Hands-on review: Zhiyun M40 portable photography light
Image credit: Zhiyun
Be more than ready for your close up.
We looked at Zhiyun's first foray into light sticks late last year when the company released its light sabre-style FR100C (already superseded by the upgraded FR100).
Where that markedly larger and brighter model is intended as a major supplementary lighting source for filming and studio photography work, this pocket-sized companion is pitched as a more personal source of light: vloggers, video calls, selfies and so forth. The M40 is more of a one-on-one light for the immediate foreground, where the FR100C can flood the surroundings with light.
While at first glance this much smaller, ostensibly less powerful little brother might seem a curious product release, the M40 undoubtedly brings its own illuminating charms to the table.
For example, its smaller form factor, adjustable 360° rotational stand and the two 1/4" tripod screw holes offers a flexible number of positional possibilities. You could, for example, physically attach this light to the hot/cold shoe of a DSLR, providing excellent and fully controllable additional lighting for taking your best portrait shots and any other reasonably close-up photography work where you want to modify the lighting.
The smaller size of the M40 also means it's easier to hold and work with if you're filming on your own, as many vloggers will be. For the typical 'talking head piece to camera' style of vlogging, TikTok-ing, YouTube-ing etc, the M40 offers more than enough light on tap for even the murkiest location.
It's also more subtle. The M40 slips easily into a day bag or coat pocket and in use is easily controlled with one hand, weighing a modest 320g. The size and form factor of the FR100C (and similar competitor products) means it almost always requires two hands or a tripod to keep the light steady and it's a very obvious object to carry around with you and set up. The M40 can be quickly pulled out for your video or photo update, then just as quickly stealthily stowed away.
These pros and cons of each product isn't a knock on either of them. It's more about Zhiyun's desire to tap into any potential new market. It's all about the niches these days. Product segmentation is essential for reaching new customers who perhaps didn't realise they needed something like the M40 until it's offered to them.
As its name suggests, the M40 has a power output of 40W and a peak illumination of 14,000 lux, compared to the FR100C's 100W and 21,195 lux. It's worth pointing out that there's no way the human eye could, or should, look directly into the searing white intensity of the FR100C at maximum brightness. The M40 has everything purposely dialled back precisely so you can use it to light up your face.
The temperature range of the M40's light covers 2700K-6500K, with a very broad and useful sweep of cool to warm white tones. You can significantly shift the skin tones of a subject and the feel of the location, for example. In terms of fidelity, the M40 registers a colour rendering index (CRI) of 96+ and a television lighting consistency index (TLCI) of 97+, according to Zhiyun's own laboratory measurements. There are no RGB colour options on the M40.
The M40 has been designed to sit well in the hand, with a raised section at the black end (where the batteries are) of its industrial styling to give your fingers something to grip, like the design of many cameras. The central section houses the cooling fans. On the other side are the alternating rows (warm, cool, warm, cool etc) of 176 LED chips which can be used together or separately, controlled by the two orange dials for precise dimming of colour temperature and brightness. It's very easy to operate and quickly find the optimal lighting for your situation, whether that's setting the right mood for a shoot, executing new creative ideas, or simply looking your best on a video call.
The M40's fans feature variable frequency cooling, utilising the company's patented 'DynaVort Cooling System' consisting of a gyroscope-modelling heat sink, multiple fans and what Zhiyun calls an "attitude-control algorithm", inherited from its gimbal designs, to prevent overheating. The fans will definitely kick in the longer you run the unit at high levels of brightness, but they are quiet.
The intensity of brightness will also be a significant factor in battery life. Zhiyun states that with non-stop operation at 10W, the 2,600mAh li-ion battery will last approximately 1h 37min. At 40W max power, it's down to around half an hour. If you like it bright, you'll be recharging the M40 a lot.
Four LED lights in between the orange dials indicate battery level and charging status, with support for 50W PD fast-charge protocol that allows real-time charging. In other words, you can continue to use the lights while the unit is charging. Suitably powerful portable power banks can be used for recharging, in lieu of mains power. The necessary USB-C cable is supplied.
Just as the FR100(C) is a great solution for any photographer or filmmaker who wants more control over the light in a large space, so the M40 fulfils the same requirement on a smaller scale. The two can also be used very effectively together, with the M40 acting as a more 'specific' targeted light source while the FR100(C) does the wider work.
For many users, whether it's for photography or videography, for portrait, livestream, still-life or other creative uses, the M40 might well offer enough. Once you've started using a light stick, big or small, it's hard to give up the degree of easy control over available light and shade they facilitate. The fact that you can easily slip the diminutive M40 into a bag or pocket means you can now carry this control with you at all times. Brilliant.
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