Aputure, a Chinese company, recently sent us some samples of their latest Amaran LED lamps to evaluate. The original Amaran AL-198 is a battery-powered lamp with 198 LEDs and adjustable intensity. The AL-198A adds the ability to “zoom” or adjust the beam angle of the emitted light. There is also the AL-198C with adjustable colour temperature, which is not included in this review.
These lights are surprisingly bright – don’t look into one at full power because you’ll start seeing stars! How bright, exactly? The manufacturer says 1,325 lux from 1 metre and 166 lux at 3 metres.
Each lamp comes with two plastic snap-on filters. One is frosted white – for a softer look – and the other is orange, for colour correction under tungsten lighting. You also get a little male-to-male coldshoe adapter and a small tilt bracket. When joining two (or nine!) Amarans together, you can’t tighten the connection with the included adapter, so tilting the array can be a bit perilous. With three lamps on the Aputure tilt bracket, it wobbles quite a bit – too much to satisfy me that it’s strong enough. I recommend you buy a separate, more durable one. I wish you could mount this on a tripod or light stand directly, but you need to fiddle with an Iso coldshoe mount and adapters instead.
Both lights can run off six AA batteries or one Sony type lithium camcorder battery. A simple 4-LED battery life indicator on the rear of the device will light up at the press of a button – a useful feature. An analogue knob will let you dim the intensity of the LEDs from “Max” to “Min” or off completely. Unfortunately there aren’t really markings for intermediate power levels, so you might want to draw your own on for repeatable results. There is no socket for external power sources.
On the AL-198A, you also benefit from a Beam Angle adjustment wheel, ranging from “Wide” to “Spot” – 25° to 60°. Like the power dial, you can’t really pick out specific angles in between, so to get the right setting you just have to eyeball it.
You might be wondering: how can an LED lamp “zoom” in and out without a moving lens on the front? The effect is achieved with an array of two different kinds of diodes – some with 60° beam angles and the rest with 25° (see image below). The adjustment wheel increases the intensity of one type while dimming the others. One downside of this feature is that the AL-198A isn’t quite as bright as the AL-198, but nonetheless it offers greater control.
Is the Aputure Amaran, as the manufacturer claims, the perfect LED lighting solution? Not quite. The tilt bracket could be better, and a 1/4″ screw socket or light stand mount would be welcomed. On the other hand, the lamps are very bright, adjustable, easy to use and most of all affordable. Not perfect, but pretty damn good.
Where to buy
The Aputure Amaran AL-198, AL-198A and AL-198C are widely available online for approximately US$50, $70 and $70 respectively. Click here for listings. In Great Britain they are distributed by UKphotodistro in the £50-65 price bracket.
For more technical information, please visit the official Aputure web site.