A Small, Robust LED with Long Battery Life and Excellent Color, the AL-MW Outshines the Sun
LED lights are increasingly taking over lighting in all areas of our lives, not least in the domain of video production. They used to be expensive and not too good at rendering colors. Then they became better at the former, but only slightly so at the latter. But some three years later, with the availability of the newest blue and violet LED technology, the color rendition has vastly improved. Aputure — a company that is trying to earn a reputation for delivering a good price/quality ratio — recently released its Amaran AL-MW LED light. Much to my surprise, this small light is the best LED video light I’ve tested thus far.
The new Amaran is made of aluminum, fits in your shirt pocket and has a CRI and TLCI of more than 95 with great color rendition as a result. Until now, the brightest LED light that I tested with a comparable CRI Ra of 98 was the Akurat d2120A1, a Polish product, built like a tank, that comes with an optional diffuser, optional battery adapter, optional D-Tap cable and optional barn doors. The Akurat was released some two years ago and back then it was one of the few on-camera lights with an output level of 813 lux at 60cm. With all options in place, the Akurat cost over $400.
In contrast, the Amaran AL-MW retails at $209 and is even brighter than the Akurat. In fact, it’s the brightest on-camera LED that I have come across so far. It outputs 1250 lux at 60cm at maximum level and 5800 lux in Boost mode (limited to 60 seconds). And although it has a 1/4-in mounting thread, it’s not strictly an on-camera light as its form factor allows it to be used as a concealed light as well.
Furthermore, the Amaran AL-MW comes standard with a clip-on gel holder with a range of CTO and CTB filters including full CTO, 1/2 CTO, 1/4 CTO, full CTB, 1/2 CTB, and 1/4 CTB. It also includes a 1.5-stop diffusing frost and a 2.5-stop silicone diffusion accessory.
It’s shipped in a nice, sturdy carrying case with the USB-C/USB-A charging cable included. And to make it even more price-efficient, it’s waterproof to a depth of 10m (IP68).
Unlike the Akurat, the battery is built-in and is touted to be able to run the light for 24 hours at the minimum output and 80 minutes at its highest setting. The light also comes with five built-in effects (paparazzi, TV, faulty bulb, fireworks, lightning), which is great if you are using multiple AL-MW’s concealed behind drapes, inside a lampshade or wherever you find it effective.
I first took the AL-MW outdoors early on a sunny February day. Standing with my back to the sun, I set up the light next to a GoPro Hero 5 on a tripod facing me and the sun over my left shoulder. I first set the light to the highest output level of 4000 lux and then in Boost mode (6000 lux). The light was at a 70cm distance.
I didn’t really expect it, but the Amaran AL-MW is indeed capable of overpowering the sun, in both modes. My next test was to see how stable the light’s color temperature would be throughout its 10 output levels. This test was conducted with the iOS Lumu Pro light meter that can measure color temperature with an accuracy of deltaE 1.
I must admit that I wasn’t prepared for the results, as the other LED lamps that I’ve measured so far were way off. The Akurat can cycle through different color temperatures, but the values next to the dial are way off, while the Rotolight Neo 2 is good at maintaining the color temperature within a margin of 20-50K, depending on the temperature you set it, but it can only output its maximum level at around 4000K, which is not a standard value like, for example, 5600K.
The Amaran AL-MW, however, maintained its color temperature on a steady 5350K throughout. While that is also off the 5600K standard, it’s much closer and much easier to correct by using one of the included gels — or another industry standard gel (but mind temperature, because the light does get warm after a while), for that matter.
Of course, I had to try out the IP68 claim as well. I always test that with a healthy degree of circumspection, because the USB-C port on the AL-MW is hidden only behind a silicon rubber plug.
So, I filled up the bathtub. OK, that’s not nearly as deep as 10m, but I’m no diver, so that’s the best I can do. I threw in the light from a distance, hanging it on a rope attached to a wooden stick, ready to immediately remove it if things went wrong. Things didn’t go wrong and I was sort of mesmerized by a video light shining from the bottom of clear liquid sloshing about. I could have kept it there for a day and it wouldn’t budge, as the IP68 standard dictates.
In conclusion, I can only say I am quite smitten with the Amaran AL-MW. It’s small, it’s versatile, and it’s robust. It has good battery life, excellent color rendition, a brilliant (literally) maximum output, and a low price.
And it performed better than other LED lights, even bigger ones.