What is a ring light?
A ring light can be the most important accessory in your kit bag if you shoot video or portrait and macro photography. These are subjects where you typically need even lighting with no shadows. A ring flash is ideal in these situations.
Because a ring light completely encircles the lens, it fires light at your subject from both sides, limiting shadows.
Most modern ring lights now also offer dials for adjusting the intensity of the light, as well as the colour temperature.
Ring flash vs ring light
There are different types of ring lights. A ring flash is often used by macro photographers and consists of a control unit that mounts to your camera’s hotshoe.
This unit then connects to dual flash units that sit on either side of your lens via an adapter that screws into your lens’s filter thread.
A ring flash will tend to have a low guide number when compared to the traditional flashgun you’ve probably used. Don’t let this deter you. Because ring flashes are used primarily when shooting up close, you don’t want too much light bleaching out your scene.
Some ring flashes also let you adjust the power of the flashguns separately so that you can experiment with different lighting effects.
LED ring lights tend to be used more for videography, where constant illumination is needed.
The circular ring lights are also good for portraiture and creating catchlights in your subject’s eyes.
What is the best ring light?
Neewer Dimmable 18-inch LED ring light
Neewer’s budget kit is a best-seller for a reason: it’s well built and you get quite a bit for your money. The kit includes an 18-inch fluorescent flash light with a 59-inch (150cm) light stand, plus a soft tube, white and orange filter set and a hotshoe adapter.
The Neewer unit offers 75W power (equivalent to 600W on an incandescent one) and a colour temperature of 5500K. There’s also a flexible arm for adjusting the angle.
We quite like the magnesium alloy build quality at this price, as well as some of the design touches like the extra long cord and thumb screws for quick adjustments.
Sigma EM-140 DG NA-ITTL Macro Flash
The Sigma EM-140 DG NA-ITTL is an electronic macro flash designed for close-up photography. One of it’s best features is that it boasts twin flash tubes which you can either fire simultaneously or independently.
You control the EM-140 via a commander unit that sits in your hotshoe, and it’s loaded with features. You’ve got wireless TTL flash control, an AF-assist lamp, as well as high-speed sync capability. Recycle times are also very speedy.
Available for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sigma cameras, the EM-140 DG NA-ITTL comes supplied with 55mm and 62mm adapter rings, while 52mm, 62mm,67mm,72mm and 77mm adapter rings can be purchased separately.
Nissin MF18 Macro Flash
The Nissin MF18 supports both Canon and Nikon cameras, offering a guide number of 14 (ISO 100). What’s really interesting about the Nissin MF18 is its expandable head design, which can increase wide enough to mount lenses with diameters of up to 82mm.
Nissin also allows you to independently adjust the left and right flash tubes in 1/6EV steps from 1/128 to 1/1024.
Other features include an illuminated LCD, flash exposure compensation, wireless of-camera control, flash exposure bracketing and a slave function. You can also update the Nissin’s firmware via USB.
Included with the MF18 flash unit are lens adapter rings in 77mm, 52mm, 62mm, 72mm and 58mm.
Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Wireless Macro Flash
The Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 offers wireless TTL operation in a compact, lightweight, one-piece design. This means it has no commander unit, so interestingly the Metz Mecablitz uses your camera’s pop-up flash to transmit its TTL metering signals.
If your camera isn’t capable of doing this, you can also trigger the flash using a sync cable, which is included in the kit. You also get lens adapters in 53mm, 55mm, 62mm, 67mm and 72mm, plus a diffuser panel and carrying case.
Like other ring flashes on this list, the Metz MS-1 has individually variable reflectors for more precise light distribution. It also offers a guide number of 15.
It’s compatible with Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony and Pentax cameras, making it perhaps the most versatile on this best ring lights list.
F&V HDR-300 SE LED Ring Light
F&V makes a solid, but reasonably priced, range of ring lights that offer incredible versatility and quality. Like the Neewer unit at the top of our best ring lights list, the F&V HDR-300 is a continuous light with 300 daylight (5600K) balanced LEDs and a brightness of 2205 lux at a distance of 1 metre.
It also boasts a knob at the back allowing you to adjust the intensity from 0 to 100%.
What we like about the F&V ring light is its versatility. You can mount it around your lens, as an off-camera light, even to a gimbal.
Inside the kit are three lens adapters covering 67-82mm, 72-82mm and 77-82mm, as well as a diffuser filter and Tungsten filter.