An LED light panel is among the most versatile tools a vlogger, indie filmmaker, or photographer can use. But how do you know which type of panel is right for your needs? Today, LED panels have more bells and whistles to choose from than ever before: a rainbow of colors, special effects, power options, and even strobe functionality. With so many features on the market, choosing a panel can quickly become a challenge. But worry not, I’m here to help.
In my work as a photographer and DP, I use a variety of LED panels—and not always the way they were originally intended. For example, an on-camera LED can double as a set light on a film, or it can be used as a hair light for an interview. The LED panels in this guide were chosen for their versatility. Adding some, or even just one, of these lights to your lighting kit will greatly expand your ability to create a wide range of content.
Best LED Panel for Filmmakers: Luxli Viola²
Luxli has been making impressive inroads with its Orchestra LED panel ecosystem in recent years. The panels range from the hulking 2x1' Taiko panel down to the pocket-sized Fiddle panel. The entire system is tied together by Luxli’s Composer App, which allows users to sync and control lights with the flick of a smartphone touchscreen.
But with the sheer number of features crammed into such a compact unit, the updated Viola² stands out from the pack. Calling it an on-camera light is an understatement: the Viola² has a CCT range from 3000K up to 10,000K, 150 gel-filter settings, a full 0 to 360° RGB color wheel, and 10 built-in special effects.
When used in conjunction with the Composer App, a whole new set of features opens up to the user. For example, you can sample color and brightness from an image right on your smart phone and the light will match the color with remarkable precision.
Although designed to be placed on top of a camera, I rarely use my Viola² that way. I’ll often adapt it to a light stand, mount it with a Mafer clamp, or even clamp it to a pole. It can provide endless solutions for the creative filmmaker.
Note: Luxli Viola² and several other LED panels on this list also appear in our roundup of recommended lighting kits for photography. Be sure to check it out if you're in the market for a photo lighting kit.
Best LED Panel for Photographers: Rotolight Neo 3
Strobe output is still a relatively new feature on lights used as continuous sources. Photographers have always been able to use LED lights for their work, but in recent years, manufacturers like Rotolight have discovered that pulsing an LED at an extremely fast rate can create a strobe effect.
The NEO 3 can serve as an all-around light with its high continuous output, RGB color options, and special effects. But where strobe photographers can really take advantage of this light is its ability to sync up to 1/8,000 second with no recycle time.
One downside when using an LED as a strobe is power output. While you can create a strobe light in any color on the RGB color wheel, you must be creative about how to utilize it best in your work. Since this feature is still relatively new to LED lights, I’m curious how it will develop in the years to come.
Best Content-Creator LED: Lume Cube Panel GO RGB
Finding the right combination of features, customization, and price can be tricky when choosing an all-around light. Whether you are gaming, vlogging, or just looking to enhance your kit, Lume Cube’s Panel GO RGB checks just about all of the above boxes.
Working as an on-camera panel or a stand-alone light, the Panel GO can serve as a key light, add a splash of color, or quickly change the mood of an environment.
While you get a slightly limited Kelvin range of 3200–5600K in CCT mode, the unlimited color combinations in RGB mode more than make up for it. There are also five built-in special-effect modes to add dynamism to your scene. Another great thing about the Panel Go is that it is small enough to fit in your pocket. The light also features mounting threads on multiple sides for easy horizonal and vertical mounting. Having such a large range of control in an easily portable design sets this light apart.
Best Compact LED: JOBY Beamo
Even though the JOBY Beamo isn’t technically a panel LED, I think it deserves a spot on this list for a few reasons. The Beamo is a small and lightweight cube that can be mounted on the shoe of any camera and can also be adapted seamlessly and used with a smartphone.
What makes the Beamo particularly unique is the ability to pair it with the myJOBY app and use it with other Beamos at the same time. They can be adapted and mounted on smartphones as single or multiple lights, depending on your needs.
Did I mention they were small? Having a pocket-sized light can really help keep your bag light when on the go. For its size, it packs a nice power punch, as well. As a bonus, the light is also waterproof, shockproof, can be charged wirelessly, and is magnetized for mounting on metal surfaces.
Best Smartphone LED: Ulanzi VL-49 Mini RGB Light
When it comes to bang for your buck, you’d be hard pressed to find an LED that provides more value than the Ulanzi VL-49. This mini LED panel light features a CCT Kelvin range from 2500 to 9000K, a full RGB wheel of color options, hue adjustments, magnetic mounting, and a built-in diffuser.
The VL-49 weighs next to nothing so it’s the perfect light to adapt onto a smartphone or an already compact camera rig. You’ll barely notice the weight change once it’s added. It features two hours of battery usage at maximum power, so the light won’t need a recharge for a while.
It also has shoe-mount adapters on three sides for easy mounting or combining multiple units into a larger source. Considering this light’s price point and the features you get, it’s an absolute steal for a beginner or anyone looking to save some cash.
Best LED Panel Alternative: Westcott Bi-Color LED Ring Light
Ring lights have proven themselves to be quite useful tools for vloggers, content creators, portrait photographers, and anyone who wants a nice, even, soft, continuous glow on them. While a ring light is not your traditional panel, it essentially does the same job, just in a different way. Having the ability to encircle your camera completely with light virtually eliminates unwanted shadows from a subject.
With the Westcott LED Ring Light, you’re getting a versatile package for a relatively small investment compared to some other panels out there. Because the Westcott is bi-color, you’re covered in most lighting situations. It’s fully dimmable from 0 to 100% and has a very high color accuracy rating of 97.
One of the drawbacks of ring lights is that they aren’t as compact as a panel; you need to account for the additional space they take up. This is the tradeoff for the type of light they produce.
With new LED panels popping up on the market almost daily, it’s a great time to be a content creator, filmmaker, or photographer. It was difficult to narrow down my favorite panels for this list, but I chose lights that serve unique purposes and can help the widest range of artists out there. At the end of the day, the Viola² and Panel GO are my favorites. There is very little these lights can’t do.
What are your favorite LED panels with which to create? Let us know in the Comments section, below!