Carl Mrozek /
07.14.2009 04:20 PM
Litepanels MicroPro LED Fixture
In 2008, Litepanels introduced the first LED camera light in North America that was powered by AA batteries. This streamlined the process of powering camera lights, particularly for the smaller 7.2Vcamcorders that typically do not provide a way to tap their batteries for powering on-camera lights. Another benefit that came with the LED fixtures was the liberation of the camera light from the camera. They are internally powered and can be operated and mounted on- and off-camera. This flexibility allows shooters to be more creative with a single lighting instrument. Low and high angle positioning is now possible, as is side lighting and even backlighting, with additional lights. This greatly expands the head-on, lens-level lighting model most often used with camera-mounted lights.

Litepanels challenged this paradigm with its Micro last year, and this year it has taken its battery-powered alternative to the next level. The new MicroPro is a beefier and more refined version of the Micro, which it resembles physically and technologically. The Micro was primarily geared for use aboard smaller camcorders at fairly close range, while the MicroPro is physically larger and provides more illumination, allowing it to handle a wider range of applications.

FEATURES

While the MicroPro resembles its older brother; a closer look tells a different story. For starters it's bigger and beefier than the Micro. Still, it's remarkably lightweight for a camera light with a 100 foot candle output at two feet) and 52 foot candles at four feet.

The Litepanels' MicroPro fixture in use
The MicroPro has nearly a 15:9 aspect ratio, and is packed with 96 5600 degree K LED bulbs to deliver a bright, directional, yet soft, daylight-balanced lighting. It's also equipped with an integrated dimming through a 0-100 percent range.

Given its bigger size, greater number of LEDs and superior battery power, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Micro Pro delivers a lot of punch. However, the differences don't become really apparent until you use it beyond point blank range. The MicroPro's output and extended reach makes it suitable for a wider range of apps including many ENG and event shoots.

To facilitate its added output, the MicroPro is well-endowed with ventilation to keep it as cool as advertised. All four sides of the screen and back plate are perforated with slits to vent warm air and to permit cooler air to circulate, keeping it cool, even when used at full illumination, for an hour or longer.

Incidentally, these spaces also reduce the MicroPro's mass.

Using long life, non-rechargeable lithium E2 batteries, it's feasible to operate the MicroPro for five to six hours at full capacity, and even longer if dimmed down. However, this is not recommended without special cooling to remove excess heat buildup. The same precautions against long duration uninterrupted use at full strength should be exercised when using the MicroPro with the 5 to 12 VAC adapter provided.

In terms of color temperature, the MicroPro is rated at 5600 degrees K, the numerical value associated with daylight. The unit also comes with a 3200 K tungsten conversion filter so that it can be used with standard tungsten lighting, as well as in daylight shooting done very early and late in the day. A warming filter and white diffusion filter are also supplied.

Some other options for extending the MicroPro's capabilities include an articulating arm and a ball-head hot shoe mount Both allow the MicroPro to be angled creatively. There's also a base plate for easier off-camera use as either a primary or supplemental light. The company can also provide an underwater housing.

IN USE

After unpacking the MicroPro, I popped the back plate off and loaded the six extended-life E2 batteries provided. They can power the MicroPro for five to six hours or longer if it's used at less than full illumination. One needs to realize that the dimming switch doubles as a power switch, and it must be turned clockwise nearly a full revolution to achieve full power. It must be dialed back fully counterclockwise to reach "off," or the batteries will be drained.

Initially, I tested the MicroPro off-camera as a key light, and was impressed with how naturally and seamlessly it mixed with daylight sources. Virtually all of the colors recorded looked much the same on the HD monitor as they did in my mind's eye before capture.

I was also impressed with how naturally MicroPro-illuminated images blended into low light outdoor scenes near sunset, and under a light overcast. Everything worked as designed and advertised, with closer subjects lit primarily by the MicroPro blending with naturally lit images. To my eye, even closeups lit entirely by the MicroPro had essentially the same color values as naturally lit subjects, except in the cases where color saturation was affected. Overall, the images seemed well matched and intercuttable with images shot in ambient lighting conditions.

Much the same was true when I used the tungsten conversion filter. In general, the blend was seamless and the images looked as if they had all been lit by tungsten lighting.

I was similarly impressed by the tonal contrast and the vivid colors captured when shooting wildlife and nature scenes from tapestries. I was especially impressed with the hues when I used the warming filter. This did require boosting the camera gain by 6 dB, but with the fixture at max output, the overall contrast remained strong, with vibrant, natural-looking colors and good exposure.

There is one caveat with the MicroPro. When using the AC adapter, I found the connection on the MicroPro's back plate to be a bit tenuous. This resulted in periodic power interruptions. The solution was to maintain plenty of slack and not to let the plug hang from the light head, but rather to tie it to the camera (or to simply just stick with battery power).

The MicroPro's low heat output makes it practical to place it on standard cushions and household objects when shooting without danger of damaging them. This may be one of the MicroPro's unexpected additional applications as a component in lighting setup with two, three, or even more off-camera fixtures. As the weather was a bit on the cold side at the time of this review, I didn't test the MicroPro's underwater housing capabilities; however, I do plan to take it for a dip in the lake sometime in the future.

SUMMARY

Litepanels's MicroPro kit is more than just a dimmable fairly potent sungun. It delivers perfectly balanced daylight or tungsten illumination (via a conversion filter). Other looks and effects can be added using the custom-fit white diffusion and warming filters provided. These effects can be further enhanced or modified by changing the lighting angle when using the optional variable angle camera light mounts which can target specific parts of a scene—not necessarily at eye level—opposite the camera. Coupled with the ability to vary the intensity of the light source, this places considerable discretion in the hands of the shooter in terms of achieving a variety of looks, whether shooting an interview or a dynamic event.

The MicroPro's lightweight package and AA battery power make it very mobile and useable on cameras of all sizes without dramatically changing balance or handling characteristics.

Lower power consumption facilitates a day's worth of shooting from half a dozen E2 lithium AA batteries, or from a couple of sets of rechargeable NiMH batteries or heavy duty alkalines. Coupled with the interchangeable plugs for the AC adapter, the MicroPro is ready for use around the globe.

Its flexibility, mobility and illumination output makes the MicroPro suitable for a wide range of applications, including ENG/EFP, events and others. Although designed particularly for use with ambient daylight, the fixture works equally well with 3200 degree tungsten lighting.

Despite its plastic shell, the MicroPro appears robust enough to withstand sensible professional use in a wide variety of situations.

Carl Mrozek operates Eagle Eye Media, based in Buffalo, N.Y., which specializes in wildlife and outdoor subjects. His work regularly appears on the Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel, CBS, PBS and other networks. Contact him at eagleye@localnet.net.



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