Written By Phillip Joshua
In photography lighting is one of the most difficult fields to master. While there is no quick fix to overcoming lighting maybe one of the best solutions could be constant lighting. We recently received the Aputure Amaran Tri-8C Bi-Colour Led Light and decided it would be a great idea to compare the constant light with both a studio light – Profoto B1X and the relatively new speed light – Profoto A1 so we could show you which source is best for your workflow.
To achieve the most accurate results there were two types of shots produced with each light and a number of steps taken to minimise variables. A wide environmental shot was taken with the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM and a tight shot that portrays a more typical portrait was taken with the Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. A Canon EOS 5D Mark IV was used for all shots so the quality would not differ. The images were all produced in RAW quality and tweaked slightly in Lightroom before being exported as JPEG files. The same shot settings were implemented for the same type of shots e.g. all 24mm the same (ISO 100, 1/125th, F/2), all 85mm the same (ISO 100, 1/160th, F/1.4).
While all the lights do vary in size and could not all be placed on camera we tried to get them as close to the camera as possible so the direction of the light would be consistent. The distance of the lights was kept the same for the wide shot so you could see the difference between power outputs of the different products. No diffusers were used on the wide shots, however we did use a small Profoto Octa Softbox for the 85mm shot and the dome was used for the Profoto A1. Interestingly the Aputure Amaran Tri-8C Bi-Colour does come with a small diffuser so we thought we would try this out as well to keep things fair, however for this shot the light was placed closer to our subject (Robbie) than the other two so we could test the quality of light.
Profoto A1 – As an on camera flash the quality of light that is produced really is brilliant. The flash is known for its excellent light shaping capabilities and this is down to the unique design of the rounded head. In the wide shot you can clearly see how light falls off with the difference between the knee brightness in the middle of the frame and the face brightness towards the outer edge of the frame. For a wide portrait we would generally recommend 2 flashes if you are trying to cover the full length of a person so you could evenly light your subject. The flash was direct and there was no diffuser used for this shot, which would have benefited from either A. the soft bounce accessory or B. the dome/wide angle attachment. The power was approximately 50% so the flash did not struggle at all in the indoor environment.
Profoto A1 on camera direct flash, ISO 100, 1/125th, F/2
For the tight shot with the 85mm the flash was exceptional. Whilst we did use the dome accessory for this one, the flash was still directional and you can see how well the light is spread without harsh shadows. The way the light from the A1 wraps around the face makes the shot very usable, which is unique for direct flash. When you consider this flash also works as a replacement for the air trigger with Profoto gear, we this it is a must have for any Profoto users or professionals who need the best light quality.
Profoto A1 on camera direct flash, ISO 100, 1/160th, F/1.4
Profoto B1X – Definitely the most expensive of the 3 lights we tested and you can see why with the shots. In the wide shot the B1X easily has the best coverage across the frame and the most even/natural lighting on Robbie. As there was no diffuser covering the light there is some slightly harsh shadows, but with most of the diffusers in the Profoto range you could eliminate these no worries. The biggest benefit of the B1X is the portability of the lights. We originally shot this test outside on an overcast day in Brisbane, but being mid storm season the sun was in and out of the clouds. With the light being cable free this was no issue moving from inside to out and back in again to a more consistent lighting environment.
Profoto B1 Slightly to left of camera, ISO 100, 1/125th, F/2
For the portrait with the longer lens we did use one of the small Profoto Octa Softboxes. You can see the lighting is very flat as it was from the same direction and height as the camera. The light does spread evenly across the face and helps Robbie pop from the background as there is a couple of stops difference between his face and the darker background. The light was only about ¼ power and we were shooting from approximately 2 meters, so there was easily enough light if we did need more. These are easily the best studio lights to shoot with but they do come with a decent price tag, worth it for the busy professional but maybe not your home studio user who never needs to move gear around.
Profoto B1 Slightly off camera with small Octa softbox, ISO 100, 1/160th, F/1.4
Aputure Amaran Tri-8C Bi-Colour Led Light You can see straight away the difference in power between constant and flash light sources. In the wide angle shot you can clearly see the Tri-8C struggles to output enough power at the specific camera settings to help Robbie pop from the background. There is nearly no separation of subject from background and the light is only really putting out the slightest fill. Although this is not what the light Tri-8C is designed for.
Aputure Amaran Tri 8 slightly off camera, ISO 100, 1/125th, F/2
In the portrait with the 85mm you can see how useful the constant light can be. The benefit here really comes from being able to see your shadows all the time. You can see in the final shot that the Aputure Amaran Tri-8C Bi-Colour Led Light has produced an even light across the face, however you can also see the shadow on Robbie’s nose on his left (photo right) showing the light is closer and slightly more to the side to compensate for the lesser strength than the other two flashes. Overall all this is a very usable light for portraits and would be more then suitable for video work. What this light lacks in power it makes up for with the ease of constant light and ability to alter colour balance.
Aputure Amaran Tri 8 slightly off camera, ISO 100, 1/160th, F/1.4
You can definitely see from these three lights that they all serve a certain purpose and are designed for slightly different types of photography. As a straight portrait light all 3 were more than capable, but when you start to go for wide environmental portraits you can see how big a difference using studio lights really are. When deciding on lights there are a few factors we would recommend you consider. The size of the light especially if you are looking to move them around, the subject matter you are shooting (maybe a couple of Speedlight’s placed in different locations will do the job) and finally it always comes down to cost. Of the three lights the B1X is the most expensive, but does the best job all round. If you are just looking to set up a cheaper studio at home maybe you don’t need this extra power and could get away with some constant lights and you could save some coin for that better portrait lens.