I have been using the Litepanels Astra EP 1×1 Traveler Kit for the last few months now and I absolutely love them. I’ve used them on so many shoots — almost all of them — over the last few months since late August and have found them invaluable as part of my main lighting package for smaller shoots and as great supplementary units for my larger shoots. (On the larger shoots, we used pretty powerful lights and also had a full array of other units that there wasn’t much of a need for these.) I’ve found their strength, with my lighting style, is in backlighting and as background lights for interview setups, which I use them for mostly. I still haven’t been able to use them as suitable key lights because I like to have broader light sources than a 1×1 panel. Even if I try using them as a key light, I would fire them through diffusion panels but then a single panel didn’t have enough fire power to give me the light levels I needed so I kept them in their secondary roles as backlight and background units.
As mentioned in previous posts, I like using the Wescott Skylux with Rapid Box XL as my key light as my key because it’s a nice soft light with just enough power for most interview situations, it’s perfectly balanced for daylight, and it’s super portable. I would love to try using a more powerful Litepanels unit for my key because I love the units they make but I just haven’t had the opportunity to do so.
The best thing about the kit that I’ve been using is the Bluetooth Modules that they are outfitted with (sold separately). Along with the SmartLite iOS app (free download), you can control each light from your iPhone! This is so incredibly helpful with a small crew of one or two. I can set up the lights in their positions and then, from behind the camera, I can control the brightness and color temperature of each individual unit from my iPhone. It’s such an amazing tool that makes things go so much faster and easier! So a typical setup will go like this: I’ll set up the shot and then set the camera lenses to the stop I want (typically f/2.8) and adjust the dimmer level on my key light (the Skylux/Rapid Box). Then I dial in my backlight and background lights to taste with my iPhone app. That’s it! No running back and forth between the monitor and lights or telling my colleagues to dim them up or down. It’s absolutely amazing and it’s also fun to show off the tech to the clients.
The Astra EP model that I’ve been using are roughly twice as bright as the original Litepanels 1×1 and have, for the most part, been sufficiently powerful for almost all situations I put them in. There were two times, though, where I really wish I had the regular Astra 1×1 model which is four times brighter than the original model. Both those situations were times where it was competing (unfairly) with sunlight.
In the shot below, I needed a quick boost to the talent’s face so I had my gaffer bring in a battery-powered Astra EP 1×1 for the job; but at full power, it was about half as bright as I wanted it to be. Although, I think it worked out for the best because the result looks better than I had actually wanted it — so, happiness all around!
The other situation for which I didn’t have enough fire power but could have used more was outside in the direct sunlight. The shot was a fisherman with a hat in backlight. We had a 6×6 unbleached muslin attempting to provide fill but compared to the background of the lake, it just wasn’t enough — like, at all. I didn’t know how much light to expect to come out of the Astra compared to the direct sunlight but it was worth a shot sticking it in to see, plus, it was the only battery-powered unit we had and we didn’t have time to set up the generator and setup an HMI. It helped just enough but I had to place it millimeters just off the frame in order for it to have any effect under the man’s hat. The still below was taken before I had the crew put in the Astra (and when we were waiting for the sun to pop out from behind some clouds). I didn’t think to take a picture after we put it in because we were in such a mad rush to get the shot. The shot after that is a frame grab from the spot.
The Litepanels Astra EP 1×1 Traveler Kit comes with two Astra EP 1×1 bi-color units, two light stands, AC power adapters with U.S. and international plugs, and V-mount battery plates (batteries not included). The Bluetooth Modules are sold separately but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. I would consider them almost necessary in the situations I often find myself in. The roller case it comes in is sturdy and is well packed. I took them on a couple of flights and, to my relief, it is under the 50 lbs. weight limit (around 42 lbs.) and not oversized. Such a nice change from so many other light kits I’ve traveled with.
There are a few things I wish I could change or improve about this kit, but none of them taint the experience enough to really dislike this kit. The light stands are pretty lightweight and flimsy. I often used more robust stands when I had them available. Especially when they are equipped with batteries, the units are very top-heavy and seem precarious at best without sandbags (which I hardly ever have on smaller shoots). Switching between AC and battery power is a bit clumsy because of the way the power cords connect to the back of the unit. You need a different cord for each type of power. Lastly, the Bluetooth connectivity isn’t as consistent as I would like. Sometimes, I have to re-pair the units after the iPhone goes to sleep, other times it remembers the lights. The instructions say (unless I’m mistaken) that the app should remember the units so they connect automatically whenever used. I found this never happened and I would have to relink them every time. Not a huge deal because it’s a quick process, but it just went against my expectations.
These are somewhat minor things I have to complain about, but other than those things, I love these lights and this kit. The Litepanels Astra EP 1×1 Traveler Kit is definitely a kit I would want to keep around and would recommend for your smaller productions. Below are a series of stills and diagrams from some of the lighting setups I did over the past couple of months (when I remembered to take a picture).
The key light in this shot is all from the natural daylight pouring through the windows but some fill was needed.