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Litepanels SolaENG Review: On-Camera LED Light

COW Library : Lighting Design : Helmut Kobler : Litepanels SolaENG Review: On-Camera LED Light
CreativeCOW presents Litepanels SolaENG Review: On-Camera LED Light -- Lighting Design Pros Review


www.losangelescameraman.com
Los Angeles CA USA
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I've needed an on-camera light for a while. I owned and rented little Litepanel Minis and Micros, but they were never powerful enough to cut through strong daylight, or, in a darker space, to throw light a long distance (a dozen feet or more). But then Litepanels introduced the Sola ENG at last year's NAB ($675 list, but closer to $550 in the real world), and it looked like a great solution.


Litepanels Sola ENG
Litepanels Sola ENG.


Sola ENG
Sola ENG.


Some highlights:

  • It's about as bright as a 250w tungsten light (according to Litepanels) but thanks to its LED tech, it draws a minimal 30w. It's also fairly cool to handle, so you won't burn yourself trying to dim or focus it while looking through your eye-piece.
  • It's daylight-balanced, but ships with a tungsten filter (along with diffusion) for indoor use.
  • You can focus the Sola's fresnel lens from 10 to 70 degrees, without taking your eye from the camera's eye piece. Just reach up there, and twist the big rubber ring that's around the middle of the light. You can't miss it.
  • You can dim the Sola from 100% to zero without a noticeable color shift. Just twist the smaller dimmer ring on the back of the light — again, without having to look away from your eye piece.
  • It's not the lightest of lights, weighing 1.3 pounds when you throw in its barn-doors and swivel mount (a MicroPro weighs about 10 ounces for the light alone, minus mount). But I've found 1.3 pounds still fairly tolerable when set atop my Varicam.
  • It draws power from a D-tap, so no need to worry about charging batteries, or extra battery weight (provided you use it on or near the camera).
  • Though its list price is $675, you're more likely to find it for $550, which isn't cheap, but not bad for an on-board LED light. For instance, a Litepanels MicroPro costs $369 on Amazon, but isn't nearly as strong or focusable as the Sola ENG.

Unfortunately, the Sola didn't start shipping until November, so it took a while to actually try it out. But now that I've had some time to work it with it, I can say it's a powerful, fairly energy-efficient and very controllable camera light… but with a couple of hangups.

Here are some impressions:

Power


The Sola ENG definitely has punch. With its beam spread to 70 degrees, you'll get about 34 footcandles at 6 feet. Compare that to the Litepanels MiniPlus (flood model, about $700), which gets 13 footcandles at the same distance, and a Litepanels MicroPro, which gets 28. But neither the Litepanels Mini or Micro can go from flood to spot like the Sola ENG can. If you spot the Sola down to its 10 degree minimum, you'll get 40 footcandles at 12 feet. That punch was enough to add some fill to interviewee's faces while I shot man-on-the-street interviews in daylight. On another job, I was shooting someone coming up a steep, long staircase with a skylight at the top. A PA pointed the Sola at the bottom of the staircase, where the skylight's effect was weakest, and was able to fill in that darker area to balance it better with the top of the stairs. You just couldn't do that with smaller, less powerful LED lights.


Sola ENG


Actually, the Sola feels a little overpowered when you're indoors, particularly in dark spaces. If you're shooting indoor interviews with people a few feet in front of you, you'll definitely have to dim the Sola down and possibly slip in a diffusion filter. If that kind of dark, indoor work is what you do most, you'll probably be better with a smaller light that draws less power. But personally, I want a light that can handle a variety of jobs, and would rather have too much light than too little.


Litepanel MicroPro at brightest setting
Litepanel MicroPro at brightest setting


Sola ENG in flood setting (70 degrees)
Sola ENG in flood setting (70 degrees)


Sola in spot setting (10 degrees)
Sola in spot setting (10 degrees)


Battery Life and Battery Options


They don't call it the Sola ENG for nothing. It's primarily designed for ENG cameras, with the light drawing power from the camera's battery via a 2-pin D-Tap. If your camera doesn't have a D-tap, then you'll have to add that support before working with the Sola ENG.

If you want to use the light off-camera, you can always buy a battery plate with a D-Tap built in, and plug the light's coil into that. Of course, that's another $100+ plus to add to your costs.

As for battery life, Litepanels says the Sola draws about 30w an hour. I couldn't measure that precisely, but I did run the Sola at full power on my P2 Varicam recording in AVC-Intra 100 (which is supposed to use about 42 watts) and running off a 90 watt Dionic HC battery. I was able to run the camera/light combination for 55 minutes before the camera's battery indicator hit 0% and it started beeping loudly. If that's not practical for you, you might consider the 9w draw of Litepanels' MicroPro, or one of the smaller lights from other companies.


Fan Noise


There was one disappointing aspect to the Sola ENG, and that's its on-board fan. Here I was, thinking that LED lights ran cool by their nature, but the Sola ENG proves me wrong. Just turn it on, and you'll immediately hear the fan rev up. And while I wouldn't call the Sola's fan loud, it definitely picks up on my Varicam's on-board microphone. For an example, check out this audio clip I recorded.



Also, the Sola's fan noise can get louder than what my recording captured. The fan doesn't seem to rev when you dim the light up and down, but it does start to rev once the light has been running for a few minutes at full power. It revs up louder than what you hear in my recording, and after several seconds, tends to rev down again until starting a new cycle several seconds later. During those higher revs, I could definitely hear the fan standing 6 feet away from the camera.

But the fan noise doesn't have to be a deal killer, since many shooters only capture audio from boomed and wireless mics, with their subjects standing well out-of-range of the Sola's fan. On the other hand, I have a very wide-angle lens, and sometimes stand within a few feet of my interviewees. In these close-encounter cases, if the environment is otherwise quiet, I think even a boomed or wireless mic would hear the Sola's fan, at least at its higher rev.

My guess is that the Sola's fan will not be an issue for a lot of projects, but anyone using the Sola on a regular basis will still run into a case or two when they wish their Sola was more quiet.


A Couple of Other Hitches


There are two other small annoyances that seemed a little awkward as I used the Sola. First is how the Sola handles its tungsten and diffusion filters. To keep filters in place, you have to first attach the Sola's barn doors (and extra .15 pound), and then slide your filter into the corners of the barn doors. It would have been nicer if the light could accommodate filters without the barn doors, and even better if the two filters could be attached to the light, and simply rotated into place without having to take the camera off your shoulder.


Sola filter. Slide your filter into the corners of the barn doors.
Slide your filter into the corners of the barn doors.


Secondly, as I mentioned before, you turn the Sola on by twisting its dimmer dial. That's fine, but the light turns on at full brightness, and can blind anyone standing in front of it, waiting to start their interview. Litepanels said they designed the light that way so a shooter can strike the light as quickly as possible. But personally, I'd much prefer to turn the light on, and dim it up to whatever level I need.


A New Sola ENG On the Way


There's one last thing to consider before you buy the current Sola ENG. Before finishing this review, I did a quick fact-check with Litepanels and they told me that they're working on a modified Sola ENG that will let you swap out its coiled D-tap cable and replace it with a battery mount, so you can power the light off-camera. It will also have some kind of connector for attaching the Sola to a light stand. Apparently, this version is coming "soon", although there's no word on price. If you want a more convenient way to use the Sola off-camera, then you may want to wait a little longer, and see what this new product brings.


About Helmut Kobler

Helmut Kobler is a Los Angeles-based documentary cameraman. He's also written three editions of Final Cut Pro for Dummies. For more information, go to www.varicaminla.com

Comments

Re: Article: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Jurgen Hoppe
Try Flolight LED panels (http://www.flolight.com) I have a 128 and a 256. They work great, have 100W+ output and use nearly nor battery power.
Re: Article: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Nigel Thompson
Have been looking for someone who used the Sola's for a while.
How noisy are the internal fans in them?
Have not really heard really glowing reviews from other folks who have seen them.
Tim can you give me some pros and cons to the lights.
Im actually looking at the Arri LED fresnel project closely. Thinking that may be a better bet because the Solas a re REALLy expensive as well.
and im not paying 2k for a light that falls apart

HVX200, RED ONE, FCS and more,
High End, Production & Post Production
in the Caribbean
http://www.bistt.com
Re: Article: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Stuart Russell
Hi Nigel,

The Sola ENG is a relatively small on-camera light with output equivalent to a 250w fixture. It's a punchy little light and has attracted a great deal of interest, especially from news crews and documentary makers. I wouldn't say the fan is noisy and there will certainly be no issue if you are using external mics. I'm not sure where your 2k figure comes from - the ENG retails at approx. US$675. The larger Sola 6 model (650w equivalent) is certainly more in that price bracket but it's a much larget fixture which will probably be used more as a studio light. I don't believe Arri make an on-camera LED fresnel at the moment.

Hope that helps,

Stuart Russell
Litepanels (UK)
Re: Article: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Joel Servetz
Stuart, I want to buy this light, but the overwhelming theme I'm seeing in user comments is that the fan is too loud. Your comment that it should be no problem with external mics does not address the reality that it will be used a lot with camera-mounted mics. I also need to see more power options than just a power tap connector (4-pin xlr would be nice). Please don't do the company PR thing. If this product needs tweaking then tweak it and deliver what we really need. This is the first LED light I've seen that could replace the typical on-camera light in a menaingful way, but fix it's flaws and make it the product it should be.

Joel Servetz
RGB Media Services, LLC
Sarasota, Fl
videobyjoel@aol.com
http://www.rgbmediaservices.com
Re: Article: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Stuart Russell
Hi Joel,

I'm not in the business of trying to convince people to buy a product that isn't going to be right for them. I can't talk about the US, but we've had a great deal of interest in the UK from professional broadcasters/ENG crews who feel that this light will be ideal for them. Hence my comment about external mics. I don't necessarily believe that it will be used primarily with on-camera mics because the pro-shooters I talk to don't tend to work this way. So in that sense, we're really happy with the product and its performance. If you work in a different way, all I can suggest is that you try the light out and see what you think. If it's not right for you, so be it.

Regards,

Stuart.
Re: Article: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Joel Servetz
Thanks for your reply Stuart. I just want you to know that my reply was reflective of nearly 4 decades in photo/video/av and having manufacturers deal with real world critiques of their products by referring us to their pr departments ("thank you for your interest in our products") instead of saying "ok, got it, we need to fix this now." I agree that a little fan noise won't affect me when I've got someone hooked up with a lav or some other external mic. setup, but in a run and gun situation with a camera-mounted shotgun or hyper-cardioid this could be a problem. I'm going to see if I can get my hands on one of these to try it out because it really does look like the first LED light that could replace a Lowel Pro or Frezzi Mini-Fill or similar.

Joel Servetz
RGB Media Services, LLC
Sarasota, Fl
videobyjoel@aol.com
http://www.rgbmediaservices.com
Re: Article: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Stuart Russell
Hi Joel,

I take your point and your feedback is absolutely welcomed - our company is not so arrogant as to think that every product we make is 100% perfect and 100% appropriate for every application. If I've learned anything over the years it's that you really can't please all of the people all of the time, nor should you necessarily try to!

We don't exist in a vacuum - there are other great brands out there who make impressive products. All I can say is please try the Sola ENG and let me know what you think. You can email me directly if you prefer: stuart at litepanels dot com. We think it's a great little light and we're already receiving real-world testimonials from very satisfied customers so we're (thankfully!) not alone in this view. The proof of the pudding really is in the eating, though, so I would urge you to take a trial.

Best,

Stuart.
Re: Article: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Joel Servetz
Thanks Stuart, I will see about getting my hands on one of these lights and trying it. When I do I'll let you know what I think. My only other concern is that LightPanels needs to re-think the power connection. Limiting users to a Power Tap connector or expensive after-market adapters was a bit short-sighted, given the very large number and variety of camcorder models that use their own proprietary batteries, and also the very large base of users who have battery packs and belts for their existing lights. A 4-pin XLR and cigarette lighter version would be welcomed. Better still, the light should have a short pigtail connector that accepts cables with the appropriate conncetor for the user's equipment. That, to me, makes more sense and presents Lightpanels with an opportunity for accessory sales for users of multiple power sources.

Joel Servetz
RGB Media Services, LLC
Sarasota, Fl
videobyjoel@aol.com
http://www.rgbmediaservices.com
Re: Litepanels Sola ENG On-Camera LED Light
by Tim Brown
Beware! I bought a Sola and the dimmer ring fell off the first time I used it. Took it back and swapped for a new one. Same thing. Did it again.....yep, same thing. The dealer was getting annoyed at me so I talked to another dealer (Melbourne, Australia) and she said ALL of her Sola lights had broken. One customer was happy to keep his and glue it up. I almost feel the same way because I love the light, but I think I'll wait until v2.0. The ring is attached by two small metal screws that bed into tiny PLASTIC lugs. Someone is asleep at the wheel at Litepanels.


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