Looking for the best lightbox? Then you are in the right place. Many keen photographers of several years will have shoeboxes full of slides and negatives – and some still be shooting with film cameras. Enter the useful tool of the lightbox or light panel – providing a clear and convenient view of what we’ve shot without having to hold a negative or slide up to the window and squint to see what’s on it. Or, indeed, without first needing to digitize our shots using a dedicated film scanner.
Additionally, lightboxes can be used as an additional artificial light source when taking images in the first place. Especially for food photography, or other still life photography set ups.
Lightboxes shouldn't be confused with light tents – which is typically a pop-up device that surrounds a subject to diffuse the light (and which is also used widely for shooting jewellery, food and still lifes). See our separate guide to the best light tents.
While at one time a lightbox was probably only something that a dedicated enthusiast or pro photographer might have invested in – the rest of us making do with a hand held viewer, if we had an extra light source at all – there are currently a plethora of affordable examples of lightboxes to illuminate our creativity that won’t break the bank.
As well as an aid to viewing transparencies, lightboxes can prove useful for artists and illustrators who want to trace or draw – helping illuminate the outline of the subject that’s being reproduced by hand. And, interestingly, lightboxes are even be deployed to help alleviate the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
When choosing a lightbox your typical considerations will be size, weight and portability, as well as brightness, and, of course your budget in the first place. If you want to take it out and about with you, you might also like to look at a unit that can be powered via USB, not just regular mains.
Given all the above reasons why someone might be seeking out the versatility of a lightbox, let’s take a look at a selection of the best lightboxes for photography you can currently buy…
Kaiser, a well-known photo accessory brand for film users, is offering this sleek-looking higher-end unit, for sorting out and reviewing slides and transparencies, measuring 19.6x13.8-inches and capable of being conveniently powered either by the mains or battery. With touch on/off control, adjustable brightness dimming plus USB connectivity, the screen surround also features a scale provided in centimetres and inches. For those who want to work remotely, the built in battery will last for up to 1.5 hours at full power – which can be eked out further if the screen is dimmed. At just 8mm ‘thick’ the screen also boasts a very slim pancake-like profile, while the 16.9x12.2-inch landscape format viewing area avoids having to cramp your transparencies when viewing several at a time. Recommended.
A less familiar brand perhaps, but certainly one delivering a lot of bang for our buck. The proposition here is an illuminated 14.17-inches long frame that’s 10 inches wide to enable both the viewing of images and the tracing of artwork. The ‘active’ illuminated area of the box/pad is a very useable 12.6 x 9 inches (so basically A4) and, as with others here, the brightness is dimmable via the holding down of its on/off button. It also ‘remembers’ the brightness it was set to when last used – so you don’t have to make personal adjustments every time. Suggesting that the pad provides the potential for 24-hour usage, its lifespan is put at 50,000 hours. Measuring a very slender 0.4cm in depth, this solution is also one of the lighter weight options at just 599g, potentially doubling as an additional light source for your photo shoots, if required.
Being a larger than average light box at 12-inches by 17-inches housed within an attractive aluminium frame with chrome steel corners does push not only the weight but also the price of the aptly named Artograph above some competitors. Yet luckily, however, this LED lamp festooned light source comes in a variety of additional sizes to suit a variety of budgets, with the one we’ve selected allowing for an A3 sheet to be placed on it, for anyone into the art of illustration, not just the viewing of transparencies. Being an LED device, not only is it permanently cool to the tough – it also casts an even light, with brightness variable from 1000 to 5000 lux. The Artograph comes with a mains adapter, protective storage sleeve and also the relative peace of mind of a one-year warranty. Illuminating!
With a 9x12-inch illuminated area this fuss free, budget priced light pad utilising a Mitsubishi acrylic panel that measures 14.2x10.6x0.2-inches overall, comes surrounded by a classic black frame. Like the others here, the ultra slim unit provides the ability to dim the maximum 4000 Lux brightness as designed by simply pressing down on its power button for a few seconds. Thanks to a provided two-metre USB cable it can be conveniently charged or powered via a laptop, USB enabled mains plug or portable charger, thereby enabling the six-watt device to be taken everywhere and anywhere, suggests its manufacturer. In addition to the above, the unit was coming up very keenly priced indeed in our online searches at the time of writing, though a mains plug (if required) will cost you extra.
With prices varying wildly between continents and a couple of iterations available, you’ll want to shop around before plumping for this sturdily built classic lightbox that makes up in solidity what it perhaps lacks in portability. Resembling something you’d find in a laboratory, or pro studio, the stainless steel framed beast is LED powered with a claimed life of up to 50,000 hours and is said to be eco friendly. Made in the USA, it further provides both an even light source across its 10x12-inch plexi glass surface and what it boasts is excellent color rendering, thanks to the use of white LED with a neutral color temperature. A provided adjustable metal stand even lets the device be angled if necessary for greater convenience and easier viewing, while a three-year warranty is provided for extra peace of mind.
This dedicated daylight color balanced solution from Dörr for viewing slides and negative film measures 38x38cm with an illuminated acrylic panel size of 34cm by 34cm – so, just slightly longer than a conventional school ruler. The device utilizes energy saving LEDs – the advantage being that this is a constant and consistent light source that never gets warm to the touch. Once again the unit is dimmable to avoid eye strain, via a press and hold of the on/off button. Like its competitors this 14.4 watt light box is also very slim at just 0.8cm thick, while, in weighing 1.12Kg in total, it feels neither flimsy nor prohibitively weighty. Incidentally, this offering sits between two other available lightbox sizes from Dorr at either a smaller 20x20cm or a larger 60x60cm. Pay your money and make your choice.
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