Lighting is always something that has weirdly eluded me in photography. I know that sounds weird considering it’s the principle foundation for a photograph, but being self-taught has come at the price of missing out on many of the fundamentals. Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly stepping into the world of off camera lighting. Starting with literal dollar items from Home Depot to splurging on the Nikon SB-800 and softboxes, I find myself getting back to smaller options and DYI solutions I can fit in a small pack.
A while back I saw a news post about the $45 Amaran AL-M9 from Aputure and bookmarked it in the ol’ mind grapes to grab when it released earlier this year. On paper, it’s everything I’ve been looking for when shooting street stuff – small, light, and versatile. Basically the same reasons I moved away from Nikon to Olympus.
The size of this thing for its light output is awesome. It’s smaller than my iPhone and at 5oz is definitely something that you could stick in a small pocket or bag. You could probably afford (considering how cheap it is) to put another one in your bag and have a dual light set up pretty easily.
While setting up my little table to take some photos of the light itself, I played with it as a fill against a much larger light and it ended up not only holding its own, but making me wish I had a few more to even out the lighting to take the photo. The included hot shoe adaptor that also takes ¼” made this setup even easier when paired with a micro tripod.
The LEDs have a claimed 95+ CRI rating and it seemed at least on par with my large photo halogens. I was able to get about a respectable hour and a half to two hours of consistent light on its brightest setting, which is very bright. In fact, I almost never ran it that bright while playing with it. I should mention at full brightness, the light ran hot especially for an LED light. I’m not sure if it’s the battery or the LEDs themselves, but it definitely got pretty hot for a plastic case.
There’s a magnetic snap on diffuser that also holds the gel’s and it’s actually pretty great. You can take it off and get some direct flight from the LEDs, or keep it on for a more diffused look. It’s not quite diffused enough for my tastes but that can easily be fixed with a little velum. It also allows you to slip in some gels that it comes with the make them warmer or cooler, or even buy your own gels cut them up and stick them in there. While I see they could’ve done a smart gel system here, I’m glad they actually kept it stupid so I can play with other gels and not have to worry about compatibility.
Aputure’s light in some ways comes off as a first try product. The status button is spelled quite wrong and the casing design isn’t super polished. The plastic design actually feels kind of cheap, but not enough to really bother me considering how much I paid and how well it has performed so far. That all being said, considering it’s now got permanent place in my camera bag, I would say the AL-M9 has a bright future… heh. [••]
Featured: Aputure Amaran AL-M9 LED Light
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