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Todd Terry
LitePanels Astra
on Mar 31, 2016 at 5:49:46 pm

When we started moving to LED instruments a couple years ago (or was it more?...hard to remember), it was pretty much a wildly new and different thing. So... we just sort of tested the waters by buying a several cheapo instruments from ProAim. I usually try to buy good stuff and the idea of buying these very inexpensive (only a few hundred bucks) India-made lights almost made me cringe... but I didn't want to spend "real money" on something so new and different that I hadn't even tried before.

Well, here LEDs have proven themselves invaluable, and I'm thinking it's time to buy "the good stuff." I'm thinking bicolor LitePanels Astra instruments. The reviews I've read are all pretty glowing, and the photometrics, especially on the newest ones, are really outstanding (newest models are about 4x brighter than the original 1x1 LitePanels). The only criticisms I've read are some complaints that the plastic housings aren't as rugged as some people like... but we try to take care of our stuff anyway.

I was just about to push the "GO" button, but got to thinking that before I gave B&H my hard earned money, maybe I should run it by my COW friends.

Anyone here have good (or bad) Astra experiences? Or use something else that blows them out of the water?

Much thanks!

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Erik Anschicks
Re: LitePanels Astra
on Apr 7, 2016 at 3:46:02 am
Last Edited By Erik Anschicks on Apr 7, 2016 at 3:44:20 am

I'm in a similar position Todd, I have been weighing whether or not to purchase a couple of Astras for a couple months now. I've used them as rental items or from other DP's kits for a while now, and here are the Pros and Cons to me:

PRO - The output and color. MUCH improved from the previous 1x1 panels. The highest-end Astra do indeed put out about 4x the light of the previous one, and it is BRIGHT. I used them last year on a CNN gig to light Richard Branson in his new hotel and in one scene only had time to knock one into the ceiling and pray...and it looked like there was a large skylight in the room, just bathed the whole room in a ton of "daylight". It is impressive.

Color is also excellent, the previous ones had a tendency to go very green, these are much better. New TLCI scores are in the high 90s, which is excellent.

CONS - Build quality and size. Your description is pretty much correct, it's basically a large plastic shell on the back and not incredibly durable from my experience, especially around the power pin. If this thing takes a dive, it's probably over.

The size is also an issue, at least from an owner/operator standpoint. While the main light unit is still indeed 1x1, the AC and battery plate is now below the light itself, which then makes the yoke and overall footprint much larger than a typical 1x1. This makes them very difficult to case without a pretty large hard pelican one or something akin. I've seen some guys case them individually in a small bag designed to carry a mixer, but that wouldn't provide REAL protection and is pretty much unthinkable for air travel.

Hope this helps, I'm still looking at all my options myself!


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Todd Terry
Re: LitePanels Astra
on Apr 8, 2016 at 3:07:24 pm
Last Edited By Todd Terry on Apr 8, 2016 at 3:12:24 pm

Thanks Erik...

Yes, the only downside I've really heard about them was the plasticy-ness of the build.

Here's a video though of a guy who is pretty darn rough on it and the instrument was none the worse for wear, which made me feel a little better about it...







I'll note though that in each of these drops, it did look like the instrument landed pretty much perfectly flat on its face. I'm not sure they would have the same results if it landed on its side, or on a corner.

And yes, it looks like size is definitely an issue. Weight won't be, as I think they are pretty lightweight and I'll be taking the power supplies off for location use (we go with batteries for everything now... outside the occasional HMI I can't even remember the last time I plugged an instrument into AC). Of course that doesn't cut down on the size.

I'm probably buying them today...

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Todd Terry
Re: LitePanels Astra
on Apr 22, 2016 at 9:51:12 pm

Just an update in case anyone is interested....

We did pull trigger on getting these, although in sort of a soft way... to test the waters I went ahead and bought just one LitePanels Astra for now.

I haven't really used it on a shoot yet, but it seems pretty impressive so far.

It is bright bright bright. I haven't put a meter to it yet, but they say it is four times brighter than the previous generation LitePanel, and I believe that. They also say it's about the equivalent of a 575w HMI, and I believe that, too.

It took me few days to get in gear because of one unexpected speedbump....

I did not by the LitePanels battery adapter for it. But it's just an AB goldmount plate, and a powertap connector wired to a right-angle XLR connector. Considering it is pushing $150, I knew I could make my own for just a few bucks and planned to do that...already had all of the parts laying around. Or so I thought. When the unit got in, I quickly discovered they use a three-pin XLR connector, not the four-pin one that I had planned to use. This surprised me, I've never seen a three-pin XLR connector used for power (only for mics), they're always four-pin. So... I had to order a three-pin right angle XLR connector and wait a couple days. after that it was a breeze.

In the end, I didn't wire it up exactly the way LitePanels does, though... when you stick the powertap into the bottom of the goldmount plate, it's a bit in the way of turning the knob on the yoke. Since I never plan to remove this (we hardly ever power a light off of AC anymore, almost always battery), I just drilled a hole in the side of my goldmount plate and wired it directly internally. Works great.




The thing I have learned though is that this bad boy is a power hog. At full blast full power it burned through a pancake-sized brick in only about an hour. I did another test at half-power, and it lasted almost three hours, which is a lot more useful. That's still a lot more light that I'll usually be needing for interiors though, so I'm hoping that with an even lower level I can stretch that to five or six hours.

I'll be shooting with it soon. If it performs as well as I'm hoping, we'll probably get a couple more of them and retire the old LED instruments.

Right now I'm doing some inventing on a better/easier diffuser than what LitePanels currently offers. If anyone is interested I'll show how that works when I'm done.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Rick Wise
Re: LitePanels Astra
on Apr 22, 2016 at 10:09:22 pm

Thank you Todd!

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
MFA/BFA Lighting and Camera Instructor Academy of Art University
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Bob Cole
Re: LitePanels Astra
on May 6, 2016 at 9:56:55 pm

Todd, thanks for the info.

With the variety of options for the Astra (bi-color, tungsten and daylight balanced, "EP," "Soft," 1x, 2x, and 4x original brightness, and a variety of life expectancies for the LEDs), how did you process all of those choices and why did you choose the bi-color? I'm leaning toward the brightest daylight, especially if you need to use it at half-power for extended battery life.

I've been following your posts about not plugging into AC. What was the watt-hour rating of that battery that lasted barely an hour? Although I like the idea of freedom from AC, I am not so sure about having to monitor yet another thing during a shoot.

Bob C


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Todd Terry
Re: LitePanels Astra
on May 6, 2016 at 10:13:41 pm

Hey Bob....

I probably didn't "process the choices" very well or do exhaustive research. After a while I just decided it was time to stop thinking it to death and just pull trigger and buy one... thinking that I couldn't go wrong with LitePanels (like they used to say, "No one ever got fired for buying Sony," even if it wasn't the very best choice).

I bought the bi-color because I'm simply often in lower-temp situations, and need to be able to mix with available light well. My old LEDs had slide-in tungsten-balance panels and while I didn't use them tons and tons, I did use them enough to make a bi-color instrument worth it. Also, even in a pure daylight situation, I'll often want to warm it up a little bit and turning on the tungsten bank just a bit does a nice job of that.

I don't know the rating on the batts that lasted an hour, I don't think they were very high. BUT... a colleague here in town called me a few days ago. In a city about an hour from us we have a big outfit called "Unclaimed Baggage," and they buy literally all the unclaimed baggage lost on airlines (and you wouldn't believe what all that includes). Anyway, he was there and there was a box of brand-new-looking goldmount batteries that he bought for $80 each. Weirdly, they were completely devoid of ANY markings or labeling... I could not tell the brand, the rating, or anything. They were a blank slate. So anywho, I tried a couple of those and they powered the light full blast for about three hours (about the equivalent output of a 575w HMI). Keep in mind that is FULL BLAST, if you turn the fan off it cuts the output in half (which is still a whole lot brighter than the previous generation of LitePanels), and even that amount is more than I would normally use for interiors. I'm guessing that at a more normal output level, a decent-sized Wh brick would go 8-10 hours or so.

I've also invented a diffusion system that seems to work really well, when I get a chance I'll post a pic. I didn't want to buy the softbox that goes with the light, I didn't like the way it attached and the whole thing seemed kinda clunky... so I decided to come up with something else. It works well, was easy and cheap to make, attaches to the instrument in two seconds with no tools.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Bob Cole
Re: LitePanels Astra
on Jul 25, 2016 at 6:47:01 pm

[Todd Terry] "I've also invented a diffusion system that seems to work really well, when I get a chance I'll post a pic. "

Hi Todd,

I'd love to see a pic of your diffusion rig.

Bob C


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