Guide

The Ring Light Buyers Guide

Ring lights have become more and more popular over the last year or so. It seems like the demand for ring lights grows with every new social media app that pops up on our phones. But its not just Instagram and TikTok users who’ve discovered the secretes of the ring light – they’ve been a common used tool among Youtubers and beauty vloggers for the past few years.

But how exactly do you pick out the right ring light? What are some of the basic technical aspects that you need to watch out for? Fear not, we’ve got you covered.

Looking for the best ring light? We’ve got a great article called The best ring lights of 2020 – where we recommend a bunch of ring lights based on price and purpose. We’re sure you’ll find what you need there.

What to look for when choosing a ring light

Off Camera Ring Light

An off camera ring lights – as the name implies – is a ring light thats not attached to the camera itself (or vice versa). It’s normally mounted on a tripod, and has the ability to let you mount your camera on it. This lets you shoot through the center of the ring light. Off Camera Ring Lights are almost always continuously lit (aka always on) and create a shadowless light, making them ideal for Videos as well as portrait photography.

On Camera Ring Light

An on camera ring light – as the name says is attached directly attached to your camera. Your DSLR or Mirrorless camera has a hotshoe on the top where a wired connector attaches. This type of ring light is deal for macro photography, or for the type of photographer that needs a bit more flexibility and freedom. With the rise of mobile phone photography another type of on camera ring light has emerged – the clip on ring light. It’s a small portable ring light that clips on over the camera lens of your phone.

Size

Broader lights produce a milder and softer light. The most common sizes for ring lights are 12, 14, and 18-inches. While they all more or less work the same, each ring light size has a specific purpose/speciality. While an 18 inch ring light will give the most amount of flexibility for photography and videography, a 12 inch ring light is best when you just need to take headshots.

It’s worth pointing out that occasionally ring lights are advertised with 2 numbers – the larger number being the outer diameter while the smaller number being the inner diameter of the ring light.

Dimmability

When looking at an off camera ring light, one of the features you should look for is the option of a dimmer. A dimmer will give you greater control over how much light you’ll cast over your subject (or yourself). Having a dimmer will save you from the hassle of having to move your ring light closer or further from the subject to change the level of brightness and illumination.

Adjustable Color Temperature

Almost every ring light will have a Color Temperature indicated somewhere. This is normally a single number like 5500k or a number range like 3200 to 5600K (the K stands for Kelvin). The higher the Kelvin value the whiter the light source.

Heres a handy chart of the lighting effects based on their kelvin values:

  • Less than 2000K: dim glow similar to a candle light
  • 2000K – 3000K: soft white glow, suitable for living rooms and outdoor
  • 3100K – 4500K: a bright white light; suitable for kitchen, bathroom or work places
  • 4600K – 6500K: a bright blue-white light, similar to daylight

Color Rendering Index

CRI or Color Rendering Index basically determines how natural and/or vivid your colours appear. Typically you would want something with a CRI value of at least 90+. Not all manufacturers will provide a CRI value with their ring lights, which is a good indication that they are using inferiors LEDs/lights.

Diffusers

Ring lights normally come with a diffusion cloth. A Ring Light Diffusion cloth gives you the ability to exert more control over your ring light’s brightness and allows you to reign in harsh shadows. Using a diffusion cloth with your ring light allows you to get rid of sharp shadows, giving you an even, softer circular cast light.

Rotatable Ring Head

A rotatable ring head gives you the ability to move your ring light in multiple directions and the flexibility angle the light downwards and upwards.

LED Ring Lights vs Fluorescent Lights

There are many upsides to using LED Ring Lights compared to Fluorescent or Tungsten lights.

LEDs are cheap, require less power and often used in more lightweight and portable ring light kits. LEDs are quite durable and dont have the tendency to heat up like other light sources.

As a light source, fluorescent bulbs are not that bad to shoot with. They offer a nice bright light that is fairly diffuse, which means lower contrast. But they are very fragile compared to LEDs, and quite toxic if they do break (think mercury powder).

While good LEDs do have good color rendering (if you get a Ring Light with a CRI value of +90), cheap LEDS can cast incoherent colours and unwanted shadows. And cheap LEDs have a tendency to flickr. The same can be said about fluorescent lights.

Overall, you cant go wrong if you pick quality LEDs lights as they’ll last for ages and provide a clean good light.

Power-cord Length

Often overlooked, the length of the power cord is something that can ruin your shoot. Before buying a ring light, make sure to check if the supplied power cord is actually long enough – or else you’re left scrambling for an extension cord.

Height

Depending on where and how you plan on using your Ring Light, be sure to check out its maximum extendable height. Some ring lights are quite short and made for your desk – so they barley extend over 20 inches, while professional ring lights easily top 6 feet.

Lumens

Lumens are a measure of the total amount of visible light to the human eye from a light source. The higher the lumen rating the “brighter” the light source will appear. Lumens are not the same as Watt. Watt refers to the power consumption, while Lumens refers to the light output.

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Ring Light Recommendations

Are you looking for a Ring Light? Check out our recommendations:

The Best Smartphone Ring Lights

The Best Ring Lights of 2020

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FAQ

What is a ring light good for?

The main purpose of a ring light is to cast an even light onto a person or object, reducing sharp or harsh shadows.

How many watts does a ring light use?

Generally speaking, a ring light uses on average about 55 watts.

Do I need a ring light for streaming?

No, you don’t need a ring light for streaming but having good lighting source will give your video a more professional look.

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