The best LED light panels in 2018

Unlike flashguns that provide short bursts of light, LED panels deliver a constant source of illumination, often with various extra options. 

You may be considering adding a panel to your setup but want to weigh them up before taking the plunge. With that in mind, we've had a look at six current models to see which offers the best value for money.

Spoiler alert

It may be the baby of Rotolight's range but with variable colour temperature range, high power and its extra features the NEO 2 is our winner.

Check out the competition below.

1. Rotolight NEO 2

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

Colour 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 drop at 
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.

2. NanGuang CNLUX1600C

At this price, is this panel too good to be true or an absolute bargain?

Colour temperature: 5600-3200K | Lux (at 1m): 1005 | Power source: 6x AA batteries, L-type li-ion, AC mains | Dimensions: 141x95x40mm | Weight: 175g

Varied power options
High maximum output
Fiddly controls
No low battery shut-off

NanGuang’s offering is power rated at a potent maximum 1,600 lux, and it’s also colour adjustable, with a 3,200-5,400K range. Two dials set light power and colour temperature, with one dial controlling the power of the 3,200K LEDs and the other operating the 5,400K diodes. To get a colour temperature in between, you’ll need to balance both dials, which can be fiddly. Crank both to the max and the LEDs give a 4,100K combined output, which we measured at a blinding 1,720 lux, though this does drop to 950 lux with only the 5,400K LEDs active, and 826 lux at 3,200K. Light spread is average, matching the Metz’s 420 lux reading at 30 degrees, but falling off beyond that.

3. Metz Mecalight L1000 BC

Features include built-in Bluetooth

Colour temperature: 2800-5700K | Lux (at 1m): 1000 | Power source: 6x AA NiMh, L-Type Li-Ion, Micro-USB | Dimensions: 154x100x460mm | Weight: 245g

Consistently high output
Built-in Bluetooth
Basic temperature readout
Bulky AA battery holder

Metz engineers have tuned the Mecalight L1000 BC to output a consistently high 1,000 lux brightness at one metre from 2,800K through to 5,700K. And it works: we measured a constant 1,180 lux across the temperature range, and an impressive 420 lux at around 30 degrees off-centre. Given this attention to detail, and the presence of a small OLED display on the rear panel, it’s a pity the colour temperature readout is very basic and not quoted in Kelvins. Like the Croma2 (below), power can come from an L-type li-ion cell or 6 AA batteries, but the latter are inserted into a bulky – if waterproof – holder that sticks out from the back of the panel.

Read more: How to make your own lightbox for next to nothing

4. Manfrotto Croma2

Smartly designed unit with a decent light spread

Colour 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.

5. Lume Cube

Shuns the traditional concept of an LED panel

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

Compact and rugged
Bluetooth connectivity
Narrow beam angle
Yellow colour temperature

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. 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.

6. Kaiser SmartCluster Midi

Comfortably smaller and lighter than most competitors

Colour temperature: 5800K | Lux (at 1m): 190 | Power source: Lithium-ion battery | Dimensions: 115x71x21mm | Weight: 135g (with battery)

Small and light
Attractive light quality
Lacks power
Restricted to close use

Rather than using bulky AA batteries, the Kaiser SmartCluster Midi is powered by a compact, non-proprietary 1,800mAh li-ion battery that’s good for 90 minutes of full-power illumination. The battery is included, as is a basic hotshoe swivel mount, along with warming and diffusion filters. With a lighting power of just 190 lux at 1 metre, illumination is noticeably dimmer than the opposition. Power may be lacking, but the light quality is attractive, with a measured 5,700K temperature being very close to spec and looking pleasingly neutral. If you only need to light close subjects, or are willing to shoot at higher sensitivities to compensate for its low power, the SmartCluster works well.

Read more: The 37 best photography accessories in 2018