Aputure COB 120t

I have to open this post with an honest confession that I am really taking a liking to Aputure. Their approach the last couple NAB’s has addressed the LED lighting (and film-making in general) arena’s needs in a very intelligent way. Obviously different people have different needs, but I’m finding that for small-scale filmmakers, the tools presented by Aputure are generally of a great value and higher than expected quality. Take the DEC for example (which I’ve written about here)–it’s a brilliant focus/ iris control tool. It has a very specific use-case scenario for me, but it fills that niche so well that I can’t help but rave about it. Their high-density LightStorm panels, from everything I hear (I’ve not yet used them but am now planning to test them), have been very well received and represent a good balance of quality, output and cost.  The employees I’ve dealt with at Aputure (a grand total of five of them now) have all been incredibly kind and very excited about their products. I applaud the enthusiasm they show toward filmmaking and the tools that make up our world.

With that introduction, enter the COB 120t.

Hero

 

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Just a quick digression on the “COB” part of the nomenclature:

Circuit-on-board LEDs are popping up everywhere now. As far as I’m aware, the technology allows for a dense cluster of diodes under a single phosphor coating which in turn allows for a more singular source of light. Anyone who follows my ramblings will know my general lack of appreciation for LED panels, so the recently released single-point COB lights have me excited. Because of the single point source, Aputure bundles this with some classic accessories which have been designed to fit their light. The Bowens S-mount accommodates a range of pre-existing accessories, but it’s the custom-designed beauty dish, softbox and parabolic that have me excited. While the Bowens mount is somewhat universal (believe me there’s a discouragingly large tolerance still for what you’d think would be a standard with little variability–one person’s S-mount is not another’s), the fact that a modifier fits doesn’t necessarily mean it will work optimally with your light. Parabolic fixtures in specific require the light source be placed optimally to ensure compatibility with the modifier. From a brief examination of the parabolic and beauty dish on the NAB show floor, it looks like Aputure has put together some very well built and good quality modifiers. I’m also very excited about the fresnel option which I’ve not yet tested. The ability to get a longer throw on high CRI LEDs without paying the Arri L-series premium is exciting. Again, this type of light fits my shooting style so brilliantly. With all modifiers detached, it’s an open-faced light with just enough output do double diffuse in a brolly for an incredibly soft falloff, or attach the fresnel and get collimated light with some projection to it.

 

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No corn on this COB.

 

I love that the COB120t comes with its own remote with multiple groups of light control. The remote feels  a bit, shall we say, repurposed? Seems like something designed for another product that they’ve made work with the COB120 to be honest. I couldn’t figure out what the additional arrow buttons are for. Despite that, a group/channel control system reminiscent of that used in still photography is exciting. No more shimmying a light down a C-stand to turn it off or adjust it’s intensity–no more even walking over to the light to adjust it for that matter. For what I do this type of convenience is of real benefit. Incidentally, I’ve come to really appreciate remotes over apps these days,It just takes too long to pull out and unlock a phone, launch an app, and push an icon for me–using a remote is much quicker, provided you don’t lose the remote. The range of this system is longer than I anticipate frequently needing as it uses a 2.4GHz carrier.

 

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Can you tell I’m excited about the Bowens mount?

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This is the setup for most of the product photos of the COB you saw above. Every strobe and speedlight has a Bowens mount. The COB 120t fits nicely into the system.

COB-Speedlight_Bowens

 

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The remote. How’s that for a self-evident caption?

Onto the question that’s on everyone’s mind: how is the COB’s color? Well, color me impressed. I found CRI and TLCI to be very close to advertised spec and to read well visually in the real world.

 

Brielle

This was keyed by the COB with a very minor amount of fill. There’s no denying the COB 120t simply looks good. Skin looks amazing and I have no regrets having dared to use this light for commercial work.

 

COB-BeautyDish

The Bowens S-Mount allows for mounting commonly available accessories like this beauty dish. The photo above was taken with this setup.

 

COB-Brolly

And because the light generates so little heat I’m able to use a tungsten light inside a brolly for double diffusion.

 

LEDs, as with all discrete spectrum lighting, can have unforeseen deficiencies when paired with color filtered sensors (like the Bayer array most likely used by your camera if you’re reading this in 2016). With both Canon and Sony sensors I found skin tones to look quite pleasing. I’ve always said, if color rendering is your absolute top goal, you’re better off shooting tungsten or plasma over any LED, HMI or fluorescent I’ve yet seen. I have several COB 5600K lights I’ve accumulated (very similar to ALZO’s if you’re familiar with that brand) and this Aputure COB120t very much feels like the pleasant evolution of the technology into something much more usable. Those lights weren’t altogether terrible, and for the inexpensive price they had their place, but the fan noise was obnoxious and the CRI was quite terrible. I had thought that high CRI required a high cost but the COB is reversing that mentality. If you’re not yet convinced, take a look at this Tungsten chart. I haven’t seen anything like it in a light for this price.

 

Tungsten_Aputure_COB

This is amazing. I had to offset the chart so you can see where the break is. For those who don’t know, half this chart is shot with a tungsten light (I used the Tota since I figured that’s the COB’s closest tungsten for comparison) and the Aputure COB 120t. The closer the match the better since Tungsten is “the standard”.

 

Tungsten_200W

I have to include this just so you get an idea of how impressively the COB120t performs. This is a similar COB-style, high output light, but the color is simply nowhere near the Aputure’s league.

 

I shoot a lot of products and would not have dared use LEDs until now. It has just been too scary in the past to trust that the light is capable of rendering every nuance of color with the level of accuracy that product photography requires. I’d still proceed with caution, but the world of continuous lighting LEDs is starting to win me over.

 

COB120t_CRI_TLCI

The COB120t does not disappoint when it comes to color.

The fan in this thing is quiet, to the point that I wouldn’t allow the desire for a lack of fan to be a motivating factor in the purchase of this fixture.

The light comes in a nice bag, remote, standard reflector, and cabling included (AC wall cable to brick adapter to V-mount or AB control box with limo connector to light). The light pivots on a yoke with a handle at the rear for easy maneuvering. I found the fixture very pleasant to use with the combination of this rear handle and the control box which hangs at the perfect operating height while the light sits atop a C-stand arm.

 

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Controls for the COB are detached from the head, making my life much happier when the head is high up on a C-stand or inside a lighting modifier. An AB or V-lock battery can be mounted to the back.

 

All this said, the one slightly underwhelming issue I’ve had with this light came when testing output, but that’s only due to previous expectation. For some reason I had thought I’d heard this light marketed as a 1.5k Tungsten equivalent. It’s not quite. I contacted Aputure about this and their response is that it’s difficult to quantify light output (for reasons I mention below) and that it’s also difficult to compete in a world of very misrepresented marketing. So much so that their preference would be to not give a tungsten equivalent since the number is not as helpful as many people assume it to be. They did, however, confirm that my findings of it being similar to a 1k are a pretty close estimate. I also found that the photometrics currently on their site (and in the COB 120t manual) are spot on. And I’m surprised at just how honest they are–if anything they represent the lowest end of the readings and are taken without the reflector which significantly increases output.

 

DEC_Photometrics

Photometrics on the DEC per Aputure’s site. These lined up perfectly with what I measured.

My measurements, checked with both a spectro and a colorimeter as a reference. The difference between the two was negligible enough to simply average them:

Set to 100% power, the COB 120t draws 140 watts max. My measurements on output:

Distance .5 M 1M 2M
Lux 10065 2900 659

I’d say it’s pretty similar to a Lowel Tota after pulling them both out and comparing side by side. Like I mention, the included reflector bumps this number significantly. At 1M, for example, the 2900 lux reading sans reflector measures 4000 lux with the reflector. The photometrics will be very interesting to measure once the fresnel is available. It is very difficult in today’s world to compare two lights, but everyone will want to know how this tungsten LED compares to more traditional fixtures whose rating is generally measured simply by power draw. It’s tough to say because most tungsten fixtures up for comparison have a halogen bulb in front of a reflector and some aren’t open-faced at all so the lens affects output as well. I figured the Tota would be a good place to start and it did seem pretty close, but again, there is yet more room for potential discrepancy since the Tota can accept different varieties of lamp. I’m comparing with the 750W EMD running at 120V. That’s the same lamp used in Lowel’s photometrics online, so the comparison is convenient. The COB 120t has a very broad (100+º) beam angle which makes it (like the Tota) nice for filling a large space evenly. I was actually quite surprised at how broad the beam on the COB is. So keep in mind that these reading represent a beam spread across a very large surface area. The Tota’s reflector has two positions (180º barn doors and “normal” position which is more closed). I figure it’s probably most fair to compare both lights using as similar a reflector as possible, but I tested the Lowel Tota in both positions. Either way, the Tota is outperformed by the COB120 which is encouraging. Again, the fixture design has so much to do with this that it’s difficult to make an objective comparison. For example, I also tested an Omni from Lowel. Though this light draws only 467 Watts (or about 60% of the Tota), I’m able to get a much higher reading than the COB or Lowel Tota give by simply spotting the lamp. Again, it will be most interesting to see how output from the fresnel fixture performs and I’ll update this post or do a new, dedicated post if Aputure chooses to send me a fresnel as well. So, in short, a 1500W tungsten halogen equivalent, no, but just above a Lowel 735 Watt by my measurement. Seeing how it draws 140W max, I’d hoped it would be just a bit higher, but considering the color quality I remain impressed. My inexpensive COB-style Bowens LEDs with terrible CRI can get me over 5000 lux @ 1M without a reflector and with a 240W draw so the Aputure COB isn’t terribly different, and the color on those inexpensive Bowens COBs is terrible. Again, for the quality, color rendering and price of the COB 120t I’m still very pleased. A 1k is actually a perfect bread and butter light for a good number of shooting scenarios. In fact, I never made a point to own lights above 1k since that’s about the threshold where rentals make more sense than ownership.

 

tota_performance

I found performance to be similar to a Lowel Tota. Here are the photometrics from Lowel which my testing verified to be pretty close. Note how beam angle affects output.

The gist:

Pros

  • Great design
  • Single Point source
  • High CRI/TLCI with good real-world color rendering
  • Remote operation
  • Accessories make it whoppingly versatile

Cons

  • Output may have been misrepresented (or I got a defective unit)(or my memory is defective). This is not quite a 1.5K tungsten equivalent.
  • Remote doesn’t feel custom-made.
  • I kept covering the umbrella hole with the light stand.

All in all I would easily recommend this light at this price point. The mount makes it very compatible with existing accessories, the form factor is well thought out and the color rendering is fantastic. For someone like me who does a steady mix of photo and video work this merging together of the lighting tools involved in both worlds is fantastic. With groups and channels for wireless control it’s easy to analyze the effect of each light just like I’d do with radio triggers and strobes. The wealth of Bowens accessories I’ve accumulated pair nicely with the COB and have me dipping into continuous lighting on shoots where I’d previously have relied on the strobes. Output is finally at the point where it’s just enough to be useful in some of the applications and with some of the modifiers I’ve been waiting for. All in all it’s an exciting time for lighting and this light is a keeper. I’ll further update the site if I end up testing any of the Aputure-brand accessories or the 5600K COB version. Keep up the good work Aputure!