Choosing an LED for Photo: Point-Source or Light Panel?

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LEDs have become an increasingly popular lighting choice for creators who work in both photo and video. Continuous, portable, and loaded with features, LEDs are some of the most versatile lighting options on the market. Unlike other continuous sources, which often require generators to work on location, most new LEDs feature the option of battery power so you can take them virtually anywhere you go. Couple that with their comparably light weight and you have an excellent location light whether you are working in a reception hall or out in the woods. They come daylight or tungsten balanced to match conventional lighting environments—or as customizable bi-colors to match ambient light or produce creative effects without needing gels. Many also include the ability to produce special effect lighting conditions. Cooler and less demanding in terms of power consumption, it is no surprise that LEDs have risen to prominence among hybrid creators.

Both point-source and panel LEDs benefit from the freedom of battery power.

While LEDs adopt many forms, most models build off of either a point-source or light panel design. Either can be useful for creators; choosing between the two will come down to what exactly you need your light to be able to do. This article weighs the pros and cons of point-source and panel LED lights for photo and video creators.

Point-Source LEDs: The Familiar Choice for Photographers

Photographers accustomed to working with strobes will find a recognizable interface using a point-source LED. Not only do these lights share a similar physical design to strobes, they also often share the same mounts for modifiers. This means if you already have a collection of accessories for your strobe, you will likely be able to adapt them to your LED. Additionally, the ability to attach the same types of modifiers as for a strobe means you can shape light from a point-source LED in exactly the same ways that you do with a strobe. This can be a major benefit for photographers and videographers who prioritize precise light placement in their work when compared to a light panel. Point-source lights may also be paired with a Fresnel lens to adjust the beam angle and intensity of output.

Point-Source LED Pros:

  • Familiar interface for photographers
  • Compatible with most conventional light modifiers
  • Ability to control beam angle via the addition of a Fresnel lens

Point-Source LED Cons:

  • Hard light out of the box (requires modifiers)
  • Longer setup time when using modifiers compared to light panels
Point-source LED lights can be used with many of the same modifiers as strobes.

Case Study: Light & Motion's CLx10 LED Photo Kit

Light & Motion's CLx10 LED Photo Kit is designed for photographers who like to have maximum control over their lighting setups. At the center of the kit is the CLx10, a daylight-balanced LED capable of producing up to 10,000 lumens of light with a CRI of 93 and TLCI of 94. Its weatherproof construction and built-in battery make it perfect for location work under a variety of environmental conditions. As a kit, it includes barndoors for managing spill, a dome diffuser for softening output, and a 3" gel holder to change the temperature of the light. A 50º optic is also included to reign in the light's 120º beam spread as well as a 25º Fresnel lens to further narrow and amplify output. An adapter is also included so that you can use the light with Profoto's OCF modifiers as well as an adapter for 82mm Light & Motion modifiers to shape your light in a variety of ways.

Light & Motion CLx10 LED Photo Kit

Light Panel LEDs: Saving Time and Space

While point-source LEDs concentrate light into a single beam that usually requires modification, light panels produce soft, already-shaped light. Varying in scale from pocketable to window-replaceable, there is a size and shape for nearly any imaginable use. However, light panels are at their best when a broad source is needed to fill an environment without taking up much space. Eliminating the need for a softbox, they can be set up more quickly and installed in tighter spaces than equivalent point-source lights. For this reason, they are commonly used to light sets or other large environments.

Light panels consist of multiple small LEDs.

While smaller panels can be paired with additional modifiers, as your source becomes larger, modifiers become less and less practical—or feasible. Barndoors can serve as a partial solution to this problem. For photographers whose work requires precisely controlled light, flags become a necessary accessory when working with light panels.

Light Panel LED Pros:

  • Soft light out of the box
  • Come in many shapes and sizes
  • Fast setup time
  • Excellent for large spaces

Light Panel LED Cons:

  • Less compatible with modifiers
  • Often require flagging to control spill

Case Study: Lupo Superpanel Soft Full Color 60 RGBW LED Panel

Lupo's Superpanel Soft Full Color 60 RGBW LED Panel is an excellent light panel option for creators looking for precise, consistent color out of a large, soft source. Most notably, it features individually controllable red, green, blue, and white LEDs capable of producing between 2800 and 10,000K light as well as adjustable intensity, hue, and saturation so you can dial in exactly the light you need. A CRI of 96 and TLCI of 98 ensure accuracy. Built-in DMX control and a range of preset filters make for an extremely versatile light source. A battery plate can be added for remote use. Measuring 25.6 x 13.4 x 4.3", its panel produces a soft, even light that can be directed using separately available barndoors.

Lupo Superpanel Soft Full Color 60 RGBW LED Panel

If you are looking for more information about incorporating continuous lighting into your photography, check out this article. If you have experience working with point-source or panel LEDs, please share your tips in the Comments below!

2 Comments

I was disappointed because this article never directly points out that neither of these light sources have a strobe/flash feature, but offer only continuous light.

In fact there are LED based lights which can do both, although they may be difficult to find since the titles often fail to make make this clear.
 

There are at least two reasons why the strobe/flash feature is very useful to photographers who have in the past always used conventional (non LED) light sources. First, the very short duration powerful flashes freeze motion. Second, since the power draw is brief, battery operated light sources should be capable of providing much longer usage time.

Would you please, give us an article that discusses LED lights that can provide both continuous and strobe/flash features.

Thanks,

Dan

Hi Dan -

You make good points - strobe functionality is popping up more and more in LEDs and warrants a discussion of its own for photographers. In the meantime, one way to get around digging through specs to figure out which models offer this feature is by using the "strobe/flash effects" refinement when searching LEDs on B&H's site: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/products/LED-Light-Sources/ci/12248?filters=fct_a_features_6412%3Astrobe-flash-effects

Hope this helps

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