The new Aputure MT Pro feels like the final maturity of a niche product idea that has evolved over the past few years from crude starts, to this clear finish. After a long history of inefficient and flickering fluorescent tubes, LED tubes next arrived in various sizes and capabilities, such as the Westcott Ice Light and its many cheaper knock-offs, but they have never pulled it all together into a portable, solid, reliable, high-performance and cost-effective product offering like this. As you pull the metallic body out of its included zip case, as seen in the below picture, you get the sense that it’s built to last. As usual, I could have done without the bright red accent colors that cheapen the professionalism seen during any serious video work, but that’s nothing new in this category of foreign imports in filmmaking gear.
I like the firm click of its on/off slider switch as opposed to an electronic push/hold type. I’m relieved that the powering bus is USB-C rather than the older standard of micro-USB, and that it’s possible to directly power it during illumination from any USB power source too, whether a wall charger, or a portable battery pack: it makes the hour-or-so life from its internal battery less worrisome, when paired with external power that’s easy to set up.
I’m not quite as happy about the physical manual controls, especially the dial that is clicked and moves very, very slowly in certain categories like the default and most important “intensity” brightness setting: going from 0% to 100% will take you minutes, not seconds. And the menu system seen below is a bit clunky: you really do have to scroll all the way down to “Exit” and select it, rather than pressing the dedicated backwards button, for example. But if you have the time/need/interest to connect via Bluetooth using the free Sidius app on your smartphone or tablet, you can change all such settings rapidly with a swipe, of course. The Sidius app is the same used to control the entire Aputure ecosystem, and it’s extremely well-developed by now. You pretty much need it to fully control this MT Pro as to color picking, beat reactors, FX, etc.
I enjoy being able to hand a smartphone to talent on set, and offer them the wireless remote opportunity to pick whatever brightness and color they prefer at final position. Similarly I enjoy being able to make those decisions myself from a distance, while I’m right at the camera viewfinder. I do this with all of my Aputure products, including the new Aputure 200x bi-color key light. and the little brother to the MT Pro, the MC RGBWW LED light.
Aputure has focused marketing of its MT Pro on the pixel density of its LED array: this basically means that it’s harder to see each individual “dot of light” if staring straight into the tube, more diffusely distributed. But there is also a semi-opaque diffusion “lens” built in front of the LED array anyway, and for further customization, you can easily mount (quickly in seconds) the included lighting grid attachment seen here, for narrowing the spread of the beam and thereby reducing light spill/loss at angles beyond, say, 45 degrees. All told, the pixel density is nice to have but not critical: in fact, Aputure could not resist showing it off at startup every time with a rainbow sequence that cycles colors through those dense LEDs, and it’s nothing that I want people to see on a set.
Speaking of color, I foresee staying in CCT mode most of the time (mostly just daylight and incandescent color temperatures), rather than HSI with endless color possibilities. Adding color splash onto, for example, a whole set background surface is a bigger haul than this portable light can manage, and projecting color onto smaller subjects and surfaces is a far less likely creative decision. I like that these modes are isolated from each other, and that I can boot back into CCT every time I turn the power on, at my last setting.
Also included is a plastic miniature tripod; this is another thing I could have lived without, especially if saving room for a smaller carrying case. In this regard, it’s worth thinking how you would use this product’s size and shape: in my on-set photos below, you can see my subject’s face illuminated in an ideal use case example. I needed a soft light that would focus only on nearby talent, in a slim horizontal form factor to stay out of my multi-camera shots. In the final camera positions, the whole light is concealed by the piano’s parallel music stand. There are very few cases when you’d use the included miniature tripod with the MT Pro, though there are 1/4″-20 screw holes as mounting points (and even magnets for attaching easily to metallic surfaces), at both horizontal and vertical orientation. For the latter, you may find that it works well vertically for illuminating a nearby matching subject, such as an interviewee sitting in a chair or standing, especially when you add the included grid attachment to reduce spill. Basically, often you just don’t need a traditional round lighting zone, and a tube is the right fit. You can’t do any better in the compact product category than this Aputure MT Pro.