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Review: Litepanels Sola ENG Fresnel

While quantum leaps in camera technology, including bang for the buck, have become the norm in the 21st century and are widely recognized, advances in support gear, such as camera lighting, have been subtler and been received with less fanfare. But there is no denying that LEDs have revolutionized portable lighting in terms of lux per pound and dollar. In terms of LEDs, Litepanels has been a key player in producing brighter, lighter, cooler lighting for production applications. The company was the first to create LED sun guns and now it’s first to market with camera-mounted LED Fresnels.

Features

Litepanels new

Sola ENG

is touted as the first LED-Fresnel instrument designed specifically for on-camera applications. As with most LED sun guns, it’s daylight-balanced and uses only a fraction of the power of conventional camera lights. As a result, it operates much cooler than quartz-based lights.

Sola ENG Fresnels also feature instant dimming from 0 to 100 percent with no noticeable color shift, and as Fresnels, they also can focus from 10 to 70 degrees.While Sola ENGs are designed for on-camera use, they can also readily be mounted on a standard light stand. The kit also includes barn doors for additional beam focusing and shadow control.

The fixtures are designed to be fully flicker-free, and their light intensity and color remain constant, even as battery voltage declines. Sola ENGs draw only 30 watts—less than one-eighth the power required by the 250-watt tungsten light that it equals in candle power. It packs incredible punch for a softball-sized light head. In the 10-degree spot mode, its center beam has a maximum illumination of more than 5,800 lux; at six feet, this drops to 160 lux. When the beam is fully diffused to 70 degrees, its maximum center beam illumination is more than 1,200 lux, but this drops to a bit more than 32 lux at six feet.

The Sola ENG is very compact, measuring 4″x4″x5″, and weighs slightly less than 1 lb. The Fresnel lens itself is 3 inches in diameter. The unit is powered via standard ENG 14.4V batteries by a two-pin D tap. The fixture incorporates a low-noise cooling fan.

The Sola ENG kit includes two-way barn doors, a set of three gel filters, and a ball head/shoe mount adapter. All of these components fit into a very compact, quick-draw padded black case, which can be added to other sundries in your day pack.

In Use

The Sola ENG is remarkably compact, and is comparable in diameter and mass to a softball. Its coiled power cable is hard-wired for quick deployment.

The first thing you notice about the unit is the two thick, grooved dials side by side at its back end. The first one does double duty as a power switch and dimmer. A quick turn clockwise turns the fixture on and activates a green LED. Continued rotation dims the lamp in a slow and continuous manner. The broader inner dial focuses the beam at progressively smaller angles as the ring is turned clockwise.

Both rings are rubberized for easy handling. The power/dimmer ring is geared down to turn slowly. In contrast, the focusing ring is geared much looser to quickly adjust from spot to broad beam.

The Sola ENG comes with a short modular mounting post with a swiveling head. The latter has a quarter-inch threaded bolt for direct attachment to the Sola ENG head, which can then be locked down at any angle, from 30 to roughly 60 degrees in either direction.

There’s a shoe adapter for on-camera mounting that slides into any camera shoe receptacle and can be snugged down.

I tested this unit with two different 14V power sources: a 14.8V Frezzi Power Block and an Anton/Bauer 14V Dionic, both using lithium ion technology. While the Frezzi block is rated at 4,400 mAh and powered the Sola ENG for six to eight trials of from two to 10 minutes each, while operating at full intensity or nearly so. The Frezzi “fuel gauge” still read “full” after all of that use, and this really amazed me, as I was initially fearful of draining the compact Power Block too quickly. Obviously Sola’s draw is very moderate, if not downright low.

The Sola ENG was also impressive in terms of raw illumination. I was able to use it as my sole lighting source in shooting a very dark subject outdoors at night at a camera to subject distance of 15 to 20 feet. The subject was only slightly underexposed past 12 feet. When better exposure was needed, all I had to do was move in a bit closer, or add 3dB of video gain.

I was disappointed in my bid to use Sola ENG to capture crepuscular owls, however, which managed to stay well outside of the maximum effective range of 20 to 25 feet. While I was able to see the owls well enough with my naked eye, it took 6-12 dB of camera video gain to get decent exposure.

Even though Sola ENG has enough power to function as a sole source in a small room, it’s really designed for closer applications, and particularly for complementing existing daylight. I used it both on camera and on a light stand as a source of key illumination, and also as a side light, with good results.

The ability to change the focus, and hence the intensity of the beam, not only helps users to cope with shadows, but also to adjust the intensity of illumination hitting the subject., including the ability to diffuse it or focus intensity as needed. This provides key options for adjusting depth of field color saturation and also and the amount of detail and texture in the background.

Being able to dim the unit down to 5 percent output or less, and also having the ability to narrow the beam and thus raise or lower the illumination on the subject is very useful. These features expand the toolkit and range of options for the creative DP, as well as the run-and-gun news or event shooter.

The barn doors and filters further enhance this incredibly compact tool kit–all of which fits into a tight, quick-draw case that seems far too small for a complete light kit.

Summary

Litepanels’ Sola ENG is a breakthrough product that raises the bar another notch in the on-camera lighting world. It combines the precision and flexibility of Fresnel lighting with the daylight color temperature and coolness of LED lighting in a compact, featherweight package crammed with professional features.

My chief reservation about the unit is its case, which is constructed primarily of medium-duty molded plastic. It remains to be seen how well it will hold up to the rigors and abuse of daily professional use. I’ll give it an A for design but only a B- for long-term endurance. However, with some tweaking, the Sola ENG could well become the light of choice for pros who need cool, potent, portable field lighting that can be applied flexibly in different lighting environments and can easily be handled by a one-person band.

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