Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Location Lighting With A Small Generator

Published : 2nd November 2009


I'm heading to Peru to shoot in the mountains for 3 weeks. I'd like to power 2 2500 HMI's off of a genny, as well as another 1k of tungsten lights, all at the same time.

This is going to be at about 10,000 feet. The location is very remote, so genny dependability is important.
What size portable genny should I try and rent?

Should I get 2 and split the loads? I don't believe we can trailer up a large power plant. The genny will have to fit in a van and be able to load in and out every day


Dave Linstrom
LA based DP

I would bring NILA lights instead! They are very durable and powerful ?
LED lamps that draw little and deliver a lot.

Disclaimer- just like 'em, don't own 'em or have a vested interest in ?

Roberto Schaefer, ASC

At 10,000 feet your generator engine will lose about 30% of its power because of the less dense air available. Normally generator engines are a bit oversized so you may not end up with that much of a loss of actual electric KW output. Also if you can find a turbo charged generator the power loss will be much less. Check with the manufacturer for his power rating at 10,000 feet.

David Pringle, CTO Luminys

The 6500 Watt / 6.5 Kw Honda Generator could in theory power your lights. It doesn't leave you a lot of breathing room (not enough imho). The 2500's will drain more on power up than when running. Get 2 or go with an 800W Joe Leko (800W Joker through a Leko, packs the most HMI punch for the wattage) and a 1200HMI and only keep 1 2500.

Florian Stadler, D.P., L.A.

Florian Stadler wrote :

>>The 6500 Watt / 6.5 Kw Honda Generator could in theory power your lights. It doesn't leave you a lot >>of breathing room (not enough imho).

Florian is right, a 6500 putt putt is right on the edge for 2 - 2500's. I wouldn't suggest counting on it unless you are able to test the actual lights with the actual genie you are planning on using. Every combination is slightly different. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I disagree with David about extra capacity in generators. I'm not an expert on generators by any means, but every time I've maxed one out (full size, or putt-putt) to the point of it shutting down, I was only at 80-90% of its rated capacity.

Perhaps they are engineered with a little headroom, but in practice they don't have any - even at sea


Good luck!

Craig Kief
LA based DP

I would get one locally or nearby for the wattage you need.
Altitude will affect it if it's not tuned up properly for that height.
Any good mechanic could do it.
Rental shops in Lima Peru, Moviecenter or Jean Eve Laurant

Germano Saracco AIC
Marina del Rey, CA.


Don't know about larger genny's, but if you can back your needs down to 2 - 1200HMI's it sounds very doable with 2 Honda 2K genny's which are a reasonable size to be carting around.

(At least I think they're 2K maybe 2500 my gaffer brings them so I’m not sure. ) Larger genny's I've seen get pretty heavy, but if you have the crew they'll probably be OK.

Leonard Levy DP
San Rafael, CA

A Honda EU6500 is may be the best choice. If your 2500's are run at 220v the total pull in amperage is only about 12 amps per light, leaving you plenty of room for a 1K and then some even with a 30% power loss from the altitude.

Your 2500's will be configured with a 60a male Bates plug to power the ballast. The Honda has (among others) a 4 prong 220v outlet. Simply get a 4 prong male, a piece of 6\3 or 6\4, and a female 60a Bates connector. Wire it as a 220v 60a Bates. Add a 60a to 2 60a splitter, and you’re in.

Make sure you mark that cable as 220v only. I have done the same on many occasions (I own a 6500) and have never had a problem.

Richard Asbury

What about chaining a couple of these and swapping out the 2.5 for a 1.2?


Voltage and frequency are spot on in my experience.
They are fairly quiet too.

Nick Paton ACS
Brisbane Australia
+61 (0)411 596 581

Dave :

The real question is what generators can you rent where you’re going and how are they configured? Peru is a 220-volt country so you may have a bit of difficulty getting a genny with 110-volt outlets for your other lights and needs.

The best bet is to run the 2.5ks on the 220-volt legs of the genny, as per Richard Asbury's suggestion. My 2.5k par has an RV male for just this situation.

You didn't say if you are using magnetic or electronic ballasts. If you are running electronic ballasts that should avoid the need for a crystal sync modified genny. If you are concerned with the altitude issue and you know what generator you are going to get in Peru you could rent one in LA and take it and your gear up to Big Bear and at least get it to 8,000 ft for a test.


C.P. Cima
DP and Generator Owner
Los Angeles

The NILA lights sound amazing. Do they flicker at off speeds?
How many units do I need to replace one 2500 HMI?


David Linstrom
LA based DP
David Linstrom Productions
213 200 5983

Hi All

I would agree with linking Honda three k's together. They are small, lightweight (two person lift) and reasonably quiet. They have electronic governance and can be paired for double output (with special output panel and communication cables). One Honda 3000 can easily run a 2.5 HMI at sea level.
Ideally I would suggest taking four units to make up two pairs, that way you have some backup if you have any breakdowns.

Take extra fuel filters and air filter cloths as both air and fuel quality can suffer in remote places, robbing you of performance.

Also you may wish to make and take some earth rods and earth cable (can be thin gauge 2.5mm-ish) in case your lights are close together and you decide to common your earth.

Good luck

Mat Buchan
power supervisor

I thought this was an interesting question so I tried to find some photometric data. According to the Arri photometric calculator which can be found at :


An Arri 2500W SE PAR with Fresnel lens at medium, 30 degree beam spread, will illuminate an object 6 meters from the lens at 7778 lux.
According to the technical data for Nila LED lamps which can be found at :


A single Nila LED lamp with lens set at 25 degree beam spread will illuminate an object 6 meters from the lens at 153 lux.

7778 divided by 153 = 50.8366

Therefore you would need at least 50 Nila lights to replace a 2500 HMI, but probably more, due to the additional 5 degrees of beam spread on the 2500. Also the 2500 HMI PAR type lamp might be somewhat brighter than the fresnel for which these photometrics were calculated. Additionally one would do well to consider that the array of 50 Nila lights would be considerably taller and wider than the single 2500 HMI.
I hope this cleared things up a little bit.


David Yellin
currently in Bangkok

There is an excellent full service rental house in Bogota, Colombia called Congo Films www.congofilms.tv. Bogota is 8,500 feet elevation. They have a full line of light and generators (as well as cameras, dollies, grip etc.). They service films all over South America and could certainly supply you with a generator which would work properly work in Peru at 10,000 feet.

The owner, Carlos Congote carlos@congofilms.tv is an experienced DP who would be able to advise you about shooting in Peru, as well as supply all your equipment needs.

I have no direct association with Congo Films, however they are my agents for Lightning Strikes and SoftSun.

David Pringle
CTO, Luminys Systems Corp.

I responded to the original poster off-line but I did specify that he should test the NILA lights in LA before deciding that they are right for the job. Part of my suggestion for using the NILA lights is that you can also run as many as 8 of them off of a 12 volt car battery with inverter. As I told him I used them in place of 4K pars for camera car work and also on stage work for various things. I'm not saying that they equal the 2500 HMI but depending on the location need they might be a good choice (or in addition to the HMIs) for the trip.

But you can't go purely by the photometric data. I saw a 6 NILA array with spot lenses overpower LA daylight on a white bounce. I think that with the new lighting media available today it is necessary to do a real world test and see for yourself.

Roberto Schaefer, ASC

>>"At 10,000 feet your generator engine will lose about 30% of its power because of the less dense air >>available."

I´ll be shooting a feature in a month where we will be going as high as 12000feet. Will be using portable genies and mostly a small HMI package, 4k pars the biggest.

I’ve shot at these altitudes before and never had problems with Gennies.
I’ll have a chat with the local rental house, but u think 2 HONDA 3,5kw linked gennies will hold a 4k par?. They give out 5k of power when working together.

To David, are u going to bring in your gennies from LA? If u are planning on renting them in Peru, as they already said, u should check with the rental house about availability, and if not, with the local HONDA dealer in Lima, and see if they have portable gennies for rent. Usually the rental houses in South America don’t have much variety of options. But maybe HONDA might.

Talk with the rental house about the height and how their gennies work at 10k feet, they surely are used to shooting in high altitudes.

In the other hand, tell them to get good wheels for the genny, cause the small rubber ones they come with don’t work off road. Maybe some nice MagLiner pump wheels will be a good idea for carrying/pushing around in flat terrain.

When working with HMIs and portable gennies, is better to start them all dimmed down, start the two heads, and then slowly go up with each of them, and see how the genny reacts to it. If u are too close to the max output of it u might need to work with one of the heads dimmed down or the two of them on mid power. Be sure to have some minus green correction. This might be worse when working with the gennies far away and using over 50/100mts cord extensions (if the shoots are with direct sound this might be a serious problem!)

The NILA heads might be a good choice as an additional light for fill, just as any other LED head that runs from 12v/220v. The same goes for the MiniLED panels, and the LitePanels.
Specially the MiniLED good for run n gun in lower light situations. Easy, fast, built-in Battery. Out of the Case and ready to use!

I have no affiliation with HONDA, LITEPANELS nor any other equipment.

Good luck and happy shootin!

Agustin Barrutia,
Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I'm unfamiliar with NILA lights, but I do own 3 sets of Litepanel "bricks" as well as a 1X1 panel. My experience is that LED's fall off rather rapidly just as fluorescent lights do. They are great for closer in work but lack the punch of pars and fresnels.

The Honda 6500is weighs about 300 lbs.(easy enough for two people to load and unload), uses Honda's square wave inverter technology (making it a crystal sync genny) is quieter than the EU2000, and has substantial wheels and push handle. I have owned one since they first came out about a year and a half ago. I also own a 2000 and a 3000. I've never had a problem and I've used them extensively. I've run 2 4Ks @ 220v all day (on the 6500) without a problem.

I have no interest in Honda, a dealership, etc., I just love their putt-putts.

Richard Asbury

"I'm unfamiliar with NILA lights, but I do own 3 sets of Litepanel "bricks" as well as a 1X1 panel. My experience is that LED's fall off rather rapidly just as fluorescent lights do. They are great for closer in work but lack the punch of pars and fresnels."

There is no comparison between a 1 x 1 and NILA lights, inherent due to the optics. NILA use high brightness diodes and beam focussing secondary optics which are available in a variety of beam angles. This allows them to provide much greater 'punch' than is possible with lower output through hole components as used by the 1 x 1.

This is not a comparison between A and B. They have different optical arrangements and produce different effect.
I know this as we use similar LEDs and a similar optical arrangement in our current product range.

I have no affiliation with NILA.

David Amphlett
MD, Gekko Technology Ltd.