Lighting — for photography, B-roll, or your home studio — doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are TONS of options out there to suit pretty much any budget. If you’re just starting out you don’t need to drop hundreds of pounds. Similarly, if you’re ready for an upgrade, I’ve got your back. Here are my top picks, and their pros and cons.
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I Like Big Lights And I Cannot Lie
I’ve split this list up into three (very sensibly named) categories. I’m going from big, medium, to small lights.
These large lights would be perfect for a home YouTube studio, or a home photography studio. They’re also portable enough to take on location with you. I’ve personally taken all four of these lights on location in one way or another.
p.s. I have a video review at the end of this article which shows each light in action.
1) ESDDI Studio Lights — Under £100
This is where I started my maiden voyage into YouTube lighting. But they’re more versatile than you think. I got these from my lovely twin sister-in-laws on my 30th birthday and started my YouTube channel 5 days later. I have a soft spot for these little guys! They’re not perfect, but they’re more than enough to get you going if you’re on a budget.
Nice, neutral light
Come with a case
Easy to replace the bulbs if you use them up
Comes with everything you need to get started
No intensity adjustment
No temperature adjustment
Very fragile if you transport them
BRIGHT. Did I mention they were bright?
Only mains powered
Bloody warm after a bit
If you’re shooting in a small room, not having the intensity adjustment can really be a pain. I found myself bouncing the light off the walls, angling them in odd ways — anything — to try and get control of them. So if you have a small room, they might not be the best for you. Or you could just use one of them as a compromise I suppose, or stick them as far away as your space allows.
They’re basically bulbs in a softbox. So after a while they do give off heat. I rocked the “hot and bothered” look in a fair few of my first youtube videos, let’s put it that way! Here’s a derpy screenshot of me using these lights from quite a while ago. Now, I was also quite new to recording when I had these lights, so you CAN get better results than I did. But just to give you an idea.
I also used these lights to illuminate a bar scene in a short film I directed. Now, in that environment, they were fantastic. The bright lights merged with the existing light in the bar brilliantly and the mains power meant we could keep shooting for as long as it takes. The large soft box does a great job of diffusing the light, making it relatively soft. There are softer light sources coming up in this list, but for the price, I got a lot of use out of these bad boys!
Transporting them was… fun. The bulbs are of course fragile, so it was a matter of wrapping them in bubblewrap and hoping for the best. And after shooting we had to wait for them to cool down enough before packing them away. So, while this set IS portable, it is not the easiest to transport. There are other much better portable lights on this list. Here are some screen grabs from the short film so give you an idea of the lighting. The bar was actually quite dark without them so they did a great, convincing job in my opininon.
2) Soonwell FB-21 — Flat Panel LED light of joy
Blummin’ love this light. This is a truly beautiful piece of kit. There are two flat panel style LED lights on this list (the Falconeyes is coming up next!) and I have to say, this style of light is quickly becoming my weapon of choice.
I’ve done a full review of this light in an article here, if you wanted to check it out in more depth (after reading this list of course!)
In a nutshell:
Very portable, with the cutest bag ever
Can get into places other lights can’t
Adjustable intensity and colour temperature
The best control panel I’ve ever used on a light
It’s a bit sexy like, isn’t it?
No heat from the panel!
Lovely soft light, but the Falconeyes tent softbox is even softer
Probably not quite big enough for a massive room
Probably not big enough to light group photo sessions
I wish it had the tent softbox like the Falconeyes
Here’s an obligatory derpy photo of me in action, lit by this light (the hair light on the side of my chair is the Aputure Tri-8c which is coming up shortly!). See, it is soft, and lovely, and easy to control. This is on about 19% power to give you an idea.
Now, this light is not cheap. You may want to brace yourself before clicking the link. But it is built so beautifully, it’s very versatile. It could be your Everything light for sure if you were to invest in it.
And no heat! LED panel lights make your shooting experiences very comfortable, because the heat stays in the power brick, the panel stays cool to the touch even after a long session. No more sweaty models! Yay!
You could use this light for videos, photography, B-roll, the lot. There’s even an option to add battery power to make it completely portable, but I haven’t tried that just yet. It’s a little beast, this light. Love it. It is on the small size for the LED panel lights, though, which can either be a pro or a con depending on what you want to use it for. Don’t get me wrong, on full power this thing is blinding! I never push it past 20% at home. But because the light source is quite narrow and small, you don’t get quite as soft light as a larger alternative. Which brings me to…
3) Falconeyes RX18-TD — Big LED Panel light. The softest light I’ve ever used <3
The Falconeyes RX18-TD is the light I have permanently set up in my little office for the YouTubes. It has a very similar spec to the Soonwell, but is a larger panel and comes with this — frankly, mad — tent box soft box thing. It looks a bit daft but oh my goodness the light you get from it is so pleasing. It even makes me look a bit less derpy.
You have the intensity and temperature adjustments on the control panel, and it works brilliantly with a touch screen. The Soonwell has a touchscreen and dimmer dials, so I have to say the Soonwell is much more tactile to control, but the Falconeyes controller does the job. I have to use this at about 11% because my room isn’t the biggest, but ooooh I do love the soft light that comes out of this thing.
Amazingly soft light
Very easy to put up (easier than Soonwell)
Soft. Did I mention soft enough yet?
Comes with a variety of diffusion options (though I’m sure you’ve figured out my favourite)
Strong enough to light group shots easily
The bag isn’t as nice as the Soonwell one
The controller isn’t as nice as the Soonwell one
It’s big, which can be a bit over-kill for some environments
Here are some photos I’ve taken using this light. It’s a bit lovely. Those group shots got up to double figures and the light coped just fine. So this is great for photography and video.
If you click on the link to have a look, you’ll notice there are a few different packages available. Definitely spring for the weird tent softbox because it’s just delightful, honestly. I use it 100% of the time when I use this light.
Here’s a behind the scenes video of this photoshoot. You can see how the light gets set up, and how it all looks. (The coloured light on the wall behind the model comes from a battery powered RGB light, which is featured on this list a bit later on.)
4) Aputure Tri-8c - Versatile and properly properly portable
This light I love because it’s so different. I haven’t used anything quite like it. You can mount it to a light stand and use it as a key light. You can get your glamours assistant to hold it using the handles and get precise angled lighting for photo shoots or video projects. You can power it on the supplied batteries (the ONLY light on this entire list that actually supplies the batteries if they’re external to the unit!) or by mains power. The mains power can simultaneously charge the batteries so you can pick it up and go at a moment’s notice.
Zero setup time, just stick it on a stand and go.
The batteries last FOREVER.
Adjustable intensity and temperature
Quite a small light source so only moderately soft light
Limited diffusion options
Can get quite warm
Not big enough for large group photos but fine for couples
I’ve used this light for YouTube, and also for weddings and photoshoots. I had a photoshoot in a tattoo studio, and this was the logical choice. The batteries are truly superb, it’s very small and unobtrusive, and I could get my photography partner to angle the light with the handles if required. I’ve also used this light to help illuminate a first dance.
Right now, because I am just awash with brilliant lights, I use this as my hair light at home. I can move it very easily on a light stand, and change the temperature to taste. I usually have my key light warmer and my hair light cooler. Pretty.
You can check out my full review here, along with loads of real world footage.
I Like… Medium Lights And I Cannot Lie?
The next two lights I love are medium sized, and while they could be used as a key light for video, they are more geared towards B-roll, fill lights, and creative lighting with colour. You could use one of these lights in tandem with the larger lights if your budget allows, or if you’re just starting out these lights would be a great starting point too.
5) Neewer CN 160 — Battery powered LED light that’s small and simple — Under £50
No frills with this little guy. You have one small LED panel, and rudimental diffusion. Either white or warm. You can adjust the intensity of the panel with a dial on the side. I have used this light a lot. It’s great for B-roll, and as a hair light. It would be above and beyond in home lighting for youtube video creation.
You can mount it on a light stand or a camera
Batteries NOT included. Salty about that.
No the softest light in the world
Very plastic-y build quality
As well as the standard stuff, I had a ball using this light creatively. With the ability to turn it on and off quickly, it’s super fun to light-paint with. This was taken with just one light, moved three or four times.
6) Andycine AL-360RGB — RBG/white — Creative fun!
Small and compact, just like the Neewer, but the Andycine has a trick up its sleeve: RGB colour lighting! This is brilliant for numerous reasons. You can spill light onto the background to create effects like this:
You can spice up your B-roll and product shots by getting creative with the coloured lighting. You can spill light behind you for YouTube videos to make your background more interesting. You can side light yourself and have a grand old time coming up with creative effects.
All this and it’s also a bog standard white portable LED light source. Great bang for your buck if you ask me.
Just remember you’ll also need to buy additional batteries to make this work. It annoys me as much as I’m sure it annoys you, but it helps to keep the cost of the light down, and the removable batteries are really handy. You can charge up a few and quickly switch when needed.
Loads of cool uses for the same light
Can be used as a standard LED light as well as funky colours
Batteries not included
No diffusion included in the pack
If you were to buy an additional light to your key light, I’d highly recommend this one. Having some colour to play with can be really helpful. It works great for both photography and video.
Smol but Mighty
Finally, some honourable mentions for the small but mighty lightys. These are the kind of lights you’d stick in your camera bag just in case. They’re small, affordable, and very handy to have.
7) Aputure M9 — Super cool considering the size
I love Aputure lights. I find them to be superb quality and innovative. The M9 encapsulates that perfectly. It’s a small LED light with a few tricks up its sleeve. The front is magnetic and pops off. You can insert different types of diffusion, and it works surprisingly well. Also, this thing packs a PUNCH in terms of output. I was blown away!
I’ve used the M9 on my camera to give me a bit of a boost during wedding filming. I lit an entire short film with it for an Aputure film contest. I always keep it in my bag just in case. it’s so so handy, whether you put it on your camera, mount it on a tripod stand, or stick it anywhere it’ll fit.
Superb build quality and accessories
Powerful little bugger
it is SMOL
Built-in battery only
The battery is a pro and a con. I adore that I can USB charge it and off we go — and the battery life is properly impressive — but long term the battery isn’t interchangeable and will inevitably put an expiry date on your product. Having said that though, you’ll get a ton of use out of it first.
Here’s a video review I made of the M9 because I love it so. There’s loads of test footage and real world results, which is what I’m all about.
8) Moin L1 — Action light!
The Moin L1 is an interesting proposition. As well as it being small and powerful, it’s also completely waterproof! You get a lot of tech in such a small package. The Moin has both wifi and bluetooth connectivity, and you can change the colour temperature. I’ve seen these lights attached to the bottom of drones, and attached of course to GoPros for underwater filming. I’ll admit that this light is quite niche, but I think it’s super fun.
Connectivity and app
adjustable colour temperature
Colour filters included
Very niche - not for everyone
No diffusion so quite piercing light
You can mount the Moin L1 with a magnetic mount, which is included. You can add in colour filters (blue, yellow, red) which are included! Yay, at last a light that gives you all the accessories you need.
The build quality is superbly robust. There’s a quarter inch screw at the bottom for you to attach it straight to a light stand. It’s a very interesting light for sure. You can have loads of fun with it.
Lighting is a rabbit hole any creator can get lost in. There is so much choice, and so many different products. Me? I just love stuff that is easy to use and that gives me the results I’m after. What more can you ask for! I hope this list has been helpful to you. If you have any questions about the lights, leave a comment below. And consider joining the fun on my mailing list and youtube channel.