When I was first looking into lighting gear for product and studio photography, my boyfriend suggested using a continuous lighting source, such as a LED light panel. At first, I scoffed and opted to go with the traditional lighting setup of an AlienBees B400 and a Canon Speedlite 580EX II. When paired with umbrellas, softboxes, and Pocket Wizards this setup is relatively cheap and it worked really well for some portrait sessions, as well as food and product photography. The problem was that this lighting setup is not particularly mobile. It requires not only a large bag or case to hoist your lighting stands around, but it requires a plug or external battery for the AlienBees light, or in the case of using two speedlites instead, lots of patience when it comes to syncing and waiting for the flashes to recharge.
After recognizing these difficulties associated with traditional lighting setups, I decided to spring for a continuous lighting setup. Most of my research told me that LED lights were generally preferred for video, not photography, mostly due to their lower output. The article that really sold me on the potential of using LED lights for photography was this article by Kirk Tuck. His advocation for LED lights, as well as pointing out that there are indeed compromises, sold me on the idea of giving them a shot. Browsing online, I found some really cheap options such as the $30 Chromo 160 LED Light, but ultimately opted for a light that fell in a slightly higher price bracket (you get what you pay for!). I ended up purchasing the Manfrotto ML840H Maxima 84 LED panel, and so far I couldn’t be happier with it. This light is extremely portable, easy to use right out of the box, and has been incredibly useful for everything from product and food photography to portraits.
What’s in the Box
The Manfrotto Maxima 84 comes assembled and ready to use right out of the box! All you need to do is twist the dial to turn on the power–it even comes partially charged. Key accessories that are included are:
– a ball head to hot shoe system for attaching the LED light to a lighting stand or the hot shoe mount on your camera; this system also allows for pivoting and angling the light
– battery charger (the lithium battery is built in, so all you do is plug it in to a wall to charge)
– several different wall plugs
– a sync cable for turning the LED light into a strobe that works with most DSLRs
– 2 warming color gels and a diffusing gel
What Works Really Well
Portability and great continuous lighting are the key selling points. I love that this light fits easily into my camera bag and can have the light intensity dimmed or strengthened at the twist of a dial. Although the Manfrotto Maxima light I purchased is the biggest of its series, it’s still relatively small and lightweight. It fits into my hand and can easily be handheld while holding a camera and shooting with the other. I experimented immediately by using the LED light to photograph my breakfast. I found it worked great as a fill light to balance out the shadows caused by natural light coming in from the window. It was SO MUCH better than the typical yellow-orange light that most homes and kitchens emit.
In another context, here are some still life photos taken on a country farm using the LED light. Again, great subtle light source that really enhances the photos.
Also, this light works great in other scenarios. I brought this light along to help shoot a wedding and found it was great for doing closeup shots of the rings, dress, shoes, and even the bride and groom. These photos will be posted and added to this blog upon their completion.
What Could Be Improved
When looking at other LED lights, I found some that included a protective carrying case and rechargeable batteries that could be removed. These are two things I would love to have included with the Manfrotto Maxima. As it stands, I currently stick the light into a plastic bag to protect its surface from scratching before throwing it into my camera bag. Also, I have yet to have my light run out of juice on me, but it would bring me more piece of mind if I could quickly throw in a fresh battery when needed.
Taking It a Step Further
After mastering using the Manfrotto Maxima as an external lighting source for some product and portrait shoots, I quickly discovered something: it’s entirely possible yet entirely tiring to be constantly holding the light or finding an assistant to do so. Yes, the rectangular shape of the light allows for carefully balancing it to stay in one position, but this isn’t a reliable or flexible solution. Some quick online research fixed that problem.
I already had access to my boyfriend’s Joby GorillaPod Focus, which had just been graced with a Ballhead X. Trying to figure out how to mount the Manfrotto Maxima to the tripod ended up being as simple as mounting a Speedlite to a tripod. The key piece that you need is this: a HSH (Hot Shoe to Household) Adapter. These 3 pieces allow for a great portable lighting stand!