I’m a huge fan of my Aputure Aamran AL-H198 LED lights and they’ve been performing great for me (I liked my first one so much I bought a second within a week). They’re so awesome, especially when you consider their low price, I wrote up a full review about them here on my blog.
Because I had such a positive experience with the little 198 LED lights, when it was time to add to my light kit I decided to try out a larger version of their awesome LED lights. My plan was to keep my AL H198 lights and use them for highlights, kick lights or background lights and get a bigger light to use as my main or “key” light. There were plenty of choices but I settled on the Aputure Amaran AL 528S because of it’s price (all of their 528 LED lights can be found for under $170.00 US) and massive amount of light output (the spot version I chose has a specification of 12,700 LUX at .5M).
The bigger front surface area of the 528 LED light should translate into a much softer output than the smaller 198 LED lights and that meant, with the addition of a little diffusion, it could be a perfect main light in my small office/studio. Once again the team at Aputure hit a home run and, now that I’ve had mine for a while, I’m sharing my official full-length review.
Up front I want to say that at the time of this review I’ve never spoken with anyone from Aputure, nor have they provided a single piece of gear for me to review. The 528S LED light I’ll be reviewing here is my own and it was purchased with my own money with no discount. I paid full price and this review will be my own opinion with no consideration to Aputure, B&H Photo, Amazon or any company that sells this LED light. I hope this lack of compensation gives readers total confidence of my review’s honesty.
If anyone at Aputure would like me to review their lights in the future I’m happy to speak at any time, but until then this light (along with my AL H198 lights) are my personal units that I paid full price for and this review will be based on my experiences both in my studio as well as in the field.
Deciding on the Aputure 528S
My experiences with Aputure have always been extremely positive and everything I’ve bought from them has exceeded my expectations both in performance as well as pricing. After having such positive experiences with their A-Lav microphone and a pair of their small 198 LED video lights I’ll always give Aputure my first consideration when I’m in the market for video lights. Here’s a look at the awesome Aputure AL H198 light:
With my pair of Aputure AL-H198 LED lights I’ve had a great set of lights that work great for product photography and architectural shooting (as fill lights in large spaces). In my studio I’ve been using the two 198 LED lights together as a “key” light and, again, the results have exceeded my expectations. For the price I love the high output as well as the quality of the light of the AL-H198.
While the 198′s have performed exceedingly well for me, my long term plan was to get something bigger and more powerful for my studio work. The 198′s could then be used for fill, background or kick lighting once I picked up a bigger main light. The small lights are awesome but they lack a few features that I consider extremely important for my studio work.
None of my complaints about the Amaran AL H198 LED lights are deal breakers and, if you use them properly, the results will be outstanding and that’s what’s most important. The only issues that couldn’t be overcome were the lack of a way to power the lights other than using batteries and the harsh output when you don’t use diffusion (due to the small form factor).
When I began looking at larger LED video lights I had a lot of choices, but I had a few requirements that were going to be important for how I’d be using them.
- It had to be bright! This was important because l’d definitely be using diffusion (like a soft box) to get beautiful soft light. Because adding diffusion will decrease the amount of light on your subject you have to start with a very bright light.
- It needed multiple ways to be powered including an option to plug into a wall outlet. The big thing here was not just being able to run on A/C power but also work with batteries that I have or can purchase for a reasonable price.
- It couldn’t break the bank. I’m willing to pay more for a higher quality product, but I wanted to try to spend less than $200 for a video light. I was ready to spend $300 – $500, but with a budget of under $200 it becomes a light almost anyone can easily afford.
- I wanted a solution that was lightweight for it’s size so I could use my existing light stands or a boom arm to put the light where it would work best.
- I needed a digital display to let me know exactly what my output setting was. This was super important for ensuring my lighting was consistent from shot to shot.
- It had to be quiet. My microphones are extremely sensitive so I didn’t want a light with loud fans to keep internal temperatures under control.
- I wanted a light that matched perfectly with the AL H198 LED lights I already owned. This was vital because I regularly use several lights at once and they had to have great color accuracy.
I started my search for a big LED light with Aputure and quickly eliminated the awesome Lightstorm series of lights from consideration because they required a V Mount or Gold Mount battery when not plugged in to a wall outlet. As much as I loved the idea of having a light with a Bowens mount (most of my soft boxes use this mounting standard) I just didn’t want to invest in the new batteries if I needed to work away from AC power. Don’t get me wrong – the Lightstorm lights look amazing and I’ll probably be buying one in the future.
With the Lightstorm line eliminated I focused on the semi-pro lights in the Amaran line. Because I wanted a larger form factor than my AL H198 lights I focused on the 528 series, the 628 series and the Tri-8 series of lights. They all covered every need I had and I quickly decided on the 528 series because the price would hit my under $200 goal. Also, going with a 528 LED light, now, would give me some room to upgrade down the road – just like I’d done with my 198 LED lights.
The Aputure AL 528 Series of LED Video Lights
The 528 series of lights looked awesome with their larger form factor, complete package of included accessories and three available options. For a size comparison here’s a look at the big AL 528S LED light next to one of my AL H198 lights:
You can see that the 528S would give me almost four times the light source when compared to the AL H198. This larger light source is exactly what I was looking for. Like all of Aputure’s LED lights the AL 528 boasts a Color Rendering Index (CRI) of more than 95.
The most basic of the 528 series of LED lights is the AL 528W with a wide 75 degree beam angle. The next option is the super bright AL 528S with a tight 25 degree beam angle for more of a spotlight output. Finally, the AL 528C adds a variable color capability to match ambient indoor light or be usable in a studio or outdoors.
Any of the three lights would have been great for my use, but I settled on the super bright “S” model because I didn’t need the adjustable color and I really wanted the additional output of the tighter beam angle. Also – it’s easier to diffuse a spot light into a wider beam angle than it is to tighten a wide angle light into a tight spot. The 528S looked like it would give me the most flexibility for my personal needs.
I ordered my AL 528S from B&H Photo and I was super excited when the package arrived at my door.
In the Box
At a glance there was nothing to indicate the light I received was the “S” version but with a closer inspection of a small sticker on the bottom corner I was able to confirm I received the right light.
Inside the box was an extremely nice carrying case that protected everything during shipping (and would be put to good use when I work in the field):
The carry case is divided into two separate zippered sections with a main section and an accessory section on the front. Here’s a look at the front with the included mounting hardware, power cable and shoulder strap:
I removed the double spigot and umbrella bracket (I have plenty of both that I carry in my light stand bags) and that left me plenty of room to store a two Sony NPF-750 batteries.
The larger “main” section of the bag is where you find the AL 528S light along with the tungsten and white diffusion panels, owners manual and even a few spare LED bulbs. I was especially impressed by the inclusion of the elastic straps that hold the LED panel in place:
Once again I was super impressed by how complete the package of included accessories was. Aputure really knows how to make buyers like me happy. Here’s a look at everything that came in the box:
The Aputure AL 528S LED Panel Light
Once I sorted through the package it was time to break out the 528 LED light and see what I thought. The build quality is on par with the smaller AL H198 lights. The entire fixture is made from a sturdy plastic that will last a lifetime if taken care of – but may not last long in the professional world where it would likely be treated pretty rough. For the price it’s well built but it’s certainly not a “pro” light like Aputure’s Tri-8 or Light Storm series are.
The AL 528 can be used without either of the included diffusers installed for a little added brightness, but the resulting light can be a bit contrasty for my taste. It’s also nice to have the additional protection for the LED’s by using one of the easily installed diffusers. Here’s a look at the AL 528S without a diffuser installed:
With a diffuser installed there is a bit of a drop in maximum brightness, but the diffusion (softness) you gain is more than worth it, if you ask me, especially out at the edges of the lights coverage. There is a neutral colored (white) diffusion panel and an orange diffuser for warming up the light’s color temperature to around 3,000K. If you use the orange diffuser you’ll need to set your camera to tungsten white balance to get accurate color and it’s great for matching existing incandescent lights found in many homes. Here’s a look at the AL 528S with the orange diffuser installed:
For my studio use the white diffuser worked perfectly since I’m not matching my LED lights to any existing lights.
One observation I made was the “plastic” sound the AL 528S makes with a diffuser installed if it’s not pushed in all the way. To avoid that cheap plastic sound always push the diffuser in until it gives you a solid click. Here’s a look at the “clear” diffuser installed:
So while the two smaller AL H198 lights are bright enough to use in my studio there’s just no denying how much nicer it is to plug in the 528S to an electrical outlet instead of relying on batteries. I also liked having a digital readout to let me know exactly what my power level was. With my pair of AL H198 LED lights I had to use a 30″ diffuser to soften the light. With the larger 528 LED light I was hoping things looked better even before I started to soften the light with a diffuser.
Here’s a look at the rear of the light with the dual battery slots, rotary output control, power switch, digital display and plug for the electrical adapter:
The only things you won’t find in the box are batteries (two large batteries are included with the pricer 672 series of lights along with remote control capabilities). I had NP-F750 batteries so the lack of included batteries was perfectly fine with me since it keeps the price under $200.
It’s important to note that the 528S is a bit brighter when plugged in to electrical power with the included power supply. It’s pretty noticeable so you’ll need to remember this when choosing a brightness level because a 50 on the digital display will be different when plugged in when compared to using batteries.
One final nit-pick I have is the brightness display which only goes from 10 to 99. Ultimately this isn’t a big deal, but when I’m at full power I think 100 percent, not 99 percent. My guess is Aputure saved the money an additional digital number would cost and that helps to keep the price of the AL 528 low. Here’s a look at the specifications of the Aputure AL 528S:
- 528 LEDs
- 25 degree beam angle (“Spotlight” model only)
- 5,500K Daylight balanced output
- 4,380 Lux maximum brightness (at 1M)
- 30W maximum power draw
- Color Rendering Index (CRI) greater than 95
- 100,000h average lifespan
- 9.37″ x 7.48″ x 1.26″” panel
The AL 528S In Use
My studio was already set up for my two AL H198 LED lights on a stand (in front of a 30″ Diffuser) so all I had to do was remove the two smaller lights and install the big 528 LED light. Once I was set up I turned it on to see just how bright a LED light rated at 12,700 LUX (at .5 meters) looked. It was certainly bright – but after using two of the AL H198 lights together I was surprised it didn’t seem as bright as I was expecting.
The output is definitely softer looking, thanks to the larger light source, but I found my camera settings were almost exactly the same using the larger single light or the pair of smaller lights. This is not a slam on the AL 528S, it’s a reminder of just how bright the smaller AL H198 lights really are. While the overall brightness didn’t appear to be more than the pair of 198 LED lights it is noticeably softer due to the larger spacing between the LED’s. I love how good the new light looked compared to the smaller lights, even without using a diffuser.
The best comparison I can make here is the difference a still photographer experiences when they move from small “hot-shoe” style flashes to much larger studio strobe lights. The small lights are plenty bright, but the quality of the light from the bigger strobes is unmistakable. Additionally, smaller flashes require batteries so a full day of use in a studio means lots of battery changes where a plug-in studio strobe just needs to be turned on and it works for the entire day.
To confirm my brightness observations I set up a camera to take some still pictures in Shutter Priority mode at ISO 800. Using this mode would let me see what aperture the meter in the camera chooses and it mimics settings I commonly use for video work. I found the 528S was brighter than a single 198 (by about one stop) and about identical to a pair of 198′s. Here’s a screen capture of my studio shot with the AL 528S:
The camera chose f4.5 but I could see my face getting a little overexposed (something I confirmed with zebra stripes on my external monitor). I probably would have gone with f5.6 to get things where I like to have them.
Here’s a look at what a single AL H198 Light looked like:
You can see that the camera needed f4 to get things properly exposed. The brightness of the smaller light is awesome but I could see the harsher look of having such a small light source. Shadows just don’t look as nice with the AL H198 when compared to the larger AL 528S.
Finally, here’s a look at two of the AL H198 lights used together as a single “key” light:
The second AL H198 brought aperture back up to f4.5 and I could see the brightness was just about the same as what I see from the single 528S. In fact, if you were to buy three of the AL H198 lights and a tri-shoe adapter you could have a super bright 594 LED light for under $200. Add in a 30″ shoot-through umbrella and you’d have a key light that would look incredible. The only downside would be the necessity of using batteries and trying to match the output levels of three lights without digital displays.
With a pair of 198 LED lights there’s a larger light source than just one so I could see the light quality softening – but it was still not as nice as what I see from the bigger AL 528S. This was definitely an interesting comparison for brightness but brightness isn’t everything. Quality (softness) is by far my priority so I was extremely satisfied with what I was getting out of the AL 528S.
So what do I think about the AL 528S as a video light? I’m absolutely in love with it. I love the quality of the light (both in CRI and brightness) and there’s no substitute for being able to plug the light in for long days in the studio. With the option to use a pair of Sony NP-F style batteries I can still get awesome results in the field when I don’t have a power source or if I don’t want to have cords that could be tripped on.
For well under $200 Aputure has an outstanding light in the AL 528S and I highly recommend it for it’s quality, brightness and the professional appearance of the large panel. I’d have zero problem setting up several of these lights on a paying gig because they perform and look like they belong in a pro’s video kit and I’m seriously considering picking up an AL 528W to compliment my AL 528S.
The Aputure AL 528W and AL 528S sell for $159 and the AL 528C sells for $169.
One thing I didn’t mention in this article is the availability of some great accessories to get even higher quality light from the AL 528 (and AL 672) LED lights. Aputure makes a diffuser, soft box and soft box with grid that mount directly to the light. I picked up the soft box (about $45) and will be putting together a separate review about it.
To power the AL 528 on remote shoots you can get a pair of 5000mAh Sony style NP-F batteries with a charger at Amazon for under $35. Since you need two batteries to power an AL 528S I recommend buying at least two sets since that will give you a spare set along with the ability to charge two batteries at once. Here’s a look at the Aputure EZ Box installed on my AL 528S along with a pair of NP-F750 batteries:
When you buy an Aputure AL 528S light for $159, an Aputure softbox for $45 and a set of NP-F750 batteries you’ll have a spectacular setup that costs less than $250. That means you can spend under $500 for two complete sets of main lights (great for interview shots) and for around $600 you can add in a pair of AL H198 lights for highlights or lighting up backgrounds. When you consider that not long ago you could spend more than $750 for a single high quality light for video work the offerings from Aputure mean anyone can have a complete set of LED video lights that let you accomplish almost anything without going broke.
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