Whether you do macro work, shoot portraits, weddings, families, pets, product shots or do video, if you’re in a studio, you might have noticed many photographers are switching to LEDs. They are affordable, and they give you a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) advantage. No guesswork involved. You see what the light is doing. With constant light, when you turn on a light you see your light as you move it and you see how it falls on your subject. That’s why people gravitate towards using it because it’s a lot easier to pick up and to use. If you’re new at bringing the light instead of finding it, there is a shorter learning curve.
For me, these sorts of lights give a cinematic feel to my work. I am doing more and more video and love the convenience of setting up an LED light. I also like the fact that these lights don’t get hot. In the old days, we called continuous lighting HOT LIGHTS because they were VERY hot to the touch. Not a problem with LEDs.
I became aware of Aputure when I started doing more video work. They make all sorts of lights in all sorts of sizes. Generally, their lights are a little more affordable than some of the competitive brands. But that doesn’t mean they are inferior. Just a better value.
I got ahold of the Aputure Amaran Tri-8c Bicolor LED Light with V-Mount Battery Plate and decided to use it on a video project. The V-mount battery plate is a plate that lets you use V-mount batteries if you already have them. Otherwise, you can just use the included F970 batteries. You can use the batteries when you are out of the studio but you can also just plug this light in, assuming you have an AC power source nearby.
The first thing I want to mention is that I have purchased other studio lights that were designed to be portable and yet, they did NOT include batteries. Aputure includes the batteries and more. In fact, there’s nothing else to buy. And that is rare. This light comes with all the following…
2x F970 batteries
Plastic Diffuser Sheets
The Tri-8c can be stand-mounted via its 1/4″-20 tap or handheld vertically or horizontally by using the stainless steel U-handles at the back of the fixture. The design of the U-Handles is brilliant because for table-top work, you can just use the handles as a stand.
To get started with the light, just plug it in. If you want to be able to run on the batteries, just attach them to the light when it’s powered off but plugged in and the batteries will charge.
If you want to mount the light to a C-Stand, it comes with an adapter for just that purpose. I don’t really care for the 1/4″-20 tap that mounts the light to a stand. It’s small and not set very deeply. It’s a bit of a nuisance but I found a workaround and that is to simply leave the post attached to the light. I have plenty of room in my bag so this isn’t a problem. I mpunted the softbox but it too attaches via a somewhat annoying series of clips and poles. Mine fit just fine but I note other reviewers had problems with this. Perhaps by the time I got my unit, Aputure had that sorted out. For the most part I just use the plastic diffuser sheet that comes with the light. It works great.
The really important stuff follows. This light is BRIGHT! For its size it’s amazingly powerful. The light has a 45-degree beam angle for medium-wide coverage, an output equivalent to a 600W tungsten source. The manufacturer spec says the light is capable of outputting 23,000 lux @ 1.6′. I don’t have any fancy test equipment to verify this but based on my time spent using the light I’d say that it’s accurate.
Many people might be fooled into thinking that the Tri-8’s small 10.3 x 7.8 x 3.6″ cannot be bright. The small size should not fool you. It is very powerful. So powerful that you may want to remind talent not to look directly at it. You can dim or increase the power in real time using a knob on the side of the light or using the included remote. The remote works very well and from as far away as more than 400 feet.
The light runs a fan-less thermal management system. That means it is not pumping out tons of heat. That is a good thing because if you’ve ever been on a set or soundstage or in a studio running several of the old-fashioned, hot lights, you know how warm things can get – to the point of making it uncomfortable.
I’d say the light itself is solidly built. The company uses aircraft-grade aluminum in the body. The LEDS look to be very well protected and I’d say the design lends itself to durability. The soft box and the mounting point for the unit are of questionable sturdiness. I haven’t had any trouble but I can see how it would be easy to break something here. I am also not all that impressed with the quality of the bag the unit comes with. I decided to just put the light in my larger gig bag which has a better strap and better zippers. I will retain the bag from Aputure because it would be great padding if I have to put the Tri-8 in a larger box for shipping.
An overlooked feature of this unit is the way the grab handles are designed. The stainless steel handles in the back of the light allow you to position the light either vertically or horizontally. The light can be used on a stand, or handheld for fast-paced on-the-go shoots. Being able to rest the light on the handles works great and I used this feature more often than I thought I would. It’s brilliant.
I’ve discussed the brightness and now will talk about the color. The unit has adjustable color temperature: 2300-6800K. This allows instant flexibility and some creative control. Remember it is WYSIWYG so if you don’t like the color of the light falling on your subject, just change it. You can use the knob on the side of the light, or the remote. The remote works great and is very intuitive.
I am not sure how accurate the color is on this light, but it’s more accurate than any other $500 light I have used. Some people report a magenta cast on skin tones. Since I haven’t used the light for anything but product shots, I don’t see that. Your mileage may vary. In any event, like I said. If the color doesn’t look right to you, just adjust it and use the built-in Kelvin ratings as a guideline, not a religion.
One thing I did really want to test for was patterned shadows. I have had problems with those on other LED lights. The good news is that I didn’t see any evidence of pattern shadows with the Tri-8. The company uses a tight honeycomb arrangement of the LED bulbs to solve this problem.
I also enjoyed using the OLED display on the back of the light. It tells you remaining battery life, color temps, and confirms what channel your remote works on and how bright the light is.
Whenever I judge a product’s worthiness for inclusion in to my kit, I look at two main factors…
- Will it do the job and do it well?
- What is the VALUE of the item?In the case of value, it’s not the price…but rather, it’s how does the unit perform given its price point.
Too many people have a Chevrolet budget but want to drive a Ferrari. It just never works out. When you’re paying $500 for a light like this, you’re not getting a Ferrari. But what you are getting is a unit that is far better than expected for the money. It’s a fantastic value and would be a great addition to your studio.