Taming the Beast - Aputure 300d
Every now and then a milestone in technology is hit in the world of photography and lighting, when everything comes together to balance optimum quality, power and price. This is one of those moments from Aputure and it's one of those moments for film makers and photographers who get excited about not just innovative tech but in the art of light. I'll definitely be adding this light to my kit where it will join it's little brothers the 120d and 120t but I'm taking this opportunity to delve into LED lighting for those who have come to realize that constant LED lighting has become an important tool not only for seasoned video creators but for photographers who are more than ever looking to up-skill in video too.
BACK TO BASICS
I'm not going to assume everyone reading this knows all about LED lights, because there are a lot of stills photographers moving to constant lighting as a compliment to their strobe/flash lighting... particularly as they realize that in the ever competitive world of photography, video is an important skill to master as part of their service. Constant light is a whole new way of thinking when you're not used it.
If like me you came from a film & TV background and you're introduction to constant lighting was back in the days of tungsten incandescent/filament bulbs (I'm not old enough to remember the arc lamp days!). Think of them like your traditional home light bulbs but using quartz glass and halogen gas within the bulb to give them longer life, higher accuracy and power. But you might remember the size of these film lights, you'll remember how much power they draw (roll in the genny) and you'll know just how hot those lights get. COST COMPARISON Traditional incandescent lights are far from forgotten though... they remain the workhorses of film lighting and their quality is undeniable. They're still what you find used on big budget film sets to this day because the power (regardless of size) is yet unmatched at the top end with 20k lights. You'd still be renting these with a cost to purchase something like an Arri T24 at about USD$12,000 and the bulb alone around USD$2500.
In comparison this 300d from Aputure is the equivalent of a 2K output. An equivalent incandescent tungsten light would be the Arri T2 that would cost you about USD$1000 but turn to the equivalent LED light from Arri, the L10-DT and you're looking at just over USD$5000. The Aputure 300d is coming in at only USD$1099 for a 2K output equivalent! So why not just buy a 2K tungsten light at $1000? I'll come back to that shortly!
QUALITY OF LIGHT If you come from the traditional lighting background you may also admit to having a hint of skepticism from that period of adjustment when LED lighting first moved from the consumer/home/industrial lighting world into the film & television world. LED lighting had inaccurate colour casts between green and magenta (awful on skin tones) and only the most expensive professional LED lights had high enough CRI to be used commercially. CRI or 'Colour Rendering Index' is rated up to 100 as the most pure accurate light but anything over 95 is considered excellent. Using the wikipedia definition CRI is "...a measure of a light source's ability to show object colors realistically or naturally compared to a familiar reference source, either incandescent light or daylight." LED lights range between 80 to high 90's. Early LED lights for film & TV were in the low 80's and even now many being used in broadcast barely push over 90.
The CRI / TLCI ratings of this new 300d LED from Aputure is really high at 97+ which means none of those shifts from green to magenta. The 'd' in the name means it's a daylight balanced light at 5500k.
For those not familiar with colour temperature, tungsten is warmer and the temperature is generally down around 3200k (kelvin) and daylight is a cooler white/blue light measuring up around 5600k. Temperature Guide: 1,700 K: Match flame 1,850 K: Candle flame, sunset/sunrise 2,700–3,300 K: Incandescent lamps 4,100–4,150 K: Moonlight 5,000 K: Horizon daylight 5,500–6,000 K: Vertical daylight 6,500 K: Daylight, overcast 15,000–27,000 K Clear blue poleward sky
DAYLIGHT BALANCED LED IS IDEAL
Aputure make a tungsten balanced LED light with little brother to the 300d... the 120t (I own one of these). As much as a like that for indoor shooting at night, it's not much use for indoors during the day when I want the colour temp to match window light etc. If I want to balance it to daylight I bought a set of barndoors and some blue gel (you know, sheets of coloured transparency), which is how you would traditionally get daylight on incandescent tungsten lights (remember those lights never had a daylight bulb, they are all tungsten). The difference is that LED lights up until now have rarely matched the higher output of incandescent lights and the moment you put a full CTB or half CTB gel (Colour Temperature Blue) it cuts a lot of your light output. It's as if you were mounting a pair of sunglasses on the light or an ND filter on your lens. It's not hard to realize that when you're trying to match a blue gel tungsten LED to super bright natural daylight... you're going to struggle to get enough output. However in reverse... if you have a daylight balanced 120d and you need to use it for an interior night shoot you likewise gel it with CTO (Colour Temp Orange) and while you lose the same amount of output your only having to match it to other house lights (practicals) which have a very low output and therefore it's not much of a problem.
The 300d is a lot brighter than the 120d and if you go back to comparing the 300d to it's equivalent Arri 2K incandescent light at around the same price... you have to now consider that using that Arri is a tungsten light and in daylight you will need to gel it with CTB... you're going to lose a lot of output. Well you could get an Arri 2.5K HMI (daylight bulb) but that's going to set you back over $10,000. Pure daylight balanced light has the obvious advantage for both interior and exterior shooting.
SIZE AND POWER ADVANTAGES
While we're still making comparisons I'll make just 2 more. A traditional 2K light draws so much power you'd be stressing over whether it will trip the circuit when you plug it into a regular house plug. The 300d draws so little power you could plug 6 of them into the same home circuit without stressing! It uses 15% of the power draw for the same luminance. Not to mention portability... you can power this light on batteries, 2 x V-mount or gold-mount batteries. That does mean it has a ballast and a controller unit which you'll need to hang off the light stand and the control unit is much longer than the 120d but it's a fair compromise, just consider what this means for shooting in remote locations without the need for a generator. For indie film makers on a budget, hiring a bunch of batteries is going to be much more realistic than a generator. In terms of portability the light itself weighs only 25% of a traditional 2K tungsten and it's only 13.5 inches long.
LED PANELS Ask most video lighting people a year or two ago (or even now) what they think of when it comes to LED lights and they'll mention an LED Panel.
An LED Panel is simply a tight grid of multiple LED lights on a panel, needed to generate an intensity of light that's usable for filming in most situations. It's very difficult to create that same intensity of light from a single LED source but read on... that's exactly what Aputure have been able to achieve. So panels have ranged from the small on-camera panels to the larger panels like the Aputure LS1s that puts out nearly the equivalent of a 1K tungsten light.
The panels have their drawbacks when it comes to one of the most important aspects of lighting... controlling and shaping the light! The art of lighting is not just setting up a light at the right angle and distance, half the skill is how you tame that raw output with an endless array of modifiers such as fresnels, softboxes, flags, grids, diffusion paper and colour gels to name a few. With LED panels that becomes quite difficult to do because they come in different shapes and sizes with no standard mounting system.
The other disadvantage of LED panels is the unflattering light they throw on a subject, the multiple lights no matter how cleverly packed will never throw such an even and beautifully shaped light as a single source. The multiple points of light are technically all throwing their own varied angles of lights and shadow which is barely noticeable but it changes the overall look. Some panels come with a frosted front to diffuse the light but it's just taking away control of your light. You can diffuse it yourself but as I mentioned that becomes challenging with limited modifiers available. They're great lights don't get me wrong but the future of LED is moving to single source LED.
SINGLE SOURCE LED LIGHTS With the introduction of the 120d & 120t, Aputure began their mission of producing a single source LED which could start to match the traditional tungsten bulbs. Now the 300d steps onto the scene to truly make that a reality. BOWENS MOUNT A single source throws one single angle of light and shadow, just the same as traditional tungsten lighting but the Bowens mount has it's roots in stills photography with the modifiers used in strobe flash. These modifiers were never designed for traditional tungsten film lights... they literally get so you'd risk the softbox catching on fire! Some modifiers were built for film and TV lighting with flame retardant materials but that comes at quite a cost, and we're talking approx USD10-15,000 for a flame retardant 35" Parabolic Chimera Softbox!
Film lighting often uses barn doors with gels and diffusion but even the barndoors can get too hot so the lights are directed through separate diffusion scrims in a frame, plus flags (black material in different shapes) all held up by a jungle of c-stands and sandbags. That's why you need a whole crew of gaffers and a lighting truck, half of which is filled with gear designed to control the lights in multiple ways. But now single source chip on board (COB) lights are starting to catch up in output but the big difference is they're no longer hot! The chips are 'heat sensitive' however and the 300d has a smart fan system (they only turn on when needed) and they're extremely silent so microphones won't even pick them up. That means that the equivalent 35" Softbox doesn't need to be heat retardant and it won't cost you $15,000... a Bowens Mount softbox designed for strobe/flash photography will cost you no more than $500! This is why photographers are so interested in LED lighting, not only because video is becoming an important part of their service but because they already own a number of modifiers that can mount directly on LED lights like the 120d and 300d.
TAME THE BEAST This beast comes with it's own reflector dish but the raw light is super bright, sharp and wide. For the 120d I already own the Aputure Light Dome (35” soft box), the Mini Dome (24” beauty dish equivalent), 2 x Space Lights (like a china ball but made of parachute material!) and 2 x fresnels. All of these will mount out of the box, like a collar on a beast I can't wait to try and tame it... to shape and control this wild and grunty light, to bend and shape it to my will! It even comes with a remote control that can link all their lights together so if they gang up in a savage pack I can tame them from a distance.
p.s. I'm not actually a control freak 😉 Visit Aputure to learn more about the revolutionary 300d now.