We're not even a week into the 2012 Summer Olympics…
Now that video has become a mainstream feature on most DSLRs, you’ve probably already experimented making short clips or movies. And you’ve probably found that, as with still photography, light is pretty important to video. LED lighting (along with full-frame, light sensitive sensors) is changing the way that videographers capture motion in the same way that digital cameras made photography available to the masses.
Litepanel is arguably the most well-known of the 1×1 LED manufacturers, but their relatively high cost has put them out of reach for many videographers, and make them impractical for video conferencing applications like Skype or Google Hangout. But not to fear! We tested two lower cost, fully-featured panels that will surely bring a smile to your face.
What to know about 1×1 LEDs
LEDs offer a number of key advantages over more traditional continuous lighting sources. Compared to tungsten/HMI lighting, they are very power efficient and light weight. They are relatively durable compared to fluorescent lighting, and have variable color temperature. They are compact and cool to the touch, and can be bracketed together to create larger light sources. There aren’t a ton of options when it comes to 1×1 LEDs, but there are a few things you should know.
Bi-color: If you have a singular, specific application for your LED lights (e.g. a broadcast studio), then you probably won’t need bi-color functionality. But for everyone else, we definitely recommend this ability to dial in color temperatures from tungsten to daylight as you might find yourself needing to supplement ambient lighting conditions.
DMX: If you moonlight as a DJ, you might already be familiar with the DMX protocol, which allows for remote control of various peripherals like lights, fog machines, strobes, etc. In the world of continuous lighting, DMX allows you to control banks of lights with a controller board or even iPad apps. This makes a lot of sense when you combine 1×1 panels to make one big light source that might be hanging 20′ in the air. If you’re only using a single light, then you’ll probably never hear of DMX again (unless you’re talking about the rapper).
Battery plate: Most LED panels allow you to attach a battery for use when an AC power source isn’t available. The industry standard mounts are either the gold mount (aka Anton Bauer) or V-mount. But be forewarned that these batteries run in the hundreds of dollars.
Visual Buddha LED 1×1 Bi-color Flood
Pulitzer Prize winner Vincent Laforet caused quite a commotion when he released his first video shot on the Canon 5D. Since then, he’s become a well-known Director of Photography/Director, while still being a tour de force of the online inspiration/education community. Laforet co-founded VisualBuddha “to discover the best products out there, and if they don’t exist, help create them.” Seeing a lack of affordable LEDs in the market, Visual Buddha came out with their own.
We tested the Visual Buddha LED 1×1 Bi-color Flood which gives a 60 degree arc of coverage (a 30 degree “spot” version with almost double the intensity is also available). The well-built unit is incredibly intuitive to use, featuring analog dials for both intensity (2880 Lux at 1m) and color temperature (3200K to 5600K). The Anton Bauer plate is great if you already have batteries (we didn’t), so we stuck to AC. Curiously, the unit uses a 3-pin XLR-style connector for both power and DMX controls. There is no separate in/out for the DMX controls that you might typically find on other units.
The 3-pin cable features an angled bracket design, so the DMX-style cord hangs straight down. Thumbs up for design. This cord plugs into a DC converter “brick”, which connects to a thicker power cable. Unfortunately, there is no way to secure the DC converter to the panel itself, but a piece of industrial velcro would probably do the trick.
The front of the unit has two slots, one for a gel (we use the optional diffusion panel) and another for the optional barndoors. Sliding the panels/barndoors in and out is a breeze as there are no unnecessary locking mechanisms. There’s also a handy handle on the back of the unit which is useful for carrying or holding the LED without a lightstand.
- Braindead easy to use
- Dials allow you to make quick adjustments
- Slotted design makes it easy to slide gels/barndoors in and out
- No way to secure power brick
- No DMX in/out
- Power and DMX are bundled
Diffusion Filter: $30
Limelite Mosaic Bi-colour LED
UK-based Limelite is part of the Bowen family, and their low-cost entrant is, on paper, similar to the more expensive Litepanel. The Limelite Mosaic Bi-colour LED is only offered in a “flood” configuration with a 70 degree arc of coverage. You can, of course, use barndoors to limit the spread of light, but you won’t get the same intensity of light as the Visual Buddha spot (5248 Lux at 1m). It is, however, more powerful (4200 Lux at 1m) than the Visual Buddha flood on paper. It also has a slight larger color temperature gamut from 2800K to 5600K.
The power brick sits inside a recessed part of the case and is anchored with a metal covering. The power cable is very heavy duty and long, which is great for durability, but given the power requirements of the unit, probably unnecessary (and adds an incremental amount of weight).
Both the temperature and intensity controls are operated by a digital control panel. The simplicity of analog dials gives way to the precision of punching in specific values – there’s even an “f-stop” mode to tap in 1/10th stop increments if that’s the level of control you desire. Sadly, the unit doesn’t store any settings, so once you power off the unit, you have to re-enter both the color temperature and intensity again. This was a pretty big oversight.
Gels can be inserted into a slot on the top of the unit, which also features a small spring loaded clip to securely hold it. The barndoors are fastened with a series of 4 screws on each side of the LED, and the top eyelet can be rotate out of the way of the spring clip so that you can remove the gel without removing the barndoors. I’m not a fan of screwing on and off lighting modifiers (e.g. I like Profoto’s clip design), but I can see the benefit of this design if you’re “running and gunning” and carrying the light on a stand that you hold at a 90 degree angle while transporting or getting into awkward positions.
Unlike the Visual Buddha unit, DMX is implemented with RJ-45 connectors and there is both an in and out port for easy daisy chaining.
- Power brick sits within the unit
- Specific digital output controls
- RJ-45 in/out for DMX control
- Output settings reset when unit is power cycled
- Barndoors require 4 screws to attach
Having tested both products, you’d be hard pressed to notice any differences in the quality of light. I don’t own a color meter, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the light, but in various tests using fixed white balances, they seem to have very steady and reliable output. Given the considerable cost savings over the Litepanel 1×1 ($2291), the decision comes down to the smaller design quirks. I personally prefer the analog dials on the Visual Buddha, but the hanging power brick drives me nuts. I could get into the digital controls of the Limelite, but having them reset every time I turn on the device seems impractical.
Nevertheless, I love these panels. We’ve been using both brands for Skype, our weekly I Love Photography podcast, and various promotional videos, and it has really increased the production value of our video efforts.