LitePanels IR and Mini 50
(Video Systems)When you ask award-winning professional filmmakers and video
creators what separates the great presentation from the merely OK,
one of the most popular answers is proper and creative production
lighting. Like many elements of video production, lighting is best
if it's not noticed. Sometimes you need a small, bright on-camera
light, but most of these weigh a ton, burn loads of power, and will
scorch your hand should you accidentally touch them.
Last year the folks at LitePanels introduced a brighter idea:
lightweight LED-powered on-camera lights. It's an idea that quickly
found favor in the industry. Recently the Academy of Television
Arts and Sciences awarded the LitePanels Mini system a 2005 Emmy
Engineering Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering
This year, with the introduction of the new infrared IR light,
LitePanels has figured out how to illuminate a scene via LED
without shining visible light. Introduced at this year's NAB
convention, the IR garnered a Video Systems Pick Hit award.
The IR allows shooters to illuminate dark scenes with infrared
light that's visible only to infrared-capable camcorders.
For this review I tested a LitePanels Two-Lite Package with the
new infrared Mini IR light (model LPIR-05k) and a standard
LitePanels Mini 50-degree flood light (model LPCK-50). (LitePanels
allows you to custom-configure a two-light package any way you need
it.) The two-light package comes in a convenient hard-shell
LitePanels LED lights offer many innovations. Each unit weighs
less than 10oz. and fits in the palm of your hand. They're built
into solid cast-aluminum shells. The panels consist of many, many
rows of tiny LED (light-emitting diode) lights. The shooter adjusts
them with a variable brightness control that amazingly produces no
color shift during dimming.
The lights output 60 foot-candles at 2ft. to 3ft. and provide a
soft white, flicker-free light that's balanced for 5600K daylight.
The heat-free LEDs are rated at 100,000 hours. The front is clear
solid Plexiglas that provides lots of protection. Provided as part
of LitePanels kits is a variety of heavy-plastic colored filters
that attach via Velcro.
Designed to deliver even brightness, the lights can use a
variety of power sources. The kit includes a standard snap-on
rechargeable battery (NiMH), which, when fully charged via the
included AC power adapter, lasts one to two hours depending on how
bright the light is set. With lengthy cords that allow you to use
the units indoors with AC power, the kit also includes adapters for
various power formats throughout the world and adapters for using
the LitePanels with a car battery. Handy indeed. The company claims
the lights are three times as power-efficient as conventional
tungsten lights. As we went to press with this review, LitePanels
announced a new DV Battery Adapter Plate that allows you to use
standard DV camera batteries to power the light. The adapter
attaches to the LitePanels Mini or IR and provides another option
for portable power.
Seeing and videotaping in the dark with the IR offers lots of
advantages, many of which I'd never realized before. The infrared
light spectrum is invisible to the human eye but, when teamed with
an infrared-capable camera and a light source, IR can illuminate a
scene. The heat-free IR light can be adjusted from 100 percent to
zero percent while shedding no visible light. LitePanels infrared
lights are ideal for working with extreme low-light levels.
Unfortunately, IR-capable cameras are necessary, and they're few
and far between. With a Sony camera that had a Super NightShot
feature, I used the Mini IR for shooting nature video and for
special effects shots for a music video. It was quite easy to use.
If you want to set the illumination lower, just twist the knob and
it dims. As a small, powerful, and totally self-contained light,
the IR can be placed in unusual places in a scene to achieve some
nice effects that one could not achieve with a traditional light
source. This opened up tons of innovative lighting possibilities
As you can imagine, the IR lights are especially effective where
you want to capture footage of a subject without them realizing it.
For example, for the HBO documentary series Family Bonds,
cinematographer Peter Rieveschl uses the IR when he wants to keep a
minimal presence and not interfere with those stealth
moments of action in a low-light scene.
The IR lights are also very effective for interior auto shots. I
shot a woman driving a car at night, and the LitePanels was perfect
for illuminating the scene. I taped it to the dash and fit a
dashboard cover over it, and the light illuminated the scene
without blinding the actor. But before we got to capture good light
video with no visible light source, there were a few hoops we
needed to jump through.
In order to test the no-light capabilities of the Mini IR, I
borrowed the Sony TRV-820 Digital 8 camcorder. Its Super NightShot
feature drops the camera's IR filter, allowing it to see
near-infrared light. (This is not like seeing a heat
or UV image.) The IR light itself is invisible. Most cameras can't
see a thing with the LitePanels IR, but with the TRV-820's
NightShot feature engaged I could see a surprisingly well-lit,
grainy grayscale image. To make sure I got illumination only from
the LitePanels IR, I found and covered the two IR illuminator LEDs
hidden behind dark plastic at the front of the Sony camera.
You can boost the sensitivity of the Super NightShot feature,
but you'll drop your frame rate down to about 15fps. But despite my
inability to find and use a true IR camera, the results with the
Sony TRV-820 and the LitePanels IR light were fun and effective.
Using the IR Mini stimulated me to think about new creative and
business projects I could use it on.
Shooting with Sony VX1000 and VX2000 DV cameras, I also used the
relatively new LitePanels Mini 50, a 50-degree flood, and got great
results. The light attached via a hot shoe adapter and a metal
plate. Mounting the light directly on the camera is more solid, but
in my opinion to make it really work you need to buy the optional
4.2in. or 8.3in. Swivel Arm (known as an Israeli arm), which allows
you to position the light more effectively. LitePanels offers lots
of options and accessories for all its lights.
I could control the intensity of the light on the fly with the
small knob on the side as I moved through different shooting
situations. All LitePanels are balanced at 5600K daylight. Need a
warmer color? Just take one of the filters included in the kit and
attach it to the front of the light. It was effective to use some
of these colored gels to cast a deep blue or a rich red accent
light onto a scene. For example, I cast a captivating red glow on
my actor in one scene. I had him in the ruins of a building and I
put the light behind him, just outside a small window. Very
A few improvements would make the LitePanels LED lights even
better. First, there was really nothing in the way of
documentation. Some sort of user's manual would have helped when I
was initially unable to get the lights to work. I thought the
lights would operate with the rechargeable batteries attached, but
a small cable needed to be connected between the two. It took me a
while to figure that out.
For the IR LitePanels, it would be nice if some sort of power
indicator were included. Small barn doors for the
front of the lights would have helped to focus the illumination.
Also, I would have liked a small indicator light (that wouldn't
interfere with the IR light spectrum) to show whether the IR was on
without looking through the IR-capable camera lens. The company
offers a one-year manufacturer and workmanship warranty and
lifetime phone/web support.
Being able to shoot in dark conditions with the LitePanels IR,
as well as on the run with the standard Mini 50 spot, really opens
new creative possibilities. While these lights do not replace a
full lighting kit, they go a long way toward helping make your
videos look better. The highly portable Mini 50's bright output is
almost a no-brainer for any serious shooter, even with its somewhat
high price. Meanwhile, infrared video with the LitePanels IR light
is not only a great special effect; it also has exciting
possibilities for applications like law enforcement and nature
video, as well as ENG work.
LitePanels lights are rock-solid, innovative tools that all
serious professional video shooters and budget filmmakers should
consider for their bag of lighting tricks.
Contributing writer Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a writer, musician,
and video creator in Hawaii. He also writes for Broadcast
Engineering and is the editor of BE's Audio Technology
North Hollywood, Calif.; (973) 317-5000
Product: LitePanels Mini IR light and Mini 50 flood
Assets: Small size, solid design, wireless, balanced
Caveats: Infrared-capable camera is required for IR
light; extension arm is optional.
Demographic: Any shooter needing portable daylight.Price: $700 for IR panel only; $1,295 for One-Lite IR kit;
$2,295 for Two-Lite kit with Mini 50 and IR lights.
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