Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Lume Cube Panel MINI Review

Teasel Weed lit with two Lume Cube Panel MINIs @ 1% power on the left side and 5% power on the right side (cloth filters were used to reduce intensity) with an out of focus Milky Way background.

Lume Cube sent me their new Lume Cube Panel MINI light a few weeks ago to review. It definitely is small! At 3.58 x 2.18 inches, it's only about the size of a credit card, and 0.45" thick. Weighing in at only 3 ounces, its less than half the weight of their original Lume Cube Panel and about one-half the size.

The Lume Cube Panel MINI's performance is what impressed me most. For such a small package, it puts out a lot of light. The specs say the 60 bi-color LEDs (30 @ 5600K and 30 @ 3200K) will put out 138 LUX @ 1 meter (although my light meter measurement came in slightly under that, at 120 LUX), which is a little more than one-third the output of its big brother, who comes in at 400 LUX (and my meter confirmed that), using 120 bi-color LEDs.

You might think that 138 LUX is not a lot for serious photography lighting, but in my specialty of Low Level Landscape Lighting, that's plenty of power for most of my work. For many years, I've used the F&V Z96 panel lights at 10% power (about 50 LUX) for landscape foreground features that average about 150 to 200 feet away. The Panel MINI can easily do the same at about 30% power, and with its ability to go down to as low as 1% power for close-distance accent lighting, this makes it a very versatile light for what I do. And, at only $59.95, the Lume Cube Panel MINI is almost one-third the price of the larger Lume Cube Panel ($149.95).

Out of the box, the Panel MINI has everything you need to get started: a slip-on silicon light softening diffuser, a USB-A to USB-C charging cable, a 1/4"/20 DSLR camera mount, and the MINI with a built-in rechargeable 1200mA Li-Polymer battery, housed in a strong aluminum body.

Using the Panel MINI in the field makes you appreciate its built-in intelligent LCD display features. Unlike most of the other panel lights I've used in the past, both the Panel MINI and the original Panel show you its available battery power and run time at any power setting.

Holding down the top power button on the side for 3-seconds turns on the light. Depressing the power button momentarily toggles between power/light intensity and the color temperature. A side wheel-lever (located between the "+" and "-") allows you to change the light intensity between 100% and 1%, in 5% increments. When the light brightness is set to 100%, the run time on a fully charged battery is 1.2 hours, 50% brightness run time is 2.2 hours, 20% brightness is 5.0 hours (shown), and 1% brightness (great for reading in your tent) is 18 hours!  Full recharge time is 1.8 hours. Color Temperature is adjustable by the same side wheel-lever from 5600K to 3200K in 100K unit increments. Depressing the top power button for 3-seconds turns off the panel light.

Mounted or hand-held: I found a lot light painting uses for the Panel MINI, just using the unit in my hand (more examples later this week...). However, most will want to mount the panel in the horizontal or vertical position, using one of the two 1/4" 20 tripod threaded mounting holes. Mounting the panel to the top of your DSLR is easy with the included 1/4"/20 camera mount. This simple setup allows for quick, on-the-move portrait fill lighting, whether you're doing stills or video. For more serious portrait or product lighting, you can use those same threaded mounting holes to secure the panel to a tripod or light stand (that has a male 1/4"/20 threaded screw). For additional light adjustability, you may wish to consider Lume Cube's ball head camera and light stand adapter.

Video Conferencing Light: Many are also using the Panel Mini as a video conferencing light when working remotely. You can purchase the suction cup mount separately to attach to your computer laptop or monitor, or as a package with the Panel MINI.


The top image in this foot bridge scene is an evening twilight exposure of 30 seconds, f/8, ISO 320. In the bottom image, just a few minutes later, there's a campfire at the end of the path, and I've walked through the bridge, holding my Panel MINI. I did this about a dozen times, until I got the perfect image. As the twilight began to darken and change color temperature, I had to increase my ISO and change my color temperature. The beauty of the Panel MINI is that I was able to quickly make adjustments to my light in order to naturally match my camera settings.

"Pixie Dust Trail" ~ Both of the images above are 50-second exposures. The top image was taken during the Blue Hour twilight. The bottom image is a blend of that image and this 50-second light painted image, taken about 20 minutes later. During this exposure, I walked the trail holding a Panel MINI that was in a homemade "lamp shade." My lamp shade was made using a styrofoam faucet protector, but you could also use an empty steel soup can. Raising and lowering the lamp shade will change the size of the light coverage. The following photos illustrate how my shade was made and used.

Bokeh Magic: My final photo comparison was to do some street photography, "portrait" style. I employed a technique many cinematographers use: a very "fast," large aperture, medium telephoto lens for an amazing bokeh effect. I used my inexpensive 85mm Rokinon f/1.4 lens (which also has great coma correction for star photography). It's inexpensive because it has no auto focus (true cinematographers often use the cine version of this lens, because it has geared focus). Canon and Nikon versions of this lens have auto focus, but you'll pay about five times the price. Either way, the out of focus highlights you get in the background are truly magical! You can get nice bokeh by shooting wide open with an f/2.8 lens, but the out of focus highlights at f/1.4 are about twice as large and dreamy.

Focusing wide open, with an f/1.4 aperture can be a little tricky at first, even with auto focus. Your depth of focus at portrait distances is often only about a 1/4 inch! Focus on the eyes and the end of the eyelashes are starting to go out of focus. If the head is turned too much, one eye will be considerably out of focus. Despite these challenges, the flattering effect it has on the face is extraordinary, and worth the effort.

Panel MINI portrait lighting: Combine bokeh magic with portrait-style lighting from the Panel MINI, and you have an amazing combination! The only difference between the two photos below is that the bottom image has lighting from the Lume Cube Panel MINI. I've placed the MINI only about 3 feet to my left (to the right of the model), and I've used the silicon diffuser that comes with the unit to soften the light. I was able to dial down the power to 20% and adjust the color temperature to balance with the existing street lighting in this downtown shopping center. EXIF for both images: f/1.4, 1/160 second, ISO 1600 • Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 lens on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III • hand held, manual focus.

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