I remember when the first Litepanels 1x1 LED light was released. It was small, lightweight, bright, and could run on batteries or the included power supply. It truly revolutionized the industry. I bought one, but more on that later. I recently acquired the new version, the Astra 6X, and put Litepanels' claim to the test.
How Bright is the 6X?
Litepanels claims the Astra 6X to be six times brighter than the original Litepanels 1x1 which, for me, would be welcome because I always felt the original just didn't have enough punch. Revolutionary as it may have been in its day, I felt like I needed more out of it: I had recently started shooting numerous single-person location interviews and battery-powered lighting quickly became important, especially when shooting in hotels, where one has no access to the circuit breakers. Years later, I had moved on to other, more powerful units, but always kept the 1x1, so I dusted it off to compare to the Astra 6X.
Side by side, the light fixtures only resemble each other in size. The original is made from metal with dozens of holes drilled in the back and side for ventilation; square and clunky looking. The Astra 6X, on the other hand, features a more elegant look, with a forward-swept yoke that helps avoid cord crimping when tilting the light up. The aluminum chassis is still lightweight and strong. How strong, you may wonder? After shooting, I was moving the lights and collapsed the light-stand legs with the Astra 6X on it and, can you see where this is going? It was a dumb move on my part and the Astra 6X ended up face-planting. The Astra 6X was about five feet up on the stand, and there it went, seemingly in slow motion, while I cried out, “No!” as it landed flat on its face. I picked it up, popped the power supply back into place, plugged it in, turned it on, and the Astra 6X lit up as if nothing had happened. All the LED bulbs functioned and there was no structural damage. While I don't recommend dropping any fixtures, especially face-first, this accident provided some confirmation of the Astra 6X's durability.
My original was the daylight-only version, and I didn't want to halve the output by having half the bulbs be daylight and the other half tungsten. I already felt it was a stop lower than I wanted. The Astra 6X I was using is Bi-Color, so only half of its bulbs would be daylight balanced. Still, I wanted to do a comparison, and this is what I had, so I set to work. While charts and measurements are great, what I need to see is the light illuminating the subject. So, for the comparison, I engaged my daughters as the subjects and set the lights about 6' away.
Quality versus Quantity
First, let me point out that quantity of light is not the most important feature to look for in a light fixture, especially in this day when 800 ISO is at the low end of many cameras' ISO ranges. How the light falls on your subject, and how much control you have over the light is almost always more important than just having a bright light. The Astra 6X put the original Litepanels 1 x 1 to shame—there really was no contest. Even with only half of the Astra 6X's bulbs lit, it was so much brighter than the original. How much brighter, you may ask? With the original, my daughters were very comfortable, even at full intensity, but when I turned on the Astra 6X, they screamed and shielded their eyes. They were not happy, and refused to continue until I dimmed the Astra 6X significantly. I also had to promise them ice cream after.
At that distance, I liked the quality of the light from the Astra 6X when it was dimmed. There was still some hardness to the shadow it cast, but either a softbox, diffusion, or some fill light would alleviate that easily. However, I did like the density of the shadow—it was very dramatic, and for the right subject material, I would just add a backlight to the opposite side of the key and be happy.
There was no observable color shift when dimming, and per Litepanels, it is flicker free even when dimmed. I feel obliged to point out that the Astra 6X does run hotter than the original. You can feel this just by holding your hand in front of each fixture. This makes sense—even though LEDs are far more efficient than quartz halogen, they still generate some heat. More output equals more heat. However, the Astra 6X has a built-in fan that kicks in automatically and is hard to hear unless you are closer than 6 inches to the back of the light. In any case, the heat wasn't enough to bother on-camera talent, or blast through gels, so there’s nothing to worry about.
The Astra 6X light is punchy, and that isn't just because of brighter LEDs. The Astra 6X uses something called TIR optics to increase the throw of the light. This results in a directional light that isn't quite so soft at maximum brightness, not from 6 feet away, anyway. Dimming the fixture gave me a softer quality of light than at full brightness. There are accessories for softening the light further if desired, and the nice thing about having a light with punch is that softening the beam won't kill the light's output.
Accessorize Your Fixture
In addition to diffusion sheets and softboxes, which you can add to the front to soften the output, the fixture features a removable accessory panel. This allows you to swap out the blank panel the Astra 6X comes with for a DMX module or a Bluetooth module. The modules give you remote control of the light, allow you to assign multiple lights together in a group, and even allow you to control the fan. I love the idea of a DMX or Bluetooth module, you can get the fixture you can afford, and then, when you need or want remote control, you can upgrade without having to replace the entire fixture.
So, is the Litepanels Astra 6X truly six times brighter than the original Litepanels 1x1? I'd say it is, but it is so much more than just brighter. It is better designed, more flexible, and outputs a much nicer quality of light. It is a fantastic evolution to a groundbreaking light fixture, and to compare the two would be like comparing an old flip phone to today's smartphone. It isn't really a fair comparison.
Do you have any experience with the Astra 6X that you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below.