Review: 45-watt fan-cooled LED photography bulbs
I have been looking at LED light bulbs again. Our last review focussed on a pair of Andoer-brand “135W” bulbs with passive cooling. The bulbs were absolutely massive and actually only draw 40 watts, but nevertheless are cheap and a nice addition to a home studio or workshop setup.
This time, Camfere.com has sent me a couple of bulbs that are a little bit different. Branded “Life of Photo”, and priced $24.99 each, they claim a 60-watt power rating, 5400K daylight-balanced output and—like the others—have a standard E27 Edison screw fit. But what is unusual about these light bulbs is that they are actively cooled.
A tiny cooling fan spins inside each bulb when it is on. Since a fan is more effective than a passive heatsink, the bulb does not need to be nearly so big to dissipate the heat. As a result, the “60W” Life of Photo bulbs are much more compact than the gargantuan “135W” Andoer bulbs tested last time.
These bulbs, or ones very much like them, seem to be fairly widely distributed: in Germany under the Walimex Pro brand (at a fairly ridiculous price of €61) and in the UK from Micansu (£40). Both those distributors claim the power of their equivalent light to be 45 watts, compared to Life of Photo’s listed 60 watts.
In fact, I plugged the “60W” bulb into an energy meter and it draws 42 watts, so I am assuming this is the same 45W bulb. It isn’t as much of an exaggeration as Andoer’s claiming 40W bulbs are 135W, but still I don’t really understand why the manufacturers can’t just tell the truth. (Next to the actual wattage they can always write the “equivalent power”, “effective watts” etc.)
Measured with an exposure meter, this bulb gives 1/80 second, f/4 at Iso-200 at a distance of 1 metre. That’s about a third of a stop more light than I get from the Andoer mushroom lamp under the same conditions, and twice as bright as the Andoer ‘corn light’. As with those lights, there is no brightness adjustment.
The relatively small form factor makes this bulb much more practical than Andoer’s ‘mushroom’-shaped one. You can put more of them side-by-side if using multi-socket mounts. Having used it for extended sessions, I can tell the cooling system is more effective, too; at the end of a shoot the exterior is only warm to the touch, so you can pack it away immediately instead of having to wait for it to cool down first.
Is the cooling fan silent? Not at all. The moment you switch this light on, the constant whirring starts. The sound doesn’t really bother me, but could be enough to spoil a video’s audio recording or exacerbate headaches of hungover stills photographers. Unlike so-called intelligent cooling fans, this one seems to run at the same speed all the time.
You can easily use this LED as a bare light source, though on a suitable umbrella holder it works nicely with modifiers, too. Camfere sent me a Godox 90×90cm umbrella softbox, which the Life of Photo bulbs work well with. Reflecting into this large, rectangular softbox reduces the meter reading to 1/30s (i.e. 1 stop), whilst adding the front diffuser cover takes it down to 1/15s (cutting another stop). This isn’t an unreasonable light level: boost your Iso-sensitivity or open the aperture for more usable shutter speeds, or get a twin-headed E27 mount and run two bulbs at once in a single softbox.
The Godox 90×90cm softbox is extremely compact when folded, yet folds out into really quite a large size for portraiture. The rods are made of fibreglass so there is no need to worry about bending them out of shape. A zip aperture for the light stand allows a reasonable wide range of angles of tilt. The package only comes with a single diffuser panel but there is room around the hook-and-loop rim to attach grids or masks as well.
As for the bulbs, there was no flickering or shift in colour during usage. Output seems as close to daylight-balanced as you can expect (the softbox possibly adding a slight magenta cast). It is very easy to use these with either smartphone cameras or system cameras with comparably soft and pleasing results.
Overall, these bulbs offer everything that you could want in a cheap LED bulb, while being more practical than those featured in our previous review (for everything except video with live audio). It all comes down to whether you want to trade bulk for noise.
Camfere is offering 25% off the Life of Photo LED bulbs with code LAMP25, bringing the price down to £15.37 after discount. You can also get 15% off the Godox umbrella softbox with code GODOX15, making them £27.17 each.
Thanks to Camfere.com for providing the samples in this review.