Images of people lit by LED panels with Airbox Inflatable Softboxes on them

BTS of the previous closeup.  With Art Adams

People ask me, so why an  Airbox? What’s it do?  This post is long overdue, some work samples of shooting I’ve done using just LED panels and Airboxes. It is notable that much of the time I light with my panels and Airboxes, I do use an extra layer of diffusion in the front pocket when I don’t need all the output and I do want it a bit softer. Good thing precut gel + diffusion kits are available to fit our softboxes then!

 

woman-lit-by-arbx-only-2

Lighting used: 2 1×1 Litepanels with Airbox Model 1×1 Softboxes with extra sheet of diffusion in front sleeve and eggcrates), Switronix TorchLED with Airbox Macro, Dracast 160 with Airbox Macro kit with eggcrate

BTS of above image

BTS of above image

Lighting used: Flolight 512 with Airbox Model 126 with 250 in front sleeve, background lit with kinos

Lighting used: Flolight 512 with Airbox Model 126 with 250 in front sleeve, background lit with kinos

girl-elbow-shadow-detail-2

Lighting used: Dracast 1000 LED panel with an Airbox Model 1×1 softbox on it, with additional layer of diffusion in front sleeve. Blue backlight is a Flolight microbeam 512 with an Airbox Model 126 on it.

BTS of the previous closeup.  With Art Adams

BTS of the previous closeup. With Art Adams

Shot with two 1x1 Panels  with Airbox Model 1x1 as a key, Flolight 512 with Airbox Model 126  softbox as backlight

two 1×1 Panels with Model 1×1 softboxes as a key, Airbox Macro/dracast 160 LED as backlight, bounced Flolight 512 fill

Litepanels Astra review

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Litepanels Astra Review

 4.5/5 stars

If you’re into lighting with LED panels at all, you must have heard about the Litepanels Astra that came out last year. Litepanels were the first in the field of LED panel lighting for video, and after being thoroughly and extensively copied over the years, they’ve now released a spiffed-up design of their original product. They were also kind enough to lend me one, and here are my impressions after playing with it around the house and using it on several shoots.

  • Output

What I noticed first is how bright it was. When set to daylight-only, it’s just about two stops brighter than my old Litepanels D-Flood, or four times as bright. That’s pretty remarkable, especially since it’s a bi-color. Bicolor panels are generally accepted as being less bright than single-color panels because there’s only room for half as many LEDs of each color. The daylight emitters are brighter than the tungsten emitters because the base output of the emitter is quite blue and it requires a denser and more complex mix of phosphors to adjust that blue color down to roughly 3200K. When set to tungsten, the Astra is a stop and a half brighter (3x) than the old Litepanel.

Old Litepanel daylight flood, ISO 320, 111” (282 cm) metered at f/2
Astra panel, set to full daylight, ISO 320, 111” (282 cm): f/2.8 .8

In the spirit of research, I also compared the output to one of my other go-to panels, the Dracast 1000 Daylight 1×1.  The Dracast single-color was about the same, maybe a hair brighter, but that’s not really comparing apples to apples, since the Dracast is a single-color panel and the Astra is a Bi-color, which is another point in the Astra’s favor.

  • Color

Right after I got it, I put it up in my living room and banged it off the wall and took some pictures of my kids. The wall had a yellowish tint which threw things off, but shooting on preset 3200K, things looked fine. Whatever LED-based inaccuracies there may in the spectral output of this light, it was still a pleasing color to be around and the kids looked pretty good. Possibly they look a touch yellow/green, but the bounce wall is a little yellow as well.

70My kids will give me a hard time about these when they’re older

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To be more scientific about it, here are some screen grabs of tests I shot using a DSC Labs Oneshot color chart with the panel set to both tungsten and daylight output. How does the skin tone look? My skin looks decent unless you count the age spots and unshavenness, but the yellow chip on the chart looks a little green-brown, which is odd because on the vectorscope the yellow chip appears to be skewing towards red, not green. It also looks like the red chip is a little orangey, skewing a bit towards yellow.

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The Astra only comes in bi-color. The rows of LEDs alternate between blue and orange, and you fade between them with a dimmer knob on the back.

75Alternating diagonal rows of blue and orange LEDs. Fade between the two is continuous and smooth.

76Power button, dimming knob in the middle, color fade knob on top, accessory panel under logo

This is a simple, user friendly setup, with the controls close to each other and easy to operate without looking with one hand. Each control has a different shape so you can distinguish between them by feel without looking.
Some may object that you cannot dial in a specific Kelvin color temperature, but that didn’t bother me much. You can light by numbers or you can light by eye(and monitor), and my style has always been the latter.
  • Shape, ergonomics, and the yoke

The shape and ergonomics of the Astra are much improved over the traditional 1×1 panel format. Firstly, the yoke is angled forward so that the light doesn’t sit directly over the stand.

77Litepanels Astra showing tilted yoke

The benefits of this are that it can tilt down and not have its own yoke interfere with the beam, especially when using front-mounted accessories like a softbox.  The yoke is tilted forward just enough so that when you put the light up to a relatively normal above-eye level height, you can still focus it at the subject, even with a softbox or barndoors on.

Second, the heavy bits are moved off of the panel and onto the yoke. The ac power supply brick and the external battery are mounted to the yoke where it sits on the stand, rather than on the back of the panel as is traditional. This is huge. Have you ever had the big fat battery on the back of your panel throw it way off balance so that it suddenly tilts up to the sky? That little issue is handily take care of.  You can see here the battery mounting plate on the back of the yoke just over the mounting point.

78Note: AB battery plate just above mounting plate

A drawback to this change is that moving the power supply to the yoke seems to have left us with messy external cables! Both the AC adapter and the battery plate had a 3-pin XLR output that you plug into the back of the unit, and the unused one dangles freely, which bothered me a bit.  I asked Litepanels about this and they sent me an image of the yoke with built-in clips to keep the cables straight. The panel I was using was a beta, so didn’t have the cable routing all worked out yet. The routing clips in the yoke will be good for the XLR that you are using, but it doesn’t solve the dangling unused cable issue.

79Unused XLR Power Cable dangling

80Cable routing in yoke detail on up to date version of Astra

I would prefer if the cables from both the battery plate and the AC adapter were hidden inside the yoke. It is a bit annoying to unplug a cable from the back of the light and plug in a different one when you switch from battery to AC power or vice-versa.  Some competing panels do the switch from battery to AC just with a switch. As a product manufacturer myself, I can guess that it’s not that they didn’t think of it, it’s more about the cost. It’s always the cost.

Third, added to the yoke are two ¼-20 threaded holes on the sides of the yoke, nice if you want to add another baby stud to the side for rigging or to store the ¼-20 tiedown when using the panel in a junior receiver. These tapped holes aren’t that big a deal, I don’t see them being useful all that often, but it’s still a neat little feature not offered by the competition.

81Baby stud in side 1/4″-20 hole

Fourth, they improved the yoke-tightening knobs, making them bigger more hand-friendly, and putting them on both sides of the yoke.

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This isn’t critical, but it’s nice. The combination of the big knobs, the well-balanced light and the battery weight going on the yoke results in a pleasant user experience: quick to aim and stays focused right where you point it, with the only drawback being that there are two knobs. I do wonder if they couldn’t have made it work with just a single right-side knob. A leko has only one knob and stays put, a 1200 par has only one knob and stays put, why can’t a lightweight panel just have one knob? Still, the light was quite nice to work with, smooth and fast to focus.

Fifth, the body of the light is all rounded molded plastic with not a hard corner in sight. The plus side of this is that it’s nice in your hands, nothing to nick yourself on, and is a marked deviation from the boxy form they initiated last decade, but will this molded plastic hold up to rental house abuse? Only time will tell on this one. As well, the controls didn’t feel as durable as I would like though. The power button in particular felt a little clinky and plasticky, and the knobs are plastic and I fear they’ll get busted off when the light gets shoved in and out of bags over and over.

   The gels are now slid in from the side rather than the top. I could see this being good, so hard gels won’t fall out when you flip it upside down, but I also found it a little fiddly to get gels in and out. The plane where the gels sit is below the plane of the front of the unit, so you bend the gels a little to stick them in. They’ll definitely stay in, unlike most panels where you’re putting the light away and THUNK, two hard gels fall out and hit the floor and make you look clumsy or careless. Sliding the gels in the side is an improvement over the old style.

  • Other Features- cooling

The Astra has a feature that I haven’t seen on other units: a fan.

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Perhaps the fan’s purpose is to extend the life of the emitters or preserve their color by keeping the temperature down, especially if they’re in a long-term installation?  I don’t know.  In any case, it’s extremely quiet.  I had thought that that would be an issue on sets where there is sound, but the fan noise proved to be a non-issue.

The Litepanels writeup about the cooling mode says:

“Efficient thermal management with user selectable dual cooling mode
– Completely silent passive cooling mode
– Ultra-quiet active cooling mode with double light output”

The way to switch cooling modes wasn’t apparent to me, so I missed this feature when I had the light in my possession.  I don’t know which cooling mode it was operating in; it was probably passive mode since the fan seemed to go off shortly after I turned the unit on. If you can leave the fan on and double the light output, that could be a cool feature, since the fan was extremely quiet and would be little trouble even on a sync-sound set.  I’ll have to revisit this section later next time I get my hands on an Astra. I left it in the mode it was in  out of the box for all my testing.

 

  • But…It’s still an LED panel

The output is still the usual multiple source that you get from LED arrays. This can be objectionable, both in looking a little funny when someone has a multiple nose shadow. It’s actually worse with this unit than with some others because the Astra uses fewer/ larger LED emitters.

84Multi-edged cast shadow from a Litepanels Astra

There’s a sheet of etched polycarbonate over the front that protects the emitters and diffuses the light to a minor extent, but the only real solution to the multi-shadow thing is diffusion set out in front of the light, becoming a new source. Diffusion right on the face isn’t really going to help much, since you can see all the emitters and they’re not a unified source. Here’s an Astra with an Airbox, making a nice soft single source with no multiple shadows.

85Litepanels Astra with Airbox inflatable softbox on it at the top of the image

86Note: clean soft edges on shadows when Astra is used with an Airbox

  • Cost

I was pretty surprised to learn that the retail price is only 1500$. I paid 2200 each for my old d-floods back in ’07. Yes, there’s more plastic in the build than I would have expected, but it’s still a much lower price than I’d have expected from Litepanels, never known to be an inexpensive brand. It makes sense; there are so many copycat brands now, and we can hardly even call them copycats anymore! Lighting with LED arrays is now well established, and some of these latter day panel makers are doing it so cheaply and so well (c.f. Dracast). It only makes sense that Litepanels would have to bring their prices down. It’s a crowded space, as they say. I believe that the AB gold mount battery plate is an add-on for an additional 140$, as would be the optional dmx control module.

And at the end of the day, what’s my opinion? Is it a good price for what you get?

Yes! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Litepanels Astra became the new standard in rental houses, the one that customers ask for by name. It had all the advantages of a traditional LED panel, being bright, light, convenient, simple and fast to work with, battery-powered, but with some improvements beyond those basics. If I was going to buy another LED panel, I’d likely buy an Astra.

Tom Guiney

Gaffer, DP, inventor

Airboxlights.com

More lighting and camera gear 2014: FS7, Sourcemaker blanket, Twintube Dolly, Gruvgear Muver

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New lighting and camera equipment from 2014 that bears mention:

Sony’s Fs7 has been one of the most ballyhooed releases this year. I recently got the chance to do some testing Adam Wilt and Art Adams. Adam Wilt wrote some thorough articles about it which are worth reading. I’m looking forward to reading Arts writeup when its done, but here’s my really quick .02 – like the smarty handgrip. All those controls you can operate without taking your eye of the eyepiece! I was also very impressed with the dynamic range. S-log 3, we were actually short of hard pressed to create an indoor situation that exceeded what camera could still resolve. Granted,  our biggest light was an 800 joker, but it was still impressive that the camera could still see detail on the t/45 white curtains where the beam of light was hitting them as well as in the unlit T/1 patch of dark wood in the foreground, about eleven stops apart.  We’ll wait and see the actual test results though once Art has done the edit.
60Sony FS7, test shoot w/Art Adams and Airbox Lights
Sourcemaker inflatable 4×4 soft source with eggcrate:
How cool is this?  It’s like a 4×4 diffusion frame with a light behind it, except there’s no light behind it! Seems ideal for tight spaces.  I do think you need a pump or helium tank to blow it up; I think you’d turn blue and faint, trying to inflate this by mouth. These are the same people who make the large helium filled balloons you see on big night exterior sets.
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Sourcemaker LED Blanket
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The back and the front of their LED blanket stretched on a 4×4 frame with a diffuser balloon and eggcrate on it.Solid grip twin tube dolly:  this is like an improved version of the ever-popular Dana Dolly, with some significant improvements. Most notable feature is the track: The track breaks down and fits in one case, assembles with no seams between pieces so your frame doesn’t bump when dolly goes over it, and the track is extremely stiff- it doesn’t bow(“smile”) under the weight like the speedrail track of a dana dolly does. The dolly carriage grabs onto the track rather than sitting on top, so the carriage and camera won’t fall off and can be underslung easily. Very nice stuff, but pretty pricey- about 3x as much as a dana dolly setup, in the neighborhood of 4k.

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See also Rigwheels; they’re another cpmpetitor in the field of portable dollies.  Also a good system, less expensive than the twintube, but more than a dana dolly.
Bagolite:
Its a giant inflatable tube that mounts to the front of a medium/large HMI par like a 4k or 6k par.  It makes a giant glowing sausage that you only have to support at one end. It definitely was eyecatching.  I could see that being useful in some situations. If you needed to arm out a large bright soft source and weren’t able to support the far end because the stand would be in frame perhaps?  On their website they show it being used to light a car, which makes sense since it’s would make one long continuous reflection on the curved finish of the car. The massive size of the source is probably the most important feature; to get a single soft source that big could take some significant effort using traditional tools. Still, I’m not holding my breath to see this all the time.
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Plastic apple boxes: So simple! A lot f the best new gear is just that, super simple.  These apple boxes won’t start to splinter and come apart on you, probably won’t show the wear as much as traditional wooden ones.  I was told they were priced approximately the same as normal apples. Plus, you can get them appropriately colored for chroma key work in green, blue, or red. at filmtools.com
******* MISSING PHOTO  *******
Who thought that regular old carts had room for improvement! This is an LA company who make these carts that can be configured lots of different ways, as you see in the video. They originally were making stuff for musicians and bands et al., but bands and shoot technicians have a lot in common. Folds up very small for portability, sets up quickly in loads of different ways. We have a customer group in common: video shooters for whom compactness and portability is essential. I got the chance to use one on a job yesterday, and it was awesome!  Really sturdy and adaptable, but importantly, that center wheels lets it turn on a dime. Red Scorpion LED Maxibrutes: Daylight-balanced large LED heads with output that can compete with a 4k par, but on a single 20 amp circuit! To get that kind of output, they’re set up with arrays of emitters, much like the familiar Maxibrutes, 9-lights fays, and Dinos. Each LED emitter is set into an MR-16-style parabolic refractor, directing all of the light forward.  Some of their smaller units are compatible with Airbox inflatable softboxes. They’re a small startup started by a working gaffer, just like Airbox, but watch out for these lights! That kind of output with such minimal power draw could be a really big deal in days to come.
68Red Scorpion LED maxibrute
69Red Scorpion LED
Other tidbits- Recently discovered that more excellent lights have proven to be compatible with Airbox inflatable softboxes- the BBS area 48 and the Cineo LS and Cineo Maverick! See the full list of lights compatible with Airbox Inflatable softboxes here.

Custom Catch Lights or Eye Lights

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Lighting Exercise: Custom Catchlights

50I’ve always had this thing for unusual catch lights in people eyes, something other than the usual rectangle or dot.  Catchlights, also referred to as eyelights, are generally understood by photographers and videographers to be important; people’s eyes seem a little dead when there’s no light reflected in them. Not coincidentally, the times there’s no light reflected in someone eyes is usually when there isn’t any light source in front of them, so they’re usually a bit backlit or sidelit anyway, which might lead people to feel that the person looks a little gloomy.

Exhibit A: No Catchlight

51Grim selfie with no eyelight

The notion of using customized eyelights to give some sort of special meaning to an image was inspired by something I saw once in a comic book. Somehow through the years I still have the comic book.

Exhibit B: Creepy Eyelight

Kalibos the nasty psychic robot is invading our hero’s brain and stealing the secret he most wants to protect. Kalibos’ eye is sporting a creepy cross as he’s reading Grimjack’s mind
******** MISSING PHOTO ********
52Grimjack having a rough day after having his mind abused
I don’t know what that little cross in the eye meant, if anything, but the image stuck in my head over the years. And much appreciation to Steve Pugh the artist and First Comics.
Anyway, back to the topic.  Catchlights are important in videography and photography.  Why not exercise all the options available and make them extra cool?

Why not have a shape appear in their eye?

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She’s not going to invade your mind, she promises.

Or how about a word?

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Hmm, what’s she like?  Oh right, she’s NICE.  It says so right there on her eyeball.

Or while we’re at it, why not put a company logo on a pretty girl’s eye?

******MISSING PHOTO********
It’s really simple how to do it.  You need a large luminous object and some opaque black material.  I used diffusion marked up with black tape, slid into the front pocket of Airboxes mounted to LED panels. The logo I printed out black on white paper.  This takes a lot of toner, beware. It could be any luminous flat object though.  A 4×4 frame of diffusion with a light behind it would work well, and make custom cutouts out of black tape and blackwrap.  Light your subject from the front using this source with the black cutout, fiddle around with the placement to get the catchlight where you want it, and call it done.
These are the tools I used:
55sheets of 250 in the front pocket of an Airbox Model 126
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Airbox Model 1×1 with a printout of our logo in the front pocket

Remember that words will be reversed in the reflection, just like a mirror.  You have to put the words in so they appear backwards.
Good luck with all your lighting experiments!
Tom Guiney

Off-topic, mostly nothing to do with video lighting or gear or LED panels or LED softboxes

This isn’t about my usual topics, like cool video lighting gear or LED softboxes.

What’s the right thing to do, when you’re loading up your car with equipment for the day’s shoot on a dark rainy morning, when all of a sudden you find someone pointing a gun at your chest? It’s a funny feeling, surreal as much as anything else.  Like it doesn’t make sense. Just finishing loading all the Jokers and Kinos and LED panels and and stands and everything else, and then you see someone walk up your driveway. You wonder who this stranger is, what they want, whether they need help with something, and then you see the silver shiny barrel of a handgun pointed at you. You might shout, you might run, you might freak out. You would certainly be late for work. You might shout once, but find that it sort of strangles in your throat, because you’re not sure what this stranger is like,  this stranger with the bandanna over their face up to their eyes and the wool cap pulled down low over their forehead, the stranger with black-gloved hands aiming a gun at you, might get upset about you raising a hue and cry and shoot you down outside your daughter’s bedroom window. It’s an awkward thing, having a gun on you at 6:42 AM in the rain.

You might just hand over your wallet; what’s worth getting shot for?  But how do you know what state the person is in, whether they’re really in the mood to kill someone, or whether there are even bullets in the gun.

You might be pretty grateful that they just took your wallet and the 4$ that were inside, and didn’t tell you to open up the vehicle and take something very expensive. OR even your phone, which would cost you a bunch to replace but he could only get a few bucks for an iphone 4s with a cracked screen.

So what do you do?  You hand it over, even though you’re thinking what a pain it will be to cancel all the cards and get a new ID. Do you buy a gun?  Mace? Taser? Keep a baseball bat in your car? What good would that do, really? When there’s someone on your, threatening you, are you going to have the presence of mind or the cojones to pull out a bat and attack them?   Install a bunch of outdoor lighting perhaps. Security cameras?  If you’re not safe at home, then where?

The stranger was very professional, very fast, in and out.  He came in very fast, everything about him was covered up, no way for me to identify him. Other than that he was black, adult, maybe in his 30s, 5’10”, 180-200 lbs.  If you can be this good a robber, why not do something useful?

The good news is that I got an email that the first batch of Airbox 1×1 Inflatable softboxes for LED panels are in the air on the way here. And I got another email that B&H is interested in selling them. And I wasn’t hurt, nor did anything bad happen to my family, in bed just a few feet away from where this guy threatened me.

I think he was mad that there was only 4$ in my wallet. But once his back turned on me, I split.  I didn’t stick around to find out how he felt about his take.

I love Oakland, but that sucks.  In my own driveway in my own house. What are you gonna do.  Get over it and move on. And install some motion-sensor lights and things like that. Very soon. Not a nice feeling to not feel safe at home.