Is a Phone Ring Light Worth the Hype?

By Ned McRae

What is a Phone Ring Light?

A ring light is a simple and easy-to-use lighting tool that can be utilised in a variety of circumstances. A ring light consists of a circular light fixture with LED lights fitted in a circular fashion, which allows you to mount your camera in the middle of the light to allow for even and central lighting, relative to the camera position. LED ring lights are one of the best sources of recreating natural light, which is great for photographing macro subjects, as well as providing a natural and even light source for creative professionals such as makeup and tattoo artists. Ring lights can be well over half a metre in diameter, or as little as several centimetres, which allows you to find the perfect ring light to suit your needs. A good ring light will have a dimmer dial so you can adjust the level of light to capture the perfect photo.

A phone ring light is a ring light specifically designed for use with a smartphone. These are typically much smaller than a professional ring light and may attach to your phone with a clip, specifically designed for taking the best selfies. If you want to extend your photography or videography beyond a simple selfie, while still using your smartphone, then a large ring light is a better option. Most professional quality ring lights will come with an option for mounting your smartphone in the middle and will provide brighter light with better colour representation than a small ring light for selfies.

Features of a Phone Ring Light

Phone ring lights can come in a variety of sizes and types, however, they will usually share these common features.

The most prominent feature of a phone ring light is the actual light itself. Consisting of several LED lights behind a diffuser arranged in a circle, the light provides a flat-end even light. The diameter of the circle varies depending on which product you purchase, which allows for different-sized cameras to be used as well as providing slightly different lighting effects.

Most ring lights will also come with some sort of switch or dial to adjust the brightness of the light. Large, professional-quality ring lights will come with a dial so you can precisely adjust the brightness. A small phone ring light designed for selfies will usually have a button that lets you cycle between multiple brightness levels, so you have some adjustability.

A ‘gooseneck’ can be found on almost all high-level ring lights and allows you to bend the ring light in all sorts of directions depending on where your subject is. This feature is perfect for those who may be photographing various objects rather than a simple portrait and therefore require lots of adjustability.

Depending on what you're shooting and the colours of the subject and background, you may need a different colour temperature. We are not talking about how much heat the light emits, but rather how warm the colour emitted from the light is. A warm colour will come off as more orange, whereas a cool colour will come off as more of a solid white with hints of blue. High-end ring lights may come with a dial to adjust the colour temperature.

Is a Ring Light for Me?

So now you know what a ring light is and what it can do for you, but you still aren’t sure whether you should get one.

The answer is most likely yes. If you are an avid selfie-taker who likes to post on social media, then a phone ring light is a perfect addition to your arsenal. A ring light will ensure you have perfect lighting wherever you are, making your eyes and facial features pop! They are great for taking close-up photos as well.

If you are into content creation then you can also benefit from a phone ring light. They’re great for vlogging or providing an even and clear light when applying makeup. If you’re filming videos at home then it is worth investing in a large ring light that sits on a tripod, as it will provide brighter light and has extra features, such as adjustable brightness and temperature that can be changed remotely, a USB charger, and the option to mount a DSLR camera or a regular mobile phone. However if you are on the move and filming with your smartphone, then a phone ring light is for you.

Things to Look for When Shopping for a Phone Ring Light

With so many options on the market, each with different features and different prices, it can be difficult to know what features you may need and what price points to look at. Here I’ll break down which type of ring light is best for you.

There are a few standard features every ring light should have, regardless of whether it’s a small light that clips to your phone or a large professional ring light. The main thing to avoid is a ring light with low-quality LEDs that are dim and will break after a short period. It’s worth spending a bit of extra money to ensure you’re getting a high-quality LED that will provide a bright and even light that will always work when you need it to.

Any good ring light will have some kind of brightness adjustment. This is a key feature that can’t be overlooked as it allows you to get the perfect photo in a wider range of lighting situations. Most phone ring lights will have at least 3 levels of adjustment, while a professional-style ring light will have a dial so you can fine-tune the brightness to your exact needs.

If you plan on creating content or you just want to be at the top of your selfie game, then look for a ring light with temperature adjustment. Most large ring lights will have a wide range of temperature adjustments, usually in the form of a dial. A high-end phone ring light like this one from Kodak not only has adjustable brightness, but also adjustable colour temperature. Due to their compact size, phone ring lights will have a small button to change the colour temperature from a handful of preset temperatures.

Lastly, a phone ring light should be rechargeable with a USB cable. You don’t want to be changing batteries every hour when it runs out of charge. USB Type C is the best and usually charges the quickest. A large ring light will plug into mains power, but a high-end one will have the option to use it with a rechargeable battery - great for those who photograph in many different locations.

How Much Should I Spend on a Ring Light?

Ring lights can get quite expensive, so how do you know what the best price for your needs is? If you want a high-quality phone ring light with all the bells and whistles, expect to pay up to $40, however you can get some great sales if you look around.

For larger ring lights that sit on a tripod, a small, 10” light can cost between $20-$80. The high-end ones will offer higher quality components as well as more features such as RGB lights. Overall, most people won’t have to spend more than $100 unless they’re creative professionals.


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