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Lighting for Amateurs: LED's Lead the Way

Lighting for Amateurs: LED's Lead the Way

December 16, 2008
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" These aren't your father's light-emitting diodes "

Among the hardest things about being in front of the camera is trying to deal with the distracting glare of the bright lights typically needed to get a good video image while pretending to be comfortable performing under the immense heat the lights give off.

Fortunately, there is a not-so-new technology that is gaining increasing acceptance in the field of video lighting that can dramatically improve both the model's comfort level and the videographer's ease of production: LED's.

These aren't your father's light-emitting diodes that wowed previous generations with their ability to display the time with space-age funkiness — these are a new generation of high-output, low-power consumption, relatively inexpensive, bright-white LED's — and arrays of them in bars, panels and ring lights are appearing on production sets in both the adult and mainstream worlds with increasing regularity.

I first saw on-camera LED lighting in action at the recent taping of an episode of Kink.com's "Ultimate Surrender" nude wrestling series. I was impressed with the light bar's size and "widescreen" format that was sure to provide full-screen coverage of the camera's hi-def field of view. I was sitting in the front row at this event and when the cameraman swooped past to grab an "audience shot" just a few feet away from me, I was amazed that I felt no heat whatsoever coming from what was a very bright — but not uncomfortable — light source.

I was hooked. The problem is, these lights can be damn expensive, costing more than some of the cameras that I wanted to use them on, which is not an ideal situation for a budget-minded producer looking for an inexpensive but high-quality, on-camera LED lighting solution. I wasn't looking to light an audience; but to provide an eye-light on my model (especially when she is me) while lightening and softening any facial shadows — all from just a few feet away.

Enter the Litepanels Micro — an entry-level addition to Litepanels' professional LED lighting line designed to be "the perfect lighting tool for today's small DV camcorders."

According to the company's website, "The Micro daylight harnesses the company's proprietary LED technology in an ultra-lightweight, extremely compact package. Users will enjoy luminous, soft, directional lighting, with the same warmth and great color characteristics that made Litepanels an integral part of television, broadcast news [and] motion picture productions worldwide."

Among the advantages of the Litepanels Micro is its extremely lightweight and compact design, providing an all-in-one camera light without requiring any external cables to be connected to it. This form factor makes for easy mounting, using the included cold-shoe mount, on even the smallest of handheld cameras.

Although some users might find the lightweight plastic case and integral mounting point to be a bit flimsy in comparison to the metal construction of its heavier cousins, this light should hold up well under reasonably careful use.

While I really appreciate this unit's heat-free LED technology and flicker-free light output that provides bright, "HD friendly" soft light, one of my favorite features is its rotary dimmer switch that throttles output from zero-to-100 percent with little perceptible shift in color temperature.

For a videographer-on-the-go, however, my favorite feature of the Litepanels Micro is the fact that it is powered by standard AA batteries — which are conveniently available just about anywhere, any time — a far better solution for many users than proprietary or camera-specific batteries, or weighty gel-packs and their associated tangle of cables.

But don't let the AA power make you think that this unit is low on performance: Using standard or rechargeable batteries it will run at full power for more than an hour on four alkaline batteries; or up to eight hours on E2 Lithium batteries! A 5-12V input jack on the back of the unit allows for optional power sources if desired.

Rounding out my favorite features is the flip-down filter holder, which comes with both a diffusion gel and 3200ºK tungsten conversion filter — although you may want to use a bit of gaffer's tape to make sure the filter stays in place.

In addition to its on-camera capabilities, the Litepanels Micro may also be mounted on an optional base plate or articulated extension arm for off-camera usage.

But the best part about the Litepanels Micro is that it streets for less than $300 — making this little lighting powerhouse a very affordable and worthwhile addition to any shooter's video production kit. Try it for yourself: your models will thank you and your videos will look much better.


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