LED photography lights — why use them? Well, for one thing, they’re cost effective, can be easily controlled, and they really don’t give off much heat. Depending on your shooting situation, they’re often a photographer and videographer’s first choice. But how do you know which one to choose? Whether you’re a pro in the studio looking for studio LED panels, or a hobbyist looking for something to attach to your smartphone — whoever you are and whatever your budget, we got you covered. Let’s jump into our pick for the best LED photography lights available today.
LED Photography Lights
Why choose LED?
First things first. When we look at the alternative to LED, we have incandescent, most commonly tungsten lights. While they’re classic and can produce beautiful light, they have their shortcomings.
LED Lights Won’t Overheat the Room
Tungstens can heat up your entire environment. LEDs stay cool. For other reasons, LEDs are best to use inside, and the fact that LEDs will not overheat your space is important. This isn’t just for you and your working conditions, but think of your subjects, their make-up, etc.
LED lights make it easier to control and dim the light as you wish. You can easily adjust the brightness compared to the alternative.
Easier on the Environment
While some LED lights are expensive, they actually can convert energy at a way higher rate than incandescent bulbs. They use more than 75% less energy than their alternative. The diode light inside is more efficient than filament lights. Of course, the best and more professional grade LED lights can come at a higher cost upfront, but over time, you are cutting cost here in a power and efficiency sense, and this is something to consider.
Cons of LED
They have what’s called “blue light emission” similarly to your laptop or smartphone — it makes it harder to sleep and of course, has some negative long-term effects we won’t get into here. Though even with this blue light emission factor, you’re likely not staring into your LED lights as you would your iPhone, so not a deal breaker here.
Not to mention, they also make fairly attractive blue blocking glasses that you can buy at pretty reasonable prices. Other more obvious cons are the higher upfront costs, and colder looking illumination, rather than a warm tungsten light. That being said, LED lights are extremely popular for their efficiency, portability, and strength.
We’ll be looking at hotshoe LED panels, studio panels, and smartphone lights. Let’s start with our favorite hotshoes (for beginners, these are simply the ones that attach to the top of your camera). Let’s go!
Hotshoe LED Lights
Rotolight NEO 2 ($239)
Rotolight NEO 2 changes the game. Instead of being an LED strobe that can also yield continuous light, it actually is a full-on continuous light source, that has strobing at a strong power output — something incredibly helpful for early photographers and videographers. Continuous is always great for newer photographers because you can see your shot before hitting the shutter. Also, obviously more helpful for those shooting video and need continuous lighting.
The Rotolight NEO 2 has continuous light power of 2000 lux at 3 feet and a strobe power of F8, ISO 200 at 3 feet. It has battery or AC power and has a unique ability to control the color temperatures without the use of gels.
A negative — the brightness drops down to 1,100 lumens at each of the ends of the 3,150 to 6,300K temperature range.
If you can swing the budget, number one hotshoe option.
Portable Hotshoe LED Panels
The R18 packs power and portability! Made from durable aluminum alloy, this LED photography light has a rated power of 10w but can achieve 13w with boost mode. It’s color temperature is from 3200k to 5600k and comes with a built-in lithium battery that can last for up to one and a half hours continuous at 5600k. It has a single input and output USB-C and it can also be used for recharging other devices apart from the light itself.
It boasts three modes with nine lighting effect simulations. These include computer/tv monitor screen, slow speed and high speed color ranges, lightning mode, etc.
Budget Hotshoe LED Lights
VILTROX L116T RA CRI95 ($36)
We’re a fan of this one, especially for those on a budget. It’s lightweight and easy to take anywhere but its capabilities really speak for themselves. It’s a cinch to adjust the brightness and temperature, and the design makes it easy to move between 3300k and 5600k.
The brightness bar can slide between 20 and 100%. Another perk is that you don’t need to wonder about your brightness, battery power, or color temp — it has an LCD screen on the back that displays all of the info you need.
One of the best parts about this LED photography light is that it produces such warm light, and for its size and price, it really goes a long way.
If you’re just starting out, a must-have for your tool belt.
Affordable LED Lights
Neewer 176 LED Panel ($24)
This one makes the list for the price alone. At 20 bucks, it’s not professional grade, but it will absolutely get the job done.
It’s compact and lightweight and works as a great fill light or if you’re doing some simple recording and need just a little brightness burst. The color temperature stays fixed at 5600k.
You can use the filters that come along with it if you need to soften the light. A solid option if your budget is tight and just need to give your scene a little lift.
Studio LED Lights
Aputure Light Storm 1S ($695)
This is a top of the line, professional grade LED light that is more affordable than many of the comparable lights available. Even though almost 700 may not seem it. For pros in the studio, this light comes equipped with over 1500 LEDs, and manufacturers claim the bulbs can last about 100,000 hours of illumination. Incredible.
While it’s a more robust and albeit super heavy piece of equipment, it is all you need for professional production. It’s dimmable from 10% to 100% and might quickly become your go-to LED studio light panel.
Studio LED Panels
Rotolight AEOS ($615)
Another awesome choice for high quality and professional studio lighting. The maximum output is a whopping 5750 lux at 3 ft with an LED color temperature range from 3150k to 6300k. There is also a back display with adjustable dials allowing you to see and change your settings with ease.
It includes a High Speed Sync flash mode that doubles the power of the mac max light output. Compared to the last light (Aputure), this one is significantly more portable as it's fairly lightweight. It uses mains as a power source but you can purchase a rechargeable battery for extra cash.
Studio LED Lighting
This trusted brand brings you a solid option for a studio kit at an affordable price. These dimmable LEDs have a color temperature range from 2700k to 5500k. You can change the brightness easily with the adjustable dials.
If you’re trying to nail portrait lighting setups this is a great option. Because of the white diffuser, skin tone is enhanced and it’s a real gem for portrait photographers.
This kit comes with an adjustable lamp stand, with a 3-leg design keeping it super stable.
Smartphone LED Lights
Lume Cube ($69-$299)
This is our favorite LED smartphone light in that it shares the compact, easy-to-travel-with component compared to its alternatives, but has a robust build that can be roughed up without a problem.
It’s waterproof and can be wirelessly handled via Bluetooth. It also has a variety of models, based on your needs.
There are quite a few versions of this with the LumeCube 2.0 ($89) and now the latest, LumeCube Panel Mini ($69), which is perfect for all of your poor-lit Zoom meetings.
The Panel Mini can attach to your laptop, smartphone, camera (with an additional adapter), and is an incredible pick for on-the-go and reliable lighting. While it may only send out 550 lux at about 2 feet, if you’re using it for Zoom calls, YouTube Reviews, or anything close enough, it is more than enough, especially at that price.
The Panel Pro (at $299) packs a punch with 263 LEDs, pushing out 1500 lux. This is by far the best in LumeCube’s lineup.
Let’s get back to the 2.0. This could also fall under the “hotshoe” section above, but it can also attach to your smartphone.
The 2.0 version boasts a few differences from its previous versions. One being that the sensor is now at the top rather than in front of the light — here it’s much easier to trigger it from a variety of angles. The new 80 degree beam angle lens provides a clean look with no hotspots. There is also a new secret Low Light Mode for long exposure photography.
The only downside is that the clip to attach it costs extra, and because of its size there aren’t many controls on the light. The light output is only 150 lux but that’s from about 10 feet.
This can be put atop your cameras, smartphone devices, or drones.
Overall, for a smartphone option, it’s one of the best.
The R12 delivers an impressive bicolor glow that makes it fairly easy to properly match with other footage or changing lighting. It’s super compact and comes with an OLED screen to select settings.
It can be easily integrated into any setup you have as it includes a cold shoe to put on top of other devices apart from smartphones.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, the R18 packs a bit more of a punch with its brightness settings and built-in power bank. Its color temperature is 3200-5600k with adjustable brightness from 5% to 100%.
Smartphone LED Lights
For the tiny size and (tiny) price, the Manfrotto boasts a mighty 550 lux. There are plenty of filters for further customization — ensuring more control of our light. It has only four brightness options but you’ll still get some beautiful illumination for the price point.
Best softbox lights for photo
Hopefully you’ve made a decision on which light is best for you and your work. But maybe you need something beyond LED lights. In the next post, we’ll provide the best options when it comes to softbox lights, including prices and capabilities for all budget levels.