I wanted a small portable LED for video work primarily to either pop on the hot shoe of my camera or use on a light stand off camera. I also really like the white light emitted from a LED source. So I purchased the Manfrotto Spectra LED 500s.
Why did I purchase it?
LEDs are becoming more popular in photographers’ studios where continuous lighting is used. The main advantages of LEDs are they don’t get hot, unlike tungsten or incandescent lights. Another important factor is that LEDs use less power (watts) per unit of light generated (lumens). So they are extremely eco-friendly.
In this article, I will describe my initial impressions of using the Manfrotto Spectra 500s light for photography. I haven’t had it for long enough to give it a more comprehensive review.
Most of my work is location based, so portability is essential and plays an important role when choosing my photography gear. Nothing irks me more than going to a shoot and feeling like some poor-beast-of-burden overloaded with camera equipment!
I could have purchased a cheaper similar model off Amazon. However, I sourced online with a local company that had it in stock. I got this particular model at a discounted price and more importantly if I had any problems with the light I could easily return it with minimum fuss. Plus, I have built a trust with the brand over the years.
Disclaimer: I bought this Manfrotto Spectra light. I wasn’t sponsored to write this article. The opinions expressed in this article are mine alone.
What’s in the box?
The unit itself is really compact and measures 3.7 x 4.4 x 1.7″ (including the on/off knob). It has one power switch which also acts as a variable dimmer, very cool. It is daylight balanced at 5600 Kelvin. Also included with each light is a set of filters, including one ¼ CTO, one ½ CTO, and one opal diffuser. It also comes with a ball head shoe mount.
I did find this mini ball head adapter a bit clunky to use. I had to fiddle with the lever to release the tension to get it to move and then lock it back in place. Not ideal when you’re on a shoot, time is of the essence, and you just want your equipment to work effortlessly.
This unit is slim and very compact, as you can see in comparison to my Sony RX100 camera (below).
How is it powered?
This little unit, the 500S is the smallest in the range of five models by Manfrotto. The S stands for spot, as a beam of light emits at a 30-degree angle. It produces 300 lux at one meter. The Spectra 500s takes four Alkaline AA batteries. It is simple to use, turn the knob to switch it on. It is also dimmable which makes really useful to control the amount of light being powered.
Rechargeable AA and Lithium-Ion AA batteries can be used as well. It can also be powered by an AC adaptor (ADAPTOR12V0.5A) to use through the mains. I can’t see myself bothering with this but the option is there. You can also purchase an adaptor (Manfrotto L7.2V-Battery Adapter) which mounts at the back of the spectra unit and uses Sony L-Type batteries. Again, another alternative.
LED versus flash lighting?
To see how using speedlights fared against this little LED I did a quick test. I didn’t set out to pitch one light source over the other, as that would be like comparing apples to oranges. I only wanted to get a comparison to see the results.
The speedlight is way more powerful, I know that. For the shot below, I used a speedlight with a shoot through umbrella, which was about two feet away from the subject at an angle of 45 degrees. The power on the flash was only at 1/8th power. I kept the ISO the same at 200 for both. Shutter speed was at 1/60 second and the aperture was f/7.1.
In contrast to the Spectra light, I had the light switched to full power and I had to get really close, 10-12 inches away from the object. The camera settings were 1/15th of a second at f/5.6. I didn’t put a diffuser on the Spectra light as a result, there is a harsh shadow under the air blower.
What to look for when choosing LED lights
First, CRI (color rendering Index) is important when choosing an LED light. The closer it is to 100, the more ideal it is. Less than 90 is considered not great. The Manfrotto Spectra LEDs claim >90. What does this really mean? Natural light is classified as having a CRI of 100, the best possible.
Secondly, make sure the LED is flicker free.
Pros of LED lights
- Extremely portable
- Lightweight and compact, even with the batteries
- Easy to use
- Don’t overheat
- Can be used for both video and photography
- Great for small product shots
- Handy in low light conditions
- As it is a portable continuous light source, this makes LED lights ideal for beginners to learn about how light affects the subject/model
- A little pricey, unless you get a discounted price
- The white light may not be appealing to some – but the gels included compensate for that
- The mini ball head adaptor is clunky and fiddly to use – not a deal breaker but annoying nonetheless
- Not powerful enough in some situations where there is a lot of ambient light to balance against.
As I stated at the beginning of this article I set out to describe my initial impressions so far to date. As this is a very recent purchase, I have yet to test it out fully. But so far I give it 3.5 stars out of five. This may seem a bit harsh but I took a half star away for each of the following:
- The mini ball head adapter is quite cumbersome to use.
- It’s fairly expensive compared to other similar less expensive models.
- This light is not really powerful enough in certain situations and other cheaper models are more powerful.
In terms of photography use, LEDs are terrific and so easy to use. The Manfrotto Spectra 500S is the smallest but not as powerful as its siblings in the Spectra range. That said, I won’t be putting away my speedlights just yet.
So, if you are new to LEDs lights and you would like to test them out for your photography. Check out my article here on how to use an inexpensive LED flashlight to take shots.
Do you use LED lights in your photography? Please leave a comment below, and tell us more.