The best ring lights may well be the most useful lights you ever buy. Historically, they've been exotic and expensive pieces of photographic esoterica – quirky lights for quirky magazine shoots or music videos. Today, however, they're more affordable and more useful than ever before; you're as likely to use a ring light on your smart phone or laptop as you are with your stills or video camera!
Far from the awkward fluorescent bulb units of old, LEDs have revolutionized the best ring lights and made them cheaper and more portable than ever. And while LEDs can't match the intensity of the best flashguns or the best strobes, some ring lights possess flash and High Speed Sync options that increase their output by up to 500% (with no recycle time!). So getting that soft, even illumination with sparkling catchlights in your portraits has never been easier.
And of course, LED ring lights produce continuous lighting that makes them perfect for videography. Thus they are the tool of choice for many vloggers, YouTubers and content creators – particularly those who produce the increasing number of makeup and beauty tutorials (in fact, they often make great lights just for applying makeup!).
Moreover, in the 'new normal' world, many of us are now working from home. When taking part in meetings and even attending job interviews via video conferencing apps like Zoom and Skype, ring lights turn dim makeshift office spaces into professional-looking work environments – making you look your best, rather than dialing in from what looks like a darkened closet!
So whether you're looking for beautiful portrait illumination, flawless video light, or you simply want to maintain a professional image when attending virtual meetings, there are the best ring lights around – and if you want to shoot a different kind of close-up, check out the best ringflash for macro photography.
The ESDDI PLV-R432 is a beefy 18-inch ring light that kicks out 48W of power from 432 LEDs. It's big and bright enough to work as a key light for sumptuous portraits with that unique "ring light look", producing soft illumination and circular catchlights. It's also ideal for videos and vlogs, providing useful key or fill to soften shadows and even out lighting when presenting to camera. Its sheer size makes it perfect for beauty and makeup work, too, giving you plenty of room and abundant light.
This kit includes everything you need to get going, with a 6-foot light stand and padded travel case. Prominent dials adjust brightness and temperature, and the light can even rotate 180°, making it useful for shooting flat lays or macro work. Sadly the bundled phone holder isn't terribly sturdy, and you can't mount a camera to the light – so you'll need to set up a separate tripod to use a DSLR or mirrorless body if you're filming yourself.
Okay, so the Neo 2 is technically a ring-shaped light – though for most people it will do exactly what they want it to. Since it isn't a truly donut-shaped light source, it won't achieve the same sculpted softness or circular catchlights for portraits. What it will do, however, is deliver a whopping 1,840 lux (a little lower than the claimed 2,000) at a distance of 3 feet, making it an ideal key or fill light for both stills and video (especially when it can be modified with everything from barn doors to softboxes). Powered by six AA batteries, the Neo 2 can also be powered by a mains adaptor for up to 500% more power in flash mode.
The Rotolight RL48-B Stealth was one of our favorite portable ring lights in years past, but disappeared from the market a while ago. Now it's back in an all-in-one kit, which also includes a Rotolight mini tripod, stand adapter, phone clip and accessory bar – making it the perfect partner for a tabletop smartphone setup. While this kit is geared towards phones, the RL-48 is also an ideal on-camera light for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. The Neo 2 is a bit heavy and unwieldy for the hotshoe, but this smaller model is just the right size (though this kit doesn't include a foot for the shoe), and the hole in the middle is perfect to poke a microphone through!
If bigger is better then Neewer's 20-inch option is the way to go! While it's the largest ring light on offer here, with 44W of dimmable output from 352 LEDs, it doesn't have quite as much power or temperature range as ESDDI's 18-inch 48W model. However, larger light sources are softer – and the Neewer offers the option of battery power in addition to mains, compatible with the versatile NP-F550 / F970 family (two batteries and a charger are included, though you'll lose about 10W of output compared to mains power). Also bundled are a 6'5" light stand, ball head adapter and vertical / horizontal phone holder, wireless remote and carry case. If you're looking for a true ring light with the largest light spread and wire-free shooting, you've found it.
If the Rotolight Ultimate Vlogging Kit is too pricey, then this tabletop equivalent from ESDDI is a pocket-friendly alternative. Just bear in mind, though, that while it's much less expensive, it's also much less powerful, at just 10W output compared to the equivalent 80W of the Rotolight RL48. That said, it's more powerful than the similar 10-inch model from Neewer (which produces 8W of power), and while not dimmable it has three levels of brightness. The ESDDI 10-inch ring light is Ideal for smartphone shooters, with a two-way grip that holds your handset both horizontally and vertically, along with a Bluetooth remote for stills and video. And since it's USB-powered, you can run it from a power bank and use it anywhere.
Sometimes you only need a little light – and sometimes, you need a literally little light that you can throw in your laptop bag or handbag for when you need illumination on the move. This is where the handy Xinbaohong Clip-On Selfie Light comes into play – a brilliant mini ring light that clips onto anything 18mm or thinner. That means you can attach it to your phone for perfect selfies in a nightclub, or put it on your laptop to give you a key light when you're working on the road and need to dial in from a hotel room or coffee shop. Stick it on your tablet, your monitor, even clip it into the sun visor to give you better light in your car – it's so cheap that you should definitely get one to keep in your bag!
More buying guides:
The best LED light panels: portable lighting for photography and video
Best video lights: continuous video lighting for vlogging and filmmaking
The best photography lighting kits: for studio, location and video
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