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Review: Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid DSLR LED

Litepanels recently shipped the MicroPro Hybrid, a dimmable, on-camera Hybrid LED that can refresh itself much faster than most any strobe light can. Thus it may pack a powerful 1-2 punch for DSLR producers who need to capture both video and still images. But how well does it handle both tasks? In this article Anthony Burokas reviews the new light and compares it to an LED light that's one-fifth the cost to see how these two lights measure up.

Today's media producers are tasked to provide both high-quality video and stills. The days of two crews—or even two people—are dwindling, and the convergence of technologies where one camera can shoot both excellent stills and excellent video means that the still photographer can also shoot video of an event, and the video camera operator can also grab a few high-resolution photos.

But one tricky part is the illumination.

This is where the Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid steps in. The concept is very good: Use a small capacitor to provide a quick burst of power for the LEDs to "flash" at 4x their normal brightness and act as an on-camera flash without having to change any gear for the dslr producer. One light does both duties.

This "flash" of light can happen even in the middle of any constant light setting. So in very dark situations, you can use the MicroPro to provide light to focus a manual lens. It helps an autofocus camera focus as well, and it gives everyone a place to look for the photo.

I was excited to try the Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid (Figure 1, below) as a replacement for my basic on-camera LED light. I have the very common and inexpensive Z96 light from Sony that is found from many suppliers on Amazon or eBay. I looked forward to stepping up to a "name" brand in LED panels and getting some much-needed still flash capability too. I'll be referring to the Z96 several times for comparison.

Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid
Figure 1. The Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid on my Panasonic Lumix GH2.

Hardware

The Litepanels MicroPro is a 96 LED light with a top-mounted on/off/dimmer knob. It has a battery door that opens easily to drop in 6 AA batteries. There's a single 1/4-20" threaded hole on the bottom. The back of the unit has a 5-16v power jack and a 3.5mm flash sync jack.

There are two slots to store filters you don't have in front of the LEDs. It comes with one white, frosted filter and two tungsten color correction filters. One is a full correction, the second a 1/2 correction. It has a strobe sync cable that converts between a still camera's "PC" connection to the Hybrid's 3.5mm jack. It has a Litepanels-branded ball-head adapter for the flash shoe of your DSLR. I found the ball-head adapter that Litepanels includes (Figure 2, below) to be unnecessarily tall and heavy.

Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid
Figure 2. The ball-head adapter adds unnecessary height and weight and didn't tighten well in testing.

It also didn't work nicely for me. Every time I tried to tighten it, it would rotate the ball head a little bit to the right (Figure 3, below). I had to compensate by pointing the light too far to the left so that when I tightened it down, it might be pointed straight ... or it might not. The filters on the Litepanels MicroPro are thin pieces of gel, but they are very stiff and have notches cut out to slide into slots on either side of the face of the light. These take a bit of accuracy and finagling to get in there properly or to quickly remove. I was also worried about cramming them in my pocket as I didn't want them to get bent. I thought that it would be even harder to use bent filters. There are slots on the back to store the filters.

Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid
Figure 3. The rotation issue that arises when you try to tighten the ball-head on the MicroPro.