Earlier in the year Adorama house brand CLAR released a couple of impressive and cost effective LED lights in the Illumi Max 120 Bi-Color, and 300 High Power, and these are currently on sale at exceptional prices –
– CLAR Illumi Max 120 Bi-Color – $229 (save $190)
– CLAR Illumi Max 300 High Power – $399 (save $200)
Adorama also sent over a couple of samples to take a look at, and I wanted to get a short hands on review up while these are still on sale, because at the discounted prices at least, I think its unlikely there is anything on the marked that comes close to the performance of these lights.
The Illumi Max are very bright, have high CRI, and very quiet fans for video and audio recording, where fan noise has been a considerable issue with other common alternatives on the market.
These are AC and DC powered lights, and come with all that is needed for AC use. For DC use you can add your own V-Mount batteries (or purchase a kit including them).
For still photographers looking into video or continuous lighting these should be very practical and versatile, because they can be shaped using most of your existing S-type modifiers, and using familiar lighting set ups.
Although there is no connection with lighting accessory brand Aputure, the Illumi Max are clearly inspired by the original Aputure Light Storm C120D and LS C300D LED lights, which have recently become something of a disruptor in the film lighting industry.
With the 300 watt LED’s now very close to providing a comparable alternative to far more expensive tungsten and HMI lighting which have been industry standards for many years.
Aputure have made lighting much more affordable for independent film makers, and the Lightstorm are now on their second generation with the more refined LS C120D II, and LS C300D II now becoming available.
It was only a matter of time until similar, and even lower priced, alternatives started to become available though, and the CLAR Illumi Max are one of those to give the Light Storm a run for their money.
The Aputure lights are currently setting the benchmark most offerings in this category will be compared with though.
What sets the Illumi Max and Light Storm apart from many previous COB LED lights is the use of a large radiator style heatsink which liquid cools the LED chip through a number of copper tubes running behind it.
This keeps the body of the light cool enough to touch and hold, while large diameter fans can run quietly at lower speeds, almost imperceptible to microphones unless they are very close to the fan.
CLAR ILLUMI MAX 120 BI-COLOR
The Illumi Max 120 Bi-Color, as the name suggest are a 120 watt LED, color adjustable from 3200K to 5600K (in 100K increments).
The 120 watt light is no monster like the 300 watt version, though still quite bright, and generally enough to suit most peoples needs for indoor use.
And the bi-color adjustment is a very convenient feature even the Aputure lights don’t actually offer yet.
And the reason for that is very likely because the bi-color chip doesn’t work well with the Aputure Fresnel attachment (which provides an adjustment from flood to narrow spotlight).
As the different colored lines forming the bi-color chip are projected into the image when using the Fresnel attachment.
So there is currently a trade off you may need to chose between, though the bi-color is likely going to suit a lot of people wanting to work in mixed ambient lighting.
Just adding a CTO gel to a daylight balanced light can cut a stop of light, so there is also a solid advantage in light output in that regard, as well as the convenience of easy color adjustment without the need to use gels.
And set to 3200K is also where the Illumi Max 120 shine with exceptional CRI / RA figures. If the Aputure lights are said to be matching the best available, then the humble Illumi Max are showing exceptional figures.
Shown below as tested with the Sekonic C-700 color meter, at full power and 3200K, the CRI / RA average was 97.2 with a bare head, and up a little further to 98.3 adding the standard reflector.
The extended CRI (RA figures from R9 to R15) are where most LEDs fall down though, and the Illumi Max are exceptional here, particularly with the R9 reds and R12 blue, which often register very low readings from many mid range LEDs available.
When powered down to 50% (shown center) and 10% (shown right), the CRI drops off a bit, though still very respectable –
(These are with bare head, readings are again slightly higher with the standard reflector attached).
Set to daylight 5600K the extended CRI drops down a bit in the R9 and R12, though still very respectable results.
100% output (left), 50% (center) and 10% (right) –
Something I did notice was the color temperature setting on the light was a little off the actual reading when using the standard reflector, mainly around mid temperature 4400K setting.
Though removing the reflector showed the light itself was within the 200K tolerance specs, so the reflector is actually affecting the results slightly. And any other modifiers are likely to have an effect well.
Bare head, set to 3200K, 4400K, and 5600K –
With standard reflector added the temperature figures drop slightly as shown below.
Also note here the LUX output readings are measured at 1 meter, and there is not a big reduction in output when using only the 3200K or 5500K diodes (4400K is generally the brightest point when both sets of LEDs are on at full power).
With reflector, set to 3200K, 4400K, and 5600K –
So the Illumi Max 120’s output is also quite respectable, and not far off the Aputure 120 watt specs.
For photographers wondering what this equates to in light meter readings, at 1 meter, ISO 100, 1/125s –
- Standard Reflector – F2.0 + 8/10
- Glow 38″ ParaPop Softbox (double diffused) – F1.4 + 8/10
Keep in mind, for still photography ISO could be increased indoors for portraits, and shutter speed reduced for product / still life when using the camera on a tripod.
The Illumi Max 120 are both AC and DC powered and come with the AC adapter which is functional worldwide.
The AC adapter is a separate unit to the light control box, though also comes with a clip to attach the AC adapter to the back of the control box if preferred.
Where the second generation of Aputure lights now have a slight advantage here, with their AC adapter and control box now combined into one neat unit.
The important thing here though is that the AC power adapter is still silent running, with no fan required (something that is more of an issue with the 300 watt light discussed further below).
For DC use a single standard V-Mount battery can be clipped to the back of the control box, and depending on capacity provides around 1.2 hours of run time with the light on full power.
The control box interface is pretty standard and simple to use, with a display for output in the left, from 10 – 99 (%), and color temp on the right from 32 to 56 (3200K- 5600K).
DMX connections are also supplied for use with a DMX control panel.
The 2.4GHz radio remote control supplied with the Illumi Max is pretty basic.
Though all this is basically used for is to remotely adjust the power levels and color temperature of the lights, and once you get used to the interface it serves that purpose fine.
For lights that do not offer the bi-color function its possible to disable that adjustment on the transmitter, just leaving the power level adjustment accessible.
There are 99 radio channels available, and these can be used as groups to adjust lights independently.
Also channel 00 is a universal channel which will adjust all lights together, and makes turning all lights on and off together easy. (Note – There are no power levels or color temp displayed on the transmitter when set to channel 00).
The CLAR Illumi Max remote and radio system are not directly compatible with any flash systems like the Flashpoint R2 or Godox X radio etc.
And this is also where Aputure are developing a greater level of refinement, building a cohesive system with more advance control through a remote APP etc.
It would be nice to see LED lights integrating with popular radio flash systems in the future, though its not currently a big issue for basic LED light usage.
The Illumi Max lights and control boxes certainly appear to be finished quite nicely as can be seen in the images.
I would say though, although the light is likely constructed of around 80% metal components, the type of plastic used in the remainder does feel a bit cheap to me.
Though I guess that is fairly subjective, as other reviews don’t seem to have even noticed the core of the flash body as actually made of plastic.
Again this is where the second generation Aputure lights are building refinement, with a construction that’s basically aimed towards solid rental quality and durability.
That level of build quality comes at a price though, and if treated well the Illumi Max lights will likely serve many people well for some time.
Overall the Illumi Max 120 appear to be an impressive offering for the price. Simple and convenient, quiet and a high quality light.
A combined control box and AC adapter would certainly be nice, though for the price its hard to complain.
CLAR ILLUMI MAX 300 HIGH POWER
The Illumi Max 300 High Power, as the name suggests is a 300 watt LED, with a fixed 5600K daylight color balance.
And a monster as far as LED light output goes.
This time the light is also compatible with the Aputure Fresnel attachment, which can adjust the light anywhere from a wide flood setting, down to a narrow spotlight for considerably greater intensity again.
That extra power adds a lot of versatility, though it does also come with some practical trade offs, mainly regarding the AC power supply noise, or the need for 2 batteries to run this monster via DC (more on further down).
Again the Illumi Max 300’s CRI / RA readings show an impressive 97.2 at full power, and very respectable across the range, only dropping below 95 at 25% power or lower.
The extended CRI (RA figures from R9 to R15) are a bit lower, mainly with the R12 reading.
With the $1100 LS C300D II being described as being as good as the best available.
Illumi Max 100% output (left), 50% (center) and 10% (right) –
Color temperature is again a bit below 5600K when using the standard reflector
Output with the standard reflector at 1m reads 19000 LUX.
And although its a bit tricky to compare specs now as Aputure have a new narrow beam reflector supplied with the LS C300D II, going buy the Newsshooter.com review at least it certainly appears the Illumi Max 300 are providing more output than either version of the Light Storm if used with the original reflector –
- Illumi Max 300 – 19,000 lx
- Aputure LS C300D II – 15300 lx
- Aputure LS C300D – 12300 lx
So again it certainly appear the Illum Max are punching above their weight in output and light quality.
Again for photographers wondering what this equates to in light meter readings, at 1 meter, ISO 100, 1/125s –
- Standard Reflector – F4.0
- Glow 38″ ParaPop Softbox (double diffused) – F2.8
And for portraits at least, with the 38″ double diffused softbox at 1m, this feels as though its getting close to the limit of what would be comfortable for a subject in front of the light.
You certainly wouldn’t want to look at the bare light source from that distance.
Again the Illumi Max 300 offer both AC and DC power, and come with the AC adapter which is functional worldwide.
The AC adapter is also a separate unit to the light control box again, though a problem here is the AC adapters fan actually makes a reasonable amount of noise. The light itself is very quiet.
And people appear to have different opinions on whether this is an issue or not, though personally I find its to a fair degree defeating the purpose of having such a quiet light design.
There appears to be one simple workaround if needed though, and that is an extension cord added between the light and control box and AC adapter, so they can be moved away from any microphones, and possibly also placed behind something to help block the sound.
And Aputure happen to have a 20′ 4 Pin XLR extension cable which appears as though it should be compatible.
Again this is where the second generation Aputure LS C300D II have a solid advantage, with the control box and AC adapter now combined into one really nice unit, with no cooling fan required at all.
If running off batteries though, the Illumi Max 300 will be very quiet.
Though this leads to another advantage of the Aputure LS C300D II, which can now run at up to 1/2 power with just one V-Mount battery attached.
Where the Illumi Max always requires 2 V-Mount batteries attached to the back of the control unit to run off battery power at all.
And requiring that second battery therefore makes it a larger step up in gear and costs when choosing between the 120 and 300 watt lights.
2 batteries will last around 1 to 1.2 hours with the 300 watt light at full power, depending on their capacity.
The build quality, functionality, interface, and remote control are otherwise the same as the Illumi Max 120, just without the color temperature adjustment.
Overall both the Illumi Max 120 Bi-color, and 300 high Power, offer a lot of bang for buck, and would be currently hard to beat for the prices.
The simple color adjustment and lack of AC adapter noise I think makes the 120 the standout at this stage.
Though I’m sure the 300 will also get the job done for people after a high powered light without having the budget for the LS 300D II.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
At the time of publishing this the Illumi Max 120 Bi-Color, and 300 High Power, are currently on sale at Adorama at exceptional prices –
– CLAR Illumi Max 120 Bi-Color – $229 (save $190)
– CLAR Illumi Max 300 High Power – $399 (save $200)
Adorama – Website