Light up your imagination
The Manfrotto ML360 is a 36-LED strip light with dual configuration and intensity control. This is the largest of the range – the ML120 and the ML240 have 12 and 24 LEDs respectively. The ML120 is a simple on-off light, while the ML240 has a similar dimmer control to the ML360. The ML360 takes 4xAAA batteries, and can be used with rechargeable NiMh batteries; you’ll get between 30 and 60 minutes at full power from a fresh set.
The clever little adapter that comes with the ML360, along with the two mounting points on the unit itself, allow you to mount the light on your camera’s hotshoe, on a flash stand (like the one from my Canon Speedlight you can see in the pictures), or on a normal tripod or studio light stand via the screwthread. The fact that the light unit has two mounting points allows you to mount it vertically or horizontally, and also to connect a second unit for even more light. If you added another ML360, you could even add another one to that, but you might look a little silly… Manfrotto suggest adding the smaller ML120 to the side for a total of 48 LEDs and plenty of illumination power.
The LEDs throw out 420 Lux at full power. That’s certainly bright enough to dazzle you if you turn it on while looking at it (like I did the first time!). It’s enough to brightly light a subject up to distances of 1-2 metres, and puts out a fairly narrow beam, which has the same effect as a studio flash with barn doors on it – it’s a bit like a wide spotlight. With a telephoto lens of 100mm or more (as an estimate), however, the illumination would fill the frame with the light hotshoe-mounted. At shorter focal lengths, you get a centre area of illumination using the hotshoe mount on your camera, but that could be used to great artistic effect to make your subject stand out. If you take the light off-camera using a tripod or other stand, the possibilities are only limited by your inventiveness.
I’d say where this unit is really useful is as a secondary lightsource – particularly secondary to daylight as a fill-in light. It would be ideally suited to lighting macro and still-life shoots due to its compact size and intensity-control. It would also be excellent for fill-light in daylight portrait shots – perhaps shoots with strong backlight that need a little more light on the subject’s face. The uses aren’t just limited to still photography – videographers will find the ML360 to be an excellent on-camera light source for close-to-medium distance work. The light’s colour temperature is 5600K, which is about the same as daylight and most flashguns.
The build quality is up to Manfrotto’s usual high standards. The unit is plastic, but it feels very solid. The plastic body makes it nice and light, so it won’t unbalance your camera if you hotshoe-mount it. The mounting points seem nice and strong, and should be able to take the unit being knocked without the metal adapter breaking the plastic of the body, which is a concern for me whenever you have metal and plastic components coming together at connectors.
The little LED power light on the bottom lets you know when you haven’t fully turned off the unit with the dimmer control, and that your batteries have charge. It also doubles up as a night time illuminator for the information panel on the top-right of most DSLR cameras. The orange hue of the light shouldn’t interfere too much with your night vision, and so would be an excellent tool for astrophotography on its own, without even using the unit as a light source. The unit has to be in the horizontal position on the hotshoe to use this feature.
I like the ML360 with one little reservation – the slightly short battery life would mean having to carry a spare set of batteries (or two), but they’re only AAAs, so that’s not a big problem – especially in terms of cost with NiMh ones. We therefore award the ML360 our Silver Award and recommend it as a Christmas gift for anyone needing more illumination in their life. The ML360 comes with a 2 year warranty and in the UK costs around £75.00.