LED lights for video used to be a sad gimmick for many years. Color temperature, flicker, angle, and output where not up for professional work. Showing up on set , with a thing that looked like a cheap little bicycle light, was nothing that a self respecting DP could do, without hurting his reputation. Then Litepanels came out with the first pro versions of those panels and they are respected at any set now, though they came with a hefty price tag. Now those kind of lights are getting cheaper and better every day. But are they any good? Time for a Cheap LED Lights Shootout.
Here are the candidates:
- The popular NG 126 – 650 Lux for 70 Euros
- The Z96 – 800 Lux for 60 Euros
- The YONGNUO 135 – 960 Lux for 59 Euros
- LitepanelsMicro – 970 Lux for 296 Euros.
- The YONGNUO 160 – 1480 Lux and fancy barn doors for 69 Euro
The popular NG 126 – 650 Lux for 70 Euros
The NG 126 was one of the first and most popular cheap LED lights, that was really usable with a video camera. The 126 LEDs puts out a good amount of light that is a bit on the blueish side with some vignetting. Depending on where you buy it, it comes with 2-4 filters (Tungsten, frost, blue, magenta) and a Sony or Sony and Panasonic Battery plate. A 4-level battery indicator is at the backside. It is dimable and flicker free. The swivel hotshoe mount is usable, I prefer a little Manfrotto arm though.
Bright, lightwight, lot´s of camera battery options.
A bit of a hotspot and blueish
The Z96 – 800 Lux for 60 Euros
This light has been jointly developed by Chinese manufacturer F&V Llight and the well known film light company Dedolight, each adding practical innovations, such as the ability to click up to four lights together to make a big LED panel.
It is a bit strange though, that you can ether buy this light as “Z96” at Ebay for 60 Euros, or on the Dedolight Website, where they call it “Tecpro Fillini Click” for a whooping 239 Euros.
The light can be powered by five AA batteries, a Sony L-series battery ( LF570, F770, F970 ,F550,F750), or any 5.8 -16,8V DC source.
It is very well daylight balanced, with just a slightly bias towards magenta. Dedolight claims: “Daylight as good and as stable as the best selected white LED’s can provide with today’s state of the art.”
The HDV-Z96 can be assembled to multiple units together by using the included link plates.
It comes with a mini ball head that mounts to any hotshoe. The battery lid is pretty hard and cumbersome to open. You need both hands for this.
Wide range of voltage, very good daylight balanced, no hotspot, nice build quality, stackable.
No battery indicator, no Panasonic plates available, battery lid is tricky to open.
YONGNUO 135 – 960 Lux for 59 Euros
Yongnuo is a well respected manufacturer of camera flash units. So I was pretty curious when the came out with LED video lights. The 135 is very well build, looks and feels great.
It has a 3 stage LED battery indicator on the backside. There is no dimming wheel but two 15 stage push buttons. The light comes with a USB cable for charging – well, yes in an emergency, but I would prefer an AC charger instead.
The light is well daylight balanced and bright, without a hotspot. You can stack those lights together at all four sides, but the hotshoe mount doesn´t hold up very well.
Like on the Z96, the battery lid is tricky to open. You need both hands for this.
Good output, no hotspot, nice quality build, stackable.
Tricky lid, no dimming wheel, soft cumbersome hotshoe mount.
LitepanelsMicro – 970 Lux for 296 Euros
This was the first usable LED video light. It`s fully dimmable (0%-100%) and powered by four AA batteries or Power can be supplied through a 5-12V input jack located on the back. There are also adapter plates for DV camera batteries available. It´s flicker free and has a nice daylight balance.
The Litepanels Micro comes swiveling hotshoe. To allow multiple mounting configurations, it can also be mounted on the optional base plate for off-camera usage, or on an extension arm.
There are also two filters included, Tungsten conversion (warm white – 3200°K)
and a ¼ Warming Diffusion.
The only light with usable filters, nice build quality
Not so bright, price tag
YONGNUO 160 – 1480 Lux and fancy barn doors for 69 Euro
This is the new kid on the block and I was holding my breath how it performs.
The YONGNUO 160 is bigger as the 235 – about the same size as the NG 126.
It features barndoors, but to my disappointment they don´t really help (see video).
The swiveling hotshoe mount is to soft and to weak. To make things worse, there is no easy way to mount it on an Manfrotto arm. You have to come up with your own solution. Not a deal breaker, but no fun ether.
The light output is great thou. The brightest light of the pack. It is a bit on the warm side – not exactly daylight, but usable. Powered by 6 AA batteries, or a camera battery(Panasonic CGR-D16S, Sony NP-FH70, NP-FM55H, NP-F550).
4 filters (frost, Tungsten, magenta and blue) are included, also a handle.
LED batery indicator and dimmer buttons are on the backside.
Very bright, lot´s of battery options
Soft mount, no dimming wheel, a bit on the warm side.
10 ft. may sound a bit extreme for such tiny lights, but at 2 or even 5 foot they all look nice. So I decided to push them to the limits.
I´m a bit undecided. The NG 126 and the Litepanels Micro look outdated, compared to the newer lights. The Z96 has the best daylight balance and the nicest overall light, but the YONGNUO 160 is much more powerful. The YONGNUO 135 is somewhere in between them. Non of the provided Tungsten filters is usable IMHO with the exception of the one from Litepanels Micro. I use normal gels instead. Tricky lids, useless barndoors, mounting options, that are not exactly what you want on a professional set, are no deal breakers, but I hope they will be improved in the future. Some guys asked me to watchout for flicker. I had no flicker at all, unless the batteries getting weak, than they start to flicker.
If I have to choose one (and until I need a real strong light), I think I would go with the Z96, because of the superb light quality and it has a dimming wheel instead of that buttons.