Friday, November 22, 2019

Low Level Lighting with Lume Cube

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada - Low Level Lighting with a single Lume Cube ~ © Royce Bair

Original Lume Cube 1.0
1.6" x 1.6" (about golf ball size)
Lighting with Lume Cube. This November marks the 5th year anniversary of Lume Cube, the amazing little company in San Diego, California that started a photographic lighting revolution. The initial concept came to life via a Kickstarter Campaign. Their powerful little LED lighting cubes were rugged and waterproof, making them perfect for GoPro camera users who wanted to add lighting to their adventure sports videos and still photos. Cell phone camera users and professional photographers also started adapting the Lume Cube for their needs. Once the cube started to rise in popularity, requests began to pour in for accessories to make them more useful in a variety of lighting situations. Original accessories included a snap-on filter holder that allowed magnetic diffusion filters and various color filters to attach in front of the light.

A little too bright! At 1500 lumens (750 LUX @ 1M), the Lume Cube was very powerful for its size. Manually adjustable via a power button on the top, it could do 10 different brightness levels in 10% increments, from 100% to 10%. This power range works great for my regular photo projects, especially as fill and accent lighting for outdoor portraits. However, even 10% was too bright for Low Level Lighting (LLL) of some close nightscape foreground subjects.

Dimming down the Lume Cube: Early users of the the Lume Cube found they had to use several layers of cloth or tissue paper to filter-down the intensity. Some of these same users found that Lume Cube's early mobile phone app could remotely reduce the original Lume Cube intensity even further (the above photo was lit with the early Cube reduced to 1/32 power). The current Lume-X iPhone/Android App will wirelessly control the original Lume Cube 1.0 and the new 2.0 version from 60 feet away (both are Bluetooth enabled devices). The app allows remote brightness adjustments in 1% increments, all the way down to 1 percent!

Moon Caves (slot canyon) in Cathedral Gorge lit with moonlight and a Lume Cube, with a diffusion bulb and a CTO warming gel attached to the front of the light. Brightness @ 50% walking into the cave. Lowest brightness walking out of cave ~ © Royce Bair

The NEW Lube Cube 2.0 is LLL ready! On the outside, the newly redesigned Lume Cube 2.0 doesn't look a lot different than the original, but inside, it is packed with some great new features and technology. For Low Level Lighting users, the most exciting is its new 2 button control system to increase and decrease brightness manually. Although you can use the Lume-X app to remotely go to lower light levels, you can now manually enable the LOW LIGHT MODE by holding down both buttons. This allows super fine-tune low-level brightness control from 1%-10% right from the Cube's buttons! Price is $89.95 per unit.

2.0 with included accessories
Light modification accessories included: The 2.0 also comes with a Magnetic Softening Diffuser and a Magnetic Warming CTO Gel for warming color temperature (Down from 5600K to 4500K), plus a Modification Frame for mounting those and other accessories you may chose to purchase later on.

Longer running and better light quality: Full power light output from the 2.0 is the same 1.0, but runtime has been increased to an amazing 1.5 hours (I was getting only about 20 minutes with the original)! Of course, when you lower your brightness down to 10% or less, you'll be able to get several hours of runtime, which is perfect for timelapse work. Light color quality has gone from a somewhat bluish 6000K to the more natural 5600K, and from a 91 CRI to a 95+ CRI (while this may not mean a lot to landscape photographers, portrait photographers will love the better skin tones).

Other included features: Five other features I like in the 2.0 are 1.) wider 80º angle beam coverage vs. the older 60º beam; 2.) faster USB-C charging; 3.) the new charge indicator light that more clearly shows power condition of your battery; 4.) a new 360º optical sensor for slave flash capability; 5.) and the new aluminum body that is much more rugged and durable.

Additional lighting accessories: The Lume Cube 2.0 and the original 1.0 have many other lighting modifiers available to them via the Modification Frame. Once the frame is snapped onto the front of the Lume Cube, any one of these filters or diffusers (and combinations in stacks) can magnetically attach to the frame. System items can be purchased individually or in bundles for greater savings:

Should I buy the less expensive Lume Cube AIR? The Lume Cube AIR is $20 less than the Lume Cube 2.0, and is a great product. It is a little smaller and lighter, but it has reduced features that may not be the best light product for some photographers, especially those doing LLL nightscapes. Here are some of the major differences between the AIR and the 2.0:
  • AIR does not have the "Low Light Mode" feature
  • AIR only has 4 brightness levels: 100%, 75%, 50% and 25%
  • AIR does not have Bluetooth, so will not work with the Lume-X app
  • AIR's 1000 lumens (400 lux @ 1M) at full power is 33% less bright than 2.0
  • AIR's handy magnetic back is a problem for drone use (can interfere with GPS)
  • AIR is not a rugged as the 2.0's aluminum frame

NEW Lume Cube Panel! I've saved this amazing new product for last. It's fast becoming my favorite light. The Lume Cube Panel is a bi-color LED panel light and also functions as a power bank to recharge my mobile phone! It's incredibly small—about the size of my mobile phone, or about 1/4 the size of other panel lights I have been using in the past for my LLL. Featuring an intuitive LCD screen on back, the Panel not only allows you to adjust color temperature and brightness, but gives you immediate feedback on how long the light will last at each brightness setting. Although its compact and sleek design allows it to fit nicely on top of your camera, where I use it as a fill light in my portrait, macro and video photography; I typically use it off-camera (on a light stand), especially for my LLL work, so I can create more modeling, texture and drama in my foreground landscapes. Price is $149.95 per panel.

Click to enlarge and view features


  • Color Temperature: 3200K - 5600K
  • Brightness Range 5%-100%, adjustable by 5% increments 
  • Max Brightness: 400 Lux @ 1M
  • CRI: 96+
  • Run Time on 5% Brightness: 7.5 Hours
  • Run Time on 50% Brightness: 3 Hours
  • Run Time on 100% Brightness: 90 Minutes
  • Rechargeable via Micro USB and USB-C
  • Built-In Li-Polymer Battery: 3.85V 4040mAh
  • Power bank Output: 5V 2A
  • Dimensions: 151x80x9.8mm
  • Weight: 180g

How does the Lume Cube Panel compare to other panel lights I've used? For many years I've used the Z96 LED Panel Lights that I've mentioned in this blog and in my Milky Way NightScapes eBook. This is one of the oldest and most compact panel light designs, yet it is about 2X larger and heavier than the Lume Cube Panel. This old design requires magnetic snap on CTO filters to change the color temperature from 5600K to 3200K (and there are no in between color temperatures available). Power comes from 5 replaceable AA batteries (about 15-20 minutes of run time at full brightness) or snap on Sony style NP-F Li-ion batteries (larger NP-F batteries sizes will give you longer run times). Batteries are not included, and the NP-F batteries can get pretty pricey. The genuine F&V Z96 brand will cost you $159. Chinese rip-offs on Amazon usually cost under $100. F&V has a newer bi-color Z180S panel light design, that allows you to dial in your color temperature like the Lume Cube Panel, but this will cost you $365.

Before the Lume Cube Panel, I used the Genaray LED-6200T 144 LED Variable-Color On-Camera Light when I wanted a bi-color panel light. It's about 4X larger and at least 20% heavier (depending the battery size you buy) than the Lume Cube; and it will cost you $139. The Genaray only uses the snap in NP-F batteries (a small NP-F550 is included). Full power brightness is about 25% greater than the Lume Cube panel, but minimum brightness stops at 10% with the Genaray, whereas the Lume can go all the way down to 1%. Two big problem I see with most light panels is that 1.) none of these other panel lights have any type of a battery meter, and 2.) nearly all use a low-tech analog dimmer knob with no brightness reference markings. The Lume Cube has a digital LED brightness readout that can be accurately referred to or repeated in future photo setups, and they have a great battery meter with accurate projections as to how long the battery will last at the current brightness.

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