Best Ring Light of 2020
The Neewer 18" is a top-tier ring light. It's spectacularly bright and is large enough to create great catchlights in your subjects' eyes. This light is well made, and it comes with a handy bag, as well as additional filters and a phone/camera holder. The Neewer easily held our heavy (5ish lbs) DSLR setup, and we're confident it could have held more. We also love how solid the tripod is. In a test with a lot of flimsy tripods, this one was the strongest. Additionally, we like its stepless dimmer, which allows the user to set the brightness to the exact level desired.
However much we like this light, it may be overkill for some users. It doesn't fit on a desk, nor can you easily carry it around with you (like the clip-on options). We also wish that it had a battery-powered option, as it must be used with a wall plug-in, so it can't easily be used in areas without power (i.e., outdoor photography). But if you need something for indoor use and don't plan to be moving locations all the time, the Neewer is by far our favorite of the bunch.
In order 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 measurement that shows how bright each pixel is in a given image on a scale from 0 to 255. We then took the average of all the histogram values for each ring light (the number noted above) and this gave us a solid way to compare all the devices to one another. Yay math!
The Mountdog 18" is an interesting kit, because it's basically an exact copy of the Neewer 18". This means it has all the same good parts — it's extremely bright, has a solid setup, and feels well made. That is, until you set it up and take it down a few times…
Once we'd messed with the Mountdog for a few hours, we started finding issues. The joint under the light ring can't be twisted hard enough (by hand) to hold the light up, so it flops over erratically. And while we were adjusting the tripod, we found that it broke at the lowest extension point (it separated and remained loose). The strange part is that this light is not even significantly cheaper than the Neewer, it just seems like a lower quality product. We'd recommend the Neewer instead, but if that one isn't available for some reason, this is a reasonable runner-up — just check all your parts when it arrives and set everything up a few times to ensure you don't end up with a lemon.
The UBeesize 10" Table Top is an easy to use and well-designed light for a great price. Every aspect of it seems well thought through, from the textured ball-joint (which sticks where you put it) to the adjustable leg height (changed with a simple twist). It's small enough to fit easily on a desk and extremely portable. And thanks to its focus on simple design, it sets up extremely fast (10 seconds). It also comes with a remote trigger for easy selfies and a small carry bag!
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, but neither of these issues is a dealbreaker compared to how much we like this light. If you want to be small, fast, and light while on the move, this is a great option.
We love how versatile the UBeesize 10" with 50" Tripod is — it comes with all the bells and whistles, and they're all well designed. It has a great (and fully functional) tripod, as well as a carry bag for the light and another carry bag for the tripod, and even has an easy-to-use remote trigger for your phone. This light sets up fast (18 seconds) and is a dream to adjust. It also features the same phone holder as the UBeesize 10" Tabletop light, which is easy to twist to whatever angle you want.
The phone holder on this model, unfortunately, has the same issues as the others — it doesn't grip larger-cased phones well, and we wish that it was a bit brighter. This was also the dimmest of the 10" sized lights, but we still feel that the overall build quality makes up for these drawbacks.
The AIXPI 10" with Tripod is another bright USB light — 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 10 different brightness settings, as well as 3 different light temperature settings, but none of this really differentiates it from the rest.
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 don't trust that this light will reliably stay where we put it, and we don't think the tripod setup will last well. That said, for the price point, it's hard to not want to give it a go — just be a little cautious when extending things out to their full length.
The AIXPI 10" LED Tabletop is shockingly bright compared to the other 10" (non-AIXPI) models, and we think that such a bright light really helps this device stand out. Like many of the other tabletop lights, this one is a quick set-up (10 seconds), and its thin legs with sticky rubber mean that it can be stood at varying heights — though it's not super stable unless it's in its lower configurations. We like that you can mount a DSLR in the middle of the ring, but our pro-grade DLSR didn't fit, so this only works if you have a camera on the smaller side.
Still, we aren't overly impressed with this ring light: the phone holder is quite shoddy, and overall, we feel this kit isn't as well thought through as some of the others. This is apparent in many of the small design details, though we can't deny that at least it has a bright light and the adjustability is nice.
The Mactrem Ring Light 6" is, for its size, shockingly bright, despite the fact that it's significantly smaller than all the other USB lights. We recommend this light if you don't have much desk/storage space, or if you're planning to travel a lot with your setup and don't want it to take up too much room. As long as you're using the light close-up (it's nowhere near as bright as the Neewer), 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 small, there's nowhere to fit a phone on the light, so it has two tripods, one for the light and one for the camera/phone. However, ring lights are generally placed around the lens of the camera you're using, so the double tripod setup makes lining things up a bit tricky. In addition, the small ring provides a lot of light, but it's so small that the eye catchlights aren't rings, they're points. We also weren't super impressed by the quality of the different components of this kit. The tripod for the light is teensy, so we were constantly worried it was going to fall over. If you need a tiny and portable setup, this one is your choice, but keep in mind that a ring light really needs to be larger to make it work well. This is illustrated farther below in this article, where we show a comparison of how different-sized rings affect a portrait.
The Erligpowht 10" Selfie is the ring light that tries to do everything and does it all poorly, starting with the name, which is extremely difficult to remember. And sure, like the other USB lights, it has 9 levels of brightness, 3 different light temperatures, and a remote trigger, but it fails in most other tests. While it markets itself as a selfie stick, we couldn't figure out how to angle our phone back to actually point it at ourselves.
We also don't like the "attach the phone to the tripod via a clamp" method, as one of the main values of a ring light is that the camera can be mounted inside the light for shadowless lighting, and this one just won't do that. The Erligpowht is extra complicated to set up (it took us 50 seconds) just because it's so fiddly. Unfortunately, we really don't recommend this product for much.
We were (un)pleasantly surprised by the UBeesize 8" Selfie, as we expected to like it. All the other UBeesize products are great thanks to their solid design, but for some reason, this one doesn't feel anywhere near as good. Our favorite part about this light is that the tripod feels solid. It is also light and portable, but beyond those features, it doesn't have much else going for it.
The UBeesize 8" is the dimmest of the USB lights (somehow it's dimmer than the smaller Mactrem) and it's also not very easy to set up — it took us 40 seconds, and we still weren't super confident that it was going to hold our electronics. It also has the frustrating "clamp the phone to the tripod top" setup, which doesn't work very well.
If you're looking for a small ring light to easily carry in a pocket, the Auxiwa Clip-On is a good option. We appreciated that it doesn't need AA batteries (it comes with a rechargeable one instead), and it's extremely easy to use. It has the fastest set up in the test, along with the other clip-on light, taking only 5 seconds (or less) to snap onto a computer or phone, but that's where the compliments stop.
A device this small really doesn'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, but it misses out on a lot of the benefits of having one of these because it's just not bright enough. That said, all some people need is something super small and portable for close-up portraits, so, if this is you, this is one we would recommend.
The QIAYA Clip-On Selfie is basically the exact same light as the Auxiwa, and has all the same features and all the same issues, but instead of featuring a helpful rechargeable light, it requires AA batteries, which we, personally, do not like. That said, if you don't mind buying batteries (and you could get your own rechargeable AA's), this light is cheap and easy to use.
We want to reiterate that such a small amount of light can be helpful if you're just using it minimally to supplement natural light, but it's not enough for any dark situations. Depending on your needs, however, that might be all you require.
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 18 years and has been a working photographer for 6 years. He firmly believes that photography is painting with light, and as a result, 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 determine relative brightness. We played with all the different features of each light, timed setups and breakdowns to assess ease of use, and tested stability by attaching our phones and cameras to each product. We determined the durability by physically comparing each product throughout our testing, as well as digging through online user reviews to see if there were any repeated issues we should be aware of 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 help subjects stand out from their backgrounds. Even if you're just doing a ton of Zoom calls, any one of these lights will help you look your best! Our expert testers subjected each product to a series of rigorous tests designed to reveal any and all strengths and weaknesses, then processed the results into four weighted categories.
We focused most of our testing on the amount of light and the quality of light that each product produced. Our most scientific test involved setting up a DSLR on a tripod with minimal (and consistent) ambient light, then photographing (what else) an old film camera with standardized settings (photographed at 1/50th, f1.4, 200 ISO, WB 5200, all USB-powered lights plugged into a laptop to standardize power output, with each light on its brightest setting). Once we had these photos, 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 mean of each lights' histogram values, then compared them to 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 completely what we expected. The clip-on lights produced the darkest result, followed by 6" lights and 10" lights, with the large 18" lights being the brightest.
If we're talking about sheer brightness, the Neewer 18" and the Mountdog 18" blow the other lights out of the water. Both are wall-powered lights, and they have ~25 times the lighting surface as the clip-on lights. If you're looking for the absolute brightest, these are the best.
Within the USB-powered lights, the two models from AIXPI — the AIXPI 10" with Tripod and the AIXPI 10" Tabletop models — are the brightest by a little bit, but nowhere as dramatic as the difference between the USB lights and the wall-powered units.
The dimmest lights are the clip-on lights — the QIAYA Selfie Clip-On and the Auxiwa Clip-On. No huge surprise there, they are very small and really only meant 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 to the tiny Auxiwa Clip-On. Obviously, the largest lights would be the brightest. So we also measured the exact size of the ring light (which were roughly as advertised) and compared this value to brightness values.
The brightest light for the size is the Mactrem 6", which is just as bright as 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 clip-on lights
In case you haven't used many ring lights, we wanted to show a comparison of 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 do any editing on the photos.
We want to mention that all of the lights have varying levels of brightness, from the stepless dimming of the Neewer 18" and the Mountdog 18", to the 9 to 10 brightness settings of the USB lights, and the clip-on lights' 3 levels. However, we found ourselves almost always using the lights to their full capacity, so this dimming didn't matter too much to us.
And finally, all of the USB lights also feature three different "color temperature" controls, which allows them to provide warmer or cooler light depending on the vibe you're going for. The Neewer 18" takes a different approach, and includes red filters you can snap onto the light. Again, we prefer the standard neutral light temperature, though the UBeesize 10" Table Top, our favorite USB tabletop light, provided a nice result with one of the color controls.
Ease of Use
As with many things, if your product isn't easy to use, you're not going to use it! Within the test, there was a wide range of well-designed (and not so well-designed) products, and we set them up and broke them down repeatedly to sort out which products made it easy for us.
Our time-based test revealed this most clearly, as the large Neewer 18" and Mountdog 18" lights took the longest to set up (at roughly 1:15 minutes each), while the clip-on Auxiwa and QIAYA lights each took only 5 seconds to jam onto our phones.
In the middle of the time test, there were some lights that were unnecessarily fiddly: the AIXPI 10" with Tripod and the Erligpowht 10" both took 50 seconds to set up just because the parts didn't fit together well.
We also looked at additional features in this category and gave products higher ratings if they included features like a remote trigger (for use with a phone), like our award-winning UBeesize 10" with Tripod, or that can turn into a selfie stick like the AIXPI 10" with Tripod.
The ring light you choose needs to be able to stand up — by itself and 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 comfortable that our electronics were actually going to stay where we put them.
The top-scorer for stability is the UBeesize 10" Tripod, our Best Buy Winner. Our Editors' Choice, the Neewer 18" achieved a high score in this category as well, (like all categories), inspiring confidence with whatever device we needed to use. Obviously, the clip-on models are also very "stable" options, as they don't require setting up and balancing a tripod — they will be as stable as your hands are!
There were a lot of different phone holders and DSLR holders, though some were better than others. We were impressed by the UBeesize phone holder on all 3 models we tested: the UBeesize 10" Tripod, the UBeesize 10" Table Top, and the UBeesize 8" Tripod. Their phone holder has a solid feel and grips the phone well.
On the other hand, the AIXPI models (the 10" Table Top and the 10" Tripod) have pretty poor phone holders. This doesn't inspire confidence.
Durability is a hard 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 to assess any weak spots it might have and supplemented our own assessments by reading 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 a busy photographer or videographer might.
We found issues with the Mountdog immediately (documented in its feature above), and we also don't expect the Erligpowht 10" or the AIXPI 10 Tripod to last as long as other options in this review.
On the other hand, the UBeesize 10" Table Top is extremely well designed. We're certain this light will last for a good long time. The UBeesize 10" Tripod is equally as impressive, but the top dog Neewer takes the highest score for this section, yet again.
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 most portable light or the best for studio use.
— Richard Forbes