East Grinstead photographer and filmmaker Nitsan Simantov. Wedding photography and commercial video production in London and West Sussex.

My favorite compact LED panels ever! - The Aputure AL-H160

I have used a lot of portable LEDs for both photography and video work. Most of them have things that make them not ideal for my uses. Examples:

  • The larger Aputure lights (the 672 and 528) have some great features like a built-in charger for the batteries, but they are too fragile for me, and also cost a little more.
  • The Yongnuo YN-600 is super powerful compared to others at the same price and weight (4500 LUX, roughly double the competition), but it gives off fan noise. I could swap out the fan on them for a silent one, but that doesn't always work out, I suspect I would have to install the fan on the outside of the unit since most silent fans are much larger than the tiny one that Yongnuo build into it.
  • The F&V R-300 ring light is a very nice light, but is also a little on the expensive side  for the power it gives, and lacks a battery checker.
  • There have been lots of others with various issues in color, fan noise, build quality, weight, and sometimes just overall piece-of-crap-ness.

Currently my main lights are the Pixapro 100D which are awesome but this kit require a large rolling suitcase which is not always suitable when needing to travel. Or my dimmable CFL kit which is great for the price of £50 per light but this is completely unsuitable for travel, since it has fragile glass bulbs and easily takes over an hour to set up or fold back down.

The first LED lights I bought were the Yongnuo YN-160S units, because they were cheap and gave more power compared to other lights, even some larger lights. They did do the job very well in most cases.

The Aputure 160 lights were on my "buy for review" list for ages, even before they upgraded them to the 95+CRI rating, but I never bought one until recently because it had a lower light output than the YN-160S lights. I recently got the new AL-H160 and at first I wasn't really excited about it, it wast just another panel (I've had a lot), but that opinion changed as soon as I started using it. These two are currently the best super-cheap "featherweight" contenders I know of. Lets throw them in the ring and let them fight it out. (Apologies for the boxing metaphors)

This photo was shows the color quality difference between the two. The back light is the Yongnuo, slightly green. (Video frame from the A7s shot with 5500K white balance and no magenta/green adjustments)

Aputure AL-H160:

  • Much better light quality (95+ CRI rating. I can see it in the image. This alone is enough of a reason for me.
  • Slightly more portable because of the square shape and removable hot shoe connectors.
  • Connectable to each other to make larger panels (as large as you want). Pretty awesome feature.
  • They have a MUCH better battery door which sits on a hinge, unlike the Yongnuo's one which is not connected to the unit and is made of cheap plastic and can get lost easily because you have to remove it completely in order to change batteries, so you can use AA batteries more easily which keeps the kit much more compact and lighter weight. You can now get some fantastic rechargeable AA batteries from Contour (most likely a Sanyo Eneloop rebranding) for about £5 per set of four, which makes them much cheaper than buying Sony batteries. I've not done a run-time comparison yet, I will do one when my other two AL-H160s arrive, but I don't really care because I don't want to use these Sony-fit NP-f batteries anymore even if they give a longer run time. Too many of them have broken, it just takes one drop, with or without the light unit. 
  • Easier to dim, it has a dial rather than buttons like the Yongnuo. But this dial is also the on/off button, which means you can't switch them off and then turn them back on at the exact same brightness. This is not a big issue for most shoots where you might want to use these, but personally I will be wiring up an on/off switch into my units.  Alternatively you could just put a flat piece of plastic between one of the batteries and where it touches the light, this is surprisingly easy to do, but is not a professional solution. If you plan to buy or make/buy a power adapter for this light then for £1 extra you can get an inline switch.

Yongnuo YN-160S:

  • Slightly brighter than the Aputures.
  • They have a slightly green color cast, not terrible but not ideal.
  • Trying to get help from Yongnuo's customer service left a really bad taste in my mouth. It does not make me want to invest further into their equipment.
  • Has a connection for Sony batteries in the same place where the AA batteries go, so if this is your preferred power option you get a slightly more compact unit when the battery is inserted. This is a little irrelevant because the part of these batteries that is fragile is the connection between the battery's mount and the body, traveling with these batteries connected to the has a high risk of arriving with broken batteries, or worse, the broken batteries could short circuit. This is why I'm switching to AAs.
  • Both the Yongnuo and the Aperture don't come with power cables, which will cost you extra. Here's a link to the NP-f battery power adapters. The good thing is, anyone with basic wiring experience can make their own without even opening the lights up, since the 7.5v input is exposed at the back of the light. Here's a link to the DIY power adapters. There are 9v 2A power adapters for half that price, but I don't know if that will damage the unit so best to spend the extra £3. Note: If you don't know how to safely connect electrical wires then just spend a little extra and go for the ready-made adapters!