom portion of the road that you will notice in the shots (left-over from when the road was in use, warning of the steep curve).

New for 2023: For any new outdoor beamshots in this location (2023 onward), I am keeping the camera at the same point. But I will now be standing ~3 meters in front of the camera, holding the light out in front of me (instead of at eye level). This way, you can see the full spillbeam width, including any relevant edge effects, in the immediate distance, while still showing the ultimate throw.

Unless otherwise indicated, all lights are run on Max, with freshly charged rechargeable cells. The camera settings remain optimized to show off the hotspots. In my old reviews,  my Canon PowerShot S5 IS was set to f/2.7, 5 secs exposure, ISO 80, with either automatic white balance for cool white lights (to minimize tint differences, which can be distracting), or daylight white balance for warm-tinted lights (to accurately reflect tint differences). Note that this led to the pics looking considerably under-exposed relative to what an observer would see – but again, the point was simply to pick a good comparison level for the hotspots in those earlier outdoor comparisons.

Since I now want to capture a better feel for what the overall beams look like (both spill and throw), I will be switching in all my new reviews (from 2023 onward) to f/2.7, 1 sec exposure, ISO 400, daylight white balance at this location.

These new settings will allow you to better ascertain the overall beam profile in both the immediate spill and longer distance. As before, note that the topography above doesn’t really let you see the intermediate ~30-90 meter range well.

Floody Lights: 40 meters (~45 yards)

Also new for 2023 onward, for my floodier lights I am using this particular stretch of road, which has just a mild incline. So the floody lights should light up this area well. The control shot above was taken in early fall.

As with the throwy lights above, all lights are run on Max (unless otherwise indicated), with freshly charged rechargeable cells. My Canon PowerShot S5 IS is set to a slightly shorter exposure than longer-distance beamshots above: f/2.7, 0.5 sec exposure, ISO 400, daylight white balance. I find this shows up the overall beams better in this more crowded environment (i.e., avoids oversaturating the spill of heavy flooders on the foreground trees).

The camera will be on a tripod in the same position where this photograph was taken (near the edge of the road), and I will again be standing ~3 meters in front of the camera in the middle of the road. For these shots, I will be holding the light out in front of me at waist level, in traditional carry. This way, you can see the full spillbeam width (including any relevant edge effects) in the immediate distance, while still showing the ultimate throw.

Finally, a word about how best to compare the images in your browser.

All images are reduced to large thumbnails for the review pages – but each image is a link to a higher resolution shot. The best way to directly compare the lights is to open them in separate tabs. This should happen automatically when you click on each of them. If it doesn’t, right-click on an image, and choose “Open Link in a New Tab”, or whatever term your browser uses. Then repeat this process for a second light, and so on. This way, you will then be able to switch between your browser’s tabs to see the matching higher resolution images taken at exactly the same position (i.e. the images should look stationary, with only the flashlight and my position changing).