The Litepanels Micro; Is This The Perfect Fill Light?

Like many photographers, I am always looking for lighting devices that will improve the way my subject looks and also be very easy to use. Lightweight is also a plus, so I was intrigued when I heard about a product being promoted as “The Perfect Fill Light.” There are many times when we’d like to add just a touch of light to lighten up dark lines under the eyes and give us a catchlight for the eyes. Think weddings; think outdoor portraits. Think of photos inside, under dim lighting.

For those of us used to working with a flash, the Litepanels Micro is quite different—it’s a continuous light source. There are no cords (there is a 5-12v input jack) or battery packs, just load four AA-sized alkaline or rechargeable batteries and you’re good to go. Alkalines power the unit for about 90 minutes. With E2 lithium batteries you’re looking at 7-8 hours—pretty impressive. About the size of a pack of cigarettes, the Micro can be mounted right on your camera’s hot shoe and tilted. The front panel is full of rows of LED lights that are daylight-balanced. You can fit color gels on the front, but I did not receive the front gel holder for this test. There is a dial on the top that controls power output from zero to 100 percent. I kept touching the front panel while it was on, like you do when the waitress tells you not to touch a hot plate. It is not hot. There is no heat so you can whip it off your camera and throw it into your pocket without worrying about burning your pants off—a real problem at a wedding!

(Left): Taken at ISO 1600 with my Tamron lens set on f/2.8 at 28mm. I used a Kubota Action for the color. There is a little bit of movement in the image that I also like. (Model: Caitlin Berry.) (Right): This was taken at ISO 1600 with my Tamron lens set on f/2.8 at 75mm. I handheld the light up over the lens. Note her warm hair color and background from mixing the color temperature. A texture was added after. (Model: Caitlin Berry.)
All Photos © 2009, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

The first thing I noticed, and my models, too, is that the light is bright—really bright. But when you stick your trusty old light meter in front of it, it doesn’t translate to much firepower. I had hoped to be able to use it as a fill light for outdoor portraits, but the power output is so low that unless you are very close to your subject or it is very dark it’s not going to do much good. To be fair, that’s not how the light is designed to work.

So let’s try to use it for what it is designed for, a fill light. I first used it to take a photo of a model in my studio waiting room. I had light coming in from the windows and I used the Micro to supplement it and add light in her eyes. Bang—good job.

This shows an excellent use of the light. I used it to add light on the subject and also add catchlights in her eyes. Note how it also added shadow detail in her hair. The image was taken with a Nikon D300 and a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens at f/3.5 at 55mm; exposure was 1⁄100 sec at ISO 800. (Model: Natasha Beauchamp.)

Being a photographer though, I wanted to see what else I could do with it. So I took a model and brought her in the studio and used just the Micro mounted on my camera’s hot shoe. Since I only had the one small light source on-camera, I didn’t see it as a good use for the light. It’s harsh, flat, and of course drops off quickly so I have to keep the background close to keep any light on it. A nice try, but no sale.