The Godox VL300 is a powerful COB LED and comes with a full array of accessories and features.
In 2020, my company’s production work was significantly slower than it was in 2019, mostly due to COVID-19. However, luckily, I landed a real, crewed, multi-camera production shot on a stage for Focusrite, a UK-based audio company. The directive of the project was to produce 10 instructional videos about the company’s new Dante network-enabled products.
In analyzing the project, we were originally going to use three Aputure LS-1S Lightstorm LED panels we already own for our main workhorse lights. I’ve found these lights have offered us a lot of value for the money. In fact, we’ve used them extensively for the past few years on all kinds of shoots.
But one area they’re not as effective in is filling up my Medium Chimera Quartz Pro softbox. It really takes two of the panels to output enough light to fill up the softbox and punch through, especially when I am using my 40-degree egg crate to keep the light off of the background and onto the talent (aka, “mitigating spill”).
Another limitation is they don’t have a large or strong enough yolk to hold up the weight of our (36-inch x 48-inch) Chimera without sagging, especially when the egg crate is attached. Even if one of the Aputures could support the Chimera, I would need to punch two of them through the opening in the rear of the Chimera, and using two still wouldn’t work.
To get around this limitation, I have to mount the Chimera to its own speed ring and mount that speed ring to a light stand. Then, I need to support each Aputure panel on its own C-stand or light stand. I end up with a three-stand setup, which can be challenging when you have to move the whole set up around.
In short, I needed a sleeker, more stand-efficient solution for my main key source.
Confusion Over Diffusion: LEDs, COBs And The Shape Of Softboxes
To find the right solution for the project, I started doing some research and came across Godox, which had just introduced its VL line of COB LED video lights this year. I first looked at the Godox VL150 and was intrigued by its output, color accuracy and price.
Initially, since we own the three Aputure LS-1S panels, I had been looking at the Aputure Lightstorm LS C120d II.
But here’s the difference, and why I needed to consider a different type of light: The Aputure LS-1S is an LED panel with hundreds of tiny 5mm LED light sources. But the Aputure LS 120d is a COB light.
Let me explain: COB stands for “Chip on Board” technology. That means that instead of the light originating from all of those little 5mm LEDs, a COB LED light has the light originating from a single, much larger element.
But you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? After all, I’m mainly using LED lighting sources through some kind of diffusion or softbox, right? Why should it matter whether I punch through an LED panel or a COB LED single-source light through a softbox?”
Although there are no easy answers to those questions, here are some reasons I leaned toward adding a COB light to my kit:
- Portability: LED panels take up more physical room in width than COB lights. My Aputure LS-1S panels measure 9 x 12.6 x 1.3 inches. A COB single-source light is deeper but not nearly as wide at 7.6 inches. Placing two of them side by side to give me enough output to use with my Chimera results in a fairly large setup.
- Power: COB lights have a higher output level, especially when using the included reflector or an accessory Fresnel lens.
- Ease Of Use: When it comes to integrating lights with a softbox, COB lights have an advantage. That’s because all COB lights include a Bowens mount, which is an accessory mounting standard invented for still-photo lighting. As noted, softbox integration with the LS-1S panels is not very elegant and requires several separate video stands. Attaching a Bowens mount softbox to a COB LED is simpler, cleaner and easier.
This was important to me since I’m a big fan of Chimera softboxes. In fact, I own four of them and have used them extensively for a number of years. Chimera makes excellent products, which is why they’re an industry standard. But Chimera softboxes have some limitations and challenges, too, and it’s important to consider them when mapping out your lighting plan:
- Shape: All of my Chimeras have a rectangular shape, which means we’ll have rectangular-shaped catch lights reflected in the eyes of our talent. I prefer circular catch lights, which may seem like a small thing, but I believe it makes a difference.
- Separate Rings: Chimeras require separate speed rings for each type of light. I have a speed ring for a light that I don’t even own anymore (a Mighty Mole 2K Tungsten). For the smaller Chimeras, I have half a dozen different speed rings for different lights, most of which I don’t own or use anymore.
- Expense: Since I already own four Chimeras, the cost of buying a Chimera wasn’t a big factor for me. If you are in the market for a new softbox, you should know that Chimeras aren’t cheap. However, they’re worth the price since they’re well built.
One intriguing solution for solving my issue with the rectangular shape of a softbox is to use a parabolic softbox. Here are some factors when using these types of softboxes:
- Upon inspection, these Chinese parabolic softboxes are not built as sturdily as my Chimeras, but they look as if they’ll last at least a few years, as long as they’re cared for properly.
- While my Chimeras only use four metal rods to attach to the speed ring, newer parabolic softboxes utilize up to 16 separate rods permanently attached to the Bowens mount ring. So unlike the Chimera, where the four rods must be attached to the four corresponding holes on the speed ring, with the parabolic setup, you just click each of the 16 rods into place, and they lock.
- Parabolic softboxes are deeper than traditional softboxes. They’re also available in various sizes, up to 47 inches in diameter. Of course, since the Parabolic softboxes are round, you will get highly desirable round catch lights in your talent’s eyes, rather than the square- or rectangular-shaped catch lights from traditional softboxes.
- When the shoot finishes, each rod has its own separate button that releases the rod to lay back down flat, allowing you to put the softbox back into its storage bag quickly.
- Parabolic softboxes are inexpensive, so replacing one shouldn’t be a big deal.
Going With Godox: Putting The Godox VL300 To Work
The day the VL300 arrived, I unpacked it to find it contained a nice-quality soft case with convenient carrying handles. It’s not the kind of soft case that will provide enough protection for flying with the VL300 as checked luggage, but as long as you don’t abuse the case by throwing it around or putting other, heavier cases on top of it, it should provide adequate protection for most local shoot situations.
When I opened the case, I discovered that it had a nicely designed interior, with compartments and spacing that were well thought out.
The Godox VL300 light comes with a selection of accessories, including:
- A controller box
- Controller box 4-pin XLR cable
- Multi-voltage AC adapter with cable
- Wireless remote control
- Bowens mount reflector
- Protective lamp cap
- Carrying case
- Limited one-year warranty
The control box is straightforward and allows you to dim the light anywhere from 100% output down to 0%, in 1% increments. This is nice because many LED sources cannot dim below 20 or 30%. The dimmer function is linear, which means you can multiply your percentage by two, and you will have double the output. That’s another nice touch when you have to calculate the relative power output between multiple sources. The included wireless remote control is powered by two AAA batteries, or you can download an app if you’d rather control the light via your phone.
The Power Adapter Cable Configuration Issue
The VL300 uses the exact same power configuration as our Aputure LS-1S panels. An AC cord goes from the power outlet to the AC adapter. Then, another cable goes from the AC adapter to the controller box. This same controller box allows you to also power the VL300 utilizing two high-power V-Mount batteries.
If you’re using AC power and not batteries, the controller box has a four-pin DC outlet, and you plug in the included DC four-pin cable to the controller box outlet to the DC four-pin input on the rear of the light. The advantage of this setup is that the power supply and controller aren’t built into the light. We often place these types of lights 10 feet or higher in the air, so it’s very beneficial for us not to have all of that weight in the body of the light.
On the other hand, sometimes having all of these extra cables and boxes is more of a hassle than when you have a lighting instrument where the power supply and controls are inside the light, like the LitePanels Gemini, which I reviewed last year.
In the end, there’s not one solution that fits every case. It just depends on how you use your lights, how often you need to move them once they are set up, and other factors.
The reflector is a big deal on COB lights, and the reflector that comes with the Godox VL300 has been very carefully engineered to increase the output of the light source greatly. Just consider the following light meter readings I took with my Sekonic light meter:
- Godox VL300 COB light without reflector, with just the COB measured: 10,400 lux at 1m
- Godox VL300 COB with included reflector attached and measured: 77,500 lux at 1m
That’s a substantial difference in light output level. Of course, if you utilize softboxes, lanterns or Fresnel attachments (and yes, you can add the Aputure Fresnel lens attachment to Godox VL-series lights), you don’t get such a big increase in light output, but the VL300 has a lot of output regardless of how you use it.
To test the VL300’s color accuracy, I shot some chip charts and studied the output on my waveform and vectorscope to see what I could see.
The Godox VL300 is rated with some good specifications regarding color accuracy, with a CRI of 96 and a TLCI of 95. Of course, those numbers are specs measured in a very controlled environment.
But even though these numbers are good, I noticed a slight (not very pronounced) magenta bias in my brand-new VL300. It was easily corrected with the color wheels in Final Cut Pro X and with DaVinci Resolve. You’ll want to keep this in mind if you mix this light with another light from a different brand.
LED COB lights tend to bias toward green during their operating life. If that holds true with the VL300, at some point, it will have nearly perfect color accuracy before it starts to add a bit of green.
Overall, I saw very nice skin tones, although not as accurate as Tungsten instruments with skin tones.
Build Quality And Fan Noise
Overall, I found the Godox VL300 is very nicely designed for a budget-priced COB light.
In my eyes, it has a very high, robust build quality, and the construction appears to be almost all metal. What’s really nice is that the ⅝-inch receptacle has a two-way design, which allows for flexibility during mounting onto a light stand.
Best of all, the tie-down yolk used to affix the light into any position is controlled by a single, round, knurled knob, which goes through the yolk plate, through a rubber washer and into an ARRI-type rosette made of metal.
I was also happy to see that the VL300 doesn’t move after it’s been fastened into place. That holds true even with the additional weight and leverage of a 47-inch parabolic softbox.
The fit and finish on my sample were also very good, with paint that looks evenly applied and with all of the parts and accessories having a nice satin-like finish.
Like almost every other COB-type LED light, the Godox VL300 has a fan. But the good news is you’ll find very little fan noise on the VL300. I had to place my ear literally next to the VL300 to hear it, so the noise was minimal. It’s why we were able to use it for the shoots in our Focusrite project, too, which was on a stage.
I also tested it in the small, quiet environment of my carpeted 12- x 16-foot office. Once again, even with the windows closed and in almost absolute quiet, I couldn’t hear the fan unless my ear was literally 3 to 4 inches away from the bottom of the light.
The Bottom Line: Godox VL300 COB LED Light
The market for budget-level COB LED lights is pretty competitive since there are lots of good-quality, budget-level COBs from brands like Aputure, Nanlite, Godox and others.
But overall, I was happy to find that the VL300 has as many useful features as the more expensive Aputure C300d Mark II, which, at $1,099, costs $350 more than the Godox. Plus, the VL300’s output is on par with the C300d Mark II’s output.
One minor drawback for some is that the VL300 lacks the special effects lighting modes you’ll find on other COB lights. But honestly, I find those modes are largely gimmicky features that serious content creators rarely use. But if they’re important to you, this may not be the COB for you.
In my tests, the Aputure C300d Mark II has slightly better color accuracy, but the Godox has slightly higher output. The Aputure also comes with effects modes that the Godox lacks, but in the end, I feel the Godox VL300 is an exceptional value. You get a lot of light and output for $749, plus the build quality, performance and accessories are all excellent.
For those looking for a less-expensive Godox, Godox also has the VL200 for $549, which isn’t as powerful as the VL300 but is more powerful than the Godox VL150 at $399.
In tough times like these, it’s important to have budget-lighting options, like the Godox VL300, which is why I recommend you check it out, particularly if you’re in the market for a light with a lot of power that’s affordable and well made.