Camera Lights Buying Guide (2022): Flashes, LEDs, Softboxes, Remotes, Video Lights
The best way developing your skills as a photographer or videographer means learning the art of off-camera lighting – the use of flashes or continuous lights that are set up on stands around your photographic subject or held in your hand, and not mounted on your camera.
I’ve written a complete guide on how to properly light your photos and videos. It’s packed with advice from experts who have spent their careers mastering the intricacies of lighting. And it’s a lifelong process, but with a few basic concepts and some inexpensive tools, it’s a process that’s surprisingly accessible.
Below are product recommendations from myself and the experts. We’ve rounded up some great picks for those just starting out, as well as picks for seasoned photographers and videographers looking to upgrade to more professional setups.
Be sure to check out our many other photo buying guides, like the best mirrorless cameras, the best compact cameras, the best camera bags, and the best action cameras.
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Start with a light
Camera lighting doesn’t have to be expensive. Of course, if you want the best Swedish lamps in the world, they will cost you as much as a used car. But if you’re just looking to build your skills and start experimenting, you can start with a kit at an affordable light.
“With a one-light kit, you can easily create photos that are both more evocative and more three-dimensional,” says photographer and lighting instructor David Hobby. “For this reason, I would suggest any serious photographer get an off-camera light kit and learn how to use it before you even get your second lens.” Hobby even recommends getting a second light before buying a second lens: “With a second light (even cheaper than the first, because you don’t need a second wireless shutter release), you have the ability to control your subject in layers. Or to create a bright environment in the absence of any good quality ambient light.
Hobby recommends choosing a reputable third-party flash, made by a different manufacturer than the one that made your camera, as they are often more affordable. Camera manufacturers enjoy high markups on their flash units to compensate for low markups on their bodies and lenses. By buying from a third party, Hobby says, you can put together a complete kit that includes a flash, light stand, swivel adapter, lighting umbrella, and wireless remote shutter release for less than the cost of a flash of base.
Another thing to know is that if you buy a high-end lamp with an exclusive accessory holder around the bulb to attach different light modifiers, not only is the lamp expensive, but the accessories are also more expensive. If you buy gear with a Bowens mount (the standard mount for the vast majority of third-party props), buying props will be cheaper, encouraging more freedom to experiment with different options.
A good entry-level flash
At just $65, it’s the flash David Hobby recommends for an entry-level single-light kit. (This flash is also sold as Flashpoint Zoom R2 with US warranty) You can mount it directly to your camera or you can purchase a stand to use it on a light stand with modifiers such as an umbrella or a softbox. It’s the flash included in the $229 complete kit that Hobby recommends on its Strobist website.
Also get a remote shutter
With an external flash or strobe, you need a remote trigger to fire the flash remotely when you press the shutter button. This remote release must be compatible with both your flash and your specific brand of camera. If you’re using Godox or Flashpoint, this one’s easy to read about your settings thanks to the large backlit display. If you are using a smaller mirrorless camera such as a Fuji, the smaller version is what Hobby recommends. It’s the same price.
A Flash upgrade option
This mirrorless flash is also sold as the Godox AD200 Pro, but the Flashpoint version comes with a US warranty. This 250 watt strobe comes with both a flash head and a bare bulb head, the latter providing better light spread for use with a softbox or umbrella. (Check out our recommendations for these add-ons below, and learn more about them in our comprehensive lighting guide.)
Affordable and highly portable, this light is much more powerful than a typical flash without adding much bulk to your kit. If you’re choosing between this and a regular flash, keep in mind that it won’t mount on your camera like a flash would. It includes a swivel mount for a light stand, but the $25 Glow S2 Mount (or Godox S2) will allow you to mount it (or any flash) on a light stand. The S2 also has the added benefit of having an umbrella mount and a mount for softboxes.
Continuous lights for video
This new 65 watt continuous LED video light from Amaran is ready to plug in or can be operated without a power cord if using Sony L-Series rechargeable batteries (or compatible spares). When shooting video plugged into AC power, the locking connector will ensure you don’t accidentally pull it out while you’re in the middle of a shoot. Using a companion mobile app, you can control up to 100 Aputure and Amaran brand lights with your phone or tablet, dialing in your entire multi-light setup on your mobile device.
The 60d and 60x have just been released. The 60d is $30 cheaper and offers more full-power brightness. But the color of the 60d is daylight balanced whereas the 60x is bi-color which means it can be adjusted to emit light ranging from the bright white of daylight to the yellowish light closer to the candle light. I appreciated this versatility in practice more than the extra brightness of the 60x. Both versions have a standard Bowens mount, so they should work with a wide range of affordable third-party light modifiers such as softboxes.