[updated: 11:23PM PST, 22 November 2014]

the next revolution in lighting technology?

The first LED Light Cube review is here! Starting from a small crowd-funded online campaign in 2013, the Australian-based start-up, IC12, has finally delivered on their promise made a little over a year ago. The LED Light Cube is claimed to be about as powerful as a typical Speedlight, and according to the manufacturer, the hybrid 150W LED continuous/flash unit is capable of producing an almost unbelievable 15,000 full-power flashes using only its internal battery. Plus, the unit manages up to 15 frames-per-second with zero recycle time. Also notable is its adjustable flash duration: 1/8,000th-1.0 second in flash-only mode (the light also operates continuously for cine/video applications).

unique features:

• Zero recycle-time.
• 15,000 full-power flashes @ 1/60th flash duration on a single internal battery.
• Accommodates up to 15 frames-per-second in flash mode.
• Variable flash duration: 1/8,000th-1.0 second in flash mode.

basics:

• Retail price: $659 USD.
• Peak output power: 300 Watts (not to be confused with “Watt-seconds”).
• Variable power: Full-1/128th.
• Bulb: >150-Watt LED/5,000 lumens/50,000-hour bulb life.
• Internal battery (removable): 11.1V 2.8 amp-hour, LiPo Lithium-ion battery.
• Color temperature: 5,500-degrees Kelvin; CRI: 85+.
• Modes: flash/flash+modeling light/continuous.
• Built-in optical trigger.
• 2.5mm sync port.
• 3.5mm daisy-chain port.
• Unit is 4″ x 4″ x 4″ square and weighs 1.65 lbs.
• 1/4″-20 receivers on all four sides.
• Units are modular, stackable, daisy-chainable.

downsides:

• The price.
• Actual output is several stops less than a Speedlight.
• No TTL capability.
• No built-in RF receiver (built-in optical slave and sync input only).
• No remote power control.
• Bulkier and heavier than a Speedlight.

cube-panel-400
LED Light Cube rear panel.

development:

In a 2013 flickr discussion thread, IC12 managing director, Nathan Oxley stated, “The LED inside the unit is a 150-Watt, super-bright LED cluster module. The flash and video modes of the unit are handled separately. As a flash, the LED is overdriven as a pulse, and is being driven in the region of 320 Watts of power. We have been testing a large range of lenses from 60-degrees down to 15-degrees to determine the best performance.” [Note: A 30-degree lens had been mentioned regarding a prototype].

At a specification of 5,000 lumens, that’s only about as “bright” as a high-end AV projector. However, referring to an earlier prototype in 2013, Oxley also said, “The latest version that I am currently testing has been set at a peak level which is producing 12,000 lumens.” While lumens are typically used in rating light bulbs and projector lamps, more applicable photographic metrics are left unstated.

flashes per charge:

As far as the number of flashes which can be obtained from a single internal battery, the original Indiegogo IC12 crowd-funding site initially claimed 10,000 full-power pops per charge. Then In early November, in an interview for Photo District News, Oxley increased that specification to “about 20,000.”

However, until only recently, the IC12 website had stated “over 15,000” flashes per charge, but on 19 November 2014, the website was updated to increase the specification to “over 25,000 flashes @ 1/60 of a second duration from a single battery charge at full power.” Two days later, on 21 November 2014, the IC12 site reverted back to the earlier specification, rating the Light Cube’s capacity at “over 15,000 flashes at full-power on a single charge.”

retail-ready:

LLCR-3-700

When I first received my LED Light Cube from B+H, I was a bit surprised to discover complete retail packaging for the product. Even the Elinchrom adapter was packaged for peg-hanging in a store. As you can see, the product includes a carrying case, which fits all of the standard accessories. The unit’s build quality is very good, and its overall design is attractive and functional. The included accessories (table-top stand, sync cable, daisy-chain cable, etc.) are a nice plus.

LLCR-2-700

optional accessories:

IC12 has made available a number of smartly designed accessories for its LED Light Cube, including a gridded mini-snoot set, a gridded set of barn doors, a Bowens S-mount speedring adapter, an Elinchrom speedring adapter (Profoto and Broncolor speedring adapters are coming soon), plus an “accessory adapter plate” for attaching Lastolite-style, “Ezyboxes.” Spare batteries and an external charger are also available at $86 each.

LLC-ELI-1-700
IC12 Elinchrom speedring for LED Light Cube, $38.95.

Here’s a couple of test frames with a subject using the IC12 Elinchrom speedring adapter with an Elinchrom 39″ Mini-Octa attached. The camera used was a Nikon D3s with a Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS lens. The softbox was centered over camera, about four feet from the subject (images were color-corrected in post):

LED-jess-4
ISO: 400; f/2.8 @ 1/250th; Light Cube at 1/1 full-power @ 1/60th flash duration.

LED-jess-6
ISO: 400; f/2.8 @ 1/250th; Light Cube at 1/1 full-power @ 1/60th flash duration.

event photography: on-camera LED flash?

The LED Light Cube definitely feels a lot more bulky than a traditional Speedlight, and while it physically fits on the Stroboframe bracket shown below, its surplus weight makes the bracket a bit unwieldy. The rig as pictured is very top-heavy, making carrying a full-sized DLSR with the LED Light Cube attached feel like a small block of concrete. Traditional Speedlights are lighter, and are more well-suited for on-camera use.

LLCR-6-700
LED Light Cube mounted on a Stroboframe VH-2000 rotating bracket, attached to a Nikon D3s, full-size body.

real-world output:

IC12 has stated that the LED Light Cube is about as bright as a typical Speedlight, but compared with a Nikon SB-800, even at the Speedlight’s widest zoom setting, the SB-800 still out-powered the LED Light Cube by a significant margin.

LLCR-7-700
LED Light Cube, Nikon SB-800, Nikon D3s; AF-S Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G.

test frame: Nikon SB-800 Speedlight

SB-TEST2-700
Nikon SB-800: 1/1 full-power @ 24mm zoom setting:
ISO: 200; f/16 @ 1/250th; distance: 8.7′; white balance: flash; uncorrected .JPG.

test frame: LED Light Cube +4 EV

SL-TEST3-700
LED Light Cube: 1/1 full-power @ 1/60th flash-duration; flash-only mode:
ISO: 400; f/4.0 @ 1/250th; distance: 8.7′; white balance: flash; uncorrected .JPG.

From casual observation, the above frames appear to represent at least a four-stop difference in illumination between the Nikon SB-800 Speedlight and the LED Light Cube, where the Nikon Speedlight clearly out-powers the LED Light Cube.

There’s also a noticeable color shift toward the yellow part of the spectrum, as well as more fall-off in the Light Cube frame. Below, I took a flash meter reading of the LED Light Cube at six feet, and got a reading of f/2.0 when set at a shutter speed of 1/250th at an ISO of 100:

meter1-700
Sekonic L-478DR flash meter reading of LED Light Cube at full power at 6′.

The same settings yielded f/11 when measuring a Nikon SB-800 at full power using its widest-angle zoom setting at six feet. This more objective measurement indicates a five-stop difference in flash output when comparing the LED Light Cube to a Nikon SB-800. According to these measurements, the Light Cube is about 1/32 as bright as a typical Speedlight.

While the LED Light Cube fails to compete with the output of a standard Speedlight, the product is still one of the brightest LED sources for its size for filmmaking applications, especially if multiple Light Cubes are stacked together to create larger arrays (although LitePanels’ 1′ x 1′ LED panels are already quite popular in this particular application).

I do applaud IC12’s innovative product design, and other than output, the unit did perform as advertised, firing at full-tilt when connected to my Nikon D3s at 11 frames-per-second, with zero-recycle time. Unfortunately, the substantial difference in light output when compared with that of a typical Speedlight’s may be too much to overlook by most.

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