Product Review: Page (1) of 1 - 02/08/05 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook

Let There be Lite

LitePanels, that is By Douglas Spotted Eagle

For me, one of the biggest hassles of any shoot is lighting. Even for a small promotional interview, it seems I have to carry at least one softbox, which is great to use, but sometimes is too much for one guy to manage when camera, sound, and attention to the shoot is part of the program.

Power isn't always available, or a long extension cord just can't be found. I think extension cords have legs for all the cords that have walked away from my lighting kit. Not to mention the fact that my rolling lighting cases are heavy, even though they are critical to most of our production work.
Then I discovered LitePanels.
Simply De"lite"ful
A friend who works on the set of "24" told me about these micromonsters and I thought she was pulling my leg. I've heard about LED-based lighting for video, but it sounded ridiculous because LEDs aren't powerful enough to do much. Or so I thought.
I've experimented a little with the small headlamps made for spelunkers, hoping a few of them ganged up would work as a hair light, but they didn't quite meet my aspirations. Then I found the LitePanels at DVExpo and promptly had to have them. With 150 projected LED's in the housing, these are bright, light, and LITE!
These lil' powerhouses simply rock. Weighing in at just under a pound, they can be powered by a battery, AC, battery belt, or even from the camera if you have a power divider.  They can be run on AC as well, if you don't mind very small cables on a small connector. One thing that was immediately discovered is that they maintain an even 5600K even when the battery is nearly dead. Either they work, or the battery has lost its juice. 
Before turning on the LitePanel. Notice the hot backlighted area,and the sign behind the subject. After turning on the 20 degree LitePanel, set to about 50% of full intensity. This filled in the subject very nicely.

Packaged in a 6.75 x 2.25 box (without battery), the size can immediately be deceiving. These fixtures put out a lot of bright! During some recent interviews at the Sundance Film Festival, I actually had to use diffusion filters on the lights to keep them at half brightness for fill, but not blow out the details on shots I was wanting to achieve. The lights are dimmable from 0 to 100, so depending on distance and desired intensity, you can dial it in the way you'd like it to look.

The two-light kit comes with just about every filter color you could want, including various levels of diffusion. Due to the lack of heat generated by the LEDs, the filters may be held in place using small Velcro dots that hold the lens protector and any filters or diffusion onto the face of the light. This is one of the faults of the LitePanel, once the dots get very cold, the adhesive gave way and my filters fell off in the below-freezing weather of the Park City winter. Once they warmed up, they went right back into place, and stayed there as long as I stayed indoors. The fix in the cold was to use rubber bands on the filter and light head. In fact, a rubber band worked great around the battery too, as this system is thin.

Standard rubberbands worked great for holding filters on in the extremely cold weather. It's a good idea to carry a few of these in your kit anyway.

 Standard rubberbands worked great for holding filters on in the extremely cold weather. It's a good idea to carry a few of these in your kit anyway. 

The light, although thin, is also a little heavy owing to the method in which the battery pack "pins" into the light head. This doubles the size of the light, and of course more than doubles the weight, (about 2 lbs) so this is a hefty small package if you're planning on mounting it on a camera. On technique I found while testing the system was to use the Israeli arm as an underslung system rather than an overhead system. This acts as a great hand grip, allows for constant balance control of the camera without the cam being top heavy, and also can be used to help steady the cam in faster movements. However, if you're shooting too close to a subject in low ambient light, you might find yourself creating a horror flick look by lighting from too low a position. But it is a viable alternative if you are using the LitePanel as a fill light or primary light in an already reasonably lit situation, or if you're tall and the subject is average or less than average in height.  
The Israeli arm can act as a psuedo stabilizer with the LitePanel as an underslung fixture. It's also easy to light low angle shots with the Israeli arm, and it can be easily balanced regardless of the camcorder being used.

This requires a slightly different technique in using the camera but because the lights are soft, it works. Were the LitePanels extremely directional, they'd be harsh and give hard shadows on the underside of the face, similar to that angle used in many horror films. Still, I use a diffuser to reduce the intensity of the light and give the light a more broad angle in most scenarios. I guess I've been spoiled with my large Photoflex softboxes. The Israeli arm could also be used for getting the light head above a mattebox with a French flag mounted on it, or above a microphone mounted to the camera. Mounted to the Sony HVR-Z1U, this was a great tool. I highly recommend the Israeli arm, whether you purchase it from LitePanel or one of the other dealers of lighting accessories. This optional accessory sells for $175.00 on the LitePanels website; that's a comparable price to the prices found on other sites around the web. 
LitePanel also offers a 20degree LitePanel that is perfect for ENG work. The battery provides a little over an hour of very direct, projected light. This light is different than the standard kit, providing a centered arc that is very intense at the center, acting a lot like the typical Bauer Ultralite. If you're doing mostly run n' gun, you'll want to check this one out. With the dimmer and diffusors, it makes for a very nice option. It also can act as a small spot or hairlight in an interview setting. Just toss on a blue like a Roscoe 80 or an 85  (I've not specifically matched the colors of the gel kit yet), and you've got a great backlight.   
With the mounting shoe, the lightpanel sits nicely on top of most any video camera. It is heavy with the battery attached, so be cautious if your shoe is on an overhanging area and isn't secure. 


With the mounting shoe, the lightpanel sits nicely on top of most any video camera. It is heavy with the battery attached, so be cautious if your shoe is on an overhanging area and isn't secure.

Faster Filter Changes
It's easy to use filters with these small lights. The near 6" x 3" filters simply slide in and are held in place by Velcro dots attached to the front of the lamps. The system comes with 16 different filter options that may be mixed and matched as necessary. Putting a diffuser with a blue gel gives a nice cool attitude to the shot. Couple the filters with the always-dimmable light head, it's easy to create a touch of colored fill for a dramatic look. One thing I would recommend is to find the filter color value and write it on the edge of the filter in small letters. Perhaps in the future LitePanels could print this on the filter's edges, making it easier for users to know what filter color value they're looking for in a dimly lit room. Otherwise, it can be a challenge to identify filters quickly. 
Quick Draw
LitePanel's design and marketing staff have got to be professional shooters. They include virtually everything you'd need in their full kit. Obviously they've gone out on a shoot and found themselves lacking parts or tools necessary for mounting lights. Virtually everything you could imagine is provided with this kit, from hotshoe mounts to baby pins to mount on a gobo arm. They also provide cigarette lighter-connectors, and base plates, perfect for lighting the underside of that computer user shot or attaching to a dashboard for the car interior shot. The main kit also includes cables that are ten feet in length for those times when the light might be too heavy or it might be impractical to put the entire battery mount in the air.  Finally, the entire kit comes in a foam cut, padded case with slots for everything. With all the small parts available, it is conceivable that you could potentially misplace a piece of the system, but the cut out slots will quickly remind you that a piece of the kit is missing. There are quite a number of accessories available, including an Anton Bauer power adaptor, allowing users of cams with Anton Bauer batteries to power the lights. Be sure to check out the LitePanels accessory pages to catch all of the optional add-ons available. 

It's very easy to get the LitePanels into locations that might otherwise be difficult to light. Since the fixture doesn't get hot, they worked great inside this piano cabinet where heat and space are an issue.

Major Endorsements

It's very easy to get the LitePanels into locations that might otherwise be difficult to light. Since the fixture doesn't get hot, they worked great inside this piano cabinet where heat and space are an issue.

When you see television shows that are very successful, you might wonder what goes into them. With television shows like "24," "West Wing," "The District," and DP's, cameramen, and directors like Jody Eldred (J.A.G., NCIS, ABC News) using the LitePanel system, you know you're dealing with good stuff. These shows and shooters aren't going to risk anything by experimenting with "maybe" solutions. And all these shows are using the LitePanel systems. 
View From the Top 
So, after a few days of shooting with these small wonders, I've decided I've stumbled upon a very cool thing. Small, lightweight, easy to use, smooth and even light, no heat, properly balanced....there is little to not like. Lighting for DV is critical; lighting for HDV is hyper-critical. When shooting objects close in, or fine detail, lighting issues show up immediately. With the dimmable ability of these lights built in, feedback is immediate, and you can see exactly what the shot will look like without burning your fingers. (No more carrying gloves with these lights) Further, they can sit on a dashboard, below a computer monitor, on a car visor, on a camera, or on a standard light stand. They can be powered by a cigarette lighter, a battery, a wall plug, or a camcorder battery, so I'd say this is a very flexible light. The fixture also fits inside the camera case, should you just need to pack n' go. Most importantly, these fit in a lot of places you couldn't get a typical light fixture, either for safety reasons or for reasons of size. Another major benefit of these lights is the talent will never complain about getting too hot, and you won't have to worry about the color temperature of the light changing as they grow warmer during the shoot.  However, there are a couple things I'd like to see done differently with this package set.
Wishful Thinking
First, I'd like to see the lights powered by the battery to not require the short 2" cable that goes from the battery to the light head. This is probably the biggest issue I foresee with these lights, is if you lose the 2" cable, you don't have a light. It seems that with the four pins that hold the battery to the light head, there should be some mechanism that would power the light.

My second issue is that I'd like to see the gel kit labeled with the color value/temperature somehow. Working in a reasonably dark room, it took a few minutes to find the red I was looking for to warm the shot a little. It would have been much faster if I'd have had a reference printed on the gel. A better make of Velcro might be useful for those that are shooting at ski resorts in the dead of winter.
Fade to Black
LitePanels aren't cheap. Price is always a factor when considering a purchase, and for the retail price of $2195.00 for the full dual package, or $795.00 for a single light package, a lot of bigger light light fixtures could be purchased. Yet that's exactly the point of these small lights; they are portable, small, and fast cooling. They are ideally suited for the videographer on the run, on the plane, or doing ENG work. LitePanels are clearly made for the professional shooter; the materials they are made from, the way they piece together, and the way they function scream "professional." They are certainly rugged, and are light enough to carry in a backpack into the backwoods with a few batteries, so they fit a lot of unique applications. They are also small enough, and temperature cool enough, that they won't be a problem getting into a museum or other heat/light sensitive location.
Overall, I think these micro light packages have to go into my list of top "cool" products of 2004. A couple LitePanels, coupled with my Sony HVR-Z1U, and I've got a kit that packs into a very small carryon, and can fly most anywhere. These days, traveling light is important, and if you don't need the big softboxes or fixtures for all your shoots and can get by with close in lighting, why bother carrying the weight?

Happy shooting, 


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DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE, Managing Producer Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy Award winning productions.

Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others.

Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He remains active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.

Related Keywords:LitePanels, video lighting, softbox,

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