03 Nov 2017

LitePanels Gemini: the Swiss army knife of lights

  • Written by  Jody Eldred
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The Swiss army knife of lights? The Swiss army knife of lights? Jody Eldred

Jody Eldred deploys the new Litepanels Gemini LED light, and he likes what he see's. A lot.

Jody Eldred here, your friendly Crash-Test Dummy® … this time with the brand spankin’ new Litepanels Gemini 2x1 LED soft panel, or as I like to call it, The Swiss Army Knife of Lights®.

I’ve been a user of Litepanels from day one, using their first 1x1’s and the original LED “brick” at ABC News and on CBS’s J.A.G. (where the D.P fell in love with them.) This was new technology no one had seen before, and once they did, well… the rest is history…

Fast forward to their newer instruments… LED fresnels such as the Incas and Solas (which I use all the time), 1x1 Astras and Astra Softs, the small Lykos, and the super-powerful Hilios. Now they have my favourite of all favourites, the Gemini.

I got to play with a pre-production unit last year and as always, the Litepanels team was eager to get input from actual users. (I love that about these guys. They listen. And they incorporate that input into their products. What a concept. But I digress…)

Clearly, Litepanels is going after the excellent Arri Skypanel. It’s a very popular light and for many very good reasons. Litepanels knows a good thing when they see it, so they took that concept, built upon it and improved it — and at a lower weight and price.

So without going into all kinds of comparisons (there will be a few), here’s what I’ve discovered and what I love about it — and why I heartily recommend it.

CONTEXT: I am directing and DP-ing (and will be editing) a feature documentary in 4K, shot with the 4.6K URSA Mini Pro (more on this in another article.) It has to do with America’s old west and one of America’s great country and cowboy/western performers. I knew we’d be doing some singing-around-the-campfire scenes at night and we needed good and realistic lighting on our subjects’ faces. I know from personal experience you cannot always depend on an actual fire to deliver the look you want.

Enter the Gemini

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In addition to it being a terrific, soft, high output light which you can use the colour settings of to create any colour you can imagine, Litepanels is implementing several lighting effects into it. The most popular request has been the “fire flicker” effect which simulates firelight flickering on a subject.

The Litepanels software developers were hard at work creating a multitude of other in-demand features for the Gemini as it was about to hit the streets for sale, but once they saw the opportunity to immediately test a fire flicker effect on an actual project, they quickly shifted gears and got a v.1 firmware upgrade to me on a USB drive right away so I could use it. It was the first ever use of the effect and only available in one Gemini on the planet. (Did I mention I am a Crash-Test Dummy®?)

It was amazing

I first tested it at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival (more on that in another article) where I was doing camera demos for the Blackmagic Design 4.6K URSA Mini Pros. I was heading straight to the doc shoot from there, so why not? I used it to illuminate the BMD booth sign, which looked like flickering firelight as you entered the room. Cool!

Then off to the Arizona desert, a little cowboy movie set called “Gammon’s Gulch.” We luckily had a propane “fire tube” with controllable flames under our fake logs so we would have predictable fire intensity. But would that be enough for us to get acceptable exposure shooting in a pitch-black night at 1600 ISO? How high do you want to run those flames before your talent is cooking??

We fired up the Gemini, activated the fire flicker effect, and voila! Firelight on our talent’s face! I could dim it up or down, adjust the colour, the flickering intensity… it looked exactly like real firelight and seamlessly supplemented the existing fire to get us the exact look, feel, and exposure we wanted. (And no talent was harmed in the shooting of that scene!)

We also used its powerful, yet soft, punch in an interview with our main subject. We shot indoors in a saloon, but I wanted to see some of the old western street outdoors behind the interviewee (every DP’s favourite scenario: a 7-stop difference in exposure…) So we put up a double net to slow down the outdoor background and ran the Gemini full blast. No, heat, no problem. Shot at around 5.6, ISO 800.

Truly a Swiss Army Knife.

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There are tons of features, but here are some useful specs that are most important to me:

  • Soft, flattering light with no heat.
  • Lots of punch: to my eye, the Gemini is brighter than a 1K tungsten soft light.
  • Pulls only 325-350 watts (about 3 amps. You could plug five of these into a typical household circuit.) Competitors pull 420-450 watts.
  • There are twelve presets for your favourite looks — including intensity.
  • You instantly can set it for tungsten or daylight, then by using the simple menu, electronically dial in any of many dozens of Lee and Roscoe filters by name and number in “Gel Mode.” You can also manually adjust it from 2700º to 6000ºK.
  • Easily add or subtract green (+ green, - green) when shooting in mixed light (with fluorescents, for example.)
  • Dims from 100% all the way to zero with no flicker or colour shift.
  • The colour is super accurate. The TLCI is 99 in tungsten and 97 in daylight.
  • Weighs 22.2 pounds/10.1 kg (including built-in power supply.) Very manageable. (Compared to the Arri Skypanel S60-C at 46 pounds/20.8 kg with a 7.7 lb. power supply.)
  • Bluetooth control from IOS devices.
  • Wireless (and of course wired) DMX control.
  • More special effects on the way!
  • Lots of cool accessories for light control: honeycomb grid/egg crates, barn doors, softboxes, etc. And rigs so you can use 2, 4, or more Geminis at a time on one stand.

Street Price $4,218.

BOTTOM LINE: The Gemini checks a lot of boxes for me… nice, soft 100% dimmable light for interviews and lighting large spaces, instant 3200º/5600º change, no need for gels of any kind so it makes lighting FAST, easy +green and –green correction, serious output with very low power draw, cool effects eliminating the need to ever rent a flicker box and other specialised lights (many more effects to come… stay tuned!), Bluetooth and wireless DMX control, super-accurate colour rendition, complete colour control to create any colour you’ll ever need or want, lower price and much lower weight than any competition, and the longstanding robustness Litepanels has become known for.

I know I must sound like a salesman. I’m not. I just love finding new technology that makes my creative abilities to work faster, better, and smarter. That’s probably why I’ve had a Swiss Army Knife (or nowadays, a Leatherman) on me since boyhood.

As any good D.P. (or Crash-Test Dummy®) probably should.


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