People get all giddy and euphoric when they buy new gear. Even though they are trading the money that they traded their time for they must feel as though they'll get ahead by purchasing this latest thing and that the promise of leveraging their new gear will offset the short term pain of earning, and then parting, with the hard won cash. I know I generally feel that way...
We typically enter into the process of an eventual (photography) transaction out of boredom. In my case I already owned some good LED lights and they were working pretty well on most of the video and still projects I used them on. But recklessly, I ventured on to the internet and started just, you know, looking around to see what might be new in the world of lighting (which is generally less costly than looking around at new lenses, which is generally less dangerous than looking at new cameras).
So, it was about a year ago; maybe a month or two longer, when my "research" brought me face to face with a new generation of LED lights that boasted higher output and much higher CRI's (color rendering index) than the lights in my existing inventory. One thing led to another and I started to fixate on the (almost unnoticed) short comings of the five or six lights I had in house. How could I possible survive with lights that bared crested the 90 CRI threshold when I could be working with lights that breezed by with CRIs of 95 to 96? How would I be able to look clients in the faceand try to sell them photographs made with.....lesser lights?
I waded through all the various new and improved LED lights from all the major manufacturers and with every web page I read I found myself focusing in on the shortcomings of my own current lights. Was I seeing a slight green or magenta cast? Could I possible correct the flesh tones with my old lights? Were my old lights even close to daylight balance? Were the built in fans too loud for the intimate interviews I like to do in video? Was my entire collection of continuous lights hopelessly obsolete? Would I ever be able to work in this town again? Slowly but surely the part of my brain that happily pumps out whatever hormones amplify fear and insecurity began to wrench control from the (much smaller) part of my brain that can do math and which concentrates on saving for things like retirement, or a new living room floor....
I can't pinpoint the exact moment that everything clicked over from "research" to "trigger pulling" but the next thing I knew one of the sales associates from Precision Camera was helping me drag four big cardboard boxes containing my new lights out through the double doors of the store and into the hatchback of my pretty, little car. The post cognitive dissonance kicked in like clockwork. I was doubting the whole enterprise as I exited their parking lot and, by the time I slid into the driveway at home I was already imagining a future world in which I could only access the internet by going to the public library and in which I had mastered enjoying the taste of instant coffee because it would be the only variety I could afford. After my bout of reckless spending on LEDs...
The anxiety passed and I began to use the lights in earnest. The color was actually better; visibly better. The build quality of the lights was better as well. And the level of fine control. After a month of more or less daily use I wrote a little review here on the blog and then, buying process fulfilled and fully rationalized, the lights just became part of my professional life and only the minor annoyances broke the surface of conscious thought.
At the time, when I wrote the review for the blog, I was still under the spell of "new" and "improved." Since I'd already spent the money I needed to be able to prove to myself that I'd made a smart purchase and I outlined my reasons, by virtue of my experiences, in the aforementioned review.
Recently I've been mulling over the idea that all the photographic reviews we read are imbued, in part, by the writer's temporary fascination with things new and different. Even the slightest improvement over a competitor's product, or the same brand's previous product, gets magnified and blown out of proportion. I guess since we are spending time reviewing and writing we feel the need to justify our expenditure of time and money by finding and amplifying the implicit promises of the heightened potential.
I know firsthand that there are reviewers out there doing a genuine service for people who are in the market for products but live in areas that don't support bricks and mortar camera stores. I remember some recent video reviews that were refreshing in their objective stance and honesty. One that comes to mind was Tony Northup's comparison of raw files between the "antiquated" Sony A7rii and the "new and improved" Nikon D850. His findings? Not much difference in quality in most respects, if any improvement at all. I also remember Chris Nichol's of the CameraStoreTV taking the Olympus PenF to task for several shortcomings and also retesting it when it was tossed the product life preserver of a major firmware upgrade. Still not one of his favorites...
And then there are the sites where good cameras are downrated for absolutely silly crap. Fictitious battery capacity issues, the lack of full-on raw processing in camera, etc. I wonder if some young hipster reviewer for a major site will take the next (non-Sony/Canon/Nikon) camera to task for not coming with its own full size keyboard....
Was I equally guilty for falling under the sway and sweet perfume of the latest gear? The latest purchase? With this in mind I've decided to go back and review some of the products I've purchased and extensively used, one full year later. After the pixie dust of newness has worn off, and the hoary pain of purchase as well, how do I now feel about the product? Let's start with the Aputure LightStorm LS-1 LED panel.
Product description: The LS-1 is a panel style LED with 1536 individual bulbs set in a pattern that gives the light a beam angle of about 45 degrees. The system consists of three parts. There is the actual light unit, a totally metal construction with a massive heat sink disguised as the back of the unit. It's in a yoke for light stand mounting. It's fairly heavy for its size and comes with four barn doors.
This unit is connected by a LEMO cable to a controller unit. This controller unit allows for fine control of light output, from 10% to 100% in small, discrete increments. It also contains a radio receiver that gives the system the ability to have (included in the package) remote control capabilities for up to four groups of lights.
The control unit is connected to a more or less standard power brick that converts A/C from your wall plug to 15 volts of power that satisfies the appetite of the light. It draws a maximum of 144 watts.
So, when you travel with the kit you need to remember to pack: one main light unit, one LEMO cable, one control unit, one power block which connects to the control unit with an XLR cable, and one regular three prong power cord. Forget any one part and you're on a dark location swearing at your own incompetence. This is one reason why we make checklists....
The light is rated at 95 CRI, has a respectable TCLI rating and puts out a healthy amount of light in a concentrated beam.
Finally, you can get a version to use big V mount batteries or a version with Anton Bauer battery mounts and use these lights in remote locations without having to find an extension cord and a wall socket. Flexible use envelope!
After one year what causes me grief with this product?
It's not too long a list.
1. I wish the barn doors were easily removable so I could easily use the light with a third party softbox.
2. It would be nice to have only two component pieces to deal with. It would have been nice if the power block could have been incorporated into the control block. Less to have strung around a set and fewer items to forget when packing.
3. A typical complaint no matter how powerful a light unit might be: I wish it was one stop brighter.
4. Others might quibble but I wish they'd left off the remote control nonsense and dropped the price by $50 or $100. I used one of the five or six identical remotes (one seems to come with every single Aputure LED unit, from the top of the line on down) one time. Since the controller box is separate from the head you can put the light up high and still have the controls at eye level. If it's too much effort for you to walk across the set and tweak a light you need to re-examine your life and get more exercise.
5. My final point of contention might seem a little bitchy but it's a real concern. Here it is: We also have two of the LS-1/2 units which are smaller, lighter and have no barn doors. They also use LEMO cables which look identical to the cables for the LS-1. But the cables are not identical. The ones for the smaller lights have only four pins while the ones for the bigger lights have six or eight pins (writing to compulsively to get out of my chair and check). It's far too easy to mix them up and pack the wrong cables if you are taking along only one set of lights and not the others. My fix is to wrap the ends of the four pin cables with orange gaffer's tape to clearly identify them. Be sure to tell your grips or assistants about this or they might try to Gorilla Massage the wrong connector into the wrong socket --- then you'll be buying new cables---at the least--- or sending a light unit back for a new socket...
After living with the product for over a year what do I still like about it? What have I come to appreciate even more than I thought I would?
1. The quality of light coming out of this unit is very, very, very nice. Wide spectrum, very close to daylight, and, with one layer of good diffusion it's as flattering a portrait light as one could want. I never doubt my ability to create great portrait files or great interview files when using multiples of this light.
2. I love the narrow beam. There's much less peripheral light spill and much more light directed right where I want it. Need it to be a softer, wider beam? Toss good diffusion in front and you're there.
3. The barn doors help to concentrate the light and add to over exposure. They also close over the front of the light and protect the LEDs from abrasion or blunt trauma while transporting.
4. The massive heat sink gets hot (that means it's working) and it prevents the light from having to have a cooling fan, which means lower (No!) noise when recording video interviews. A huge plus on a set with five or six different high powered light fixtures.
5. All of the Aputure light units I have (seven in all) match for color across the board. This is a wonderful thing because one doesn't have to spend mental bandwidth worrying about cross color contamination.
6. The product has been absolutely reliable. No shut downs, no flicker, no color shift. Nada.
7. While these little suckers are heavy they fold flat and don't take up a lot of space for transport. One mid-size Tenba wheeled case handles two of the LS-1s and two of the LS-1/2s, along with all the attachments and cables with room to spare.
8. They work on 120 and 240 V systems which is always good for traveling creative content creators.
9. The lights have been at least good enough to keep me from actively shopping for newer lights....
(it's only a matter of time).
10. Aputure have introduced focusable lights which should mix perfectly (color) with these.
So, after a full year of use, and time to second guess myself over and over again, would I have bought these units, knowing what I know now?
Probably. I might have thought more about how I use the lights and chosen to go with four LS-1 lights rather than a mix of the two LS-1/2 models and two of the LS-1 models. I get more use out of the tight patterns of the bigger lights than the wider patterns of the smaller lights. I like the system enough to stay with it and am considering adding several of the 120D SMD-type lights they make which are a concentrated single cluster of LEDs about 1.5 by 1.5 inches square. They can be used with fresnel attachments to effectively "spot" them, and they are easy to use in soft boxes by way of Bowen's speed rings.
There is no substitute for knowing your way around good modifiers. A light is only as good as what you leverage it with.
The flexible yoke mount is great and can be configured in two different orientations
for a fuller range of angles and placements.
All the red plastic knobs have held up well.
This is a controller box. It looks identical to the controller box for the smaller light.
You have to check and make sure you are using the right controller and
connector cable every time you set up a system with mixed units.
It would be nice if the different models were color coded, had big labels, etc.
All the remote control stuff is just gingerbread they added to appeal to
hobbyists used to speed lights with multiple channel remote functions.
I love the way the connecting cables lock in. Now if we can just get them visually differentiated from one another I'll be happier still. But, really, it's nice to have a positive lock.
In the studio I tend to use the lights on C-Stands with arms. It's a flexible way to exactly position the light and the C-Stands provide very stable bases!
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