Let me preface this article by saying this post is not sponsored by Aputure or Ulanzi, both lights were paid for by myself and this is just my personal opinion on the best budget LED light for video. I love both of these lights, I own them both and they come with me on most of the work I do. They are a no-brainer to just have in my back pocket or in my bag, as they are both tiny and take up almost no space. They can be used for quite a lot of applications including macro shots or gimbal work and both lights are excellent tools as close up fill or hair lights.
Both lights have a nice compact, solid form factor with a built-in battery and a charging port on the side with power and brightness options. The Ulanzi CardLite is built on the same footprint of the Aputure AL-M9 with both lights being 87mm x 56mm in size. Although the noticeable difference is the Ulanzi CardLite is larger in depth making it a little more bulky.
Both of these lights are very light, portable and easy to store. The Aputure light AL-M9 weighs only 140 grams while the slightly larger Ulanazi CardLite weighs 159 grams. That extra 12% in weight is down to it having a bigger battery and more LEDs to power. But at this size the extra 12% is a minimal additional difference at only 19 grams (about half the weight of a lightbulb).
The Aputure AL-M9 light has 9 led lights, while the Ulanzi CardLite version has 12 and both have 9 step options to increase and decrease the brightness levels. The Ulanzi CardLite kicks out 820 lumens while the smaller Aputure light is actually more powerful producing an impressive 900 lumens.
The Aputure light AL-M9 has an 1800mAh battery that lasts 105 minutes at full power. The battery in the Ulanazi CardLite is slightly bigger at 2000mAh and can last up to 90 minutes at full brightness. Both lights have built-in rechargeable batteries that are charged through a Micro USB cable and can last up to an impressive 13 hours at the minimum brightness. USB charging is really useful because it allows you to charge your lights on the go with a power bank.
Gels and filters
Both lights have magnetic mounting points on the front of the light and a standard solid diffusion filter attached. The Aputure AL-M9 also comes with a warming and cooling gel filter, as well as a diffusion sheet. These are essentially just paper gels though and get creased very easily. The Ulanzi CardLite comes with a solid magnetic warming filter and a whole set of 12 coloured gels (also paper style) that can also be used for speed lights, which make them quite versatile.
The Ulanzi CardLite comes with a felt pouch, so you can store the gels and light without losing them. It doesn’t offer much protection, it is more just a place to keep all of the bits in one place. The Aputure, on the other hand, comes with a nice padded zip case that has room for the light, mounting bracket, gels and even a little room for some extra things.
The Aputure AL-M9 light has no built-in mounting points but is supplied with a mounting bracket. The bracket has pros and cons, its another piece to carry around which is annoying, but it does give you the option to mount it horizontally or vertically. An annoyance for me is that once the light is mounted you can’t change the filters or gels without removing it from the mount.
The larger depth of the Ulanzi CardLite allows for a tripod thread to be built into the bottom. Although a small tripod arm or ball head will allow for vertical positioning. Both have options to mount as a cold shoe and a 1/4’’ thread for tripod mounting. The Aputure does come out slightly on top here with the additional option to mount it into thread, so into a cage or similar. Again, this could be easily modified on the Ulanzi light with a cheap adapter.
I cannot fully comment on this as I have only owned both lights for less than a year, but both still charge well and never cut out when I am using them. You will likely have a better returns experience with the Apurture light, should it come to that. There are of course times where you will receive a defective unit or it will get damaged in transit. But this will always be covered by the company you purchase through.
Price and where you can buy them
The Aputure M9 can be picked up for around £45 ($50) while the Ulanzi can be found for under £20 ($25). Below is a link to the lights and to some other little accessories you may find helpful when trying to setup your scene
Which one is the best budget LED light for video?
I would say that if you have the extra money and the coloured gels are not really something that you will use, then the Aputure light is probably the best option for you due to the fact that its smaller and more powerful. But the Ulanzi CardLite, although slightly bulkier and less powerful is a brilliant option for half the price and comes with some nice little extras. If you are just starting out and need a few lights on a tight budget, then the Ulanzi CardLite is a good option.
Please note: The links in this article are affiliate links, you will not pay any extra for the product but I get a small commission for each sale. This allows me to create more content and buy more products to test out.