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The best LED light panels in 2020: portable lighting for photography and video

best LED light panels in 2020

The best LED light panels are an excellent way to transform the look of your shoots, whether you're shooting stills or video. Sometimes, a burst of light is exactly what you need to give your content that unmistakable touch of professionalism.

What are LED panels? Put simply, they're a camera accessory designed to give you a constant source of illumination, unlike flashguns which provide light in a brief, intense burst. LED panels tend to offer different brightness and color temperature options, allowing the user to set a very precise quality of light for the look of their shot and the ambient lighting conditions.

There are a few types of LED panels, and which one is best for you will depend on what the rest of your setup looks like. If you're shooting quite straightforwardly on a single DSLR or mirrorless camera or something like that, then the best choice is a simple hotshoe-mounted LED light. This will give you a nice blend of lighting power and portability/convenience. However, if you're working in the studio then it's worth picking up professional panels, which will give you much more lighting power at the cost of extra weight and a greater financial outlay. There are also some fantastic LED panels that are designed for smartphone shooters, and if you're finding yourself producing professional content on an iPhone 11 Max or similar, then picking up one of these can make a real, tangible difference to your output.

So, if you're considering adding an LED panel to your setup, it's worth weighing them up before taking the plunge. We've put together this guide to give you some hep, featuring a range of different types of panels at different price points, so you should be able to find something that fits your needs and your budget.

The best LED light panels in 2020

Hotshoe LED panels

These LED lights mount to your camera's hot shoe where you'd otherwise attach a flashgun. They're ideal for on-the-go shoots where portability is paramount.

1. Rotolight NEO 2

Rotolight's second-generation NEO model is a genuine gamechanger

Color temperature: 3150-6300K | Lux (at 1m): 1840 | Power source: 6x AA batteries, D-Tap port, AC adapter | Dimensions: 150x45mm | Weight: 1,293g (boxed)

Simple but powerful controls
Customisable effects
Brightness drops at some settings
Pricey

The Rotolight NEO 2 is rated for a whopping 2,000 lux maximum brightness at three feet (91.5cm). We couldn’t quite match this, measuring a peak 1,840 lux at 4,000K, but that’s still noticeably brighter than most competitors. Brightness does drop to around 1,100 lumens at each end of the 3,150-6,300K temperature range, but this is the only issue we found. The dual control dials adjust a plethora of easy-to-set options. Six AA batteries sustain 90 minutes of full-power continuous illumination, or there’s a mains input. You can even use the NEO 2 as a flash, with up to 500% more brightness than in continuous mode.

(Image credit: Neewer)

2. Neewer 176 LED Panel

Working on a tight budget? This LED panel is a solid pick

Color temperature: 5600K | Lux (at 1m): 1320 | Power source: DC / Li-ion battery | Dimensions: 145x100mm | Weight: 320g (boxed)

Extremely affordable
Bright, powerful light
Fixed colour temperature
Batteries/power supply not included

At a price like this, you aren't going to get professional studio quality. That's a given. So let's talk about what the Neewer 176 LED Panel does give you, which is, as it turns out, rather a lot for the money. It's a tidy, powerful little light that can easily be mounted on a camera's hotshoe or a tripod, giving you a decent burst of brightness that works perfectly as a fill light or for a quick-and-dirty video light. Colour temperature is fixed at 5600K daylight, though the unit does come with a couple of filters to soften the light if that's your thing. The build does feel a little plasticky and cheap, and it's worth noting that the price as advertised is not strictly accurate, as you'll need to pay extra for the not-included batteries or DC power supply. Still, that total outlay is going to be considerably list than you'd spend on most comparable units. The bottom line is: it works, and works well. What more do you need?

3. Manfrotto Croma2

Smartly designed unit with a decent light spread

Color temperature: 3300-5600K | Lux (at 1m): 900 | Power source: 6x AA batteries, Li-ion L-Type | Dimensions: 440x108x170mm | Weight: 300g

Adjustable colour temperature
Good light spread
Dials lack scale markings
Quite pricey

The Manfrotto Croma2 offers adjustable colour temperature, which can fluidly transition from 3,300 to 5,600K. Both temperature and power are adjusted with simple dials with no scale markings, so repeating the same settings from shoot to shoot is difficult without a light meter. We recorded light power figures of 750 lux at 3,300k and 900 lux at 5,600K. With both sets of blue and yellow LEDs active at 4,550K, brightness peaks at 1060 lux. Despite a quoted 50º beam angle seeming slightly narrow, real-world use demonstrates a decent light spread. Power can come from the mains, or through two battery options.

Smartphone lights

Phone shooters shouldn't neglect their lighting either! Just because you're using a small, handheld device, that doesn't mean you can't benefit from a small, portable LED light to give you a little extra illumination when you need it. Many are also designed specifically to clip onto a smartphone, so will slot in perfectly to your light, portable setup.

(Image credit: Lume Cube)

4. Lume Cube

Shuns the traditional concept of an LED panel

Color temperature: 6000K | Lux (at 1m): 580 | Power source: Lithium-ion battery | Dimensions: 102x102x165mm | Weight: 322g

Compact and rugged
Bluetooth connectivity
Narrow beam angle
Smartphone clip costs extra

It may be small, but the Lume Cube is tough. The mostly metal shell feels very solid and able to shrug off plenty of abuse, and it’s waterproof down to 30m. There isn’t much room for controls though, with only one button to turn the light on and cycle through 10 brightness settings. Fortunately, the Lume Cube can be wirelessly controlled by your smartphone via Bluetooth, making it an excellent choice for smartphone shooting, aided by the clip that allows you to easily attach it. Somehow a rechargeable (but inaccessible) battery has been crammed inside, giving two hours runtime at 50% brightness. Light output is quoted at only 150 lux, but that’s from three metres. We recorded a respectable 580 lux at the more typical one-metre measuring distance.

(Image credit: Aputure)

5. Aputure MC RGBWW LED Light

Extraordinarily tiny, this impressive light suits a slim smartphone setup

Color temperature: 3200-6500K | Lux (at 1m): 100 | Power source: Internal battery (charges via USB-C) | Dimensions: 93x61mm | Weight: 130g

Credit card-sized
Controllable via app
Lacking brightness
No phone mount

A light so tiny it can fit in your wallet (literally: it's about the dimensions of a credit card, and not that much thicker), the Aputure MC RGBWW LED Light perfectly suits a lightweight, smartphone-based shooting setup. Whether you're using your phone for videos or stills, the Aputure MC RGBWW is a great way to give a little burst of light when you need it, with adjustable colour temperature and full output control via the Sidus Link Control App. While it doesn't come with a bespoke smartphone mount, the small size gives you not shortage of setup options, especially if you're willing to get a little creative.

(Image credit: Manfrotto)

6. Manfrotto Lumimuse 8

Now cheaper than at launch, this tiny light is quite something

Color temperature: 5600K | Lux (at 1m): 550 | Power source: Lithium-ion battery | Dimensions: 115x71x21mm | Weight: 175g (with battery)

Eight LED lights
Charges via USB
Can be customised with filters
Limited brightness control

The Manfrotto Lumimuse 8 is just the thing to do a good job in a tiny space, clipping easily onto your smartphone to provide a pretty impressive 550 lux of illumination. It also allows for further customisation through the attachment of filters (sold separately), meaning that you can further harness and control the quality of your light. With only four discrete brightness settings it's not exactly a precision tool, but it'll give you a powerful kick of illumination when you need it, and thanks to its USB charging port, you can keep it gassed up and ready to go throughout an entire day's shoot. 

(Image credit: Joby)

7. Joby Beamo

Shuns the traditional concept of an LED panel

Color temperature: 5100K | Lux (at 1m): 470 | Power source: Built-in lithium-ion battery | Dimensions: 39x51x51mm | Weight: 110g

Rugged waterproof design
Magnetic mounting
Maximum 1,000 lumen brightness is limiting
40 minutes battery life

Need to brighten any scene in the great outdoors? Designed to be dropped, bumped and even take 30m underwater is Beamo Mini, a compact LED light that’s ideal for vloggers using a smartphone. Charging over USB-C, it reaches 1,000 lumens in five steps – a maximum brightness it can hold for 40 minutes – and comes with a diffuser for softer skin tones. As well as a magnetic back it has two cold shoe mounts and a universal 1/4-inch tripod thread, and can be controlled from afar via Bluetooth and the myJOBY app

Studio panels

Need something with a bit more power? Here we've got larger LED panels designed to be mounted on a light stand or tripod. They're great for shoots like portraiture, or for lighting actors in stationary scenes, and for interviews.

8. Rotolight AEOS

Uncompromising quality and a superb choice for continuous studio lighting

Colour temperature: 3150-6300K | Max power: 5750 lux at 3 feet | Power source: mains, optional V-mount battery | Dimensions: 29.5 x 29.5 x 2cm | Weight: 1.4kg

Super-soft light quality
Easily portable
Extra features and filters
Not cheap
Optional battery useful but costly

Think of the AEOS as the big brother to Rotolight’s compact hot-shoe mountable NEO 2 LED light. The AEOS is designed to be mounted to a light stand for studio use, but it also features a pair of sturdy metal handles if you’re lucky enough to have an assistant to hold it - and at just 1.4kg and a compact 30cm diameter, that’s a genuine option.

Max power output is a literally eye-watering 5750 lux at 3ft, and the LED colour temperature is steplessly adjustable from a warm 3150K through to a daylight-balanced 6300K. Rotolight’s emphasis on quality continues with a high colour rendering index of over 96. An easy to read rear display shows the current light intensity and temperature, both adjustable by dedicated control dials.

Push these and you reveal the AEOS’s extra features. They include a High Speed Sync flash mode with double the power of the maximum continuous light output, and special effects to emulate flickering fire and emergency vehicle lighting.

Mains power is the standard juice, but you can go off-grid with a rechargeable power pack capable of a 3-hour runtime, albeit for an extra £275/$300.

(Image credit: Aputure)

9. Aputure Light Storm 1S

Rated to last for untold hours, this could easily become your go-to light

Colour temperature: 3200-5500K | Lux (at 1m): 10,500 | Power source: V-mount batteries | Dimensions: 377.8x320.7mm | Weight: 5,420g (boxed)

Extremely long-lasting
Super-bright
Frame can get hot
On the heavy side

Not only does the Aputure Light Storm 1S come equipped with a whopping 1,536 LEDs, the makers also say that the bulbs can last for up to 100,000 hours of constant illumination. If you're planning on making heavy use of your LED panel, that is tough to argue with! The panel is a little on the heavy side, but also feels robust and well-made, ideal for the rigours of professional production. The lamp is dimmable from 10% to 100%, and at full output it really does pack a punch. It's more affordable than many comparable professional lights, which is an added incentive for a thoroughly well-specced LED.

10. Litepanels Astra 6X Bi-Color

It’s the money-no-object choice, but other panels give more bang per buck

Color temperature: 3200-5600K | Max power: 6330 lux at 1.5 metres | Power source: mains, optional Gold Mount or V-mount batteries | Dimensions: 45 x 41 x 13.5cm | Weight: 3.2kg

Stunning light power
Very high CRI
Pro build quality
A serious investment
Bulky & heavy
Overkill for most amateurs

Litepanels has a reputation for producing quality kit aimed at semi-pro videographers, and the Astra 6X panel certainly feels like a quality product. At 3.2kg it’s designed solely for stationary light stand mounting, but the aluminum yoke cradle is very tough, as is the XLR power input connection, plus there’s a quiet cooling fan to ensure the longevity of the electronics and 256 individual LEDs.

These are guaranteed to be flicker free regardless of the frame rate at which you record, and they can be fluidly adjusted in colour temperature from tungsten through to daylight. The panel manages an impressive minimum colour rendering index of 95 at the tungsten end, rising to an incredibly accurate 98 when outputting daylight-balanced illumination. Outright power is also formidable, as the Astra 6X manages a huge 6330 lux at a distance of 5 feet, and it’s steplessly adjustable down to 0% with no colour shift.

The AC adaptor is neatly integrated into the yoke, and optional adaptor plates are available for attaching a Gold Mount or V-mount power pack.

Read more: 

The best photography lighting kits for home studio or location photography
The 50 best camera accessories
Best video lights