3 Awesome Entry Level LED lights reviewed

posted in Photo Gear Reviews

3 Awesome Entry Level LED lights reviewed

I have a hard time getting into video, and for me, like for many others, this journey begins with purchasing some necessary gear. Sometimes it ends up being not so necessary. Today I want to focus on the three lights I got to test and review.

This review won’t have any videos, there are plenty of them on YouTube. I wanted to do a review where you don’t have to pause anything to see a certain angle of the construction. So, in my usual fashion, I’m doing a review full of photos.

I’ve got three LED lights, all I consider to be pretty budget options. I am not ready to invest a ton of money into a proper 3 light kit. The three lights I chose to test:

So we’re looking roughly at a $200 setup. I do some videos from home, so these lights were for my office space. I don’t have a huge room, so I thought these will be enough.

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I’ve done a lot of research over the past month, so even though I’m focusing on budget and smaller lights, most people agree on kind of the universal ultimate lighting kit.

If you want an expensive and long lasting setup that is very versatile, go with these lights:

LS-20mini are a bit more versatile because you can select between spot/flood settings and even power the lights with external USB charger that we all carry around these days. 120d light is pretty much the go-to key light for most semi-pro videographers. I think more advanced shooters have dedicated teams that handle the set lighting and go with more complicated and rugged solutions.

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Ok, back to this review now. After doing a lot of reading, YouTube watching, and googling, I narrowed down a list of my preferences and features for the lights. The worst thing is when you buy gear and it only works for you in 2% of the situations and for everything else you need a different set of gear.

So, here was my list of six things I wanted and considered important:

  1. Price – wanted to stay within $200 per light
  2. Portable power – ideally NP-F batteries since I have them already for my monitor
  3. Strength of output – ideally enough to light up my office corner
  4. CRI – 95+ so the colors are as accurate as possible
  5. Weight/Size – I’m not ready to deal with giant bulky lights
  6. Sound from the fan – this is important when you look into bigger lighting units

After a few weeks with the lights, something else became very important:

  1. Bi-color lights are a no-go for me (these are not bi-color, but I wanted to clarify this before I continue) – they will only give you half the strength. So ideally go with a specific temperature (3000 or 5500/6000)
  2. Some lights, like the Aputure 528 one I have, requires 2 batteries to power up. Yongnuo needed just one and worked on half of the strength. Which is definitely better than nothing. Now, I’d rather always look for the setup where 1 battery can still let me do some work.
  3. Being able to build you own grid – super important. The little Aputure 198 light I have – if I buy 4 of these, I can make a 4x light by connecting them together. Sure, the shadows won’t necessarily be very pretty, but a diffuser will minimize some of that.

Let’s talk a little bit about each light. I’m not a hardcore video gear reviewer, so expect my personal pretty limited insights coming from a photographer entering the video space.

$58 Aputure Amaran AL-H198 (B&H link)

I currently own 3 of the similar size Neewer lights I bought on Amazon, but what a difference this Aputure light makes! This light is built really well, works on NP-F batteries, and the best part is that it can be attached to however many of these exact same 198 lights. So nothing stops you from making a grid of 12 of these if needed. Each has it’s own pretty strong for the size output.

Everyone also mentioned the clear protective acrylic cover in front of the light. It was not a huge deal for me, but sure it’s nice to know your lights have more protection when you use or store them.

Personally, I’d probably buy a bunch of these instead of buying a single 528 light. Heard similar opinions from guys who make their living shooting video and have used a bunch of Aputure lights.

On the side note, all Aputure lights, and other products like microphones, come with lots of little extras and nice carry bags.

$79 Yongnuo YN600Air (B&H link)

Most of us are familiar with this brand because of their flashes. I came across these lights on Amazon and then found them on B&H too. I trust B&H customer reviews more than the ones on Amazon, but for this brand there are not that many. So I thought $79 will ok to give this light a shot.

Even though I like the construction of this light and how the designers handled the push buttons to release batteries, this light is just not strong enough for me to keep using consistently. Because of the permanent diffuser cover, you’re pretty limited.

This light supports 2 NP-F batteries (I always buy these on Amazon for $22 for 2 batteries). I liked the release mechanism much more than on the Aputure 528  light, where my fingers literally got squashed because I was pushing out the batteries right into my own fingers.

I definitely like that you can power up the light, or half of it, with just one battery. Aputure 528 requires both batteries to be installed to get the light working. So I’d say here Yongnuo wins in comparison.

The build quality is nice, not as nice as what Aputure makes. Definitely keep in mind that all these are a budget option, so none of them will be rugged enough to be run by a Wrangler.

$159 Aputure Amaran AL-528W with $45 softbox (B&H link)

Moving on to the final and most advanced light of the three, this Aputure 528 is the only one with an optional softbox. The light is pretty lightweight and in size is 2 of 198 lights if you put those side by side.

 

Powered by DC adapter or 2 NP-F batteries, which both have to put in for the light to power on, this light is the one you need to seriously consider. It’s not too expensive yet, but still powerful enough for smaller projects.

For me, this light caused major dilemma, because I didn’t want to invest $645 in the light I really wanted (I’m usually addicted to getting the top of the line everything, just to have the best), but also I was not sure if 3 or 4 of 198 lights mounted together will do the trick. In the end, I decided that I should look for another light, maybe a kit actually. I’ll probably end up going with the LS-mini20 lights once those are released and in stock everywhere.

I just didn’t feel that this light will be enough for all the different use scenarios. I also don’t want to carry a bunch of LED panels around and would rather have smaller and stronger source of light that is also built for heavy duty use. This one seems a bit on the fragile side, even though I like the materials used.

Here are a few side by side images of the two biggest lights I have in this review.

Conclusion

My quest for new gear is never over. I enjoyed having these three lights. If I had to buy something all over again, I’d get multiple 198 lights and maybe a single bigger light like Aputure 120d. I thought is was not easy to pick camera bags, but with lights, it’s even worse for me.

All three lights in this review are some of the best, that’s why I wanted to have them in my hands. I would definitely suggest sticking to the main brands that everyone recommends:

  • Aputure
  • Yongnuo
  • CAME-TV
  • Westcott
  • Lowel (especially bulb lights)
  • Dracast (frequently on sale on B&H website)
  • Paul C. Buff (standard for many studio shooters)

Neewer, in my personal opinion, is the last resort for lighting if you absolutely don’t want to spend money. You can see for yourself what makes sense of course.

Next up, I’ll review a few microphones, from $35 to $399 and see if spending 10x more was worth it. Stay tuned.

1 comment

  1. Neat review. This review also makes me realise how important video is becoming & how, to survive, I’m someday gonna have to adapt to that. I’ve been ignoring all the video-is-the-future idea every time its been mentioned by any photographer (I’m also one of those get-rid-of-video-from-my-camera supporters), but it seems everyone has already started the transition. And I still can’t fall out of love with still images.

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