Aputure Amaran AL-MW
$209 | aputure.com

The Aputure Amaran AL-MW is a small, single-color, continuous LED light that runs on battery power and can be set to 10 selectable output levels. It has high TLCI and CRI ratings for color accuracy, as well as a couple other features not usually found on a light at this price, such as special effects modes, while its small size of 117.5 x 43.5 x 32mm (4.6 x 1.7 x 1.25 in.) makes it ultra-portable.

When I learned about this light I was intrigued to see if it could solve a couple of issues for me. I was in need of a small light for product shots, video and stills. I didn’t need a huge output as it was going to be a fill or back light. I wanted something small, easy to control and battery powered. I also wanted a light that didn’t exhibit a loss of illumination level as the battery life faded, as some lights do. This can be really annoying, so I needed a light that just dies (with a warning beforehand) when the battery reaches a certain level. The Aputure Amaran AL-MW seemed to fit the bill.

Key features

  • Built in battery with USB-C charging
  • Up to 24 hours continuous operation (according to manufacturer)
  • 10 selectable output levels
  • Five 'special effects' lighting modes
  • Included filters and diffusers
  • IP68 rated to 10m (30 ft.)
  • >95 CRI and TLCI ratings

One thing that's unusual about this light is that it offers five lighting effects: lightning, fireworks, TV, a (faulty) light bulb and paparazzi. Usually if you need these effects on a shoot you have to employ some additional equipment, or someone waving a flag or reflector in front of the light. On top of that, the light is submersible to 10m (30 ft.), opening the door to some creative uses.

The light's 110-element C.O.B (chip on board) structure is semi-random, avoiding the multiple shadows seen with some LED lights.

Uses

I’ve been using the AL-MW for shoots in a table top environment, mainly for product shots. It’s ideal for this as I can easily tuck it behind props or just place it on a table and use it as a back light. It doesn’t suffer from the multiple shadows that you can get on some LED lights due to its semi-random pattern and phosphor sheet, and this applies without any diffusion. It’s also equally at home lighting up a small backdrop. The stated CRI and TLCI figures (>95) mean that it’s also a suitable light to use in interviews as skin tones are correctly illuminated.

The Amaran AL-MW is small and versatile enough to be placed easily. I've been using it to help light tabletop product photos. Below, you can see the actual product shot from this simple lighting setup.

It's also quite handy in some some light painting situations, thanks to its size and maneuverability, and I've also used it to fill in shadows when shooting stills. It's a light that I gravitate towards using rather than one that I use only when required to do so.

The resulting image has a subtle tungsten back light effect shot together with an on-camera diffused flash.
ISO 1600 | 1/20 sec | F22 | Sony FE 24-105mm F4

Design

What strikes you on first opening the box is just how small the included carrying case is. When you open it you're greeted with the light itself, which of course is even smaller.
Also included are a filter holder, three CTB filers, three CTO filters, two diffusers, a piece of 3M hook and loop tape and a USB-A to USB-C charging cable. Phew, that's quite a few accessories packed in a small space.

The light has a very solid build with a single 1/4" mount on the bottom and a membrane control panel on the top. The front face contains the 110-element C.O.B. (chip on board) emitters arranged in a semi random pattern. One thing the AL-MW is not is a variable color temperature light; any color adjustments have to be achieved with the included CTB and CTO gels together with the gel holder.

The top panel with membrane controls and status LEDs.

Variable output

Located on the top panel are 5 LED indicators showing battery level (green LEDs) and light level (blue). While the charge level indication only offers 20% increments, the light level goes up in 10% steps, with a blinking LED showing the in between percentages of 10, 30, 50, 70 and 90%.

I’m always slightly skeptical of manufacturers' stated battery specifications, so I conducted various tests of charging and run times at different output levels and incorporated the results into the table below. Charging is done via the included USB-C cable (no charger is included) and I have found that it charges from flat to full in around 120 minutes.

Output Level (%)

Run Time (hours)
10 22:00*
20 11:48
30 8:36
40 6:45
50 5:09
60 3:51
70 2:57
80 2:15
90 1:46
100 1:25

*The manufacturer's stated run time at 10% is 24+ hours, though I was never able to achieve this through multiple tests. I contacted Aputure and I was advised that the maximum run time can be dependent on ambient temperature.

I’ve been using it in a table top environment for product shots. It’s ideal for this as I can easily tuck it behind props or just place it on a table and use it as a back light.

What I discovered is that the relationship between battery readout and run time is not linear, and the indicators don't accurately represent the remaining run time at the bottom end of the scale. The last 40% of indicated battery life runs out much more quickly than you might expect. If you see the 20% light illuminated then be prepared for the light to go out within about two minutes. If you get a flashing red light then you have less than one minute remaining, although these timings are dependent on the output level selected.

A boost button increases the maximum light output by 50%, however this is limited to a run time of 60 seconds, and it can only be used again after 40 seconds has elapsed. Though limited, this can be handy for planned slow motion shots. It's also possible to use the light at up to 80% brightness while plugged in, although it's limited to 40% when charging from flat. The ability to operate from internal battery or while charging from an external battery pack is useful as well.

The rear heat sink.

At full output this light gets quite hot. The case acts as a heat sink, with the back being full of fins, and it does its job very well. I measured the temperature to be in the region of around 47-52°C (116-125°F) at full output. Part of the reason for the limited run time of the boost function is to protect the battery from overheating.

This brings up another question: the manual states that the provided 3M hook and loop tape is supposed to be attached to the back of the light, but I saw a potential issue as a result of the heat. How long is it going to remain attached when using it at full output? Will the heat melt the adhesive? With this concern I decided to test things out. I need not have worried, with the light at full output and hung vertically on a smooth surface it remained stuck securely for the entire run time. However, it did peel away from the back of the light as I was removing it.

Additional features

The effectiveness of the light's special effects settings are variable. In my opinion, the 'faulty bulb' mode is probably the best while the 'TV' mode is least effective. This mostly comes down to an inability to produce RGB colors and the rather digital nature of the effect. There’s only a little subtlety to the fade-in and fade-out of the light when it simulates illumination from a TV screen.

Placing the light under running cold water is a helpful way to cool it down after it's been used at full output.

On the other hand, the cadence of the paparazzi effect is very good. However, due to the duration of the flashes you'll still see rolling shutter artifacts on your videos. Maybe this is deliberate, but I’d rather have seen a slightly longer activation time to mimic flashes on film or CCD cameras.

Another string to its bow comes in the form of environmental sealing, waterproof to a claimed depth of 10m, which unfortunately I was unable to test. (Although submersing it in a plastic container to a depth of about 25cm did it no harm.) Placing it under running cold water is also a helpful way of cooling the light down after it’s been used at full output; just make sure you have the USB cover attached.

Included accessories

In addition to the light, you get 6 color correction gels in 1/4, 1/2 and full CTO and CTB. These are held in place with the supplied gel holder and can be stacked 2 deep. These aren't quite true gels as they are in fact hard plastic, but that’s what Aputure call them.

The included gel set includes three CTOs, a diffuser and three CTBs.

Along with the color correction gels you also get a diffuser gel, as well as hard diffuser made from silicone rubber. The latter can be slipped over the gel holder or onto the light itself to provide an additional level of diffusion with a loss of 2.5 stops. It’s possible to use both diffusers and one of the color correction gels at the same time, although then there's an even greater penalty in terms of light output.

The gel holder, which accommodates up to two gels at a time, employs clips at either end, though magnets might have been better.

Effectiveness

So, after all the figures and the impressions how does the AL-MW perform? Actually, really quite well. I’m a bit of a sucker for small things that punch above their weight and this product certainly belongs in that category.

It’s very convenient thanks to its size, and I find that I’m actually using it in my work quite a lot. It’s also very solidly built and feels able to take more than just the odd knock. However, its size also means that with the supplied accessories you can't get a very diffuse light. Softness is directly related to the size of the diffuser (and distance from the subject). As a result its use as a soft key light is going to be limited.

Room for improvement?

I do have a concern that the gel holder attachment is more fragile than I would have liked, and it doesn’t instill confidence when attaching or removing it. I wish that Aputure had employed a magnetic attachment system rather that the clip-on one provided as failure of the clip is my key concern. Although, I should add that in 6 weeks of using and testing this light it hasn’t proven to be a weakness yet, so maybe I'm worrying unnecessarily.

I would also like to have some sort of barn door attachment to shape the light as the horizontal angle of the beam is around 160 degrees. Although it's nice and even without the diffuser, I would like to have seen some way to sculpt the light without having to rely on 3rd party solutions or jury-rigging some black wrap.

The included silicon diffuser is effective, though its small size means it won't produce diffuse enough light for some applications, such as using it as a soft key light.

As part of my wish list I’d love to see a version of this light that could be controlled remotely, which would allow for a couple set to different levels that could be ganged together.

Is it for you?

Due to its size this isn’t going to be your key light for full length interviews, although there are lots of situations where you will find yourself using it if it’s in your bag. It doesn’t take up a lot of room, the powering options free you from the wall and it can give you decent run time, especially if you combine it with an external USB battery.

While not a truly disruptive product, the Aputure AL-MW offers enough advantages in one package to be kept close at hand. It's powerful for its size, small, rugged and great quality. It has found a place in my camera bag.

What we like

  • Small size
  • Output level and quality of light
  • USB-C charging
  • Range of included accessories
  • Environmental sealing
  • Case

What we don’t like

  • Gel Holder doesn’t inspire confidence
  • Effectiveness of special effects modes varies
  • Battery meter could reflect run time more accurately