The Aputure C300D MKII is the second-generation refined version of the light that kicked off the COB LED revolution, the original C300D.
Everyone is excited about COB LED lighting. COB stands for “Chip On Board,” and it’s a pleasant alternative to the LED panels that many of us have been utilizing for the past few years. Aputure came out with the C300D LED COB a few years ago and it quickly established itself as a go-to low to mid-level LED light for a reasonable cost that could be used in many different types of production.
Recently, I had a chance to light a series of interviews utilizing the newest version of this light, the C300D MKII. The project was for the “B” unit of a big reality show shoot that I worked on and we ended up utilizing five Aputure lights. Our key sources were two C300D MKIIs through an 8 x 8 half grid and another C300D MKII through a Scrim Jim 6 x 6 with a full stop diffusion. The C300D has been out for quite a while and I’ve used them in the past and thought they were a pretty solid light for the money. This project was the first time that I had used the newer C300D MKII version of the light though, so this article will serve as a compendium of my impressions working with the lights on a real project with clients.
Just In Case
I own several other brands of COB lights and I own three other Aputure LED panels, so I’m pretty familiar with the brand and how the lights generally perform. In unpacking the Aputures, I noticed that the soft case they come in is remarkably similar to the soft case of some other competing lights I use. The case is a gray and red nylon case with a zippered flip-up top. I like how Aputure has segmented the pockets inside the case, and each accessory has its own compartment and everything is very nicely padded. As I unpacked the first Aputure C300D MKII, I noticed that compared to the first version of the light, Aputure has wisely combined the power supply and the control unit into one sleek box.
The Details Make The Difference
The five COB lights I own and the original Aputure C300D unfortunately have a separate power supply and a separate control box. This requires an extra cable from the power supply to the control box, then another cable from the control box to the lamp fixture itself. Add in the 20-foot OSHA AC power cable that has to go from the AC outlet to the power supply, and you’re left with a somewhat messy and convoluted design that makes moving the light, once it’s plugged into the wall, messy and inconvenient because you have to pick up the power supply, the AC cable, the cable from the power supply to the control unit, the control unit and the lamp head and stand.
With this new design, the power supply/control unit isn’t only combined, but Aputure includes a very nice small plate on the back of the box that clicks into a modified Mafer clamp that you can fasten to the light stand itself. Very slick and a much better design than the original C300D. This stand clamp was one of my favorite features of the Aputure C300D MKII, and it makes using the light a much better experience.
Lighting the Scene—The Key
The Aputure C300D MKII has a standard for an LED COB light Bowens mount on the front of the light. There’s a small silver mount release that must be depressed to release any accessory inserted into the mount. I utilized the included beam intensifier as we were using two of the lights punched through an 8 x 8 half grid cloth diffuser as the key source for our talent.
The Aputure C300D MKII is very easy to use—you hit the power switch to power the light on and use a rotary dimmer knob to choose your power level required. Aputure thoughtfully also has a smartphone app that will allow you to control each Aputure light with your phone, which is very handy for one-man-band shooters. The light also includes various lighting effects like fireworks and flickering TV, but I find on most paying work, we generally don’t use these novelty modes, although they can be handy for certain users.
I didn’t bring my light meter to the shoot I utilized the Aputures for, but from an exposure standpoint, the Aputures were powerful and put out a very precise and color-accurate light. We easily achieved 65IRE skin tones shooting with the Canon C300 MKIII and a Canon CN E18-80mm t/4.4 lens with the camera at ISO 400. The two Aputure C300D MKIIs were at 100-percent output through the 8 x 8 Half Grid with the two lamps placed approximately four feet from the diffusion. Talent was positioned about 10 feet from the 8 x 8. We were getting the light levels we needed to run the camera at t/4.4, but I felt the skin tones were a bit harsher than the material called for, so we added a pop open 4 x 6-foot full-screen diffusion in between the Half Grid and the lights. Adding this extra layer of diffusion corrected the harshness on the skin and still kept up the lighting levels to where we wanted them.
Opposite the 8 x 8 key, as our fill source, we used another single Aputure C300D MKII through a 6 x 6 Scrim Jim with a full stop fabric. In order to achieve the modeled look the producer was requesting, the fill was only dialed up to about 8- or 9-percent output. I noticed that the C300D MKII allows incremental dimming all of the way down to 1 percent. By going with a pretty radically different fill level, it offset the dark side of our subject’s faces with just the right amount of smooth, even fill light without making our talent’s lighting look too flat.
I’m not going to list the photometrics and specs of the Aputure C300D MKII as they’re already listed on many retailer websites and in other reviews of the light I’ve seen. For me, the C300D MKII is a home run simply because it’s well built, easy to use, has great color accuracy and a decent level of output, and it’s very reasonably priced for what it is—a low to mid-level entry in the LED COB market. The soft case is a notch up from competing lights and the power supply/controller mounting system is a huge win; it just works noticeably better and cleaner than the competitor’s messy cable and power supply solutions.
Using the Sidus Link App, you’ll be able to access all of the functions of the control box, in addition to being able to save presets, finely tune and trigger additional lighting FX, as well as install firmware updates, all from your smartphone or tablet.
Most importantly, the entire Aputure C300D MKII package feels like a professional solution and the value equation for $1,099 retail feels like a good value. The tie-down for the light being able to swivel on the yolk is also solid, allowing the use of even large softboxes and accessories without drooping or falling down. While the C300D MKII has two cooling fans, in use, on a quiet soundstage or in some offices or conference rooms we shot in, the fans were whisper quiet and our sound mixer didn’t hear them at all. Let’s not forget that the Aputure C300D MKII can also be powered by two Gold Mount or V-Mount batteries for those situations where an AC outlet isn’t handy, although you must use two high output batteries to achieve full output, but it also features advanced technology that allows you to power the light with a single battery at up to half output.
The Value Equation
Overall, the Aputure C300D MKII is a class leader and represents a solid value for the price. There are similar lights that cost less, but frankly, these lights don’t have as much refinement in their design or features. There are COB lights with similar features that cost significantly more money as well. In my opinion, Aputure has hit the sweet spot with the C300D MKII, it offers good value with great features and performance. It’s well worth a look or a rental if you’re in the market for a new COB LED light. Using it on a job will convince you of its worth.