The last few years have seen terrific improvements in LED lighting capabilities for video, while prices have consistently fallen. The lights have gotten smaller, brighter, cheaper, more durable and more accurate. Litepanels’ Lykos Bi-Color Flight kit is more than ample proof of the value—both financial and technical—of this shift.
The three-light kit comes packed in a Pelican 1510-wheeled, FAA carry-on rated (weighs around 30 pounds), watertight case, roughly 21x13x8-inches. The case contains three Bi-color Litepanels, three light stands, three cold shoe tilting mounts, three AC power supplies, a soft box and diffusion gels. The “with battery” option includes three Anton-Bauer L-series (NP-F976) batteries and three chargers.
The Lykos Bi-Color Flight kit comes with a number of accessories, including three light stands, three tilting mounts, soft box and diffusion gels.
Each panel weighs about a pound and measures 10x6-inches and about 1.5 inches thick. The 6x8 array of LEDs in the panel are rated to produce about 1500 lux at 1 meter, consuming 23W. Power is provided through either an AC adaptor, which plugs into a rear panel port, or through the built-in L-type battery mount; a D-Tap cable is available as an optional extra. A handle is designed in to facilitate handheld work; the unit can be mounted on a stand or cold shoe mount (directly onto a camera) through its 1/4-20 threads.
Rear panel controls are simple and straightforward: a power button, a 1-inch square LCD screen that shows status info (battery level, brightness level and warm/cool color mix level), and two rotary pots, one as a dimmer and the other to control the warm/cool mix of the LED elements. The LED color output can be dialed in anywhere between 3000K and 5600K as a percentage mix of the warm white and cold white LED elements. Likewise, the dimmer functions are displayed as a percentage of full power. The rotary pots are not connected to the power switch, which means that the values that are set for each function remain set through power on/off cycles.
The kit comes with one soft box attachment and three diffuser gels, both specifically designed for use with LED lights and to be installed and removed simply and with no tools. The diffuser reduces light output by about 1.3 f-stops. The included light stands are Manfrotto model 5001 B, lightweight aluminum, with four risers taking it to a maximum height of about 6-foot 2-inches (closed size of 19-inches). The maximum load is rated at 3.3 pounds, far more than the weight of the Litepanel. The stands are topped with a 5/8-inch stud with a 3/8-inch threaded top, and a 1/4-inch-20 threaded adaptor included.
There is an optional Bluetooth dongle available that transforms each light panel into a remote controllable device or part of a larger grouped array. The Bluetooth dongle, which slides into a port on the panel, connects with an iOS smartphone app (or can be used with Manfrotto’s Digital Director iPad camera control app) and allows for single element or group control of the dimmer and color mix settings.
I used the kit and individual elements in as many different shooting situations as I could during the time I had it. Because the individual lights are so light and compact, I found myself introducing them at times when I would not have added more lights, or any at all. Being able to just pop one of these panels onto the top of a camera was incredibly liberating and encouraged me to try setups I wouldn’t have had the time or inclination to try. This is the power of the small, light and easy-to-use lights.
For some deeper and additional evaluation help and feedback, I took the kit to the studio of DP Rawn Fulton of Searchlight Films in Bernardston, Mass., an old film guy with a very exacting and discerning eye. We set up and lit a fairly standard three-light sit down interview and immediately agreed on a number of things. First, the lights are outrageously bright at full power and cover a situation very well. Second, the kit doesn’t include barn doors, which brought out the caution flags; while we both felt there are situations where barn doors would be helpful, we were impressed by how well focused the elements are straight out of the box. According to the tech specs, the beam angle is 50 degrees, and looked very accurate as we lit the interview subject. The kit would probably be more absolutely complete with barn doors included, but we did not feel a lack during the interview setups.
Being able to dial in a light temperature (as well as a dimmer setting) was appreciated, not just for being able to amplify or counteract light conditions, but also for the ability to wash or highlight the subject with a contrasting temperature of light. We initially wondered why the LED color mix readout was in percentages rather than temperature, but quickly found that it did not affect our ability to match or recall a particular light color. Both the soft box and included diffusers were effective and easy to deploy; the diffusers simply slide into place, and the soft box, after a bit of investigation and disassembly, snaps right on.
This very complete and compact kit, built around some extremely well designed and effective light panels, should easily satisfy the needs of most single camera shooting situations. The lights are bright, lightweight, cool, easily controllable and require little power, yet operate well and evenly at a wide range of color and brightness levels. The mounting and support systems are basic yet solid and quick to set up. This kit can also form the basis for a more elaborate studio setup, thanks to the possibility of controlling them through the optional Bluetooth dongle. It is, indeed, the age of LED.
Michael Hanish operates Free Lunch, a video/audio/multimedia production house near Guilford, Vt. He may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
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