Bring your lighting skills full circle with the best ring lights

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Unsplash/Avantgarde Concept

The best off-camera ring light is the Savage Luminous Pro Ringlight Plus. The 19-inch diameter light offers soft, adjustable output and is battery powered for use on any location. As a constant light, it is suitable for both video and still photography, but may not reach the brightness of a ring flash.

Switching from a traditional flash to a circular ring light creates softer shadows, dramatic catchlights, and crystal clear macro photos. But for every possible use for a ring light, there are at least that many different models to choose from. Here are a few of our favorites, from on-camera macro flashes to a ring light for your smartphone.

The Best

Savage Luminous Pro 19” Ringlight Plus

Why you should buy this: Soft, off-camera light that’s easy to control

Who’s it for: Both photographers and videographers

Why we picked the Savage Luminous Pro 19” Ringlight Plus:

There’s only so much you can do with a light that’s attached to your camera (or lens, as is the case with macro ring flashes). As an off-camera, adjustable light, the Savage Luminous Pro is incredibly versatile. It is a continuous, flicker-free light, which means the light can be used for video as well as still photos. It also features adjustable brightness and color temperature.

But several off-camera ring lights have similar adjustable settings. What sets the Savage Luminous Pro apart is its remote, which lets you change settings from a distance. The light can be powered through a traditional outlet, or it can use battery power for on-location shoots. The batteries are rechargeable, so you don’t end up wasting money on disposables. At the center of the light, a cold shoe and ball head allow for mounting different types of cameras right to the light to get the perfect perspective, straight through the ring.

Best macro ring light for Canon

Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite

best ring lights canon light

Why you should buy this: Versatile macro lighting with great results

Who’s it for: Canon photographers

Why we picked the Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite:

Compatible with Canon’s through-the-tens, or TTL, metering system, the MR-14EX II is a top option for still photographers using Canon bodies. The traditional ring light uses two tube lights at each side that can be shot simultaneously or individually for more creative effects. The ring light also includes a modeling light to preview the effect while you set up your shot.

But the MR-14EX II isn’t destined for a life attached to a macro lens — the lens can also go off-camera when paired with a Speedlite 600EX-RT, thanks to wireless E-TTL. Retailing at about $550, it’s an investment, but one that many macro photographers find worthwhile. Before you buy, check the mount compatibility — the light is designed to work with a handful of Canon-branded macro lenses.

Best macro ring light for Nikon

Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Ring Flash for Nikon AF

best ring lights light nikon

Why you should buy this: Affordable macro lighting that doesn’t skimp on features

Who’s it for: Nikon macro photographers

Why we picked the Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Ring Flash: 

Nikon’s top macro flash — the R1 wireless twin flash — isn’t technically a ring light. It’s still pretty cool, and lets you do some things a ring light can’t do — like angle the two flashes in different directions — but it won’t create that circular catchlight. The Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Ring flash is an affordable macro flash with that true ring shape. While the $380 price may be lower than going with a Nikon-branded twin flash system, the Sigma still packs in some high-end features, including high-speed sync for shooting with fast shutter speeds.

The Sigma ring light still offers a model light for previewing the effect before shooting, along with adjustable brightness from full power to 1/64 power. The recycle time is between four and six seconds, depending on power setting, and the system weighs more than a pound without batteries, so it’s not perfect. But for the price, the Sigma offers a range of excellent features for macro photography.

Best cheap ring light

Polaroid Universal Macro LED Ring Flash

best ring lights cheap light polaroid

Why you should buy this: Inexpensive macro lighting that works with any camera system

Who’s it for: Photographers on a budget

Why we picked the Polaroid Universal Macro LED Ring Flash:

The Polaroid Universal Macro LED Ring Light Flash may be only $50, but it’s also one of the top reviewed ring lights at outlets like B&H. The light uses 48 LEDs circling the lens — those lights can be used as a flash or as continuous light, and photographers can also use all of them at once or turn half off for more lighting choices.

Is a $50 light going to compare with a $500 light? Of course not, but for hobbyists that just want to shoot macro with better lighting without a major investment, the Polaroid ring light has several perks. The light has seven brightness settings and includes three diffusers for softening the light or changing the color temperature. The light runs on AA batteries, and a small LCD at the back displays the different settings.

Best cheap off-camera ring light

Neewer LED Ring Light 18” Kit

best ring lights light neewer

Why you should buy this: Affordable off-camera ring light that includes everything you need

Who’s it for: Studio photographers and videographers

Why we picked the Neewer LED Ring Light Kit:

Once you buy an off-camera ring light, you’ll have to add a stand, too — but that’s not the case with this Neewer kit, which includes everything you need to get started with off-camera, continuous ring lighting for little more than $100. The kit includes the light, stand, Bluetooth remote, ball head and smartphone holder, and white and orange filters for color correction. The light is also dimmable all the way down to one percent, making it a versatile lighting tool no matter what look you are going for.

So how does the cheaper Neewer compare to our top pick, the Savage? The Neewer kit doesn’t have a battery option, so it has to be plugged in to the wall. It also lacks adjustable color temperature, relying on filters instead. Still, if you’re looking for an inexpensive off-camera ring light that, the Neewer is not a bad option for about $110.

Best smartphone ring light

Yongnuo LED Ring Light

best ring lights smartphone light youngnuo

Why you should buy this: Inexpensive but flattering lighting for smartphone photographers

Who’s it for: Vloggers and selfie snappers

Why we picked the Youngnuo LED Ring Light:

Smartphone ring lights fall into two categories —  tiny lights that are smaller than the smartphone and don’t do a whole lot, and larger ones that are tougher to carry around, but make a bigger impact on your photos. The Yongnuo LED Ring Light falls in the latter category. The ring light encircles the entire phone, with the option to adjust the brightness as well as the color temperature.

The $50 ring light uses a built-in holster designed for phones as well as a flexible tabletop stand that will hold up both the phone and the light itself. It’s powered by USB and is easy to use. The other off-camera ring lights on this list can also be used with a smartphone and have more features, but chances are, you probably don’t want to spend $300 on a light just for selfies — or maybe you do, we won’t judge. The Youngnuo is a good option for users who want a simple way to snap better selfies or shoot better personal vlogs.

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