The Story Behind the CL360
I suppose that many ideas and inventions are born out of the inventor's simple desire to solve one of their own problems. That's how this all started. It was sometime in 2015 that I first discovered 360 cameras. Bought a Ricoh THETA m15. I always seem to get drawn to newer technology, and enjoy figuring out how to use it. So I started exploring what I could do with this new medium.
Being a fan of both local music and craft beer, I was at my local favorite place, where they had this Bluegrass band playing "in the round." They all sat in chairs in a circle. I had my THETA with me, and thought what a great use for it! At this bar there is no stage or serious lighting, so while the 360 viewpoint of this group was nice, it was so very dark! That's what started me thinking about lighting. I realized quickly that any attempt to place traditional lights around the group would mean they would also be seen by the camera. I was also sure to have dark spots where the lights couldn't reach everything. This is where the idea for my 360 light was born! It just hit me.....what I needed to do to make this work.
The ROBO 3D printing part of the diffuser for Version 4.0.
Starting with "Version 3," I could design it in CAD, and build a 3D printed prototype. I wanted the light to get directed up to the ceiling, and down to the floor, without reflecting in the camera lenses or sharply falling off. I had the idea of using a sloped reflector. It worked, but I wasn't fully satisfied with it. Then, in an odd place & time (on the treadmill at my gym), it hit me. What I call "the fat hourglass" shape of the preferred embodiment. Simpler to design and make, and puts the light exactly how I want it very efficiently. Now I had "the look" of the product I wanted.
I designed "Version 4.0" to have as large a circumference as the printer could build (about 22 cm). I wanted a large surface area for the lights, and envisioned using it with some of the larger footprint camera systems, like a multi-GoPro array. One of my reasons for purchasing the ROBO 3D was for its relatively large build size. Even with the large build size, I had to print the diffuser in multiple sections on the printer. I was happy how it came out, and it worked very effectively. This still from the video test shows the difference between the available light, and the scene lit entirely with the CL360 "Version 4" video light. It is also a good example of how the small visible footprint in the nadir (bottom view) can be easily masked out, similar to what is done to conceal the camera tripod.
Now that I had a great light for VR video, I thought of another need--flash photography. I see lots of potential for event photography use for 360 images, but without a flash it becomes difficult to do this well. Imagine an event photog covering an evening reception without using a flash for their camera! I myself had use for this--so I made one! It was much smaller, and powered with standard AA batteries. I designed the electronics to work with my Ricoh THETA S camera. The batteries are housed in what makes for a nice handle, which also has a tripod mount. It has a wireless remote, which not only triggers the light, but also the camera shutter. I set up a delay of the light before shutter, since the camera needs time to adjust exposure. It worked beautifully, and I used it at a local charity cocktail reception to capture 360 stills of the event. Here are some images from that event, which show the difference between the available ambient light, and the CL360 Photo Flash. People loved the 360 idea, and I learned a lot of techniques for shooting this format at a public event.
Now completed is "Version 4" of the photo flash. It is a sleeker looking design that still maintains the concepts in the patent. It is a smaller form factor too, partly thanks to shrinking the electronics. Instead of multiple circuit modules used to build 3.0, the new version will be powered by a single Arduino processor controlling all functions. Connections to the camera are wireless--no more USB tether. Having everything programmed via Arduino will make for easy upgrades and enhancements, as well as adding control for various cameras. Current extra functionality over Version 3 is the ability for constant on light to accommodate video recording, etc.
After nearly three years, dating back to filing an initial Provisional Patent Application in July, 2016, the road to full patent status has reached the end.
Issued Tuesday, May 21, 2019 was US Patent No. 10,295,888 for my 360 Video/Photo Production Light Apparatus.
Are you reading this and are involved with manufacturing, R & D, distribution or sales of photography or video lighting equipment? As the e-mail address addy says: "let's talk" and work together to bring this needed device into the growing marketplace of 360/VR photo and video production.