4 On-Camera LEDs


Over the years, I’ve acquired quite a few LED lights. I started with the F&V Z96 which did a fine job. When I switched to a mirrorless camera, I picked up a CN-LUX360. In search for something that function for both as a flash and continuous light, I picked up the Yongnuo YN-0906 II and Manfrotto ML360H. Here’s how they stacked up.

Left to right: F&V Z96, Manfrotto ML360H, YongNuo YN-0906 II, CN-LUX360

Left to right: F&V Z96, Manfrotto ML360H, YongNuo YN-0906 II, CN-LUX360

F&V Z96

The F&V Z96 has been the tried and true light I’ve used with the Canon 5D Mark II for many years. At about $65, this light is a great value. The light contains 96 LEDs as the name implied and has a nice even spread although the color is a little cooler than the rest of the LEDs in this group. A magenta filter will probably fix that but it is not big enough of a concern to warrant doing anything about it. Included with the light are the two usual filters: diffusion and tungsten, which conveniently attach magnetically. The light attaches to the camera via a tilting shoe adapter. There are 1/4″-20 metal thread on the bottom of the shoe adapter and the light itself. You can also loosen the thread on the adapter to swivel it.

My favorite part about this light is the multiple power option. It can run on 5 AA batteries, Sony L batteries, or AC power. It does not include an AC adapter but the universal Insignia adapter from Best Buy is inexpensive and works perfectly. I like to use the AC adapter for long sit down interviews and AA batteries for run and gun shoots.

Z96's dreaded battery door any annoying yellow tabs.

Z96’s dreaded battery door and annoying yellow tabs.

The good:

  • Multiple power options.
  • Magnetic filters are very convenient.
  • Stackable design.

The bad:

  • Changing AA batteries is a bitch.
  • Green color cast.

The fuglee:

  • 5 AA batteries seems odd.

One caveat is that the battery door is difficult to open because you have to pull a tiny yellow tab while prying it open without any cut out to wedge your finger in. Once open, the batteries are tightly packed in there making it difficult to pop out. I recommend placing a ribbon (or a piece of tape folded in half) underneath the batteries so you can yank it out easily later. Lastly, why five AA batterries? Most AA battery chargers charge four at a time so this doubles the charge time. If this bothers you as much as it bugged me, you can create a dummy battery and it will run on 4 battery just fine. 

I have two Z96 as part of my light kit. They come with little plastic pieces for stacking two units vertically or you can stack them horizontally without those pieces. I will most certainly lose those little plastic pieces so I put them away and only stack them horizontally. The simply slide together but disconnect them requires pushing on two annoying yellow tabs again.

Overall, this light is amazingly versatile and paired nicely with DSLRs. Eventually I switched the a mirrorless rangefinder style camera and this became rather top heavy so the search for a more suitable on-camera light continues.

CN-LUX360

Reflective bumps between the LED.

Reflective bumps between the LED.

At a measly $15, this is the cheapest and smallest of the bunch, but surprisingly not the weakest. Although it only has 36 LEDs, between them are little reflective bumps that bounces light more evenly and reduces harsh shadows, all while running on only three AAA batteries. The light is decent but the spread is not wide enough to even cover a 50mm field of view.

Included are three filter: diffusion, tungsten, and magenta in a handy carrying case. Sadly, the filter holder on the light only has space for one filter. I guess that’s fine since layering more than one filter would probably diminish the power of this already petite light. If you need more power, the design is stackable without the need for additional hardware. 

The good:

  • Clever reflector creates great output for its size.
  • Stackable design.

The bad:

  • Filter slot only allows for one filter. 

The fuglee:

  • Unusually tall shoe adapter

The light itself does not have any threads so you have to use the included tilting adapter that has plastic shoes on both ends with a metal 1/4″-20 thread. I am not particularly fond of this design because it is unusually tall which defeats the purpose of the compact light. Due to the cold shoes on both ends, it does not swivel and cannot be swapped out for one of the many ball heads on the market.

Although this light is small, it is simply not powerful enough to for my needs so on to the next thing.

Manfrotto ML360H

Coming from photo accessory giant Manfrotto and costing a whopping $160 MSRP, I expected this the trump all lights. It did not. Despite being bigger than the CN-LUX360 and the YongNuo YN-0906 II, it only housed 36 LEDs. It is also the only light in this comparison that uses a black backing as oppose to reflective silver, which explains the unimpressive light output. There is a slot for filters but none are included.

ML360H and sync cable.

ML360H with its red backlite LED, plastic shoe and sync cable.

The highlight is the ability to use it as a continuous light and a flash via the included cord, which has 1/8″ mini phone on the light end and PC sync on the camera end. Why the different connectors I do not know. The flash function as advertised on the Canon camera outputting four times as much light (or two stops) but the output is the same as continuous light on the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera. I also tested the flash remotely by connecting an optical trigger to the PC connector and found it to be unreliable. One nicety is a red led below the bottom right corner that lights ups the controls over the camera grip.

The good:

  • Flash or continuous light.

The bad:

  • No filters included
  • Large and not particularly bright.

The fuglee:

  • Require PC sync cable, optical trigger not reliable.

Like the CN-LUX360, this light doesn’t have any threads on the unit itself, relying on a double shoes adapter. Unlike the CN-LUX360, though, it uses a low profile adapter, but lacks both tilt and swivel function. The adapter is all plastic including the 1/4″-20 thread. There is also a second shoe on the side for mounting the light vertically or attaching a second accessory. The shoe slot is narrower than usual so while the low-profile shoe adapter can fit the CN-LUX360, you cannot use the tilting adapter on the Manfrotto.

All in all, this was a mediocre light for the price. While it is somewhat usable for Canon cameras, my search continues for a small, powerful, and versatile light for my Micro Four Third camera.

Note this should not be confused with the ML360HP which includes ball head and gels.

YONGNUO YN-0906 II 

+/- buttons and hotshoe.

+/- buttons and hotshoe.

For $30, I bought YN-0906II with the 70 LED. The original only has only 54 LED so this is presumably more powerful. The light is nowhere near as bright as the Z96 and only slightly brighter than the CN-LUX360. Brightness is control with +/- buttons. A dimmer knob would be preferable because I never know where I am on the brightness scale with those buttons.

One selling point for me was the convenience of a continuous video light and flash in one. It does this with an actual hot shoe thus doing away with sync cords. On a Canon, a half press of the shutter turns on the modeling light and, like the Manfrotto, pressing the shutter all the way fires a bright flash but on Micro Four Thirds, the flash is no brighter than the continuous light. I also tested this with the same optical trigger used on the Manfrotto and it fired reliable every time.

The good:

  • Flash or continuous light.
  • Bright for its size.

The bad:

  • Power button as oppose to dimmer knob.
  • No stacking options at all.
  • No 1/4″-20 or tilt/swivel option.

The fuglee:

  • Flash output no brighter than continuous light for Micro 4/3.

Due to the built in hot shoe, there is no thread or tilt swivel options at all. There is a separate 1/4″-20 cold shoe adapter and mounting bar included for attaching to a camera via the tripod mount. 

Two magnetic filters, diffusion and tungsten, does double duties as gels and battery cover. I have mixed feelings about these filter. On one hand, you have a place to put the other filter when not in used. On the other hand, the curved edge of the filter means you cannot stack them together securely. Perhaps a manufacturer will eventually make a flat rear cover filter.

While this light is lacking in features on paper, I found this light to be compact, robust, and powerful. I will always be on a look out for a better light but in the meantime, this light found a home on my Micro Four Third camera.

Comparison Test

The photos below are out of camera jpegs, no processing, just resized for web. They are shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with a 50mm lens set at f/2.8, 1/50 second shutter speed, ISO 320, daylight balanced. There is a CFL on the opposite wall but not bright enough to produce a usable image without the LED.

The oversized knight chess piece is about the size of a head and placed three feet away from the camera, the typical distance I set up for an interview. The plant in thee background was another three feet further back.

F&V Z96 CN-LUX360
Manfrotto ML360H Continuous  YongNuo YN-0906 II Continuous
Manfrotto ML360H Flash  YongNuo YN-0906 II Flash
L
eft to right, top to bottom: F&V Z96, CN-LUX360,
Manfrotto ML360H Continuous, YongNuo YN-0906 II Continuous,
Manfrotto ML360H Flash, YongNuo YN-0906 II Flash.

Got questions about the lights? Is there another light or product you would like me to review?  Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you. 

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