Hitting the Astral Plane

Litepanels’ Astra, their second generation 1×1, is now available and after reading about its improved performance I decided to give it a test.

On set with four Astras and a Sola 4. New York, NY. March 18, 2015.
On set with four Astras and a Sola 4. New York, NY. March 18, 2015.

On a recent project I had to download some footage on site and the second the files opened in FCPX it was a “wow” moment. The improved color rendering hit me immediately.

Still from video shoot with using the Litepanels Astra lights. New York, NY. March18, 2015.
Still from video shoot with using the Litepanels Astra lights. New York, NY. March18, 2015.
Still from older project, lit with 1st gen Litepanel 1x1's. New York, NY. April, 2014.
Still from an older project, lit with 1st gen Litepanels 1×1’s. New York, NY. April, 2014.

If you have been working with the older 1×1’s you can’t miss it. To confirm this I ran some quick tests of the Astra vs. other lights.

Disclaimer: I was not trained as a DP. Some may feel these tests have too many variables to be accurate. My mileage varies, yours may, too. These were shot in my studio during the day and as you’ll see there was some ambient spillage in the background from the exterior daylight (I cannot block out all the light.)

All tests were shot on a Canon C300 in C-log and a slight grade (for tone, not color) was added in post. For each light a custom white balance was done on the raw light with no diffusion, for that a WhiBal G7 White Balance Card, filling the frame, was used.

Litepanels Astra Bi-Color vs. 1st Gen 1×1 Daylight Spot

  • Same light for key & fill.
  • Bi-color set to full daylight.

Test with both lights as direct light (no diffusion), test with a Matthews Road Rag Diffuser on the key light, and then each setup with X-rite ColorChecker Passport visible.

Litepanels Astra Bi-Color vs. 1st Gen 1×1 Daylight Spot, Sola 4, Sola ENG, & Lowel Omni Lights

  • Same light for key & fill except for the Sola 4. It had an Astra bi-color for fill.
  • Bi-color set to full daylight.

Test with all lights as direct light (no diffusion) except for the Lowel Omni-lights. They had a 1-stop ND + 250 diffuser on the key, a 2-stop ND + 250 diffuser on the fill. Followed by a test will all lights shot through the Road Rags Diffuser except the Omni (it already had diffusion on it.) The Sola ENG could not be tested with the Road Rags diffuser. It was not powerful enough to shoot through the diffuser and still overpower the ambient.

My goal was to confirm what I was seeing when using the Astras – that there is much better color rendering of skin tones. I think you see that in the videos; the reds, oranges, and pinks are vastly improved, not only in the skin tones but in the model’s hair and dress as well.

The Sola 4, a 4″ fresnel light made by Litepanels, comes very close to the Astra in color. This makes sense since it also incorporates the newest LED design.

The first generation 1×1 and the Sola ENG lights are the poorest in terms of color rendering. The skin, the hair, the dress pattern, all feel muted when placed next to the Astra or the Sola 4.

The Lowel Omni-light is an inexpensive tungsten light which has been around for decades. It is in the mix to give a sense of what the standard for color rendering looks like.

Astra + Matthews Road Rags Diffuser. New York, NY. March 18, 2015.
Astra + Matthews Road Rags Diffuser. New York, NY. March 18, 2015.

Newsshooter.com has a post on the new TLCI vs. old CRI rendering indexes which mentions the Astra. You can download the TLCI tests – the results for the Litepanels’ models parallels much of what you see in my tests.

 Astra Bi-Color Notes:

  • The Astra is four times as bright as the original 1×1’s. There will be two other lines – Astra EP and  Astra E, twice as bright and the same brightness as the original 1×1 respectively.
  • The Astra Bi-Color only loses ~1/3 stop on the full tungsten side; mixed or full daylight there is no loss in overall power.
  • The Astra Bi-Color is only ~1/4 stop less powerful than the Astra Daylight only model.
  • You cannot use the old 1×1’s v-mount battery plates on the Astras. The screws are not the same size and there is a limitation on the wattage of the d-tap port in the old plates.
  • You will need a higher output battery to get 100% power on the Astras if running off the battery. I find I can get ~90% of full power with a 68 Wh IDX Endura E-7S. At 90% I got ~35 min. of run time, at 80% I got ~1.25 hrs, and at 50% I got over 3 hrs.
  • As seen in the photo above and up top, Road Rag flags clamp easily to the curved yoke of the Astra.
  • The Astras do not fit in the older Litepanels’ rebranded Petrol case (it held two 1×1’s.) I have been using a new Porta Brace bag which holds two Astras along with room for cords, batteries, and accessories. I would expect more bag options to come to market for NAB or shortly after.
Testing a v-mount battery on the Astra Bi-Color. Princeton, NJ. March 24, 2015.
Testing a v-mount battery on the Astra Bi-Color. Princeton, NJ. March 24, 2015.

Overall, I really like the Astras. To have more output never hurts but to have the better color rendering is key. It really makes a difference.

Like most Litepanels products there is a fair amount of plastic in the build. The Astra feels solid in that there is an aluminum core running top to bottom but the back of the light does feel plasticky. On the bi-color model both color and power are controlled by plastic dials. On/off is done via a push-in button, not a toggle or rocker type switch.

A DMX module for the Astra will show the color and power levels more accurately than is possible with the dials. There are hints of Litepanels adding a bluetooth module in the future – I assume for control of the lights via a tablet or smartphone.

The Astra adds a new curved yoke and I find it helpful. It puts the light out in front of the yoke allowing for more freedom of movement. You can also mount the yoke horizontally if you need still more movement (e.g. when using a softbox and/or needing more top down lighting.)

New to the light is ability to have both AC access and a battery plate mounted at same time, a nice change from having to swap them out on the older 1x1s. The trade-off though is that you’ll need to do some cable management on your own. The Astra’s yoke allows for a cable to run within it but you’ll still have one cable hanging free. To correct this some velcro ties should do the trick.

Astra with v-mount battery. Princeton, NJ. March, 2015.
Astra with v-mount battery. Princeton, NJ. March 24, 2015.

For more background and a great review of the overall functionality of the Astra check out Chris Weatherly’s blog.

Thanks to Emily for helping with the testing and for standing in as the model.

Update – 04/14/15: Confirmation from NAB of a Bluetooth module for the Astra which will allow for control of the light via a smartphone. Plus, an accessory adapter so that the Astra can use 1st generation 1×1 accessories like the 1×1 grid. See blog post and video over at Newsshooter.com.