This year at the NAB show – an annual industry event for the nation’s radio and TV broadcast industry – I saw a number of extremely exciting announcements from a lot of great manufacturers. The NAB show has always been one of the shows where camera, lighting, microphone and audio recording companies will introduce upcoming technology, product updates and new gear. I have yet to attend a NAB show but I always watch the news reports to see what is happening.
One of the most exciting announcements came from Black Magic when they introduced a new version of their Pocket Cinema 4K camera. The new Pocket Cinema looks extremely impressive and will be the first video camera that can capture RAW video files for under $1,300. Talk about game changing!
Additionally I saw plenty of news from one of my favorite companies, Aputure. They had a cool looking prototype RGB light in their booth as well as an update to their awesome Lightstorm LS 120d. The Mark II version of their popular LED light will be 30 percent brighter, can be dimmed all the way down to 1 percent and it introduces an all new control box that integrates the power ballast (this means faster setup and tear down).
Before the NAB show, back on 30 March 2018, Aputure officially announced two new lights that look incredibly exciting. Both are in the super affordable “Amaran” line of lights and I expect them to both be super popular. The first new light is the Amaran AL-F7 and it looks positioned to bridge the gap between the popular AL-H198 and the bigger AL258 series. The second new light is the super tiny Amaran AL-MX.
In this article I’ll be sharing the specifications of both lights and my thoughts on these new additions to the Aputure LED light lineup.
Two New Lights and My History with Aputure
Here’s a short video about the two new LED lights Aputure just announced (video provided by Aputure):
At this point it’s important to remind my readers I’m not affiliated with Aputure in any way, but I am a loyal customer – sort of like my relationship with Sony. For as long as I’ve been using and reviewing their products there has never been any communication between me and their team. I’ve always bought what I needed (at full price) and when I share a review it’s because I’m eager to share my experiences with a particular piece of gear. It’s this way with my Sony gear (they’ve certainly never reached out to me), My Think Tank gear, my Tascam gear, my Atomos gear and everything else you’ll find in my bags or in my studio.
A majority of my recent reviews have been about Aputure, but that has more to do with my more recent addition to my gear inventory than anything else. I still have plenty of reviews about some non Aputure gear coming, but when they made their announcements about the MX and F7 I couldn’t resist writing an article about them.
From the moment I received my first Aputure product (the awesome A-Lav microphone) I knew I found a company that was perfect for people who were beginning their journey into the world of audio and video production. I’ve always loved the completeness of their lineup that starts with extremely affordable offerings and goes up to some seriously professional products. My A-Lav microphone cost me less than $50 but they also sell the awesome $359.00 Deity shotgun microphone. In between are are V-Mic D1 ($69.00) and the V-Mic D2 ($130). This means you can buy a super basic microphone for very little money (like the under $25 A Lav EZ microphone) and upgrade as your needs – and budget – grow.
With LED video lights Aputure has a very complete lineup with the incredibly small Amaran AL-M9 (available for $45) at one end and the awesome Lightstorm C-300d ($1,099) on the opposite end. In between there are almost a dozen LED lights in all sizes and prices. That’s a range that allows anyone from the industry professional to the video newcomer to find a LED light to fill their needs (or hit their target budget).
The Aputure AL-MX
The first new LED light announcement has been several months in the making. I first saw videos about the super tiny AL-MX in September, 2017, when they were previewing the new light at IBC. It looked powerful, well built and feature rich. The only things I didn’t know were the final specifications and what to expect for a price.
Size-wise the AL MX is tiny, like the super popular AL M9 (a light I own and am very happy with). At 3.66 inches wide by 2.35 inches tall it’s just a bit smaller in front area than the M9 but the added heat sinks on the back mean the thickness is now just under an inch at .93 inches (compared to the M9’s super thin .43 inch thickness).
But the size is about the only similarity to the AL M9. From a build quality standpoint the AL MX is no longer built mostly of plastic. Now it’s built mostly from metal with aircraft-grade aluminum used as a heatsink on the back. Not only is this considerably sturdier, it should be seriously efficient when it comes to heat dissipation as well. Another nice addition is the built in 1/4 20 mount (the M9 required a funky additional bracket for mounting). This new build quality vaults the AL MX into professional territory since it’s sure to survive even the toughest environments found in the professional video world. The look and feel is very much in line with the flagship of the Amaran line, the Tri-8.
The Amaran AL M9 is literally a lighting dream because it can solve so many problems you might experience in a studio or in the field. It’s so small it can be hidden almost anywhere but still give you plenty of light. Additionally, if you needed more light they were so inexpensive you could keep several in your bag without breaking the bank. The AL MX, on the other hand, looks to be a serious alternative for when you need a lot of light but don’t have the space for several M9 lights or a single AL 198 light. With 129 surface mount diode lights (compared to the 9 of the M9) the MX is super bright. In fact – with a brightness rating of 200 LUX (at 1M) it is more than twice as bright as an M9. There’s even a boost mode that jumps the output up to 260 LUX at 1M for 60 seconds. That’s pretty awesome for a light the size of a wallet.
Another gigantic feature is the addition of variable color temperature. Now, unlike the daylight color temperature of the M9, the MX can be adjusted to give you 2800K on the low end and up to 6500K on the high end. Not only is that a great range, the extended temperature of 6500 means you’ll achieve higher brightness when set to daylight (5500K). I’ll talk more about extended color ranges for variable color LED lights more later. Controls for the color temperature (and all the other controls) are located on the top of the AL MX.
For power the AL MX relies on a built in lithium-polymer battery (3.7v 800mAh). According to Aputure it will supply, on average, an hour of output at 100% brightness or up to four hours at minimum brightness. There’s a USC-C connector for charging the internal battery and, if it can power the light while charging, this means it could be plugged in to an external battery or power source for long days in the studio.
The quality of the light is rated with the same super high CRI you expect from an Aputure light. With a CRI rating greater than 95 you won’t have to worry about the odd tint you get from cheaper lights (which means less time color correcting in post).
Finally, the included accessories looks to be just as good as I expect from Aputure. There’s a case, a ballhead mount, a USB-C charging cable, a diffuser and some velcro. Overall it’s a very complete package, in my opinion, and you should be up and running with the AL MX in no time at all.
Overall I was seriously impressed by what I see, specification wise, from the Aputure AL MX. The build quality look incredible and the ability to get a wide range of color temperatures from such a small light means it will be super useful for tricky lighting situations. The increase in brightness is also welcome so for run-and-gun news style shooting (where the light is mounted to the camera) this could be a nice alternative to much larger lights that add weight – and more weight means a camera rig could have an awkward balance.
The AL MX has a suggested retail price of $149.00 and should begin shipping soon. Preorders are now being taken at B&H Photo here.
Aputure AL MX Specifications:
- 128 SMD bulbs
- 120 degree beam angle
- 2800K – 6500K variable color temperature
- >95 CRI and >95 TLCI
- .5h to 5h battery life (using internal battery)
- USB-C charging port
- 280g (.61 pound) weight
- 93mm x 59.8mm x 23.5mm
The Aputure Amaran AL F7
The second new light from Aputure is one I didn’t know was in the works and I’m seriously excited about it. Aputure calls it: “the long awaited followup to the AL 198C – a light almost as old as Aputure itself.” It’s called the AL F7 and it’s small, bright, variable color, versatile, and inexpensive compared to lights with similar specifications.
The Amaran AL F7 managed to pack more LED’s into the small form factor I love about the AL 198. Now there are 256 LED’s and this means added brightness along with a “honeycomb pattern” for the LED’s to lessen the odd shadows that happen when flagging the light (common when you have regular rows and columns of LED lights). The AL F7 does this while only adding 7mm of width and 31mm of height. Best of all, because Aputure abandoned AA battery compatibility (something most pros rarely use) they cut the thickness of the light all the way down to 1.33″ (the AL 198 models are 2″ thick).
The new form factor and extra LED’s are awesome but the biggest news about the new AL F7 is how they’ve changed the game in variable color LED lights by expanding the warm end of the color temperature all the way up to 9500K (most variable color lights stop at 5500K). This is a huge change because on typical variable color LED lights half the LED’s are daylight balanced and half are tungsten balanced so they’re never as bright as similarly sized lights with only daylight LED’s. If a typical variable color light has 198 total LED’s, for example, only 99 are on when it’s set to 5500K while a daylight only 198 LED light will have all 198 LED’s on. That’s a significant amount of difference if maximum brightness is the most important specification to you.
With the AL F7 going all the way up to 9500K it means when you’re set to daylight (5500K) every LED is in use. To put that into numbers the old AL 198C had a maximum brightness of 435 LUX (at 1M) at 5500K while the new AL F7 is rated to output a whopping 1500 LUX at the same distance. That’s more than 3 times the maximum light output at 5500K! The same approach has been used in the AL MX and I suspect this will be the new standard for all variable color LED lights in the future.
Some more nice additions are a real on/off switch, the ability to dim all the way down to 1% brightness, a brand new mini ball head mount, a D-tap power option and a USB-C connection. For professionals the D-tap option is especially exciting because big V-Mount and Gold-Mount batteries are the norm in the pro world and being able to power the LED light with D-tap is perfect for run-and-gun shooters who mount the light directly to their large cameras (which use Gold-mount or V mount batteries). In the studio a V-mount or Gold-mount plate can be clamped to a light stand and you can get significantly longer usage than AA batteries or even the biggest Sony NP-F batteries.
The USB-C connector looks to be a way to power the AL F7 with one of the many USB battery packs that are commonly used for charging phones and tablet computers. This means you could, in theory, power the AL F7 with a USB cable and a USB power adapter plugged into your wall outlet. (note: I said “in theory” because I haven’t tested the light and I’m unsure just how much current draw there would be on the USB power adapter as well as the cable). The D tap could also be used with an AC power adapter, but from what I was able to find a D tap to AC adapter would cost more than the AL F7.
The AL F7, like everything I’ve ever purchased from Aputure, comes in a very nice looking bag. Again, Aputure has put together a very complete package that gives you everything you’ll need to be up and running in no time. For people like me (with plenty of Sony NP-F batteries) it’s an incredible value. If you’ve used nothing but AA batteries then you’ll need to invest in some new batteries (I love the inexpensive batteries sold by DTSE on Amazon.com) or a good sized USB battery to get yourself up and running. Here’s a look at everything you’ll find in the box:
Finally, the AL F7 looks like it’s built from the same sturdy plastic used on the AL 198 (and other Aputure lights). This plastic build quality means it will be super light but may not survive a rough environment. It’s not a pro-quality light, but when it’s priced under $100 that’s probably the norm.
The Aputure AL F7 will sell for $99.00 and will begin shipping soon. You can preorder them at B&H here.
Here are the Aputure AL F7 specifications:
- 256 high-CRI LED lights
- 1500LUX brightness at 5600K (1M)
- CRI greater than 95
- 45 degree beam angle
- 3200K to 9500K color temperature range
- Rated to work up to 3 hours with a Sony NP-F 970 sized battery
- USB Type-C and D-tap connections
- 6.22″ x 3.43″ x 1.34″
- 260 grams (.57 pounds) weight
My thoughts on the Amaran AL MX and Amaran AL F7
Every year I see new product announcements about gear and it’s always exciting to see the audio, video and still photo industries moving forward and delivering better performing equipment. When it comes to lights (like photography lenses) it’s not always necessary to buy the latest and greatest if you made intelligent purchases early and you’re already getting great performance. But sometimes a game changing new feature comes along and that means breaking out your wallet to expand on your inventory of gear, especially if you’re a pro making money with your photography or video production.
The game changer with these two new lights is the expansion of the warm color temperature all the way up to 9500K (on the AL F7). For the first time when you buy a LED light you no longer need to choose between maximum brightness or variable color capability. I’ve always avoided variable temperature lights because of the lower light output and used gels to change the color of my lights. With the Aputure AL F7 and AL MX you can now achieve serious brightness while still being able to match the color temperature to your environment (or get creative with background lighting). Best of all you can do it for under $100 with the AL F7. This means maximum flexibility that either couldn’t be achieved before or would have been extremely expensive.
While some may balk at the plastic build quality of the AL F7 I feel that it’s more than good enough for the pro-sumer or advanced amateur who treats their gear with respect. Personally, I like the build quality of Aputures basic Amaran models and appreciate the lower price that comes with forgoing a metal construction. I’ve had zero problems with my Aputure lights and don’t expect any to come up. Like anything you own, it’s up to you to take care of your equipment – regardless of what it’s made of. The AL MX, on the other hand, is overbuilt and should survive even the toughest work environments. With a look and feel that mimics the big Tri-8 I expect it will also be considered a “flagship” micro LED video light.
Specification-wise the tiny AL MX is plenty bright but I, personally, still wouldn’t use it as a main or “key” light unless I was in a pinch or was going for an extremely contrasty look. With a super high ISO capable camera you might be tempted to try the AL MX as a main light, but I’d probably caution against that since it’s such a small light source. With the addition of additional diffusion it might look nice, but I worry that the 200LUX output may not be as useful as a brighter light for a main light. The bottom line is this – a bigger light will give you softer light and most of the time that’s what we’re looking for. For another $10 you can buy the much bigger (and brighter) Amaran AL 528S (a light I own, personally) and you’ll have a considerably softer light source that is extremely bright .
But the variable color and size of the AL MX make it an extremely versatile light that can be used to do the one thing every lighting technician does on the job – solve problems. With such a small form factor the AL MX can easily be hidden and that means you can place it where it will do it’s job without being seen in your frame. Add in the variable color capability and you’ve got a light that can be used to accomplish all sorts of tricks a larger light just can’t achieve.
With the AL M9 Aputure has a super inexpensive light that can also be hidden and I think it should still be in every videographers bag. If you invest in some Rosco gels you can even change the color of the light to do some really cool effects. But as much as I love my AL M9 lights I do admit they’re not perfect – just perfect for the price. And that means they should be a first consideration if you’re on a budget. What should excite everyone is that there’s now an up-market version for people to upgrade to when they’re ready to do so.
So what’s missing from the AL MX and AL F7? Not much, really, but there are a couple of things I would have loved to see included. The first would be a real plug-in power option other than the USB-C connector. I prefer the idea of a full-sized power supply with a long cord to using USB solutions, especially if I’m working indoors or in a studio environment. I’d also love to see some kind of integrated gel holder built in (I’m stuck using gaffers tape if I want to attach a red gel, for example). Obviously neither of those exclusions are deal breakers, just some of my dream-come-true features.
One last feature I’d like to see would be a cool remote control option (either hand held IR or the ability to be controlled by an app). If I’m going to boom the small AL MX up high then it sure would be slick If I could control it without bringing the light down to access the buttons on the light. The remote idea would almost certainly bring the prices up and I understand why they wouldn’t be considered in this price range. Perhaps these features could find their way in to a new model (perhaps as part of the awesome Light Storm series) down the road.
I’ll be picking up one of the Aputure AL F7 lights when they start shipping and I’ll definitely put it through it’s paces. I’m sure it will be a killer addition to my lighting kit. Since I already have AL M9’s I don’t plan on buying the AL MX right away. After I round out my lights with a larger main light I might circle back to the AL MX for the build quality and variable color temperature and I look forward to the day when I can give it a proper testing.
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