Review: LitePad HO+

Specs and Ordering Info:
Daylight Balanced
Tungsten Balanced

On its face, the LitePad HO+ looks as simple as a photographic device could possibly be. Essentially, it looks like a ceiling tile that lights up:


And in practice, that’s what it is — and it’s brilliant. The team at B&H was giving me a tour of all of the changes they’ve been making to the store when I saw these hanging on a wall, and I said “What is that? Can I review THAT?” Simplicity intrigues me — maybe I’m simple-minded.

Actually, though, there are some really clever things going on under this one-centimeter-thick hood. You see, a light like the LitePanel MicroPro consists of a bunch of LED lights aimed directly forward. This is power-efficient, but so far designs that require so many LED lights are really expensive — the 1′-by-1′ variant is currently $1,795. What the LitePad does is have a row of LED lights around the edges aimed inward, and the design of the interior reflects that light outward. I’d expect the middle of the LitePad to be significantly darker than the edges, but the Rosco engineers seem to have figured that out well, and it provides a nice, even output. The LitePad still isn’t cheap at all, but a 1′ square model will run you less than a third of the LitePanel. So for just a bit more than the popular MicroPro, you can have a much larger light source, which makes for softer, generally more flattering light. Here is the MicroPro lying on the LitePad for comparison:

RKB 9021

However, there is a cost to the savings — power. Here’s what happens when you turn them on (the LitePanel model I used is tungsten-balanced):

RKB 9023

Given that LED lights are already much less powerful than even small strobes, this means effective usage will be limited to spaces with dim ambient light such as indoors or after sunset.

But, to my mind, sometimes dim lighting is exactly what I need, and the dimmer the better, which leads to the second annoyingly quirky thing about the LitePad — it doesn’t ship with a dimmer, and the seperately sold dimmer switch is more than $100.

Quirky, limited usage, simplistic — I immediately fell in love with it. In fact, I didn’t want to review it because I didn’t want other photographers to use it. My job is to work very quickly to make people look good, and broad light sources tend to do that much better. Furthermore, the design makes it incredibly portable — the 1′-square model easily slides in my camera bag’s laptop pocket, and given the extreme thinness I could fit in three more if I wanted. This is for the base model without a tripod mount, though — the mountable Rosco Axiom is necessarily thicker.

What are the effects of the larger light source in practice? My long-suffering girlfriend Wendy was willing to help show this off. Here she is lit at arm’s length by the LitePanel Micropro:

RK2 1748

And here she is lit by the LitePad from the same position (white balance adjusted):

RK2 1745

Really a huge difference, and much faster to just pull this out of a laptop pocket than to set up a continuous light into a softbox. I love it. I may come back to these as a sort of secret weapon, or even buy an expensive set for times when I want to turn it to 11 and really set up cinema-style lighting.

But the more I thought about, the more I want to look at some other alternatives first, because there are a few things that make this rough around the edges:

  • The parts are delicate. The LitePad itself is very sturdy given its thinness, but the connector wiggles somewhat worryingly, and the accessories are very fragile, especially the AA battery-holder.
  • I know that in video world these things are different, but to me as a photographer, “tungsten” means green-free orangey light, somewhere in the neighborhood of 2850K. With included gels, I can get the MicroPro down to a super-warm 2500K. The LitePanel, though, is very hard to gel, so you’re going to take what you can get — and in the tungsten model, that is a pretty greenish 3800K. In other words, to my mind, florescent, not tungsten. This is apparently a problem with a lot of current video lights, as I have seen videographer after videographer spilling unflattering puke-green lights onto my clients as they film.
  • It’s much cheaper than a 1′ LitePanel, but at $600+ with the dimmer it’s expensive enough that I want to have more confidence in the build quality, as I am VERY hard on my gear. I already had one AA battery-holder come apart in my hands (though at least those ARE inexpensive).

    So I’ve reached a paradox where I loved this so much I didn’t want to tell any of you, but I will be sending it back for the time being. There’s a lot happening on the continuous lighting front, and I want to make sure I know exactly what’s right for me. This could well be it, as it has the blessings of a soft light source that I can create VERY quickly, but some experimentation is in order.

    In the meantime, here are some samples with it from the field:

    110521 192726 35mm f1 6
    It’s a GREAT light for details.

    110528 090219 45mm f2 8

    Its flat, even light even makes it the perfect thing to shoot macro on TOP of for uplighting, using other lights for balance:
    110618 112824 60mm f5 6

    But really what it’s great at is a quick, flattering light for people:

    110528 102857 45mm f2 8

    110610 212521 85mm f1 8

    110521 141451 105mm f1 8
    (this last is a composite, with the light in the frame of the originals about a foot away from each. There it is strong enough for a bit of fill even in shade).

    It’s going to hurt me to give this one back, and I may buy another copy soon, but first I will experiment with the cost-benefit ratios of similar products.