Ring lights are exactly what they sound like: a strip of LEDs built into a halo apparatus that provides flattering light without creating shadows or harsh lines.
Early ring lights were typically designed to have the camera or smartphone sit in the middle of the light. This was to both minimize shadows when holding a phone in front of you and to ensure the perfect lighting for selfies — which is why they first found fame amongst vloggers and influencers.
But ring lights have in recent years clearly evolved past their vlogging roots. They are available in many sizes and setups and have become vital tools for budding photographers as well as the perfect addition to home office setups. You don’t have to be vying to become an overnight TikTok sensation to appreciate being cast in a better light on Zoom calls, and a high-quality ring light will definitely help.
Over the course of a month, we tested eight top-rated ring lights to determine which provided the best overall lighting, with two taking top honors:
The Emart 10-inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $25.99, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Since a 10-inch light isn’t the most compact pack-it-up, take-it-with-you accessory, we also recommend the Whellen Selfie Ring Light. This ultra-portable 3.5-inch light conveniently clips onto your phone, whether you’re using a case or not, and fits easily atop a laptop for video calls. The user-friendly Whellen Selfie Ring Light provided flattering lighting in all of the images we took with it, and it offers both warm and cool settings to adjust the harshness of the light being cast. It’s simply a great light, especially at $16.99.
Best overall ring light: Emart 10-inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-inch Selfie Ring Light ticks all the boxes for what you’d want in a ring light: adjustability (both in terms of setup and lighting options), lightweight design and multiple use cases. Bringing that all together at an affordable $35.40 price point made the Emart a clear winner when compared to the rest of our testing pool.
From the outset, the Emart ring light is extremely easy to use. The light itself simply screws into the tripod, which in turn has three collapsible sections to reach its minimum and maximum heights. The base upon which the light sits can turn 360 degrees around and 180 degrees up or down, which ensures you get the perfect angle to decrease shadows when taking a photo or lighting yourself during virtual meetings.
While the setup is fairly large (the tripod can expand up to 50 inches in height), you can collapse the tripod to its shortest height (19 inches) to set it on your desktop behind your computer. The 19-inch height gave the Emart major bonus points, as it was the only ring light we tested that peeked above laptop height even at its lowest setting. That means you can still use it straight on, as opposed to the others that you have to use off to the side a bit, which can lead to unwanted shadows.
But what, er, shone brightest during our tests was the flattering light cast by the Emart, which came across as natural sunlight in both portraits and selfies. That’s made possible by the light’s three light modes (there’s warm, cool and a nice mix of the two) along with 11 brightness levels for each mode (which was the most settings on any of the lights we tested). In photos taken during both day and night, the lighting gave us high-quality images, highlighting everything it was supposed to while dampening shadows. Even on its brightest setting, the light isn’t overbearing, so it’s not too distracting to use for video calls.
The Emart comes with two included phone holders. One of them is quite handy, clipping onto the thinnest part of the tripod with a small metal clasp that wraps around the pole where it holds your phone both vertically and horizontally. The second phone holder sort of renders the light useless as it screws onto the top of the tripod — the same place you screw in the light. This clip should ideally slot into the middle of the ring, akin to the earliest ring lights. Not a dealbreaker since the other phone holder suffices, but annoying nonetheless.
Ultimately, the Emart 10-inch Selfie Light, thanks to its adjustability and various lighting options, was the best of the bunch we tested. Whether you’re using this light for a professional appearance in virtual meetings or for fun and creative content making, this is a great option. Plus, for a combo of light and tripod, the $35.40 price is relatively low while delivering high-quality results.
Best portable ring light: Whellen Selfie Ring Light ($16.99; amazon.com)
The Whellen Selfie Ring Light is extremely lightweight and small, so it easily fits in pockets, purses, backpacks — you name it. We stuffed it in a purse while grocery shopping, and even with keys, a phone, a wallet and some spare change around it, the light didn’t so much as get scratched.
The 3.5-inch light clips right onto your phone or laptop. If you’re using it for the front-facing camera, the bottom half of the light will cover part of your screen while the top half sits above your phone. That may sound annoying, but in use, it doesn’t block any important part of the screen — it never covered the other person while on a video call, and it essentially covers the same amount of space at the top of the phone as a drop-down notification, so you still see almost the entire field of view.
The Whellen’s clip has rubber padding on the inside, so you never have to worry about it scratching your screen. And even with a case, we had no trouble fitting the clip on our phone (we were using the Incipio Organicore case, which adds 3.7mm to the phone’s thickness).
Like our overall winner, though much more compact, the Whellen offers three different lighting options: warm, cool, or a combination of the two — more than some of the larger and more expensive lights we tested. The cool setting is bright white, and the warm setting carries an orange tint. Even in the darkest of rooms or during nighttime use, both the warm light option and cool light options worked well, though we found the mix of both looked most natural and flattering.
The light has only one button, which toggles through the light settings. If you hold down the button while on any of the light modes, the light will dim so you can easily adjust brightness levels. Most other lights we tested required clicking through for different brightness levels, so the slow dim was a nice touch for the Whellen Selfie Ring Light. Once the light is at its dimmest, you can click and hold the top button again for it to come back to brighter levels until you reach the brightest setting.
Battery life is the only aspect that left us wanting. It took about an hour for the light to fully charge, and lasted about an hour and a half. While on par with the entire field (almost all averaged the same lifespan), the included USB charger is only 10 inches long. So while other lights can remain plugged in while in use, that’s pretty much an impossibility with the Whellen without adding your own charger with a longer cord.
Still, for just $16.99, the Whellen’s multiple light settings and ease of use make it one of the best ring lights out there — especially if you’re looking for something portable.
To compile our testing pool, we read reviews, searched Amazon for the top-rated ring lights and looked at companies known for their lighting features. We then established parameters to test against, particularly looking at brightness, color options and results in photos and videos.
Here is a breakdown of how we tested for each category:
We took note of any instructions included with the lights. For any lights or tripods that needed to be assembled, we noted whether or not the process was complicated. Design
Durability: We determined how durable the lights were by using them consistently during the day. Portable lights were carried in purses while running errands and checked for scratches or cracks. We also looked at the materials used for tripods and whether they were plastic or metal. Adjustability: We tested for both physical and settings adjustability via the control buttons offered. A light scored higher if adjusting the light brightness and colors was simple and if the light was easy to move around on a phone for use on both the front-facing and back cameras. Functionality
Levels of brightness: We noted how many levels of brightness were possible. If brightness levels could be changed, a light would be rated higher. The more brightness levels available, the higher the light scored. Ease of control: We rated how easy the light was to control and manage during use. Color temperature scale: We noted when a light only offered cool or warm light, which lights offered both and which had a combination. Selfie test, day: We used the front-facing camera of an iPhone X against a white backdrop in a room with two overhead recessed lights on and a small window across the room to get a clear idea of how the light showed up in photos during the day. We took pictures with the ring light off and then on at different brightness and light temperature settings, when applicable, and compared the before and after images. Selfie test, night: We used the front-facing camera of an iPhone X against a white backdrop in a room with two overhead recessed lights on to get a clear idea of how the light worked in photos at night. We took pictures with the ring light off and then
Brighten your Zoom calls with the best ring lights of 2021
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