You might not have heard of Litepanels, unless you happen to be a professional videographer or photographer. The firm specialises in all manner of lighting systems, but for most people these solutions are far too expensive. But now, the firm is launching some entry level devices that should appeal to a broader audience.
For a bit less than £400 you get an LED light, with some handy accessories. Of course, £400 is quite a lot of money, and this does sit quite firmly in the entry-level and prosumer categories of LED lighting. The question is, does it do enough, well enough, to warrant this price tag?
In the old days, simple lighting for video cameras was done with a halogen light, and a massive battery. These arrangements were heavy, drank power and didn't produce evenly lit results. Happily, technology has moved on, and LEDs allow a lot more flexibility.
Crucially though, this is about more than power consumption. LEDs are a lot more flexible, especially when it comes to colour. LEDs allow you to mimic either sunlight, with its more blue tint, or indoor, artificial lighting with its orange hue.
In the case of the Croma, it's even better, because on the side is a dial that allows you to select the colour light you want, and even mix the two different tones. This means, with a sharp eye, you can match the light in your shooting environment very precisely. So outdoor shoots look natural, but so too do those indoors.
The light itself is simple. There are a couple of dials on one side, these control the brightness and colour temperature of the light. On the other side, you'll find a slot, into which you can insert a supplied diffusing filter.
On the bottom is a mount to which you can attach several mounting brackets. One for camera hot and cold-shoes and one for a light bar.
At the back, there's a battery bay for six AA cells. Quite a decent amount, and there's no built-in option to use a high-power replacement without getting an adaptor to power the light via its DC socket. There are also warnings that the light is not for use with lithium-ion batteries. You could, presumably, use high-capacity NiCad rechargeable cells though. The light itself is well made. It's a little on the heavy side though, which might cause your camera to feel a bit unbalanced when it's fitted. It won't cause problems for larger, shoulder-mounted cameras, but handheld-camera users might feel the strain without additional support.
In the box in which the Croma comes, you'll find a soft bag, in which you can carry the light without having to worry about it getting broken. There are also two mounts, one which allows you to attach the light to the camera, and another, available as an optional extra, which allows connection to a light stand or other pole.
Happily, on the hot shoe mount there's also the option to screw the light on to a standard tripod mount. This is incredibly handy, as it allows you to set the light up just about anywhere.
There's also a power adaptor, which is a very welcome addition when you get sick of putting six AA batteries into the light. They don't last an especially long time, and if you're using non-rechargeable cells, you'll spend a lot of cash keeping it juiced-up.
Also provided is a diffusing filter. This is critical, because LED lights are, somewhat obviously, made up of a lot of LEDs. This can mean that you get bright spots on close-up shots. The diffuser should help with that, at least a little bit, while meaning you don't have to go further away from your subject.
Litepanels says the power output of this light is equivalent to 50 watts. It's not super-bright, but for close up work it will make a real difference. For photos, this can make a handy fill light in normal light, or a full-on source of illumination in darker conditions.
The single best accessory you can buy for a camera is a decent flash. Everything you know about the flashes, based on those dreadful built-in things, is wrong and you soon see that when you use a proper speedlight or similar. The Croma can't replace a flash, and isn't really designed to, but what it does do is give you some options.
For example, if you're shooting in very dark conditions, but close up, a flash can be a little overwhelming - most are adjustable, but even so it is a very harsh light that comes from a flash gun. So the Croma allows you to easily, and quickly adjust the amount of light to suit your environment.
But more useful, when photographing or videoing people, is that the light from the Croma is constant. That should mean no red-eye effect, as the subject's pupils will be more dilated, which prevents the effect from being as much of a problem.
We like the Croma a lot. There are some things where it's beaten by a flash every time, but for stuff where you need a consistent light, or need to fill in a gap, it's brilliant. We do wish, at times, that it was a little bit brighter. But, that said, if you use it for the right things, and not as a flash replacement, then it has a lot to offer.
For video, it's a proper life-saver. Mount it to the top of your camera, and when you need to do an interview, you can click it on, and dial the colour temperature and brightness and you shouldn't get too many complaints about it blinding people, although this little thing can be quite overwhelming in bright conditions.
Really, the only limiting factor here will be your imagination. Use this to fill-in, or backlight something or someone. There are lots of options, and the light works brilliantly and delivers a lot more light than you might think.
If you're a proper light geek, or you're a video professional, you'll be keen to know that the Croma can produce light with a temperature between 3200°K and 5600°K. That covers you for most indoor lighting, and through to the sun at noon, so there won't be many light situations where the Croma can't match ambient light.
If you're often shooting video, and need a fill-in light on your camera, or even something to brighten up backgrounds, or give a little depth to a shot, then the Croma will manage these tasks well. Any indoor shoot will benefit from a little bit of extra light, and the control you have here is impressive.
If you're a stills photographer, then we found it was handy to shed a bit of extra light on products either in conjunction with a flash, or alongside the ambient light.
We've used the Croma on several photos in reviews on Pocket-lint now, and it has always added a nice dimension to product photos, which can be pretty tricky to get right. Matching the temperature of the light output to the ambient conditions comes naturally too, and it's surprising how much easier it will make your life.