As a dedicated stills photographer (who said pedantic?) I firmly believe video is for someone else to do, mainly because they will do it far better than I could. So, why am I having a play with the Phottix M180 LED panel?
My first encounter with this little item was when I bumped into The Flash Centre’s Simon Burfoot. I mistook it for his phone, as it was lying face down on his desk. Nope, definitely an LED panel. No battery socket though, and that kinda threw me. It’s a self contained unit, with its own Li-ion 4040mAh internal battery.
The rest of the technical specs are as follows:
- CRI: 96+
- Color Temperature: 3200K~5600K
- Maximum Brightness: 1600Lux @ 0.5m
- Battery: Built in 3.85V 4040mAh Li-Ion
- Battery Life: 1.5hrs @ 100% Brightness 5600K
- 8.5hrs @ 5% Brightness 5600K
- Power Input: 5V 2A Micro USB / USB-C
- Recharge Time: 4hrs (5V 2A)
- DC output: 5V 2A Mini USB
- Dimensions: 151 x 80 x 9.8mm
- Weight: 0.4lb
- ¼ inch screw mount
Picking the unit up, it has a similar feel to a smartphone, with a metal case and plastic front panel. The weight isn’t much different either, at less than half a pound (under 200 grams). You can pack it in any place you might carry or store your smart phone. From any trouser or jacket pocket, to the slimmest of spaces in your kit bag.
So we have a constant light source that can be toted around conveniently, easily packed away and no additional power source required. So, what else does it have up its sleeve?
On the rear panel, there’s a small LCD information panel. For a small display, it’s very clear. The information shown at the top is the battery life both as a graphical bar, and time remaining, which is a nice touch. Underneath that, we have the brightness value. This can be set from 5% through to 100%. And I have to say that at 100%, it’s incredibly bright for such a compact panel, putting out 1600Lux at 0.5m. The bottom line of the display gives the colour temperature, which is adjustable from 3200K, through to 5600K. So it can provide quite a nice warm source, through to matching standard flash colour temperature.
This threw me for a sec. Three USB ports. One each of Micro B, Mini B and type C. A bit overkill, don’t you think? Hmmmm.
Well, Type C isn’t necessarily in every household at the moment, but a USB micro lead can be found pretty much everywhere. Fair enough. However, the mini USB port ain’t what it seems. It’s an “out” port, unlike the other two. Ah ha!, The M180 is not only a rather rugged and compact LED panel. It’s also a charger unit for anything that requires a USB 5v power source, such as your phone.
More interestingly, unlike a lot of dual-purpose products, this unit can be used as a light source whilst being used as a battery bank. I’ve had other products that have boasted a USB out socket, but they couldn’t be used in their primary function if they are being used as a charger. This may not sound like a big deal, but there are cameras that charge via their USB port, Fuji included. Do you see where I’m going?
With a fully charged unit, you can film your subject and charge the camera whilst using the M180 light panel. Now that’s pretty cool. It comes with a short adapter lead, that turns the mini port into a full sized USB socket. Nice touch. The colour rendering index is 96+, which is pretty respectable.
As I’ve already mentioned, I’m stills only. None of that movie mallarky! So, how would I make use of this little light source, that actually chucks out a shedload of light?
I did have a play with it when idly shooting a few macro items, but that was just a bit of fun during lockdown. Although it did get me thinking. When I shoot food, I use two lights, generally speaking. A keylight, and an accent. If I need a bit of fill on my side of the plate, I just use a silver card to reflect light from the accent light, back into the plate on my side. This works extremely well, but occasionally, I just don’t quite have enough, or it’s not quite as directional as I would like, bearing in mind I’m holding a camera in my right hand, and waving the card around with my left.
This was an initial image without fill. The meatball at the front appears drab, and lacks texture.
We can now see a lot more of the texture and detail within the meat, and you will also notice extra specular highlights from the LED panel. The new highlights are an additional benefit to using the LED panel for fill, rather than a reflector. Also, the fact I can dial the strength up or down as needed, making it far more flexible in use. It’s far more directional and accurate, rather than waving a card or reflector around, and trying to estimate the angle of incidence from the accent light opposite. It’s small size is certainly more manoeuvrable when compared to a 24″ reflector, or a piece of silver covered card.
Bearing in mind I’m purely stills, rather than video, how do I make use of it?
Well, it’s replaced my usual powerpack that I carry in my camera case. It’s there to charge such things as my Miops triggers, my phone and various other bits n pieces, including a couple of small cameras. Probably a little expensive if that were it’s main role, but I’ve found it extremely useful for macro or close up work. especially on food shoots, where it’s been an additional accent light when working really close to the dish, and invaluable as a fill, rather than using a reflector or card. And if you’re a video junky, then you really should take a look at it. Seriously!