Finding a low cost LED fixture that produces a good quality of light is not as hard as it used to be. The overall quality of LED lights on the market has improved massively in recent years and most of the newer designs don’t have horrible photometric scores (excluding bargain basement LED lights found at some online retailers). Having tested more than a hundred LED lights over the last two years I have seen the performance gap close between expensive and more affordable fixtures. You should no longer dismiss a LED light based on the premise that it can’t be good because its cheaper.
One company that makes affordable LED lights is Aputure. Over the next few weeks I will be testing three LED lights from Aputure. Having never used any of their lights before I am very interested to see how they compare to much more expensive fixtures. The models I’m testing are not brand new lights and have been around for a little while now.
The first light I will be looking at is the Light Storm LS 1/2. The LS 1/2 is a 5600k LED fixture that consists of 264 SMD lamp heads and draws just 60W. Compared to DIP LED, SMD technology is claimed to offer longer life, lower brightness decay, and a wider light angle. The light is an unusual size, falling somewhere in between an on camera light and a traditional 1×1 panel. It is 36.5cm long (14.37″), 21.7cm high (8.54″), and 2.5cm thick (0.98″). With these dimensions the LS 1/2 closely resembles a 2.85:1 frame.
What initially stands out to you is just how thin the fixture is. The photo above really puts this into perspective.
The LS 1/2 is solidly made and the outside casing is constructed from aero-aluminum. I was impressed with the quality of the mounting points and lock off knobs. The only thing that worried me slightly is that there is no protection on the front of the light. The individual lamp diodes are recessed from the front of the panel, but ultimately exposed. This means that if you did hit or drop the light they could get potentially be damaged – although its worth pointing out that the diodes of flex lights, which are becoming increasingly popular, are even more directly exposed.
There are nice little touches included with the light such as a knob for you to wrap the power connection cable around, as well as velcro wraps for all the cables.
I am not sure how well the light would go out in the elements, but I probably wouldn’t want to be using it even in light rain. There is a spot on the font of the fixture where you can see exposed wires which did slightly concern me.
The head of the LS 1/2 weighs 1.0kg (2.2lb) with the yolk frame attached. This is because Aputure have removed the power interface from the light and turned it into a separate cabled component that can be placed lower down on your stand. Their reason for doing this is so that you can use the LS 1/2 on a smaller light stand, or position it out on a boom pole or a arm, doing away with the need to use a big and heavy c-stand. The U-frame has two truss-mounting directions and can support full rotation of the lamp.
There are positive and negative aspects to having the light fixture and the power system separated. Even though there are advantages to the lower weight head, some users would prefer having a light where everything is more self contained. In run and gun situations where every second counts, being able to pull a light out of a bag and use it very quickly can be advantageous. There are definitely strong arguments for both solutions, but it really does come down to the application you are using the light for and your own personal preference.
The one thing to be aware of with the LS 1/2 is that the connection cable that goes between the light and the power supply is about 180cm (70.86″) long. For most situations this should be long enough, but it is something you need to keep in mind. The other important thing to note is that if you are not running the light off a camera battery you need to attach an additional mains power supply unit to the power interface box. This leaves you with three separate components. I would have preferred if Aputure had of included the mains power supply inside the power interface box to avoid having to have so many links in the chain.
The power supply unit is available with either a Anton Bauer or V-Mount battery plate attached and is about 3/4 the size of the actual light fixture itself. It is made out of hard plastic but still feels reasonably robust. There is a nice strap that you can use to secure the power interface box to a light stand so it is not dangling in the air.
The power interface also acts as the controller for making adjustments to the light. There is a simple on/off switch, a large brightness dial, DMX in and out ports, and a 3 pin XLR input for running the system off mains power. A LED screen shows you the brightness level and there are also several buttons to set up the wireless and DMX options.
On top of the box are two flip-up antennas that allow the LS 1/2 to communicate with an included remote control using 2.4GHz wi-fi. As I mentioned earlier the power interface box is available with either a Anton Bauer or V-Mount battery plate. What is nice about this plate is that it also has a D-Tap power output on it so you can run other accessories or compatible lights from just one battery. The decision to make the light only run remotely off large professional camera batteries may seem like a strange one. The cost of a single Anton Bauer or V-Mount battery and basic charger is likely to be more expensive than that of the light. If you already own these batteries it’s fine, but if your on a budget and just starting out in the industry this additional cost may well be prohibitive. Given the light only draws 60W it would of probably made sense for Aputure to offer dual Sony NP or Canon LP battery plate options as well.
The included wi-fi remote control is very handy and something that I wish more manufacturers would integrate into their products. It can turn on and off several compatible Aputure lights and adjust their brightness and this saves you a lot of time if you are a solo operator. Being able to stay at your camera and turn the brightness up and down without having to go back and forth between the camera is great. I found that the remote control was very responsive and worked even when I was large distances away from the light.
So how well does the light actually perform? Aputure claim (in the instruction manual) that the LS 1/2 has a CRI of over 95 and an output of 1100lx at a distance of 1m. I used a Sekonic C-700 spectomaster to test the lights photometrics and to see if it measured up to Aputure’s claims.
Above you can see the lights output at a distance of 1 meter at 100% output. The LS 1/2 measured 1540lx which exceeded Aputure’s claims by quite a considerable margin. The light is very colour accurate when re producing a 5600k colour temperature. The LS 1/2 registered 5579K and a ⊿uv (the value to show how much this light is away from being an ideal light source (black body radiation = incandescent lamp) of 0.0015.
While these readings were very good what completely shocked me was the lights CRI and extended CRI results. Above you can see the colour rendering readings I got. The LS 1/2 recorded a average CRI (R1-R8) of 98.2 and an extended CRI (R1-R15) of 96.5. These results are very impressive and the LS 1/2 recorded the highest CRI readings I have tested from any light to date. For reproducing accurate skin tones the LS 1/2 scored 93.5 for R9 (red), 98.6 for R13 (closest to caucasian skin tones), and 95.9 for R15 (closest to asian skin tones). For skin tone reproduction these scores while not the highest I have ever tested, rank the light right up near the top of the list.
The spectral distribution of the LS 1/2 is very good for a LED light. Above you can compare it to that of the popular Litepanels Astra.
With very high photometric scores just how does the LS 1/2 actually perform in the real world? It has a nice quality of light but the 1540lx is relatively low compared to some (albeit bigger and pricer) commonly used alternatives. Considering its size this is fairly respectable, but you have to remember there is no protection or diffusion panel in front of the light. This makes it a bit impractical if you are planning on using it as a key light for an interview. Without diffusion you cannot look directly at the light and in an interview situation your talent is definitely going to be uncomfortable.
The other problem with most LED lights that have no diffusion built-in is that it can create some very unattractive shadows. Above you can see a photo showing how the light tends to create cross hatched patterns at the edges of its illumination. Of course this problem is not just related to the LS 1/2 as a lot of LED lights tends to produce similar shadows.
Aputure does give you ten pieces of tracing papers to help solve this problem. The tracing paper can be clipped onto the light to provide a certain amount of diffusion. They do work fairly well for diffusion, but are fiddly to put on and also very susceptible to ripping. I really do wish Aputure had of provided a more robust diffusion system, or least made one as an optional extra.
The other problem with using the “Tracing Papers” is that they considerably knock down the lights output. Aputure claim that they reduce the output to 85%, and provide an effective 180° beam angle. When I re measured the LS 1/2 with the “Tracing Papers” in place the light recorded 772lx which is closer to halving the lights output than reducing it by just 15% as claimed.
The only real way to use this light as a key light for an interview is with the diffusion, but using the tracing papers you only get only 772lx at 100% power, so you are going to have to put the light very close to your subject to create enough illumination.
As I have already explained the light is not really suited for use as a key light as it features a very wide 120 degree beam angle (180 degrees with the diffusion added). With no barn doors available you would need to use something like black wrap, or flag it, to limit its spill. I think this light is more suited for lighting up larger spaces where you require just a small amount of fill to compliment ambient light, or for lighting up green screens. Another thing to note is that the light also only dims down to 10 percent and won’t go any lower.
After trying out several uses for the light I found it also worked well when used with a 4×4 silk or giant soft box. Although it lacks a lot of the punch of more powerful fixtures, the wide 120 degree beam angle allows it to completely illuminate large silks and soft boxes. It can also work quite well as a bounce light by placing it very close to a wall or ceiling. It is also very suitable for use in narrow space such as a hallways, hotel rooms, offices, elevators, car interiors etc. Where a wide yet compact lighting source is needed.
The LS 1/2 is certainly an intriguing light. While its size and beam spread make it quite unique, I found myself on more than one occasion asking in what situations would I actually use this light over other existing fixtures I already own? Don’t get me wrong, the light does what it is designed to do, and does this for the most part very well. For those who already own quite a few lights and are looking for some what of a speciality light I can see the appeal of the LS 1/2. For shooters who can just afford one or two lights the LS 1/2 may not be the best option.
For those on a budget looking for a high quality light source the Lightstorm LS 1/2 is definitely worth looking at. There are very few lights on the market that can match its colour accuracy regardless of price point. As the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and in this case you shouldn’t judge a light by its price. The Lightstorm LS 1/2 retails for $424US.