For us road warrior shooters who spend most of our lives on airplanes, the hassle of transporting gear has reached epic proportions. The situation has become so untenable and expensive that we must restrict the size and scope of our equipment to the absolute minimum. No longer can we afford to transport 35 cases of gear to China, Eastern Europe and the east side of Cleveland, as I once did with routine alacrity in the 1980s. Today, we are far more likely to march into battle with a stripped-down package, consisting typically of the camcorder, tripod and a horrifically overstuffed shoulder bag, replete with an on-board monitor, matte box, memory cards, a ton of other stuff and, uh, one or two kitchen sinks.
This begs the question of lighting. No other aspect of our itinerant lives is more challenging than determining our travel lighting package. Of course, we prefer the control enabled by a bevy of C-stands, sandbags, cutters and 12/3 stingers, but this bulky leaden stuff is simply not going to fly these days, not with the airlines and not with the bean counters who would understandably rather forego the sky-high excess baggage charges. For almost 20 years, I've been carrying two K5600 Joker 400W PARs. I've shot features and umpteen high-end documentaries and corporate projects with just these two lights. They're potent and extremely malleable, and they put out a beautiful daylight blast of light that can be bounced or projected through a grid cloth to produce a smooth and flattering soft light.
The flexibility of the Litepanels 1×1 Bi-Focus system is the ability to gang instruments into a single aggregate source; this expandability makes the LED light fixture suitable for almost any sized set or application. The company also manufactures a similar Bi-Color unit but without the beam control. Of these two parameters, beam control is the most critical to shooters; the color balance of a source is relatively easily tweaked in a conventional way using cut gel. For this reason, I recommend that shooters add a Jelly Roll of assorted cut gel to their travel package. It's one of the best and most useful items in your kit.
Hail the performance
The Bi-Focus is highly directional, more characteristic of a Fresnel than a traditional soft light or PAR. At full flood, the LED produces a smooth wash with only a hint of a center hot spot. Designers of professional lighting (and video projectors) tend to favor the approach to concentrate beam intensity in the middle of the frame where shooters tend to need and want it most. The fall-off to the edges of the field may also reduce the need for a makeshift BlackWrap fix in some setups.
Note that the bi-focus feature of the unit is somewhat limited compared with a conventional Fresnel. I didn't find a great deal of range from spot to flood, so shooters should consider this limitation when assessing their lighting needs.
The unit's color temperature appears well balanced to the eye, although my Minolta color meter confirmed a slight shift to magenta. In critical applications, a CC05 green gel may be used to help balance skin tones. The color temperature of my test unit measured a consistent 4800°K, ±100°K even when dimmed. This means the unit overall is a bit underpowered, when compared with its nominal 5600° K daylight rating.
Owing to its versatility, high efficiency and output, the Litepanels 1×1 Bi-Focus will certainly find a useful niche in nonfiction, news, documentary and reality applications. The LED light fixture is compact and lightweight, and it can help establish a comfortably cool operating environment for shooting interviews and close-ups. Moreover, its variable beam spread can be critical to achieving a desired texture in the face and eyes of talent.
With respect to air travel, we shooters must constantly re-examine our gear complement. The requirements for camera, tripod and accessories seem rudimentary, but lighting is an animal of a different color and focus. Thus, the clear advantage of the Bi-Focus unit is that it measures a mere 1sq ft, so it may fit into your overstuffed carry-on bag. BE
Barry Braverman is a veteran cinematographer. His latest book, “Video Shooter,” is available from Focal Press/Elsevier.