5 Small, Budget-Friendly Lights for Any Camera Setup
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Proper lighting can greatly improve the quality of your video. Upgrade your kit with these affordable diffused LED lights.

Proper lighting is one of the things that can quickly improve the quality of your video, and you don't have to spend a fortune to see this improvement. Portable scatter lights are affordable, battery-powered, and versatile, making them a reliable, budget-friendly option for beginners and professionals alike.

Shooting at night or in low light are probably the best reason to own one of these portable flare lights, but they're much more versatile. Vloggers can jump off the screen by attaching one of these lights to their camera. They can also be used as backlights to draw attention to a specific object or create depth by separating the background from the subject. Those who already have a key light can still use a portable light as a fill or back light, and it's good for emergencies too. Only a portable light can improve the quality of a video. It can even make the difference between looking amateur and professional.

Below are some affordable and (excuse the rhyme) portable lighting options that you can use to upgrade your gear bag.

1. Aputure AL-M9

Aputure is a well-known brand that makes lighting solutions for filmmakers. Although Aputure markets many of its products to professionals, they also offer a range of relatively affordable lights. One such light is the Aputure AL-M9, an absolute workhorse of a light that sells for just $ 45. It is by far the cheapest light from Aputure. This tiny light is equipped with nine SMD LEDs that are powerful enough to illuminate any subject from a few meters away.

The light has an adjustable brightness and a maximum battery life of 1.75 hours with the highest brightness setting. At first glance, the AL-M9 doesn't look like much, but after testing it, it's now an indispensable part of my recording setup. For video calls, this light (along with my M50) looks like a camera that is twice as expensive and is also great for vlogging.

I took the first part of the video with no light and the image is grainy and a little soft in focus. There isn't a lot of detail in my face either. However, as soon as I turned on the light, the sound disappeared and my face and shirt were well lit and in focus.

At $ 45, the AL-M9 doesn't have all of the features we want, but it does get close. I wish this light had an adjustable color temperature, but it's understandable at the price. Aputure makes up for this by containing multiple gels that change the temperature from daylight to a cooler or warmer shade. This is perfect for situations where daylight is not appropriate.

As someone who is always on the lookout for affordable gear, I am very glad I included this and it will stay in my kit for years to come.

2. Big Softi

The Big Softi with the 1/4 ″ -20 thread fastening. Image via Big Softi.

Similar to the Aputure AL-M9, the Big Softi is a portable diffused light, but this kickstarted light has a few additional features that make it more attractive. Although the project received full support back in July – the project raised $ 491,176 from 6,334 backers on Kickstarter – it is still available for pre-order on Indiegogo. Those who pre-order can buy the Big Softi and accessories for $ 65.

The adjustable color temperature setting on the Big Softi is the reason why this light is worthwhile. Daylight mode is useful for night scenes and some outdoor scenes, while tungsten mode gives off a warm, yellowish light for indoor scenes. A third color mode called "Clean White Mix" is somewhere in between the other two.

Regardless of the situation, these three color modes should cover all bases, even if they are missing in the brightness adjustment department. With the option of only choosing between three levels of brightness – low, medium, and maximum – there isn't a lot of space to bring the brightness to a perfect level. However, in most situations it should still work fine.

Because of its portability, battery life is important. The company claims the light has a running time of 90 minutes at maximum brightness. In the middle the light lasts 140 minutes and in the middle 240 minutes. The Big Softi is charged via a USB-C connection and takes about two hours to charge from zero to a full battery. After reaching one of the route goals, the team added a handy battery life indicator. In the end, touch capacitive controls were added to adjust brightness and color.

With a feather weight of 74 g, this lamp is a portable accessory that fits almost anywhere. Thanks to the three attachments available (all sold separately), the light is compatible with phones, tablets, cameras, computers and virtually any flat surface. The universal clip is the most versatile of the trio as it attaches to phones, tablets and computers. However, the 1/4 "-20 threaded mount is the option videographers want. A third accessory, the 3M adhesive mount, has a double-sided 3M adhesive tape that can adhere to various surfaces.

The AL-M9 is cheaper, available from Amazon and Newegg, and has nine brightness settings. However, the Big Softi's adjustable color settings, touch controls, and battery gauge may be a better option for just $ 20 more.

3. Aputure AL-MX

Aputure AL-MXCompared to the AL-M9, the AL-MX is an upgrade in every respect, from the number of LED lights on the device to the materials. Image via Aputure.

If the AL-M9 is suitable for beginners, the AL-MX is a heavier, brighter and better made light for professionals. In essence, that light is the AL-M9 that is all grown up. It contains 128 SMD LEDs, a boost mode that temporarily emits more light, and aircraft aluminum. Although the AL-MX is roughly comparable in size to its predecessor, it weighs much more (278 g). It also gets hot enough that all of the back of the light is a heat spreader. While it's no surprise that an updated version of the Al-M9 should cost more, the Al-MX is three times as expensive. Hence, it may be an option, especially for professionals or serious enthusiasts.

There's no question that the AL-MX offers better specifications across the board, starting with five increased color temperature settings between 2800 K and 6500 K. By comparison, both the AL-M9 and Big Softi have a maximum setting of 5500K, what is considered daylight. The AL-MX's impressive color palette makes it the most versatile light in terms of color temperature on this list, and can go from yellow to white to blue in an instant. The color temperature range is not only sufficient, but the AL-MX is also incredibly bright. This is especially true for the boost mode, which immediately emits 30 percent more light at intervals of 60 seconds. It's unclear how Boost Mode will affect overall battery life, although I'm sure it can't be good. Aputure claims that the AL-MX will run for one hour on the brightest setting or four hours on the lowest brightness setting.

How a light looks does not affect its performance. However, I can't help but think about the aesthetics of this light. The red and black color combination, paired with an industrial design that uses aircraft grade aluminum to dissipate heat, screams functionality (which is great in itself). As a fan of function over aesthetics, I admire when a product is functional and good-looking. There is not much more to say about the AL-M9 other than that it is a great choice, especially for those who want the best. Maybe it's too much money for a light, or maybe it's the only portable light you'll ever need to carry in your pocket.

4. New LED lights with adjustable tripod

New LED lights with adjustable tripodEach light comes with a white diffuser panel and three color gels. Image via Neewer.

For around $ 55, these affordable fixtures from Neewer are a solid choice for budget studio lighting. Neewer is not an Aputure, but they are one of the largest Amazon brands in the lighting space, with multiple lighting solutions at affordable prices. These lights are supplied in a pack of 2 together with two tripods and a set of color filters. While a more expensive softbox and light combo provides better lighting, these Neewer lights work well in a pinch and are small and light enough to carry around.

Although these lights are small, they are not exactly portable. The lack of a built-in rechargeable battery also means they cannot simply be mounted on a camera. Neewer recommends connecting these USB lamps to a wall socket using a power brick that is not supplied. However, in my tests, I found that the lights work fine when plugged into a battery bank. The duration of use of course depends on the power bank.

With such a low price for two decent lights, there had to be a few caveats. In this case, the plastic tripods are the cheapest and thinnest tripods you can buy. They are absolutely terrible and will tip over with the slightest hint of violence. It's annoying to be in the middle of a recording only to have the button light flip and the entire recording to restart. Another frustrating choice for the design is that the lights don't remember the previous brightness setting. Every time you use these lights you have to go through the brightness until you find the right one. It's not a big problem, but it's annoying.

Aside from the tripods, I think these lights are a lot after hours of research. Other studio lights were either too big, too expensive, or too much for the setup I wanted. If all you need is a few lights to add quality to your setup, these are the ones.

5. RX-8T Light with softbox diffuser

RX-8T Light with softbox diffuserThis RX-8T bundle is a little more expensive, but it includes a standard diffuser and an extended softbox diffuser. Image via FalconEyes.

Similar to the Neewer lights mentioned above, the RX-8T from FalconEyes is designed for studio lighting. I didn't have the pleasure of trying it out, but Nigel Barros on YouTube is a huge fan of this relatively affordable light. The RX-8T is characterized by one main reason: It is foldable. When used without a softbox, you can bend the light as you like to narrow or widen the light. This makes it much more versatile in how you want to light a particular subject.

At $ 75, only one RX-8T is more expensive than the two Neewer lamps mentioned above. But it's more powerful, has more uses, and comes with a decent softbox and standard diffusers. Overall, the RX-8T makes an impact at an affordable price. Just one of these lights, aimed at a subject, can make a huge difference in what it looks like in front of the camera.

Illuminate the way

After buying a mirrorless camera earlier this year, I slowly gathered gear for my setup and added a piece or two to the kit every few months. In addition to having an external microphone, I've found that a portable flare is essential for your kit.

Whether you want to use it to illuminate the background or fill in the shadows of your subject, portable diffuse light is one of the elements that you will constantly reach for, even in daylight. If you don't have the budget for a professional softbox, which can cost over $ 1,000 or more, one of these portable lights can light up your scenes for a fraction of the price and space, leaving you with room in your budget to get in Invest in a better camera or other higher quality equipment.

For more articles on film equipment and techniques, see these articles.

Cover picture about Yurii Onyshchenko.

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