March 14, 2018
REVIEW

Aputure LS C300d is Not a 2K and That's OK

The most anticipated light of the last year is the Aputure 300d. We put it through its paces to see how it holds up.

Aputure has been on a tear for the last few years, putting out lights from the tiny to the soft, and even microphones. Aputure's most anticipated unit finally started shipping last fall, the Light Storm C300d, a 300-watt LED unit that is being marketed as a 2K equivalent. We'll discuss that 2K figure below, but however you name it, the power of the 300-watt figure is what has excited potential users. No matter which unit it replaces, that is a lot of power out of a lightweight (2.6lb) LED unit, which addresses one of the primary frustrations many users have had with their LEDs. If a lack of power is your dilemma, the 300d has got you covered. We got our hands on a unit and have played with it on a few shoots, walking away very impressed not just with the light itself, but also with what it tells us about how we're going to be lighting our movies soon.

DP Jadzia Erskine works attaching the massive softbox to the 300D

The competitive landscape

The most obvious comparable light for the 300d in terms of physical form would be something like the 100-C from Hive lighting. They both come in right around $1,000, they both are powerful LED units, and they both pack up pretty neatly into a case. The two lights are designed from nearly opposite philosophies, with the 300d going for power while the 100-C goes for control.

The 100-C focuses highly on color accuracy, using five different LEDs to create an infinite array of highly accurate colors you can control from an app or DMX board. Switch from Sony to a Canon and notice the "daylight" rating doesn't feel the same? Tune your light to match the camera!

The 300d focuses instead on power (300 watts vs. 100 watts for around the same price), and the trade-off is much less internal control. You get a daylight unit in the 300d, and considering how inconsistent "daylight" settings are in different cameras, this unit might look slightly cooler or warmer depending on your camera and how it's set up. 

Credit: Charles Haine

There are, of course, a lot of ways to deal with that, either doing a custom white balance on your camera (we habitually shoot RED cameras at -5 tint and 4600 Kelvin when our color meter reads a light at 6500, for instance, since that gives us a balanced waveform on our scopes), or individually white balancing the light by throwing up a grey card and using gels. Having it in an app might be nice, but for many users, when power is what you need, adding a few gels to a light isn't going to slow you down that much.

While some might be tempted to say, "Fix it in post," color accuracy can actually be annoying to fix in post if you have a mix of units and need to bring them together. Despite the lack of Kelvin control, in addition to brute strength, the Aputure also manages to pack in a whole pile of accessories along with the 300d unit all in the base price. While competitors might come with just the head unit, when you open up the case for the 300d, you get a battery plate, a fresnel and a photo flood, all rolled into the same single package, which comes in a convenient soft case.

Credit: Charles Haine
Credit: Charles Haine

Flexibility

The battery functionality is a huge benefit as well. Most LED lights will run off batteries (mostly V-mounts), with the exciting part here being that such a powerful unit can also run off batteries, though it requires two batteries where other units require one. Using this unit off batteries opens up a whole host of amazing options for filmmakers, though we did find it frustrating on set having to use the battery block even when using wall power.

As opposed to units like the Hive where you only have one power brick in line (and a relatively small one), to get power to the 300d required both the ballast and the battery adapter in line together, which made for some awkward rigging situations when mounting it on stands or in complicated setups. Not by any means a dealbreaker, but it would be nice if there were at least a bracket for mounting the two bricks together that perhaps you could clip to a stand for easy rigging.

In addition, while the head unit is 4-pin, you have to use the cable that comes with the unit and you can't run an extension, which sometimes means mounting the converter in awkward places where a longer power cable would have been nice.

Both are required for use.Credit: Charles Haine

Set usability

Occasionally in our tests, we run into units that are designed by people who have never been on a film set, but the Aputure team has clearly shot projects itself or interviewed people who do. The controls are usable and intuitive, but most importantly repeatable, with power readouts on the controller that make the possibility of a dynamic lighting ramp mid-shot a realistic option, despite the infinite spin wheel.

One worry we have is the plastic knuckles on the knobs. The unit is available with either a large or a small softbox, and when we tested it with the large box (which you'll mostly use for stage work, it's too big for tight locations), we really had to crank down on the knuckle to keep it firm. Of course, a knuckle is an easy replacement part if it breaks and not structural, but it is an area we will watch out for when we see these on set in the coming months to see if they are holding up.

Credit: Charles Haine

2K or not 2K

Those practical issues aside, we also wondered, philosophically, if calling it a "2K" is the right move. We can't fault Aputure specifically for this; everyone compares LEDs and even HMIs to the tungsten heads they replace because for 60 years, everyone on a film set measured their light power based on the tungsten units that were the workhorses of the industry. However, we honestly can't remember the last time we put a 2K junior on a stand. 2012? 2008? HMIs and now LEDs have rapidly taken over the market, and the old reference just doesn't matter much anymore.

Aputure gave it the right official name (the 300d is 300-watts, and daylight balanced), but of course, power efficiency is hard to measure and its 300-watt unit might be brighter than a competitor's 300-watt unit. LEDs are less consistent than tungsten, where 300 watts was the same unit to unit to unit. Since Aputure gave it the right name, we guess it's actually a criticism of the industry in general for the way units are marketed. Hopefully in the near future, LEDs will be marketed without talking about the past, but instead focusing on what they can do for you now and in the near future. 

Wireless remote control is always appreciated.Credit: Charles Haine

Though in reality, lights like these will likely only impact the near future. In order to give users so many things for under $1,000, including battery plate adapter, ballast and case, and all that power, the head unit doesn't feel like it will last 50 years. With the "original" 2K unit, you regularly see units that have clearly been in use since the 1960s on trucks and sets. This unit just doesn't feel that robust. That's OK, with the way companies are innovating lighting technology, for a five-to-ten year life cycle for a head unit, the construction is plenty durable. You'll likely get a good few years of use out of the units before you'll be itching to upgrade to newer, lighter, cheaper, more powerful lights by the time the 300d has lived through its lifecycle. But it is worth pointing out that these no longer feel like they could fall off a truck and survive the way an old 2K junior might.

Of course, you can plug six (or maybe seven) of these into a wall outlet, and you definitely couldn't do that with a junior, so it's part of the trade-offs that come with new technology. iPhones don't feel like they'll last as long as your grandparent's rotary phone, but they aren't meant to. This isn't criticism as much as observation: lighting is changing and will now probably have an upgrade cycle closer to that of cameras than to what it used to be. Instead of thinking about lights as lasting decades, we think planning to get five to ten years from a light is probably realistic.  

Credit: Charles Haine

Conclusion

Overall, the 300d feels like a real window in to the next wave of production. All of the sudden, that single shot you need out in the woods is doable without renting a put-put since you can light the whole thing off a few V-mount batteries, though you'll likely want to invest in a 4-up V-mount charger to keep enough juice flowing. Rigging one of these off a power inverter for a powerful night backlight in a car scene, popping one far out in a field for a moonlight gag, rigging it to the ceiling of an attic without worry about cable routing, the power/weight/battery combo really does change the way you think about lighting. Lighting decisions on small crew/limited time shoots constantly involve planning ahead for cabling and balancing what is possible on time and on budget, and the ability to run a battery-powered unit (or four) out into the field without worrying about running long miles of cable or the noise of a cheap generator is a game changer.

The 300d is a major step forward for the LED industry. It tells us a lot about how we're going to be lighting movies for the next few years. Be sure to get a color meter, and have a good time.

Available for $1,099 from B&H.

Tech Specs:

  • 300-watt power draw
  • Light with Controller & Power Supply
  • Wireless Remote with 492' Range
  • 5500K Color Temperature
  • Bowens Front Mount, Quiet Fan
  • V-Mount Battery Plate
  • Built-In Handle

Your Comment

10 Comments

Sponsored by Aputure?

Seriously... this felt more like a "how does it feel" review than a technical review.

Very few things matters when it comes to light;
- Quality / CRI
- Wattage
- Output, not meassured in lumen or stated by comparison by the manufacturer, but in how much actual light hits the talent at fx 6 feet with a soft modifier in front of it.
- How much noise it makes at that distance when your boomer is also 6 feet from the light.

These are things that boil down to concrete numbers, not feels.
The 120D felt like a disappointment to me. I tested it at native ISO 2.000 and the output was appalling with the dome on. Imagine having a camera with native iso 800.
Then 300D tests came on YT... on some of them, you can actually hear the fans....... come on. When was it ever ok to hear the fans of your light? I don't want to compromise the quality of the audio, potentially endangering vocal ranges that also mix with the fan frequency. It's never ok.... never.
Audio is more important than light.
Great audio can save a mediocre cinematography, but great cinematography can't save bad audio.

The life of the light... if I was indeed planning to be satisfied with 5-10 years, that makes me question even more the price of the light. Especially if you factor in the massive increased cost to make it functionally mobile.
You dont' just need 2 v-lock batteries.... you need 4.... add dual charger to that.
Even more weight and packaging to log around.
Honestly... The next LED I'll buy, I'd expect to last a looooong time. We still use 2K open faces on studio... like you said, units that are past 20 years. Because they work, without issues and have been paid off for 19 years. That's ROI un-rivalled.
5 years of 300D and then have to buy a new one? Ouch...

March 15, 2018 at 7:07AM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
994

What Torben said.
Especially, the ROI on this thing (and many others like it).
We're getting ripped by many of our current manufacturers of movie making equipment. I still have tons of 20 year old tungsten that will still be working long after this thing craps out.

March 15, 2018 at 9:29AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1360

I completely agree with the lack of an actual and usable "review" plus they didn't even answer the title of the post (unless I missed it). Is it a 2k equivalent or not?

No metered output no cri.....seems lazy and doesn't really help someone know whether it will fit in their arsenal given the work they do.

As far as being ripped off....That seems a bit rich. Please point me to another light that puts out as much light as this in a form factor this small, this light, and capable of being powered by batteries. They come with a longer xlr power cable now so you can move the ballest further away if need be for the fan. I haven't heard it in on any of my recordings. Plus as a photographer, being able to take advantage of the bowens mount is SOOO convient.

How many of those lovely tungsten lights can you plug into a 120 outlet before you trip a breaker? Also if you do manage to get them up and running, how's your talent doing in that three-piece suit sitting 6ft away from them :) Horses for courses, and times are a changing.

I for one LOVE this light but that's just little ol' me.

March 15, 2018 at 8:01PM

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I bought one of these. I ran a test on it, thank God, before filming a little project. The one I got shut itself off after it got warm (in a 60 degree F environment). So, 30 minutes- CLICK! no light. This happened repeatedly, plugged into multiple circuits and while using V-mount batteries. So I returned it. They also had some issues with the very first batches and color temperature, I heard. Maybe their latest ones are solid, but I've never had a light from anyone else ever crap out like this and it would have been a real mess if it happened on set.

March 16, 2018 at 10:58AM, Edited March 16, 10:58AM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.
559

Haven't had mine turn off, except when using v-mount batteries at higher than 90% power.. Color balance is a bit warmer than true daylight, punchier than an open face 2k, fan noise is noticeable in smaller rooms even at relatively low ambient temps, still waiting on my replacement filter to fix the green border tinge.. Would I take it back? Hell no.

March 16, 2018 at 5:36PM

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Sean Loftin
Cinematographer
93

That 90% power cutoff on Vmount power bug is an interesting Aputure bug it seems: my C120d does the same deal on Vmounts. Go above 90% and it shuts off. With your C300d: They ought to have replaced your filter by now, the one I got which turned off when it got warm (30 minutes) repeatedly did at least have that update. I'd bug them hard on that.

March 16, 2018 at 10:12PM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.
559

I own one. The first thing I did was test for overheating. I pointed it "straigh" up (the yoke only allows it to go so far) after a bit, it shut off. I contacted Aputure, I had a replacement shipped to me, from over seas, door to door in 5 days (and that includes Saturday and Sunday). No more over heating issues. Didn't cost me a penny extra. Every manufacturer of anything will encounter issues. Sometimes those issues don't show up for years (hello vehicle recalls?), Aputure discovered there was an issue, and set out to fix it (first with the green fringe, second with the over heat that SOME people experienced) and both fixes came with zero cost to the purchaser. Not a lot of companies are willing to take that leap anymore. Some are down right awful.

March 17, 2018 at 11:20PM

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Liam Tain
Head of Creative
101

Hi, Liam. Can you confirm that your replaced 300d still have no overheating issues when pointed up?

June 8, 2018 at 6:40AM

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I have a COB 120d and like it quite a bit. However, the LED readout on the controller panel started to fail and I had to get it replaced (no charge, but lots of emails and waiting). I also have an Aperture LS1/2 and like it very much. So, even though I'm a fan of their gear, after reading too many reports of green fringe (apparently fixed on new units), mis-aligned LEDs and lights shutting down, I'm reluctant to spring for the COB300. Kind of a pity, as it would be great light for many people at an affordable price, but not if it isn't reliable.

I still think Aputure makes some great products, but this one seems to have hit a manufacturing production snag. It could be a sign of quality problems due to high demand, but I hope they can sort it out.

March 18, 2018 at 10:51PM

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David Patterson
videographer/editor
111

Nice post. I appreciate the tips. My training routine is remarkably similar to yours.
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March 21, 2018 at 9:53PM, Edited March 21, 9:53PM

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