At A Glance: Manfrotto Spectra LED Lights

Manfrotto’s new Spectra family of LED lights is doubly useful as an on-camera light for event and live footage while also serving as very effective battery-operated compact lighting panels that can be hidden easily in a scene for accent lighting or even eye lights. Building on their previous line of Pocket, Mini, Midi and Maxima on-camera LED lights, the Spectra line is built for professional use, with five models available in different sizes and output while also offering a choice between narrow and wide light spreads.

Promising a Color Rendering Index score of higher than CRI 90 and a weight of less than a pound by each model, the Spectra lights output a soft, flattering daylight color temperature of 5600ºK, similar to a softbox, while one model, the Spectra900FT, can mix two arrays of 3200ºK and 5600ºK LED bulbs for a blendable color temperature range that matches warmth to daylight or tungsten. The Spectra900FT outputs 540 Lux with a 50º spread of light. The Spectra900 is also available as the 5600ºK Spectra900S with a tighter beam angle of 30º and an output of 900 Lux at 1 meter or as the 5600ºK Spectra900F with the same output at the wider 50º spread. Two similar, but lower-priced Spectra500 models are also available. The 5600ºK Spectra500S has a "spot" beam angle at 30º that provides a 300 Lux output at 1 meter, while the Spectra500F, as in "flood," offers a slightly warmer 5000ºK daylight output in 550 Lux at 1 meter with a wider fixed beam angle of 60º.

These lights are ideal as compact on-camera lights when working events and for on-location work, but their convenient size also makes them very useful to hide in a scene or as an accent or eye light. The stackable construction even can make them useful as a main or key light. Each Spectra has a hot-shoe mount on both the horizontal and vertical that allows the included ballhead to be mounted in portrait or landscape mode, which, of course, can be angled further by maneuvering the ballhead. The tabbed mount also makes the lights stackable for adding multiple units together into a single, high-output panel. The ballhead comes with a cold-hot-shoe foot for mounting to light stands, tripods, booms, clamps, DSLRs, camcorders and brackets. Remove the ballhead, and you have a female 1?4"-20 connection for placing the light directly on a stand. Each light in the series also features full 0-100% dimming, as well as included Opal diffusion and full- and 1/4-CTO gel filters for matching the daylight output to tungsten. The outer shells are no doubt designed as plastic to keep the weight at a minimum, but they’re definitely not as durable as heavier models based on metal construction.

Power options are versatile, too, requiring your choice of optional AC adapter or battery-powered operation through four or six AA batteries, depending on model. Interestingly, Lithiumion batteries can be used with the Spectra900S, while the 900F and 900FT require AA or rechargeable NiMh AA batteries, which can extend operation from an hour or an hour-and-a-half to up to 480 minutes. The units also feature internal heat protection, something I ran up against when using Lithium-ion with the previously available, but much less expensive Manfrotto Midi and Mini light panels, where the lights suddenly went dead for several minutes. As long as you’re aware of this (I wasn’t; I found the warning in the manual), it’s not a problem, though pros tend to use Lithium-ion over standard AA batteries because of the longer charge and faster recycling they provide cameras and flashes. Similarly, if power is depleted, the lights will begin to blink a series of "three sets of double flashes," a problem I discovered while taping an interview, which had to be reshot. A low-battery warning is definitely a requirement, but a charge indicator would be vastly preferable to this method. A D-Tap connection is provided to operate on more reliable battery systems from Anton/Bauer and others through the purchase of an optional D-Tap Adapter Cable. Optionally, an AC adapter is also available as an additional purchase, and it can be used alongside the AA batteries to save them as backup. Estimated Street Price: $469 (Spectra900FT); $359 (Spectra900F); $269 (Spectra900S); $219 (Spectra500F); $169 (Spectra500S).

Contact: Manfrotto Distribution,