Review: LitePanels Astra Bi-Color LED light
In this review we are taking a look at LitePanels new Astra 1×1 BiColor panel.
This unit was kindly leant to me by LitePanels for me to use on the feature film The Three of Us, which was shot on location in London and in France.
The panel I had was the Asta 1×1 Bi-Color Next Generation. The panel had a max power draw of 110watts, which was perfect for our shoot as the electrics in France where far from stable.
LitePanels claim the Astra has a similar output to a 575w HMI or 2K Tungsten Softlight. I was unable to measure or test against one of these lights. But to my eye I would agree. The output is one of the best from an LED source of its size and power draw.
The throw of the light is also fantastic. We had large rooms to light in France and the Astra made a huge dent by its self. The Astra has LED’s tightly clumped together under a sheet of optics, that make it appear to be a panel of large LED’s. But this method gives the light its high CRI and large light throw. The beam angle is 45 degrees and the optics
The panel is fully dimmable from 0-100% and this happens smoothly and easily with one of the dials on the back. The other dial controls temperature. Although there is no direct control over the numbers, you dial the colour in by eye, which is how I prefer to work anyway.
The panel is flicker free, and I did put this to the test during the shoot as I shot a few parts of the film in 120fps and 240fps. Unfortunately I don’t have the ability to show any of the footage, but flicker is an issue I have with the FS700 a lot as you don’t have complete control over the shutter speed during high speed shooting. So this was a huge relief to me on set.
The light is fully DMX controllable and can be powered by battery, but these where two options I didn’t have access to on set.
Now the tech specs have been brushed aside, I like to look at what actually using this light is like, and it was great to have it on a live feature film set.
This unit is perfect for indie film, where there is no availability of generators and having a small power footprint is a must. It’s fast to set up and has the power output of something that draws 2K from your mains.
I couldn’t believe when I first used it and how well stood up against the sun. I could happily let the sun do its thing and add fill with the Astra. I often complimented it with a 1K Fresnel that had CTB gel added, to get some harder shadows. But this light quickly became my go to light, often being the only light on set.
It completely replaced my go to soft light, the Dedo DLH4x150s, 600w soft light, which I can add lovely large soft boxes to. But it loses a lot of output when I add CTB, and the ability to change colour temperature so fast with a dial, made the Astra a far more useful light source.
I would hang diffusion off a C-Stand and Flag arm, in front of the Astra to make the light source softer and creating the exact same effect as the Dedo DLH4x150s.
The other LED lights I took with me to France where a set of 3x Ikan LED panels. The Astra has more light output than the 3 combined, and those panels have a permanent piece of plus green attached, to get rid of the magenta. The colour quality of the Astra, to my eye and my camera (Which was the Sony FS700 & Odyssey 7Q shooting ProRes 2K) was brilliant. I added no gel to the light or compensated in any way.
The biggest issue with the light is that there is no clear way to fix gels to the fixture. With no barn doors, the gel would sit directly onto the panel, which didn’t make the light source as soft as needed and eradicate any multiple shadows, caused by the multiple points of light.
Adding diffusion by hanging it from a flag arm, as I said earlier, was the best method. But this made the light quite large and one of the advantages of an LED panel is they are slim and fit in corners easily.
So I developed a method with plastic clips, making a lip to hang diffusion from.
There are different accessories that would do this and ways to add LitePanels own diffusion. But I didn’t have access to any of it, so I can’t comment on them and can only review the unit as a flat panel.
The light is extremely cool and I could happily tape diffusion to the surface without any damage to the unit or the diffusion. There is a fan on the unit, which made some noise, but nothing that the sound recordist Paul ever mentioned. It’s not loud at all and certainly I hear louder on some cameras and HMI units can create a high pitched noise that I never hear a sound recordist mention.
The build quality of the light is very good, and you can see where the accessories would fit well. Where you fix the light to a stand isn’t the most solid aspect of the unit and it did seem to wobble on smaller stands. On top of a C-Stand it stood perfectly. But you would expect a Panel of this type to be happy on smaller stands.
It’s made from plastic, so I wouldn’t throw it about. But I would want to take care of lights like this anyway. It’s larger and a bit chunkier that other LED’s especially with some LED panels now being bendable and super thin.
But this panel was fantastic. I will always be looking to have one in my kit on any Indie film and I also took it out on a cheeky corporate shoot I did between the London and France shoot of ‘The Three of Us’ and it performed fantastically. It was a simple interview set up, but its output is so strong, that I actually had to dim it down, even with the sun coming through the windows.
I’ve always liked the idea of BiColor but it never seems to work. LED fixtures that offer it, tend to have poor output and colour. But the Astra doesn’t struggle with either.
My conclusion is that this is a fantastic light source for Indie projects and corporate shoots. It’s certainly a light that is worth owning. I am considering selling my Fresnel lights and replacing them with an Astra Panel, as it’s a far better light to own.
My video review for the Astra is almost finished, I just need to record the dreaded voice over! Then I will crack on with my thoughts on the LitePanels Sola 12.
Until then, thanks for reading,
Photo Credits: Mathew Hodgkin.
Thanks to the TTOU production team for the use of these images.