The Aputure LS 1200D Pro LED and the Benefit of More Power When Lighting

The Aputure LS 1200D Pro LED and the Benefit of More Power When Lighting

In last week’s article, I chose to talk about the joys of going small with lighting gear. In today’s article, we’ll go big, very big, with the Aputure LS 1200d Pro LED Light Kit.

It’s time for me to finally admit it. I’ve become an addict. An Aputure addict. Every time I turn around, the company seems to be announcing new lighting products, and my first response is almost always to check my bank account to see if there are enough funds laying around to add to my collection. There aren’t always enough George Washington’s in attendance. So sometimes I have to delay my purchasing pleasure. But, sooner or later, many of their fixtures will find their way into my gear closet.

The Aputure 1200d Pro LED Light Kit has been out for a little while. One of those items that has been at the top of my wish list since its release and on top of the “purchase when the money comes in” category. Why did I want this light so badly? Well, it fills a very specific hole in my current gear closet.

If you’ll allow a brief digression to one of my favored analogies for a moment, I am a rabid fan of the soccer/football team FC Barcelona. Currently, we are in the midst of off-season transfer rumors. And week in, week out, I hear rumors of all the fancy midfielders and right-wingers that are supposedly on Barca’s radar. They are all great players, but there is one constant problem. We already have midfielders and right-wingers. Too many, in fact. So, why in good graces are we shopping for more of what we already have! On the other hand, we are completely devoid of right backs. Literally no one on the team has that title. Yet the arrival of one seems to always be an afterthought. Would make sense to me that it’s obvious where the money should go.

Now, back to filmmaking. I have every light under the sun (no pun intended) to cover any scene I might want to shoot. All, except one type of fixture. The sun. No, not the literal sun. We all have access to that. I mean an artificial source that can stand in for the sun when the real one is on hiatus.

Of course, there’s a reason why I don’t have a “sun” light in my arsenal full time. One, they tend to be expensive. You’d expect that from a light source that can replicate a foundational element that literally lights the entire solar system. But, at $14,655, my weapon of choice, the Arri M18 HMI, is well beyond my price range. Fear not, they are staples of rental houses and can be found on sets around the world. And I frequently rent these when I want to recreate the feeling of natural sunlight in a variety of situations.

Yet, despite how easy they are to rent, I’ve always wanted to own one of my own. Who wouldn’t want to be able to recreate sunlight at any moment of the day? I may have a lot of smaller sources to light the room. But I want something to light the world. So, when Aputure announced that they would be releasing a large, powerful light source to rival larger sun sources in the 1200d, I was immediately excited.

Now, a couple things to get straight right up front. Most people do not need a 1200d. That’s not a judgment on skill set. Rather, the practical application of the light is just not something that everyone is going to find applicable. There are much smaller, lighter, and cheaper ways to light a scene. This actually points to the second reason why I don’t yet own an M18 or the 1200d. I don’t always need it. When I need it, I need it. But it’s not going to be the first choice in every situation. For instance, if you’re just lighting a one-person interview in a small room and you feel the need to plug in enough fixtures to blow every fuse box on the block, you might want to reconsider your approach.

So, when do I go for one of these large fixtures? Simple. When I need the power. But not just power to blast light at a subject head on. More specifically, these super powerful lights are most useful when I want to push light through something rather than hitting it head on. The real value of the added wattage is that it allows you to heavily diffuse your light while still bringing up light levels substantially. 

As an example, I recently turned to the Aputure 1200d LED to shoot a scene in my latest film, "Runway." We shot in a variety of locations and on the third day found ourselves inside a sound stage. There were multiple scenes to shoot that day that would take place (on screen) during both day and night. I knew I needed to move fast, so I wanted to set up the daylight scenes in such a way that it would feel like natural light coming into an apartment, rather than have to spend the entire day lighting every section of the room individually.  

If you’ve ever seen natural light coming into a room through a set of curtains, the light itself spreads everywhere. In some circumstances, it might come in hard and leave sharp shadows across the floor. But, I wanted a diffused light situation which would allow my actors to more freely move about the room.

There was a window built into the set along with a set of sheer curtains as set dressing. So, it was a perfect situation to fill the room with soft light. The curtains would add one layer of diffusion, but I wanted an even softer light, so I placed a 12x12 outside the window so that the light would need to travel through the diffusion, then the curtains, further softening the light upon arrival. I have plenty of lights that can pump through curtains. But I needed a light that could travel through both sets of diffusion, enter the room, and continue through the room from end to end. So, I turned to the 1200d.

The 1200d had more than enough power to stand outside the room, pump through the silk and the curtain, then bounce around inside the room giving the feeling of daylight. I supplemented the shadow side of the room with just a hint of fill from a smaller fixture. But, essentially, all the light in the room was generated by a single 1200d. This allowed me to work quickly and push through large chunks of the story without needing to stop to relight.

The other circumstance where this light comes in handy is when needed to overpower the sun. As a still photographer, it’s fairly easy to overpower the sun with even just a simple speedlight. But as a filmmaker, you’ll quickly realize that the compromises necessary to create a situation where you can overpower the sun can be daunting. First and foremost, being able to generate enough power from a constant light fixture in the motion world is the province of only a few fixtures on the market.

The 1200d is one such fixture. I needed to shoot an interview which would go alongside the film. Just to make my life more difficult, I wanted to shoot the interview outside during a harsh midday sun. Step one, as is always the case, was to control the light on the subject while bringing down ambient light. Using a combination of silks, aperture, and ND filters, I brought the world around the subject down to a darker than reality level. But I wanted to bring in light to return the subject to the correct exposure. In addition, I wanted to diffuse the light hitting the subject so that the light would be more flattering.  

That meant that I needed a light powerful enough to push through diffusion and still register during the day through a dark ND filter, reduced aperture, and everything in my power being done to bring down the exposure. You can see in the reference picture how dark the shadow detail would be by looking at the shadow from the garage on the right side of the frame. Then, compare that to the shadow on the subject's face, which is lit with the 1200d through diffusion. The reference frame isn’t perfect, but should give you some idea of the power of having a strong light like the 1200d, even on a sunny day.

I still don’t own the 1200d.  I rented it for the shoot. But, coming in at just $3389.95, this fixture is definitely the next item up in my shopping cart. There are more powerful fixtures available. But, I do find the combination of power and price point to be incredibly appealing for this unit.  Especially when the kit comes with three different reflectors, which help further shape the beam of light based on your needs in any given situation.  This is one light source I can’t wait to add to the collection.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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