LitePanels MicroPro Review
One of the worst situations to be in while on a video shoot is not having enough light. Your footage will either turn out noisy because of a high ISO or worse: underexposed. I recently took a Litepanels MicroPro out on shoot with me because I wasn't sure what kind of lighting conditions I'd be dealing with and boy am I glad I did.
I can afford to be a little selective about the types of projects I shoot and as a result I tend towards structured interview material as opposed to the chaos of event videography because I can bring in a 3 point light kit and backdrop and make a shot look great. With events, like weddings for example, you don't always have the luxury of setting up lights and often have to make do with what's available—risky when you're capturing something important.
A Dark Hall
A particular event I decided to help with recently had me shooting a series of talks in a dark hall and then capturing audience member takeaways afterwards to compile into a recap. I had both a Nikon D7000 as well as a Panasonic HMC-150 with me and I needed to decide which camera would provide me with the cleanest footage in a dark-to-dimly-lit room.
Let me just say that Panasonic's AVCHD line of cameras, particularly the one I had on hand, perform abysmally in low light. In fact, even in ideal lighting conditions you can still experience noise in areas that are just slightly darker. So with that taken in consideration I was already leaning towards the D7000 but there's only so much you can do with a larger aperture, so I began investigating some on-camera lighting solutions and found myself looking at the LitePanels MicroPro.
Going in I knew that a lot of my shots would be handheld or assisted with a monopod so I needed a light source that wouldn't add too much weight to a camera already outfitted with a battery grip and shotgun mic. I also needed something that would last at least a few hours on-and-off that ran on standard batteries or had a long-lasting rechargable solution. Finally, it would be great if this light source had a way to easily attach gels to either diffuse light or color balance if the situation called for it. Long story short with the MicroPro: it had me covered.
A Very Light Light
The MicroPro weighs just over half a pound. While the body is made of plastic, it doesn't feel cheap or flimsy; quite the contrary: it hits just the right notes when it comes to build quality. It came with a ball head hot shoe adaptor (more on that in a moment) and ran on six AA batteries. While the batteries definitely added some heft, it was still quite easy to hold and manuever for extended periods when mounted to the D7000.
A Very Bright Light
When I first turned on the MicroPro I cranked the dimmer all the way to 11. To say that I was surprised by the amount of light it was emitting would be an understatement: this thing gets *bright*.
The dimmer makes this light much more versatile than I could have imagined. For shots that were in the near-black lecture hall, I was able to evenly light a subject standing 3 to 4 feet away by turning it to full brightness. Later, when the lights came up a bit more, I'd turn the brightness down to around 60% and still have a wonderful looking shot.
The LED bank throws off light at 5600K, which is equivalent to daylight at or around noon: a cool, subtle blue. My kit came with three gels that just slid over the light bank: a diffuser gel, a 1/4 correction, and a full correction. The correction gels are for warming things up a bit and the full correction will pull the color temperature all the way down to 3200K.
I personally didn't use either of the correction gels, but I had the diffuser on nearly the entire time. There are a lot of ways you could get the lighting right, but I chose to use the diffuser and turn the dimmer up just a bit to compensate. The resulting light was soft, even, and still bright enough to make the subjects shine in the darkest settings.
The ball head hot shoe offered an interesting alternative to the gels: using it as a fill light. Similar to using a speedlight when snapping photos, you could use the ball head to pivot the MicroPro towards the ceiling or a nearby wall for highly diffused light added to the room without having a harsh shadow being thrown off behind your subject. Just some food for thought.
I was reticent to use on-camera lighting mainly because my last experience with it involved an incredibly bulky halogen bulb that got really hot and required me carrying a small car battery around my waist for power. Clearly, the MicroPro remedies all of those issues and, perhaps the most important of all, runs incredibly cool.
I had it on consistently for periods of 45-60 minutes at a time and I easily could've removed it from the camera and transferred it to another without suffering from third degree burns. This is clearly due to the use of LEDs over standard bulbs, but that benefit alone may be worth it for some.
One Small Issue
You knew there had to be one, right? There were a few occasions where I would turn the MicroPro on and the lights simply would not work. At first I thought the batteries had died, but this was only after an hour of use out of a supposed six. Nevertheless, I changed the batteries, turned it on and it worked.
A little later I turned it on again with the same result: no lights. I turned it back off, waited a moment, turned it back on and it worked like a charm. I couldn't find anyone else with this problem so I assume it was just my unit. The only downside was that it only took a few extra seconds to get things working (which isn't really a downside at all), I just thought it was worth mentioning.
This is a piece of gear I'd gladly carry with me regardless of the shooting conditions. It's light enough to work on a wide array of cameras regardless of whether you're using a tripod or shooting handheld, adds a little bit of a wow factor when people see how bright it is, and when paired with a shotgun mic can turn a DSLR into the perfect candid video capture device. It definitely falls into the "better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it" category and that alone is worth the price.