Review: Litepanels’ Sola ENG lighting kit

Litepanels' Sola ENG interview set up
Litepanels’ LED Sola ENG kit being used for an interview set up. All pictures: Lee Durant.

A basic, three-head lighting kit is one of the cornerstones of video production. Most interviews and documentaries on TV are lit with one, or more, three-head kits. Even lighting for high-end drama takes as its starting point a key, a fill and a backlight.

Over the last few years, more sensitive cameras that depend less on external lighting, and the vogue for softlights, have created alternatives to the standard, three-head tungsten kit.

Large fluorescent tube softlights, such as the Kinoflo Diva range, can light a subject with one, broad light. LED lighting panels, on the other hand, are portable and can be used just as a keylight, especially with larger-format video cameras and DSLRs. But most film-makers will still use a three-point lighting system, if they can.

Tungsten three-head lighting kits are, through, relatively inexpensive, and they produce a good amount of light for their size. The disadvantages – heat, power consumption, and sometimes bulk – are outweighed by a three-head kit’s flexibility and the quality of the light.

But advantages in alternative lighting technologies and LED lights in particular are closing the gap. LED lights are usually produced as panels, but some manufacturers are now making “hard” lights with LEDs, using Fresnels to focus the beam.

Litepanels’ Sola ENG is the company’s smallest LED Fresnel light; the company makes two LED Fresnel ranges, the daylight balanced Sola, and the tungsten-balanced Inca.

The Sola ENG uses a three-inch Fresnel lens for focusing, from spot to flood, and comes complete with a dimmer and barn doors.

The lights run off either battery power or the supplied transformers, making them flexible enough to be used either on-camera, including via D-tap power, or as standalone lights.

The Litepanels Sola ENG LED kit in its flight case.
The Litepanels Sola ENG LED kit in its flight case.

Currently, Litepanels sells the Sola ENG as a three-head lighting kit, with a soft box, gels, Manfrotto Nano stands, and a customised Peli case. The company claims the latter is compact enough to count as hand baggage. The lights are also available as single units, which come with the filters and barn doors, and a soft carry pouch.

The three-head Sola ENG kit costs US$2,845 direct from Litepanels or costs around £2,000 from dealers in the UK.

Audio Video Pro asked broadcast cameraman Lee Durant to put the Sola ENG kit to the test.

 

The set up

Our set up was a one on one interview in a controlled environment, with ambient florescent lighting.

For one on one interviews the lights seemed to give adequate power output and spread at a distance of between 2-3 metres, writes Lee Durant.

I had one main light facing the interviewee just off camera axis which I initially fitted with the supplied soft-box. The soft-box however, reduced the light output considerably so I decided to remove it and proceed without it.

The soft-box in fact reduced the light by so much that it became unusable as a main light unless, I turned the other lights down so far that the ambient fluorescents became more prominent.

I had one further light facing the back wall to highlight background detail and the last light as a backlight on the interviewee.

 

The verdict

The kit is well protected in its Peli case, although there are some changes that I would consider making to the layout of the packing inside to make maximum use of the space.

Most camera operators would want extra space for batteries, filters, gels and at least a multi socket extension lead within the case.

Set up was relatively easy even without using the instructions.

The Manfrotto light stands are a perfect size for the Peli case when folded and extend up to a more than useful height. The supplied brackets came in two parts and were sturdy and easy to fit together although once joined, I would be tempted to never separate them again even when packed away.

The three power leads supplied were for the European continent style sockets… initially problematic.

The power leads hanging from the lights were too short, making the power unit hang in the air when the lights were past a certain height, which in turn put undue weight onto the red connectors at the top of the power cable.

Setting up the Litepanels' Sola ENG light heads.
Setting up the Sola ENG LED light head.

I would probably never use the supplied soft box as it considerably reduced the amount of light hitting the subject… I would instead use clips and scrim to soften the light.

I would suggest repacking the case so that the power cables were in the mesh pocket in the lid of the Peli case and the clamps were stored in the small compartment in the main part of the case.

Overall, this is a well-made and well thought out kit that delivers a good quality of light in a compact package. But for now at least, there’s still a premium to pay for LED technology.

Our short video clip shows how quickly the Sola ENG kit can be set up: