When new photographic technologies establish themselves, we often see supporting accessories emerge. The Rotolight AEOS is a case in point, being a portable and professional-grade bi-colour LED light that also operates as a HSS flash unit.
It makes total sense to create lights that perform both continuous and flash lighting, what with more and more cameras and therefore image makers shooting both professional photos and videos.
The British LED lighting specialist Rotolight now has a well-established range of circular LED lights that aim to cater for both video and photography, with three models available.
In the range is the recently launched Rotolight Anova Pro 2, which is the largest and most powerful. The Rotolight Neo 2 is the smallest with most modest output, while the Rotolight AEOS sits in the middle.
The LED lights provide professional-grade colour accuracy with flicker-free output and an easily adjustable colour temperature to match the ambient light.
Typically the flash feature provides a 250% boost in output of the maximum continuous LED output, with a 1/8000sec max sync speed and no recycle time.
So, the Rotolight AEOS makes for great reading, but what is the reality? I found out when shooting portraits of a band that a couple of my friends are in.
Rotolight AEOS: Ease of Use
Rotolight supplied me with the AEOS kit, which contains two AEOS light panels, light stands, 4-piece filter set and a carry case, plus an additional Elinchrom Skyport HSS wireless transmitter, barn doors, yokes and V-mount batteries.
I'd say that the V-mount batteries are an essential optional extra in order to make the most out of these lights for location work.
It takes but a few of minutes to remove the panels from the case, mount them to stands and have them ready to go. Whether you are familiar with LED light panels or not, it doesn’t get much simpler.
Each light panel weighs approximately 1.4kg. They can be mounted to a light stand or held by hand using the aluminium brackets. It is really easy to hold the light by hand and position it at all angles. Add the optional V-Mount battery and things get a little heavier. The battery is half the weight of the panel again, meaning the combination is above 2kg.
On the back of the light one is faced with a basic control layout, including a small backlit LCD screen that by default displays the output of the light. It switches to display whatever control is being operated.
Then there are two red knobs that control the power output and colour temperature. The dials are sensitive to rotation speed, so you can make quick and severe adjustments through to slow and precise. You get manual control over output, plus a colour temperature range of 3,150 to 6,300 kelvin.
The maximum continuous light output is quoted at 5,750 lux at 3 feet. However, this is true when the light is set to a middle colour temperature of approximately 4,400 kelvin, where both bi-colour LEDs are at their brightest. Go to either extreme; 3,150k or 6,300k and the light output is notably reduced.
Press both red knobs on the rear simultaneously and a menu is opened up where the flash feature can be accessed. Again there is manual control over output, but I expect most users will choose the flash to gain the 250% boosted output.
Also, in that additional menu is the CinemaSFX effects, where the light panel can recreate lighting effects such as a flickering fire. These novel features may grab the interest of aspiring filmmakers.
The V-mount batteries that were used for this test are claimed to provide up to 3 hours of shooting time, which is plenty of time for a full shoot. Certainly, I didn’t come close to draining those batteries during any of the shoots that I used the batteries for. If these lights are going to be used on location, then the v-mount batteries are an essential optional extra.
Of course the advantages to LED lights over tungsten bulb lights is that LEDs do not overheat in the same way. If you’re in a cramped environment, it’s a godsend. With the lights often positioned close to my subjects, I had no concern for them becoming uncomfortable by any heat emission.
Rotolight AEOS: Performance
During the main shoot of the band I most regularly used the AEOS lights at the tungsten end of 3,150k in order to match the ambient light. As this setting the output is still reasonable with the panel positioned close to my subjects.
To give you a small idea of the level of output, with the light set to 3,150k the camera exposure settings for the group shot of four people positioned around 5 feet from the light read as f/4, 1/200sec at ISO 800.
This level of output is respectale for such a compact light panel. Also, the CRI 96 and TLCI 91 ratings are professional-grade, so no worries about off-colours there within the colour temeprature range of 3,150 to 6,300 kelvin.
As for the flash feature, its output does not come close to a dedicated flashgun. On paper a 250% boost in output sounds great, but this is of the maximum continuous output of 5750 lux, which is a mere fraction of a studio flash.
However, to its advantage, the flash does not have a recycle time so you can fire it repeatedly with no delay with a max flash sync speed is 1/8000sec. Take that, dedicated flash gun.
To me, the flash is a nice added feature rather than a genuinely useful tool. I would usually use the lights in their continuous mode to illuminate my subjects.
An AEOS light is best suited to image making when the ambient light is quite low, like a cloudy day, at nighttime or indoors. On a sunny day, the light is less useful.
Over the course of the band shoot, a couple of the guys complained about the brightness of the light panel - it being too bright for them to look at. Indeed, they did get a little red-eyed.
I could have added diffusers or reduced the light output. Also, I could have used the flash feature more, because when using flash the continuous output is dimmed between flashes.
A final note on the lights. They are circular in shape which means you get a lovely circular catch light, that is not too dissimilar to a ring flash.
Rotolight AEOS pricing
Each Rotolight panel costs £749.99 ex VAT, plus there are plenty of optional extras such as V-mount batteries (£241.66 ex VAT each).
Once you add up all these extras the setup is very expensive, but hey most LED lighting is. For more information about the Rotolight AEOS, which is also available as a two light kit with case and stands (£1583.33 ex VAT), please visit the Rotolight website.
Rotolight AEOS: Conclusion
It’s a wonderful concept; a portable light that is at home in both the studio and on location, for both videos and photography. And to a large extent, the Rotolight AEOS works.
In the hand, the unit is portable and light. You can take the light with you wherever you go and set it up really quickly and power them by mains supply or optional batteries.
Where the Rotolight AEOS shines is as a continuous LED light. The colour reproduction is flawless, the cinemaSFX effects are a nice touch and the output is nice and bright for closeup subjects.
The lights really come into their own in slightly dimmer conditions like indoors or outside during an overcast day. The 250% brighter flash output is a bonus feature, but is no way near the output of a dedicated flash unit. If the ambient light is already bright, you may struggle to see the benefit of the Rotolight AEOS.
With three lights in the range at three different size/ output points, I think the AEOS strikes a good balance. It’s portable and for the best part, powerful.
The light in itself is on the expensive side. When you factor in optional extras that are quite necessary to make the most out of the light for location work, then things get very expensive. V-Lock batteries, charger units, barn doors, yokes and so on all add up to a system that costs in the thousands.
Price aside, the Rotolight AEOS is a user-friendly and versatile light with perfectly accurate output.