For controlling your light, you can't beat the best LED light panels. If you're a stills photographer, having something more consistent than flash is a great way to be able to continually fine-tune the quality of your lighting. In video, meanwhile, LED panels are basically essential, as you're always going to need some illumination and obviously can't get by with flash. Whether you're trying to lift some shadows, add a colour-balanced key light or even create dynamic effects, the best LED light panels are the way to do it.
LED light panels differ from the best flashguns or strobes in the simple sense that they provide constant illumination rather than a quick burst. This makes it easier to adjust the quality of your lighting in real time, as you'll always be able to see what you're getting. There are quite a few different types of LED panels, so it's worth being aware of what's out there so you can find the right one for you.
Hotshoe LED panels are the smallest and simplest; they literally mount onto your camera's hotshoe the same way a flashgun would. This is good for straightforward, mobile setup, and the fact that they can be dismounted and used off-camera just like a flashgun gives you a good amount of flexibility, too. They're a great choice if you're working with a simple DSLR or mirrorless camera setup.
There are also plenty of excellent LED panels designed for smartphone shooters! Many content creators are relying wholesale on their smartphones to produce images and video, and lots of them rely on smartphone LED lights to improve their output.
However, for those working in the studio or planning more ambitious location shots, only the power of a full size panel will get the job done. The price and size of these types of units will vary, so it's best to weigh up what you need in order to figure out how much you need to spend.
We've included two Rotolight panels – the AEOS and the Titan X1, which we've just reviewed, as examples. These are considered by many to be the professional standard, but there are solid cheaper alternatives, and an intriguing new Interfit Badger Beam light which combines the constant illumination of LED technology with the adaptability of a monolight flash, taking regular studio lighting modifiers.
To make it easier to find the LED panel you need, we've split our guide up into hotshoe panels, smartphone LEDs and full size professional light panels. You can click the individual headings to jump straight to the section of your choice, or just scroll down to get started!
The best LED light panels in 2021
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.
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.
Packing 198 LEDs and featuring bicolor temperature from 3200-5600K, the LituFoto R18 already has a lot going for it. Its 10W power output can be boosted to 13W, too, giving more bite to its light. And it even boasts some of Rotolight's special effects lighting, with nine simulations including lightning and emergency service vehicles, making it a great way to add impact to your video content. And not only does its meaty 4040mAh battery give you an hour and a half of use at full power, it also doubles as a power bank to charge mobile devices! A brilliant all-round performer and a camera bag essential.
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?
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.
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.
The little hotshoe-mounted Lume Cube was a hit on its debut all the way back in 2014, and the Lume Cube 2.0 builds on that success. It improves on a lot of people's complaints about the original Lume Cube, most notably by extending the battery life. The Lume Cube 2.0 will now last for about an hour and a half at 100% brightness, and while this will be reduced a bit if Bluetooth is turned on, it's still very good. You can also continue to use it while it's charging via USB, which is pretty handy.
In terms of the light itself, the Lume Cube 2.0 puts out 750 lux at 1m, and achieves an impressive CRI score of 95. It's highly portable and modular, with loads of accessories available (though these do come at a cost). It's not going to compete with professional studio lights, but it's a great little option to have in a kit bag.
Like its big brother above, the R18, the LituFoto F12 is an extremely pocketable panel that packs incredible punch given its size (not to mention its price). Again it delivers bicolor illumination, making it easy to color balance and match with other footage or changeable lighting. And the crisp OLED screen makes it easy to see and select your settings. There's no phone adapter included, but it features a ¼”-20 screw mount and includes a cold shoe plug to it should easily integrate with your shooting setup. If you want the added bonus of a built-in power bank for a few bucks more, we recommend the LituFoto F18.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With a redesigned LED chip, the Aputure LS 300X puts an emphasis on versatility, making it a fantastic tool for photographers and videographers in the studio. And yes we do mean videographers – its quiet fans mean it won't overwhelm the sound of a video.
The Aputure LS 300X offers a huge amount of lighting control, with variable colour temperature from 2,700-6,500K, and compatibility with a wide selection of lighting modifiers. While it's mains-powered, the unit also has the option to switch to battery power, so can be used on location with ease, as well as in the studio. With a huge output of 56,000 lux at 1m, the Aputure LS 300X also has power where it counts, marking it out as one of the best professional lighting solutions around right now.
Part of the relatively new Nanlite range from Nanguang, the Nanlite Forza 300 is a powerful, portable and capable LED Light. Able to put out 43,060 lux at 1m, it's more than powerful enough for most photographic purposes, and it's pretty simple to use. Control is done via the control box, which can be mounted on a light stand using a locking collar to make sure it's out of the way.
The light is very easy to use, though the flip-side of this is that it might be too simplistic for some tastes; there's no colour temperature control, for instance, 5600K is all you're getting. Power consumption is also pretty heavy at 300W, which is more than an equivalent unit from the likes of Rotolight.
Rotolight has packed the technology and features of its award-winning Titan X2 RGBWW LED light panel into the new Titan X1 which is a lot more portable and cheaper to buy – the both panels are expensive compared to regular photographic lights, reflecting their high-end cinematography market. You can set any color you like, including white, dial in electronically-adjustable diffusion, use special effects for filmmaking and even use it as a high-speed flash. It’s a great tool for hybrid stills photographers and filmmakers.
Read more: Rotolight Titan X1 review
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.
Is it an LED light or a 'continuous' monolight? You decide – but the Badger Beam could do the same job as an LED panel with a smaller form factor and compatibility with regular Bowens S-type lighting modifiers. That might not mean much to videographers but will be very interesting to photographers who need a continuous light for video work and stills. Available as a standalone LED monolight that runs on AC mains or its own rechargeable battery pack, the Interfit Badger Beam is also available in twin-head kits that feature options of barndoors, pop-up softboxes or umbrellas, complete with lighting stands and carrying cases. It’s a useful, versatile and good-value lighting solution for use at home or on location.
Read more: Interfit Badger Beam review