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

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

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

LED panel comparison: color charts, vectorscopes, light loss

People ask me all the time, “what LED panels do you recommend?” “What’s the color like on that panel?”and “”Does putting an Airbox Softbox on the light affect the color?”, so I decided to do some testing, as scientifically as possible.  What you’re looking at is footage shot of the DSC labs OneShot chart, where each of the color patches is carefully calibrated to match up to the six points on a vectorscope, as well as four skin tone patches that line up with the “skin tone” line on a scope.  A perfect light source and a perfect camera would land each of the dots right on the vectorscope targets. You can observe which way a light is biased by seeing in which direction the six points tend. Distance from the center indicates saturation.  For example, the top target on a scope is the red reference, and if you see the top point on the star significantly to the left of the target, you know that the light source skews towards yellow. One the source that’s used in this sample chart, you can see how desaturated the green point is, indicating an overall magenta cast.

Here is a sample vectorscope with the targets labeled clearly, if vectorscopes aren’t something you look at often.

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The video below is made from the powerpoint I put together of the results.  A video of stills in a powerpoint of vector scopes and color charts?  That’s some exciting viewing! No, but seriously, it’s data that actually tells you something.   If you want to click back and forth to examine those vectorscopes closely, you can download the powerpoint.

•Tungsten source for a control group
•Litepanels Astra, set daylight
•Litepanels Astra, set tungsten
•Dracast 1000 daylight
•Litepanels D-Flood c. 2007 manufacture
•Flolight Microbeam 512

 

 

I plan to add some budget panels to the testing mix as soon as I’m able so we can see how much difference there really is between the cheaper panels and the pricier ones, but this is what we’ve got for now. Also, when I do more testing, I’ll strive to be more precise with the exposure.

My take on the test results:

1) I’m surprised that the leko doesn’t look better. The skin tone looks good, but on the scope, the yellow still looks a little desaturated and skewed towards red, and the magenta skews towards red as well.  That’s not too surprising since it’s somewhat aged bulb and probably burns a little warmer than it ought. It’s possible that a little glare on the surface of the chart threw things off.

2)The Litepanels D-Flood, the original that people refer to as a “Litepanel”,  still works but is pretty outmoded now.  You can see that it’s two stops less bright than the more modern panels.  The color also is a little iffy on the scopes- pretty much all six colors skew one way or another. It looks liek an overall magenta cast- see how the green point is short(desaturated) and is slid way up towards yellow and red.

3)Astra Daylight- most of the points look pretty close to on, except the green again.  Were they making sure to avoid the famous green cast of LEDs and overcompensated towards magenta? My skin tone looks pretty good though.  I’d happily use that on a shoot. I couldn’t perceive any material difference when I put the Airbox on the light. Interesting was that the Astra set to daylight was almost, but not quite as bright as the single-color Dracast panel. One-color panels are always brighter than their bicolor cousins because all the LEDs are devoted to the one tone, rather than having half of the emitters dedicated to each side of the spectrum.

4)Dracast 1000- This was the brightest panel I tested. Also worth noting is that this panel runs a little warm on a standard color meter, around 5000 K.  White balancing the camera to the source made this not very apparent, but it’s something to know about.  On the scopes the blue and cyan points are pulling towards each other, and the yellow is definitely skewed towards red.  I find the yellow square on the chart a little icky looking. The skin tone? Not bad, looks a little pink to me. However, on the scope, the magenta point seems pretty spot on, it’s just that its complement in green that is off-target.

5)Litepanels Astra, set to tungsten. The scopes seem to be more on-target here than in the other lights, except for that yellow point which is skewing to the orange and the red which is oversaturating a little. For a tungsten LED, it’s quite good.  Those traditionally have been the worst-looking LEDs, but they seem to have gotten it right with this one. The skin tone isn’t perfect, it does bring out the reds a little more than I like.

6)In general, there didn’t seem to be much noticeable color shift when I added the Airbox Softboxes to the lights.  FYI! 15% off all Airbox products, Nov 27-Dec 2, Black Friday-Buy Stuff Monday sale. Airbox Inflatable softboxes are a tool to adjust the quality, not the color, so it’s nice to be able to say that they are neutral in color.

7) The Flolight Microbeam 512-  looks like the exposure was a bit off here, but nonetheless, the red looks a little orangey and the blue is kicked towards green. I’ve used that light lots of times on shoots though and I haven’t heard any complaints.

Those are just some impressions, please make you own decisions from the data about which lights have the best color.  I am not a colorist, just a lighting guy trying to get some objective data on these lights. I’d love to hear feedback from anyone more expert than I!

if you’re still curious, here is more information on vectorscopes and the DSC OneShot.