ChungMedia

Review: Litepanels Sola ENG LED lighting kit

By technical editor Matt Allard:

I originally saw the Litepanels Sola ENG lighting kit at NAB and was keen to try it out in a real world situation –  I spend over 300 days a year on the road, in a variety of different countries, covering a large array of topics. An assignment in Mongolia was the perfect opportunity to test it; I needed something that was not only light and portable, but that would also be up to scratch in any situation.

I was originally drawn to the lighting kit by the fact it’s a very compact lighting solution.  In news and documentaries it is important to be quick, mobile and work efficiently – I am often given only 5-10 minutes to set up lights for an interview so sometimes I have to compromise.  There are also a lot of situations where I have no access to mains power, so I need lights that can be powered by other means.

The Sola ENG kit packed in its case

The kit basically gives you everything you need for a three point lighting solution in the one box.  You get three Sola ENG 3″ daylight Fresnel LED fixtures and three each of the following: 2-way barndoors; D-tap power cables;  ball head shoe mounts that attach to TVMP adaptors; 1/4-20 adaptors; gel filter packs that include 1/4 CTO, full CTO and a diffuser; and multi voltage power supplies.  Also included are 3 Manfrotto nano stands and one soft box with a diffuser.  

This whole kit weighs about 12-13kg and comes in a FAA approved carry on size Pelican case (my normal lighting kit is a lot bigger and weighs in at about 22kg without light stands). It’s maybe a bit ambitious to think you could carry it on to a plane given the strict weight limits of many airlines, but it’s a bonus that it is at least the right size if they don’t stop you on weight grounds. The Sola ENG pelican case also has a pull up handle as well as wheels, which is very nice.  I am always looking to make my kit smaller and lighter.

The Pelican case for the kit

They’ve incorporated some very smart design features into this kit. The lights themselves attach to a ball mount that has a cold shoe adaptor at the bottom. This in turn can be attached to a light stand using the TVMP adaptor.  It is good to see a light that comes with mounts included so you can mount it on a camera or a light stand without having to buy accessories or find a third-party adaptor. The actual lights themselves use a fresnel design so they are fully spot/flood adjustable from 15 to 55 degrees.  They are also fully dimmable. The barn doors just clip onto the front of the light and can be taken on or off depending on the application.  If you want to use gels then you need the barn doors on.

It does come with a really clever little soft box (although you only get one in the kit) that folds flat and that you just pop on over the light when you want to use it. Now, this is where I encountered a small problem. Because the soft box just sits over the top of the light and doesn’t clip on, when I had it on a C-stand and the light was facing down, the soft box would fall off.  Also, you can’t fit the soft box on with the barn doors on, so you can’t put any gels in when using it.  So you can’t use a soft box with a CTO filter.  The other small problem is that the kit comes with D-tap cable adapters, but they are so short that they are unusable when the lights are up on stands. You can buy 10′ D-tap extension cables, but they are not included in the kit.

How did it perform?  The first thing that impressed me was how quick it was to set up the kit, leaving you more time to actually light. The lights have a very nice feel to them and the adjustments are smooth and precise.  For small lights they provide a lot of punch; they are only 30W, but this is apparently equivalent to a 100W HMI. They also only draw 10-20V of power and they run completely cold, generating no heat – you can have them on for hours and then just grab them with your hands and put them away immediately. For years I have used Dedo lights and anyone who has experience with them knows the frustrations of having to wait 10 minutes or more after turning them off before you can even touch them, because they are so hot.  The Sola ENG lights are rated at 50,000 hours of LED life; more than you will ever need. Running them off a D-tap power supply was easy to do with the optional D-tap extension cable.  

The fewer batteries I have to carry the better, so I was very impressed by how little power these lights required. A single IDX Endura V-lock battery runs a single light for many hours. I consistently did 30-45 min interviews and the battery didn’t seem to move below 100%. You can also get multi D-Tap connectors and run multiple lights off the one power supply.  

Interviewing the Mongolian President

I used these lights in situations where I had no access to mains power as well as for live crosses, lighting rooms and for interviews.  I even used the kit for a 45min long one-on-one interview with the President of Mongolia.  This kit was very good in this situation - I was given only 15 minutes to set up for a sit-down interview in a room I had never seen before, using two cameras and six lights. I would not be able to do fine adjustments as the President would just walk in, sit down and start the interview straight away.  Having lights that were quick to set up and position really helped me out of a tight bind. I used the Litepanels Sola lights to key and backlight the President and to also key the correspondent who was interviewing him. We used hired lights for the rest.

Overall, I love the Sola ENG kit. It is fast and easy to set up and provides nice light in a variety of situations and the LEDs have a very high CRI.  They didn’t color shift when dimmed down; nor did their behavior change under different frame rates. The more I used them, the more I liked them. For news and documentary professionals they are an extremely good prospect.  

Another interview setup with the Sola ENG kit

This kit is not cheap, retailing for about $2,695 US.  But a single Dedolight and dimmer used to cost around $800 and for what you get, I think it is fairly priced.  It would have made a lot more sense to include three 10′ D-tap extension cables in the kit and they should also include – or at least offer as an option – some small D-tap batteries to power the lights remotely.  Something like the Switronix EX-L96. Having a kit that includes everything you need makes a lot more sense to me than having to buy additional extras to make it work.

Apart from those small gripes I really enjoyed using this kit and am looking to buy one soon.  For the sort of work I do I found it an extremely capable kit that had enough power and flexibility to be used in just about any situation.

This kit was on loan to me from Litepanels and has since been returned.  I have no commercial agreement or arrangement with Lite Panels.  My views and opinions are strictly mine and not of any organization or company.

About Matthew Allard, Aljazeera Senior Field Cameraman, Kuala Lumpur:
Matt has been a Camera/Editor in TV news for more 20 years, previously working for both Channel 9 and Channel 10 in Australia. Twice Network Ten Australia’s cameraman of the year as well as being a Walkley Finalist for outstanding camerawork in 2006 (for coverage of the Cronulla Race Riots) and a Logie Finalist for outstanding news coverage 2006 (Bali 9). He is a multiple ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society) award winner. His Sword Maker story that was shot on a 7D won the prestigious Neil Davis International News Golden Tripod at the 2011 ACS Awards. He has covered news events in more than 35 countries, from major sporting events to terrorist bombings. Based out of the Kuala Lumpur broadcast centre in Malaysia he is an avid user and follower of new technology, shooting stories on HD broadcast cameras, the Sony F3 as well as new Canon DSLRs.

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Posted on July 9th, 2012 by Matthew Allard | Category: LED lights |

11 responses to "Review: Litepanels Sola ENG LED lighting kit"

  1. jowchie Says:
    July 10th, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I have been looking at either getting a complete Sola ENG kit or buy the 3-4 lights separately (litepanels currently has a $100 rebate on these lights) and I have read somewhere that these lights have a bit of fan noise. The interview video embedded on this post seemed to have really good audio… do you think the fan noise on these units are noticeable?

  2. Matthew Allard Says:
    July 10th, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Hi Jowchie,

    They do have a fan inside them but it is super quiet. You would have to have a light right next to the microphone to have any chance of hearing it.

  3. dslrask Says:
    July 11th, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Hi Matt,

    For one on one interviews or cross lives you prefer the Sola to the 1×1 Litepanels? Mainly for weight reasons?

  4. Matthew Allard Says:
    July 11th, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Either could be used depending on the situation. The Sila kit is just so much smaller and lighter. Haven’t done a direct comparison in terms of the strength of both lights head to head. I am guessing there would not be a huge difference in them.

  5. Jon Roemer Says:
    July 12th, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I picked up two Sola ENGs in May. I have blog post here that compares strength vs. LP 1×1: http://www.jonroemer.com/blog/2012/05/sola-eng/ .

    Matt – do you have a link for 10′ d-tap extension cables? I can’t seem to find any (e.g. B&H has 36″.)

    Also, FWIW, it seems like it would be pretty each to adapt a Sola ENG to a Chimera soft box like the XXS size using speed ring made for a shoe-mount flash. Probably not as compact as what comes in the kit but it would solve the issues with the kit one.

  6. jrh454s Says:
    July 12th, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    I have been using a Sola ENG for about a year now. I am a news photog and I use it as a toplight on my HPX.

    It is a pretty good unit. The fan is barely audible. I wish they output more light and I wish the ball mount was a little bit more robust.

  7. jrh454s Says:
    July 12th, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    One change I would make if i could would be is to add a big click to the dimmer at the point where it turns on and off.

    During a live shot at dusk where it was rapidly getting darker while my reporter was live I was slowly making it brighter as she read her script but I got to the point where it turns off and there was no resistance and the light just went off. Thankfully at that point they had taken the video full, but it could have been very bad. A simple notch could have prevented it

  8. Jon Roemer Says:
    July 12th, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    jrh454s – the newer ones do have an audible click and they also start at 0% and ramp up to 100%. So, you can’t be making it brighter and then hit a point where it switches off.

  9. yang Says:
    July 12th, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    I often heard this light. The great CRI is very attractive but it’s a little expensive. Easy to set up is very important especially for walking guy.

  10. worldofled Says:
    August 7th, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    wow, cools stuff, LED Lighting are the brightest I every known, thanks for sharing this one.

  11. craigstubing Says:
    August 25th, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Hi Matthew,

    Are you still using the Sola ENG Flight Kit? I’ve been looking at it as a solution for interview lighting while traveling (I fly across the US and around the world making documentaries), but I’ve seen a lot of people complain that the output is too dim and not soft enough compared to a 1×1 to use as a key light. The interviews in your video look great, so I was just wondering if you bought one and are still finding the kit useful. Thanks!

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