With diffuse, flattering, wrap-around light, the best ring lights are ideal for adding a professional pop to your photos and videos. Well suited to a wide range of subjects, the best ring lights truly excel when it comes to portraiture.
The diffused light evenly illuminates faces, softening shadows, flattering the facial features and creating halo catchlights. It’s no surprise, then, that ring lights are now some of the most popular lighting choices for YouTubers, vloggers and makeup artists. Increasingly they’re also being taken up by people looking to give their Zoom and Skype calls a professional edge.
Ring lights cover a wide range of creative ground, so you’ll find a lot of options to choose from. To help you hone in on your ideal light we’ve put together a concise guide below followed by our pick of the best ring lights on the market.
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How to choose the best ring light for you
What is a ring light?
As the name suggests, a ring light is a ring-shaped lighting fixture. Ring lights were originally invented for even illumination in medical photography, but have since become popular across a wide range of applications. While some ring lights feature a single fluorescent tube, you’ll most commonly find them employing an arrangement of LED bulbs.
What makes ring lights special?
Ring lights can illuminate a subject from multiple sides, which results in a pleasing, well-lit appearance, free of harsh shadows – a look that is generally flattering on faces. Ring lights are also well known for the iconic, attention-grabbing, halo-shaped catchlights they reflect in the eyes.
Ring lights are far from the only style of light on the market. Indeed you’ll find plenty of alternative light panels and softbox options available. Where ring lights have an edge, though, is the quality and coverage of light they can produce relative to their price and size. An LED panel or softbox capable of producing a similarly sized diffuse light is likely to be significantly bulkier, pricier – or both.
Does ring light size matter?
In short, yes: larger lights provide better overall coverage. Larger ring lights will, in general, provide a more flattering look as the larger light source is better able to surround you or your subject. Larger ring lights also facilitate a greater working distance, so you don’t need to position them as close to your subject. Smaller ring lights can still do an excellent job, though, provided you position them a little nearer.
What brightness do I need?
You’ll find a range of brightnesses on offer, and the ideal option will be determined by how you plan to use your light. Most ring lights advertise an approximate brightness in lumens, with 800 lumens comparable to a 60W incandescent lightbulb, and 1500 lumens a 100W bulb. Larger ring lights tend to feature more LEDs and therefore provide a brighter output, although smaller lights can often be positioned closer for similar results.
If you’re buying a large, bright ring light, you’ll definitely want to opt for a model with a dimmer so you can manage the output. This can be less important on smaller, dimmer lights.
What about colour temperature?
You’ve no doubt noticed that natural light can appear cool and blue, while indoor incandescent light can seem warm and yellow. If you plan on matching your ring light to any ambient lighting you’ll need to make sure it offers some form of colour temperature control. Most ring lights include the option to adjust the temperature, either electronically with an adjustable dial, or using interchangeable filters. Look for a 5500K or daylight setting if you plan on working mainly with natural light, or a 3200K or tungsten setting for working indoors.
What other features should I look out for?
If you plan on using your ring light with a smartphone or digital camera then you may want to check whether any mounts are included. Mid-sized ring lights and larger often have the ability to mount a phone or camera within the ring, either via a tripod thread or smartphone mount. While these mounting points shouldn’t be used for heavy DSLRs they can be pretty handy for phones and smaller cameras.
Depending on how you plan to use your ring light, the power source can be worth noting. If you’re mainly working indoors you’ll want a mains powered light. Need a more portable option for working on the go? Look for a light that can run off of batteries. USB powered lights are also quite common and these are great for keeping cable clutter to a minimum. They can also be run off of a USB power bank which can come in handy.
If your work is colour critical it’s also worth looking up the CRI rating as this will let you know how colour accurate subjects will appear under the light. It may be worth taking the ratings advertised by cheaper lights with a pinch of salt but, in general, anything with a CRI of 90 or more should be fine for photo and video work.
The best ring lights to buy in 2021
1. IVISII 19in Ring Light: Best budget large ring light
Price: £118 | Buy now from Amazon
IVISII’s 19in Ring Light is the ideal choice for photographers, videographers and makeup artists in search of a large light at a reasonable price.
It produces super soft, wrap-around light to provide flattering, shadow-free lighting across the face. Thanks to its size and brightness, it doesn’t need positioning too close, giving you more options when it comes to where and how far away it can be positioned. The light is also easy to control thanks to a large rear display.
As you may expect, there are a couple of compromises at this price point. The articulation points on the base are rather plasticky and you likely won’t want to fix a large camera directly onto the included ball head. Overall, however, for the money, and with a stand, smartphone holder and carry case all included, this is a well-rounded, useful piece of kit.
Key specs – Ring diameter: 48cm; Brightness: 3000 lumens; Dimmable: Percentage increments; Colour temperature: 3000-5800k; Advertised CRI: 97; Internal mount: Phone or camera; Power source: Mains adapter
2. Elegiant 6.3” Ring Light: Best ring light for laptops
Price: £17 | Buy now from Amazon
If you want to add a professional pop to your Zoom and Skype calls but don’t fancy turning over your whole desk to a larger lamp and stand, Elegiant’s 6.3” Ring Light is ideal.
The light features a clamp so you can mount it directly on your laptop, monitor, or the edge of your desk with no need for an additional stand. Once set up it can then be angled to suit, and can be plugged directly into your computer’s USB port, which keeps messy cable runs to a minimum. For versatility, you can alternatively opt to power it via a USB wall adapter or power bank.
10 user-selectable brightness increments let you set a comfortable level of illumination, and there’s a trio of colour temperature options so you can best match your ambient lighting.
Key specs – Ring diameter: 16cm; Brightness: n/a; Dimmable: 10 levels; Colour temperature: 2700, 4400, 5500K; Advertised CRI: n/a; Internal mount: None; Power source: USB
3. Elgato Ring Light: Best ring light for streamers, gamers and YouTubers
Price: £180 | Buy now from Amazon
Unlike the majority of ring lights, Elgato LEDs are built into the frame rather than the face of the ring. The result is a uniform ring of light, free of harsh hotspots which is noticeably less fatiguing on the eyes. If you plan on spending extended periods facing the light, then this design is a game-changer.
As you’d expect from a larger light, the Elgato provides a soft, shadow-free look along with bright halo catchlights. Unlike a lot of large lights, however, it features a solid desk-mounting stand, rather than a traditional tripod, which means it’s easier to position and takes up no floor space.
While there are controls built into the rear of the light, the Elgato can be paired with a companion app, allowing you to adjust the brightness and colour temperature without having to leave your seat. This feature will certainly be appreciated by both streamers and YouTubers.
Although a little pricey, Elgato’s Ring Light is a genuinely well-rounded option for anyone in the market for a large diameter, high quality ring light.
Key specs – Ring diameter: 43cm; Brightness: 2500 lumens; Dimmable: Percentage increments; Colour temperature: 2900-7000K; Advertised CRI: 94; Internal mount: Camera; Power source: Mains adapter
4. Rotolight LED Ring Light Kit for Content Creators: Best for vlogging
Price: £77 | Buy now from Amazon
Small, lightweight and with a range of mounting options, Rotolight’s LED Ring Light Kit is a great option for vloggers and content creators on the move. Using the included stand, it can be attached to any smartphone or camera, or used standalone on its tripod. Alternatively, if you use an external microphone like the Rode Videomic Pro, the light can simply slide right over the top of it.
The light is daylight white balanced by default but it comes with a set of filters for indoor and mixed lighting situations. Two included diffusion filters also help soften the light for flatting portraits.
The controls are foolproof, if a little limited. With a single power button, it’s easy to set up, but a lack of a dimmer may limit its use for some.
The light is powered by a set of three AA batteries. This makes finding spares while on the move a cinch, though you may want to opt for rechargeables to save some cash.
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Key specs – Ring diameter: 13cm; Brightness: 1000 lumens; Dimmable: No; Colour temperature: 3200, 4100, 5600K; Advertised CRI: 91; Internal mount: None; Power source: 3xAA
5. Elegiant Selfie Ring Light: Best ring light for your phone
Price: £11 | Buy now from Amazon
Elegiant’s Selfie Ring Light is perfect for, well, selfies. It features a compact, pocketable design with a clip with which it can be attached to just about any smartphone or tablet. Although the light is small, it still manages to be impressively bright when held at arm’s length.
While its size does limit the softness of the light, it works great for TikTok, Instagram stories and casual video calls – and looks much better than the standard smartphone flashlight.
The Elegiant Selfie Ring Light charges over micro-USB and offers up to an hour of continuous use off of a single charge.
Key specs – Ring diameter: 7cm; Brightness: n/a; Dimmable: Three levels; Colour temperature: n/a; Advertised CRI: n/a; Internal mount: None; Power source: USB-rechargeable
6. Rotolight LED Video Conferencing Kit: A high quality professional video light
Price: £225 | Buy now from Park Cameras
Rotolight’s Conference Kit takes the highly-regarded Rotolight Neo 2 video light and pairs it with a desk-friendly stand.
The light is bright, compact, colour accurate, and feels built to last. A bright rear display makes adjusting brightness and exact colour temperature a breeze, while a set of included diffusion filters let you soften the light to taste. The light can be powered using the included mains adapter or, for a cable-free setup, you can use a set of six AA batteries (although we’d recommend looking into rechargeables).
For casual video calls with friends, the Rotolight Conference Kit is arguably overkill. However, if you’re on the hunt for a smart looking, premium quality light to use within a professional, or a serious piece of kit for your photo and video work, the Rotolight should be on your short list.
Key specs – Ring diameter: 13cm; Brightness: 2500 lumens; Dimmable: Percentage increments; Colour temperature: 2900-7000K; Advertised CRI: 96; Internal mount: None; Power source: 6x AA or included mains adapter
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