Supplementing Your Toolkit With New Lighting

Working as a cinematographer based in Los Angeles, I’m mostly known for my narrative work, having shot a handful of features, dozens of shorts and music videos. I also directed and shot the upcoming feature documentary “Women of Light,” highlighting women in cinematography. As TV Technology’s new lighting columnist, I hope to share useful insight and techniques with the latest lighting technology through my hands-on experience.

Consistently reviewing your toolkit is a healthy habit in finding new and better ways to create and control light. There are two new lights from Aputure that I have put to good use on set in a number of circumstances. These are the Amaran M9 and the Light Storm 120t, both now available.

Front and back of the Amaran Al-M9AMARAN M9 LED
The M9 is a very bright LED made of nine individual LEDs. The most noticeable and exciting aspect is its size. The M9 is 11 mm thin and the size of a credit card, easily fitting into your pocket. It has a flat back, making it easy to attach Velcro and mount anywhere—doorways, dashboards in vehicles, light stands and more with its 1/4–20-inch screw hole. It charges via a 5V USB charging cable, which it comes with, as well as a carrying case, universal cold shoe adapter and metallic diffuser. When fully charged, at 100-percent intensity, this little light runs for 90 minutes with its built-in lithium ion battery.

Aputure is calling the Amaran M9 the “Swiss Army Light,” which is fitting. This tiny light is versatile and has dimmer controls onboard. Each click will dim 10 percent. Its color temperature is 5,500K with a TLCI 99 and a 120-degree beam angle.

Unlike many LEDs, I find this light to be without any green spikes. It lacks any tint, and outputs a pure white light. The magnetic diffusion filters are great to have, and it’s easy to slap on some color. I have found them very useful in cars or on sets to illuminate single objects. They are also great for bouncing off a white bead board to create a very soft, low light as a fill or even a key.

For photographers, this light makes for a great flash alternative. It easily mounts on any still camera and serves as a great light for a subject in the foreground. The ability to soften the M9 is something I use frequently. The output is strong, so I can afford to shoot it through diffusion and still expose properly. So if the subject is close enough, it is a useful key for stills and even video. The small size of the light also makes for a lovely eye light in this case.

light storm c120T

Aputure has also introduced their first hard floodlight, the LS C120t. This singlesource LED is a lightweight aluminum fixture that is very versatile. Its output, which is almost that of a 1,500W tungsten unit, is a focused beam. It has a color temperature of 3,000K and a 97+ TLCI rating. Aputure also is also creating a daylight and a bicolor version.

This light is a Chip On-Board (COB) design, so it requires a way to keep its temperature under control. Fortunately, the cooling system in this unit is incredibly quiet, at –18 dB. It does not present an issue for sound on set. Its fan, at the bottom of the fixture, rotates based on the ambient temperature, but it also can be controlled manually.

Like the other LEDs in Aputure’s collection, the 120t comes with a wired remote controller box. On the box, you can group the light together with other units through the remote control and manually dim. It plugs into the unit with an extra-long LEMO to XLR cable, so you can stem up on your stand and not be stretching any connection.

Another option to control the light is to use the wireless remote control, which you can use from over 300 feet away.

On a poor man’s process trailer demo, it was extremely useful to group all my units together on one channel and strike or dim them without having to leave the camera. For power, which runs from the re mote controller box, you can plug into any circuit or attach a V-mount or gold-mount battery for mobility. Whichever battery mount is desired can be selected when the unit is ordered.

With ease, this light can take a handful of accessories. You can remove the reflector in front and replace it with umbrellas, soft boxes and more. It even has a screw hole for an umbrella. On the front of the 120t is a Bowen-S mount, which can be used to attach virtually any softbox. This light makes for a useful key, and because of its color, matches nicely with other tungsten units on set. I have paired this with other tungsten lights from Mole Richardson, ARRI and Lekos. Because it is an LED, it only draws 120W of power—hence, “120t.”

It is always beneficial to have a variety of units on set if you can, and with the addition of the Amaran M9 and the Light Storm 120t, Aputure is providing that variety in their selection of lighting tools. They can be used among other lights, give larger outputs, draw less power, resulting in top quality and color.

Julia Swain is a cinematographer based in California, whose narrative films include “Killing Animals,” “Jilted” and “Cassidy Red.” Her latest feature film, “Women of Light” will premiere in late 2016. She continues to shoot on a variety of formats, seeking to create compelling visuals for every story and brand.