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The best ring lights for 2020

Ring lights easily create flattering light, as well as fun, circular catchlights, making them popular for portrait photographers, vloggers, and beauty influencers. There are many takes on the basic design, but the best ring light we’ve found is the Wescott 18″ Bi-Color LED Kit. Between the adjustable brightness, variable color temperature, and smartphone or camera mounts included, the light is one of the more versatile options on the market. 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 ring light overall: Wescott 18″ Bi-Color LED Ring Light

Why you should buy this: Soft, off-camera light with plenty of versatility

Who’s it for: Both photographers and videographers

Why we picked the Wescott 18″ Bi-Color LED Ring Light:

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 Wescott 18″ Bi-Color LED Ring Light is a versatile kit offering excellent quality. Because the light can both dim and adjust the color temperature, the Wescott ring light is ideal for a variety of shooting situations, including both shoot-through and off-camera use. The light dims from 0 to 100 percent, with color temperature adjustment from 3200K to 5600K.

While the light itself is excellent, Wescott has also assembled a versatile kit too. The light can be powered via battery, with two included in the kit, or plugged in with the multi-voltage AC adapter. A stand is included, and beyond that, a flexible smartphone mount and a swivel mount. That allows for versatility in not just the camera you choose, but the option to adjust the position more than just a basic tripod mount. Everything packs up in a case. While the price isn’t budget level, it’s a solid mid-way price point that’s worth the versatility offered by the kit.

Best macro ring light for Canon: Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite

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 Canon 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: Nikon R1C1 Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System

Why you should buy this: High-end, adjustable lighting for macro work

Who’s it for: Nikon macro photographers

Why we picked the Nikon R1C1 Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System: 

Technically, the Nikon R1C1 isn’t a ring light, but it’s still a close-up lighting system for macro photographers using Nikon bodies. The R1C1 includes two speedlights that can each be controlled separately, allowing photographers to make one side brighter than the other to customize the look, or to keep everything on the same power for even lighting.

The system is also wireless, which means that the flashes can be removed from the lens mount for even more versatility. The two flashes and commander come with an adapter ring, flex arms, and a case.

As a set of Nikon-branded speedlights assembled into a kit, it includes the features that you’d expect from a standard Nikon flash, including TTL exposure and manual adjustments. The Nikon R1C1 kit is getting a bit older and is a rather pricey, but has the right feature set for many serious macro photographers.

Best cheap macro ring light: Bolt VM-160 LED Macro Ring Light

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 Bolt VM-160 LED Macro Ring Light:

The feature list on the Bolt VM-160 LED Macro Ring Light is a bit short, but the price more than matches the more limited features. Despite the appearance, the Bolt VM-160 is largely a continous LED light, though there is a flash mode, it lets out a half-second burst of light every time. That means it works for video too, but is much less powerful than a flash. Despite the budget price, the light has six brightness adjustments and can also be set to have one side off for more dimensional lighting.

While the Bolt VM-160 may not have the fanciest features, it offers circular ring lighting at an affordable price. The light accepts standard or rechargeable AA batteries. A number of different lens adapters are included, and the ring light works with most cameras (there are a few exceptions, including the Fujifilm X-T2 and X-Pro2). Four clip-on diffusers are also included.

Best cheap off-camera ring light: Neewer LED Ring Light 18” Kit

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 with this Neewer kit, everything you need is included. It’s a great way for beginners 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 ring light kit compare to our top pick? The Neewer kit doesn’t have a battery option, so you have to plug it into the wall, which can be an inconvenience compared to a rechargeable battery. It also lacks adjustable color temperature, relying on filters instead, which not all creators will appreciate. Still, if you’re looking for an inexpensive off-camera ring light that has all the essential features, the Neewer is not a bad option. It’s pretty user-friendly, so adults and teenagers alike can use it successfully.

Best smartphone ring light: QUIYA Selfie Ring Light

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

Who’s it for: Casual selfie snappers

Why we picked the Quiya Selfie Ring Light:

Large lights will always be better for soft, flattering lighting effects. However, it’s not easy to carry around something large and cumbersome like the Wescott kit just for selfies. The Quiya Selfie Ring Light, as the name suggests, is a small phone light designed to be portable and ideal for selfie-taking. This light clips onto your phone and encircles the camera lens to produce a halo effect. 

You won’t get the same results as you would with a large ring light, but it’s compact, relatively lightweight, and easy to transport. As a nice bonus, the brightness level on the Quiya is also completely adjustable. It comes with light settings for every situation, whether that’s a makeup tutorial or a vlog in a dark room. 

Reviews of this product praise its ease of use and its three convenient brightness settings. It comes in at an affordable price, too, and recharging its batteries is quick and easy. Anyone who takes videos or selfies professionally should stick with something larger and more professional. Still, if you’re a hobbyist who wants to boost your selfie game without overspending or hauling a lot of gear around, the Quiya Selfie Ring Light is an excellent option.

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