The Gemini on the job.
An Innovator In Lighting
Litepanels has always been an innovative company. Ever since its formation in 2001, Litepanels has been a name synonymous with serious LED lighting used in all kinds of production. Today, the Litepanels Astra is one of the most ubiquitous LED panels in the business. Over the past few years, though, the LED market has been changing and evolving at a breakneck pace. I called 2017 the year of the ever-changing LED because last year saw so many new LED lights introduced, both panels and Fresnels, that it was hard to even keep up.
One complaint about LED technology has been that almost all LED lighting isn’t capable of reproducing what many consider “true and accurate” color rendition across the entire color spectrum, in multiple color temperatures. Another complaint has been that LED film and video lighting, especially those panels that output their light via 5mm LED bulbs, have never been terribly useful without being punched through some form of diffusion or bounce. Even newer LED technology like SMDs (Surface Mount Diodes) still suffer from the same limitations. All of those little bulbs and diodes each cast their own micro shadows on the subject. Anyone who has tried bare LED panels on human faces and skin has generally been repelled by the results.
A few years ago, some long-established players in lighting decided to get serious about LED panel technology. One company doing so was Arri. Arri Tungsten lights were and are considered some of the best, most robustly constructed and reliable instruments in the industry, so when Arri came out with the Skypanel Series of LED panels, people took notice. My first experience with Arri LEDs was shooting in a celebrity home that was pre-lit from a reality show the celebrity was shooting. The entire living room was pre-lit like a television studio with Arri S60-C and S360-C panels. I liked how they looked but did notice in post that the quality of light was great, but from a color perspective, the Arris had a definite spike in the green spectrum that was a pain to correct in color correction.
New Kid On The Block
I was recently invited to evaluate the Litepanels Gemini 2×1 LED Panel, which seems to be an obvious answer from Litepanels to Arri’s S60-C Skypanel. The Gemini is an RGB-WW soft panel that combines daylight, tungsten and red-green-blue LEDs. The light arrived at our studio in a very nice, heavy-duty anvil-type road case that weighed about 65 pounds with the light and accessories. Not a very lightweight setup, I thought. When I took the light out of the case, though, it became apparent that the light itself wasn’t nearly as heavy as I thought it was; more like about 22 to 23 pounds. Not a lightweight source, but not impossible to haul to a shoot. In looking over the Gemini, it seemed to be built very nicely with a huge aluminum heat sink and a large fan on the rear of the light.
The yolk was made of tubular metal, and it was then that I first noticed that the yolk had a Junior pin only, no 5/8” receptacle. Luckily, I still have a Norms steel three riser around, so I had a stand I could put the light on. It would be nice if Litepanels included some sort of adapter for those who don’t have a light stand that can accept a Junior pin. Granted, it’s a hefty light, but it would work fine on a Matthews Beefy Baby or other stands of the same weight, at least at moderate heights. If you want to put this light way up in the air, you do need a heavy steel three- or four-riser stand.
RGB-WW And Presets
The Gemini’s Kelvin temperature is adjustable from 2700 to 6000K, but the panel also offers four different lighting modes, six presets for user-defined color temperature, combined with plus/minus green control. RGB-W stands for red, green, blue and warm white. Most LED lights generate white light by mixing red, green and blue, which can create undesirable spikes in various parts of the color spectrum, but most typical is the green spike like the Arris have. With most RGB-W, an extra white chip is added to the mix.
The Gemini has four different color modes:
- Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) Mode
- Allows bicolor (daylight to tungsten) with +/- green adjustment.
- Color Mode
- Offers hue saturation and intensity (HSI) control for full color and saturation control
- Gel Mode
- Provides the ability to dial up a variety of popular gels.
- Effects Mode
- The ability to create lighting effects like campfire/fireplace, flickering TV screen, lightning, etc.
Remote Control Versus On-Light?
The LED Panels that I currently use quite often are the Aputure Lightstorm LS-1s. While they’re in a different league than the Gemini, I was able to contemplate the difference between having light controls on a separate control box (the LS-1s) versus having the light controls on the light themselves (Gemini). Litepanels wisely located the main controls for the light, including six color temp presets, on the bottom of the panel, allowing for convenient location when the light is placed in a typical location as a key or fill source up in a light stand. At times, like when the lights are placed 8 to 10 feet up in the air, it can be quite handy to have the controls in a separate control box; it can be challenging trying to reach the light’s controls with the light high up in the air or even with the light on the ground, since the controls are on the bottom ledge of the light’s outer edge. To be fair, Litepanels offers DMX control, wireless DMX or control via Bluetooth with an optional Bluetooth control adapter that sells for around $100. My conclusion is, it all depends on the circumstances, and in certain setups, having the controls on the light is best. But in other situations, like when the light is 12 feet in the air, having remote controls is best.
I took the Gemini 2×1 on a couple of shoots and made notes about what I liked about the light as I used it and any challenges that cropped up using it on an actual client shoot. I like that the menu system is straightforward and simple to use. Buttons and dials are easily read, and the LCD display shows you what modes and presets the light is in. The Gemini isn’t cheap, retailing for around $4,000, but the build quality is impressive, on par with the Arri S60-C, in my opinion. Without some advanced Gripology, I couldn’t think of an easy way to use the Gemini vertically, which is a shame. For many users, arguably, using a light like this one vertically is more useful than horizontally, especially for single-person interviews.
Litepanels did their homework on the fan. It’s fairly large, which means it can move the same amount of air as a smaller fan at lower RPMs, which means it will be quieter. I could barely hear it in a quiet room I shot in. The Gemini 2×1 LED Panel is 25.0×6.5×12.5 inches and weighs in at 22.2 pounds, which is right in the ballpark of my initial guess when I took it out of the case for the first time. Not lightweight but not unmanageable, either. The Gemini takes 325W (nominal) or 350W (Max power) and can be run off AC power or from a 28V DC battery via a 3-pin XLR. Litepanels is said to be working on a V-Mount/Gold Mount battery solution for the Gemini, but just know that through some simple calculations, it will probably require three batteries and will probably not run very long at full power.
The Gemini has a 93-degree beam angle and is said to be flicker free at any frame rate/shutter angle, although I only tried it with 120 fps and it was flicker free. I recorded an output of 9950 lux at 5600K running on AC power. I didn’t have an Arri S60-C to compare to, but this sounds close to what Arri claims for output for the S60-C, with the Gemini outputting about 800-900 lux less. I found CRI to be quite good for the Gemini, about 95 CRI while in 5600K mode and about 97 CRI while in 3200K mode.
Still Shooters Need Apply?
Up until now, we have mostly discussed the Gemini for video and digital cinema use, but what about for still photography use? We’re officially at the point with LED technology where the output is high enough and the color rendition accurate enough where LED is now a viable option instead of strobes, HMI or Tungsten lighting. I used the Gemini to shoot a few informal portraits and for some environmental shots and was satisfied with the color rendition and quality. One thing to note, though, for still or motion use, a 2×1 source, unless it’s very close to the subject, isn’t really a large and soft source. Or at least not large and soft like a 4×4 or 6×6 source.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the Gemini 2×1. It’s not really suitable for airline travel or stuffing into the trunk of your Prius since it requires larger, heavier light stands, but for studio or grip truck use, I confess, overall I feel it is very competitive with the Arri Skypanel S60-C. While not inexpensive at over $4,000, the Gemini costs considerably less than the Arri. I didn’t see any indication of the infamous LED green spike in the color rendering, and while the output is a bit less than the S60-C, it has plenty for most shoots where it would be utilized. If you’re in the market for this type of light for studio or grip truck use, definitely rent or borrow the Gemini before making your final buying decision. It’s definitely a worthy alternative to the Arri and others in its price and feature range.