Best Ring Light of 2021
The Neewer 18" Digital is far and away the best ring light we've tested, thanks in particular to three features that are unique in our test. First, it has a digital readout, which allows you to standardize the settings. We love that you can set it at an exact brightness and light temperature every single time. Second, it can be used with two high-capacity batteries, which allows for easy outdoor shoots during golden hour! We were worried that the light would be dimmer when running on batteries, but our brightness tests showed no difference between wall-power and batteries, and the batteries lasted a full hour at 100% brightness before dying. And third, the light settings can be easily changed with a wireless remote. Beyond these three standout features, the Neewer Digital is also extremely bright, feels well-made, comes with a nice bag, and has a variety of different attachment points for DSLRs and phones.
Sure, this might be overkill if you don't need a standalone light, as it definitely won't fit on a desk, and we wish the light came with the batteries (you have to purchase them separately). But if you want a durable, solid light with a ton of useful features, the Neewer 18" Digital is easily the best ring light in our test.
To assess and compare brightness between these various, and often very similar devices, we took a LOT of photos in a controlled manner (explained in detail below in the Light Quality section) and then loaded the photos into Photoshop. From there, we analyzed the histogram of each photo. What's that, you ask? The histogram is a graph that displays the brightness of each pixel in a given image on a scale from 0 to 255. We took the average of all the histogram values for each ring light (the number noted above), which gave us an objective way to compare all the devices to one another. Yay math!
The UBeesize 10" Table Top is a well-designed and easy-to-use light at a great price. Every aspect of it seems well thought out, from the textured ball-joint that sticks where you put it to the adjustable leg height that changes with a simple twist. When we needed a small tripod for our DSLR, we found ourselves going out of our way to use this one, as it's so solid and easy to use. This light is small enough to fit easily on a desk and is incredibly portable, setting up in a speedy 10 seconds thanks to its emphasis on a simple design. It also comes with a handy remote trigger for easy selfies and a small carry bag.
On the downside, we wish the phone mount worked a bit more seamlessly with our chunky Otterbox case, and for some reason, this USB light is slightly dimmer than the AIXPI models. However, neither of these issues is a dealbreaker compared to how much we like this light. This is a great option if you want to be small, fast, and light while on the move, all at an unbeatable price point.
We love the versatility of the UBeesize 10" with 50" Tripod — it comes with all the bells and whistles, and they're all well designed. It has an excellent and fully functional tripod, as well as a carry bag for the light. There's a separate carry bag for the tripod, and it includes an easy-to-use remote trigger for your phone as well. This light's setup is fast (18 seconds), and it is a dream to adjust. It also features the same phone holder as the UBeesize 10" Tabletop, which is easy to twist to whatever angle you want.
Unfortunately, the phone holder on this model has the same issues as the others — it doesn't grip larger-cased phones well. We also wish that the light was a bit brighter. This was the dimmest of the 10" sized lights. That said, we still feel that the overall build quality makes up for these drawbacks.
If you're looking to add color and variety, the Lavkow RGB light will be perfect for you. While almost all the lights in our test allow you to change the temperature (how warm or cool the light is), this one is the only light in our test that allows you to choose whatever color you want. It'll do bright purple, red, cyan, as well as more standard options. Additionally, it has a surprisingly solid tripod.
This model does have some downsides, though — it won't hold a larger camera, the phone holder doesn't work very well, and it's dim compared to similarly-sized (10") options. We also found the light control to be a little confusing, and it was initially pretty hard to get the color we wanted. However, we were able to figure it out after a few minutes of button pressing. If you want a light that will let you pick whatever color light you like, the Lavkow is a great choice.
The AIXPI 10" LED Tabletop is shockingly bright compared to the other 10-inch (non-AIXPI) models, and we think that the brightness of this light really helps it stand out. Like many of the other tabletop lights, this one is a quick setup (10 seconds), and its thin legs with sticky rubber mean that it can stand at varying heights — though it's not super stable when it's extended beyond its lower configurations. We like that you can mount a DSLR in the middle of the ring; however, our pro-grade DSLR didn't fit, so this only works if your camera is on the smaller side.
Still, those pros aside, we aren't overly impressed with this ring light. The phone holder is second-rate, and overall, we believe this kit isn't as well thought through as some of the others, apparent in many of the small design details. That said, we won't deny that this is a bright light with impressive adjustability.
The Mactrem 6" is shockingly bright, considering it's significantly smaller than the other USB lights in our lineup. We recommend this model if you don't have much desk/storage space or plan to travel a lot with your setup and want to keep it small and low weight. As long as you're using the light close-up (it's nowhere near as bright as either Neewer model), it should fill your face well and give a decent ring-light effect.
There are some drawbacks to its small size. Since the Mactrem is so tiny, it can't fit a phone on the light. It requires two tripods, one for the light and one for the camera/phone. However, since ring lights are generally placed around the camera lens you're using, the double tripod arrangement makes lining things up a bit tricky to achieve the desired effect. The small ring provides a lot of light, but it's so tiny that the eye catchlights aren't rings; they're points. We also weren't thrilled with the quality of the different components in this kit. The tripod for the light is teensy, so we were frequently worried it would fall over. If a tiny and portable setup is what you need, this one is your choice, but keep in mind that a ring light should be larger for it to work well. This is illustrated further below in this article, where we show a comparison of how different-sized rings affect a portrait.
The Neewer 18" is a top-tier light. It's very bright and creates great catchlights in your subjects' eyes. This light is well put together, and it comes with a carrying bag, some additional filters, and a phone/camera holder. It held our heavy (5ish lbs) DSLR set up well, and we're confident that it could handle more. We also love how solid it is, especially compared to some of the flimsier lights in our test. Additionally, we like its step-less dimmer, which lets you set the exact level of brightness you want.
The Neewer 18" is slightly larger than the Neewer Digital, but it lacks the digital readout, battery-powered option, and remote control. It is slightly cheaper as a result, so if you're looking to buy a larger light without all the bells and whistles, this one is a great choice.
The Mount Dog 18" is an interesting kit because it's almost an exact copy of the Neewer 18". This means it has all the same good attributes — it's extremely bright, with a solid setup, and feels well made. That is until you set it up and take it down a few times…
After we played around with the Mount Dog for a few hours, we started finding issues. It flops over erratically since the joint under the light ring can't be twisted hard enough (by hand) to hold the light up. And while we were adjusting the tripod, we found that it broke at the lowest extension point (it separated and remained loose). This is surprising because this light is not even significantly cheaper than the Neewer; it just seems like a lower quality product. We recommend the Neewer instead, but if that one isn't available for some reason, this is a reasonable runner-up — just be sure to check all your parts when you receive it and set everything up multiple times to ensure you didn't end up with a lemon.
The AIXPI 10" with Tripod is another bright USB light — but somehow, the AIXPI lights take the same power source and do more with it than other brands. We like that this kit has multiple uses — it can also serve as a selfie stick with its remote trigger. Like many of the other lights, it has ten different brightness settings and three different light temperature settings, but none of this really differentiates it from its competitors.
Unfortunately, the issues we found with this light outnumbered the benefits. The tripod extends and locks by twisting and untwisting, but this doesn't feel secure at all. We also don't trust that this light to reliably stay where we put it, and we don't think the tripod setup will last over the long haul. That said, for the price point, it's hard not to be tempted to check it out — just be a little cautious when extending the tripod legs out to their full length.
We expected to like the UBeesize 8" Selfie but we were unpleasantly surprised. All the other UBeesize products were great thanks to their solid design, but for some reason, this one doesn't feel nearly as sturdy. Our favorite part about this light is that the tripod feels solid. It is also light and portable, but it doesn't have much else going for it beyond those features.
This is the dimmest of the USB lights in our review and somehow even dimmer than the smaller Mactrem. It's also not very easy to set up — it took us 40 seconds, and we still weren't super confident that it would hold our electronics. It also has the unwieldy "clamp the phone to the tripod top" setup, which doesn't work very well.
If you're looking for a small light to carry in a pocket easily, the Auxiwa Clip-On is a good option. It's effortless to use, and we appreciate that it doesn't need AA batteries (it comes with a rechargeable one instead). It had the fastest set up in our test, taking only 5 seconds to snap onto a computer or phone. However, that's where the compliments stop.
A device this small really won't do much unless you're holding the light right up to your face, so if you're doing a lot of close-up phone selfies, this might work. However, you'll miss out on many of the benefits of having a proper ring light because this one simply isn't bright enough. That said, some people just need something portable and super-small for close-up portraits. If that's you, this is one we would recommend.
Why You Should Trust Us
Richard Forbes, our lead tester, has been shooting photos with a wide range of cameras (from phone and film to pro-DSLRs) for the last 19 years and has been a working photographer for seven years. He firmly believes that photography is painting with light, and as a result, he spends way too much time thinking about how to get the right light in the right place. He loves to use ring lights on shoots, as well as for his own selfie game.
To test these devices, we took hundreds of photos with all the different lights and conducted controlled photo experiments to measure relative brightness. We played with each light's different features, timed setups and breakdowns to assess ease of use, and assessed stability by attaching our phones and cameras to each product. We determined the durability by physically comparing each model throughout our testing and digging through online user reviews to find any frequent issues to consider while testing.
Analysis and Test Results
Ring lights are an essential tool for anyone who films or photographs faces. They provide a kind and diffuse light that removes shadows and helps subjects stand out from their backgrounds. Even if you're just doing a ton of Zoom calls, ring lights will help you look your best. Our expert testers subjected each product to a series of rigorous tests designed to reveal any strengths or weaknesses then sorted the results into four weighted categories.
We focused the majority of our testing on the amount of light and quality of light produced by each product. Our most scientific test involved setting up a DSLR on a tripod with minimal (and consistent) ambient light, then photographing an old film camera with standardized settings (photographed at 1/50th, f1.4, 200 ISO, WB 5200; all USB-powered lights were plugged into a laptop to standardize power output). Once the photos were taken, we put them into Photoshop, where we analyzed their histograms, which shows how bright every pixel is in the image, on a scale of 0 to 255. We took the average of each lights' histogram values, then compared them to one another. We realize this might have been overkill, but we like numbers.
The photos we ended up with after brightness testing were very telling and also didn't offer up any surprises. The small Auxiwa Clip-On produced the dimmest results, followed by 6" lights and 10" lights. Finally, the large 18" lights were the brightest.
When it comes to sheer brightness, the Neewer Digital, Neewer 18", and the Mount Dog 18" blow the other lights out of the water. All three are wall-powered lights (though the Neewer Digital also allows you to use batteries (which doesn't change the brightness)), and they have ~25 times the lighting surface as the Auxiwa Clip-On. These large lights are the best if you're looking for the absolute brightest.
Within the USB-powered lights, the two models from AIXPI — the AIXPI 10" with Tripod and the AIXPI 10" Tabletop models — were the brightest by a little bit but the difference was nowhere as dramatic as between the USB lights and the wall-powered units. Unsurprisingly, the dimmest light is the Auxiwa Clip-On light, which is only suitable for up-close selfies.
However, it would be disingenuous to ignore the obvious issue with a "brightness only" approach — there's a huge range of sizes in this test, from the enormous 18" Neewer models to the tiny Auxiwa Clip-On. Obviously, the largest lights should be the brightest, so we also measured the ring lights' exact sizes (which were roughly as advertised) and compared these values to brightness values.
The brightest light for the size is the Mactrem 6", which is equally bright to lights that are almost double its size.In our test, there are roughly 3 tiers of light sizes:
- the largest 18" plug-in models
- the 8-10" USB models
- the Mactrem 6" (which falls in between categories)
- the Auxiwa Clip-On
In case you haven't used many ring lights, we wanted to compare how each light size category affects a portrait. One of the big things is the "catchlights" — if someone has used a ring light, you can almost always see the characteristic circles in their eyes.
To show more about how they look (and how the different lights compare), we took a bunch of selfies with different exposures (in camera) to make the lighting similar. This approach shows how the different light sizes change the face and the photo. We did not edit these photos at all.
We want to mention that all of the lights have varying levels of brightness, from the step-less dimming of the Neewer Digital, Neewer 18", and the Mount Dog 18", to the 9 to 10 brightness settings of the USB lights, and the three levels of the Auxiwa Clip-On. However, we found ourselves almost always using the lights to their full capacity, so the dim settings didn't seem to matter much.
And finally, almost all the lights have "color temperature" controls (besides the Auxiwa Clip-On). The USB lights have three different controls, which allow them to provide warmer or cooler light depending on the vibe you're going for. Both the Neewer Digital and the Neewer 18" allow you to dial the white balance between 3200K and 5600K, and the Neewer 18" also includes red filters you can snap onto the light.
Ultimately, for general use, we prefer the standard neutral light temperature, though the Lavkow RGB can create fun effects, allowing you to experiment with almost any color you can dream up.
Ease of Use
As with many things, you're not going to use your product if it's challenging to do so. Within this metric, there was a wide range of well-designed (and not so well-designed) products, and to sort out which products made it the easiest on us, we set them up and broke them down repeatedly.
Our timed setup test revealed this most clearly, as the large Neewer Digital, Neewer 18", and Mount Dog 18" lights took the longest to set up (at roughly 1:15 minutes each), while the Auxiwa Clip-On took only 5 seconds to jam onto our phones.
In the middle of the pack, some lights were unnecessarily fiddly: in particular, the AIXPI 10" with Tripod took 50 seconds to set up just because the parts don't fit together well.
We also looked at additional features in this category. We gave products higher ratings if they included things like a remote trigger (for use with a phone), like the UBeesize 10" with Tripod, or that can turn into a selfie stick, such as the AIXPI 10" with Tripod. The Neewer Digital includes the most add-ons, with a remote trigger, a remote to change ring light settings, a DSLR camera holder, and three phone holders (which feels a bit excessive).
The ring light you choose needs to be able to stand up by itself with a camera/phone attached. We set up each model and attached the largest camera or phone possible, then jostled it vigorously to see whether it could stay up. We also assessed whether each could support a phone or DSLR and whether we felt confident that our electronics were actually going to stay where we put them.
The top-scorer for stability is the UBeesize 10" Tripod. Both Neewer models achieved a high score in this category as well (like all categories), inspiring confidence with whatever device we needed to use. Obviously, the Auxiwa Clip-On model was also very "stable" because it doesn't require setting up and balancing a tripod — it's as stable as your hands are.
There were a lot of different DSLR holders and phone holders, though some were better than others. We were impressed by the UBeesize phone holder on all three models we tested: the UBeesize 10" Tripod, the UBeesize 10" Tabletop, and the UBeesize 8" Tripod. It has a solid feel and grips the phone well.
Durability is a difficult metric to measure because there's no way to figure out how long a product might last without literally using it for years. That said, we spent time setting up and breaking down each light repeatedly to identify any weak spots they might have and supplemented our own assessments by reading user reviews to see if there were any common problems. We also weren't overly gentle with any of the lights, making sure to put them through all the paces that a busy videographer or photographer might.
The UBeesize and Neewer lights were the most sturdily designed. We're certain the UBeesize 10" Tabletop, UBeesize 10" Tripod, Neewer Digital, and Neewer 18" will all last a long time.
We hope this intensive breakdown gives you a better idea of which lighting setup meets your needs, no matter if you're looking for the best ring light for studio use or the most portable option.
— Richard Forbes