Jul 17, 2023
The Best LED Lights for Streamers and Content Creators
Photographers and filmmakers know lighting matters, and that can extends to both light as a method of exposure and light as a way to convey a scene’s vibe. This guide is the result of a collaboration
Photographers and filmmakers know lighting matters, and that can extends to both light as a method of exposure and light as a way to convey a scene’s vibe.
This guide is the result of a collaboration between Jaron Schneider, Jordan Drake, and David Crewe.
Content creators on social media and Youtube or Twitch need to light not only themselves but also will need to employ it for engaging sets. These days, there are a lot of options on the market, but most of the ones that you’ll find on Amazon are cheaply built, unreliable, or cast poor quality light.
To that end, we’re here to help navigate this crowded market with our recommendations for the lighting that we have verified works well for an intended task. So whether you want to look good on camera, use a light to make someone else look good, or just want something to add interest to a set, we’ve got you covered.
To make this easier to browse, we’ve broken down our recommendations into a few different categories, but all of the options here are going to use LED technology. To reiterate, this list is designed to provide options for both set design as well as lighting a subject, so expect the offerings to be somewhat diverse. As we evaluate more equipment, we’ll update this list.
We specifically will be looking to add our pick for a best light panel as well as the best for use during streaming or on video calls. These two styles of light are, in particular, the most filled with questionable options, so our evaluation is ongoing. That said, if you’ve got the space for it, we recommend our pick for best COB LED below for both these options as it provides very high-quality light that looks great on a face.
The Aputure B7c is a light that screws into a standard light socket and is designed to be “practical” light, or a light that is actually shown in the photo or video while also illuminating the scene. Many gaffers will have a variety of bulbs with different output and color temperatures that can be added to a scene. The B7c makes things much simpler, as output, and color can be adjusted remotely with Aputure’s Sidus app. Also, this is an RGB fixture, so it can display a variety of colors, as well as effects like lightning and emergency lights.
Household RGB lights, like the Philips Hue Lights, have been around for a while, so why are the Aputure Lights so special? First, they have battery power, so one can be added to a lamp in the scene, even if power is not running to it. This can be hugely useful on set for minimizing the number of cables lying around. Also, the color spectrum of the B7c is far beyond what you normally see in consumer RGB lights. As a result, skin tones look natural when the B7c is the primary light source. I have used other inexpensive RGB lights for hair lights or background lights, but never as a key light for this reason.
The major limitation of the B7c is output. If you put a single bulb in a lampshade, it will struggle to overpower most household fixtures. For this reason, the B7c is best used as a fill or accent light. PetaPixel‘s Chris Niccolls uses three as a background light for his podcasting set, where they serve the purpose perfectly. The other irritation of the B7c is that all fixtures need to be Bluetooth paired separately. You only have to do this once, but when I opened the eight-light case, I expected to have all the bulbs show up in the app at once. Instead, I had to manually pair each of them. This seems like something that could be rectified with firmware.
As long as you stick to the recommended use cases, the Aputure B7c is a great tool for adding a flexible accent or practical light to a YouTube set.
While we are on the subject of sets, Nanoleaf is our pick for the best light system for decorating a set with an eye-catching design. Streamers tend to really like Nanoleaf panels and that’s why you’ll see them in pretty much any live streaming set where RGB lighting is a factor. Nanoleaf is popular because they’re easy to install (they stick to any surface using Command Strips), they generate very little heat, and they can produce a full range of colors that is easy to program with Nanoleaf’s app.
In the app, a whole panel bank of lights can be controlled from a single tiny command unit and is powered by one cable that can be hidden discreetly behind furniture. Nanoleaf also makes its panels in black and white to better match different walls colors.
The other benefit of Nanoleaf are the sheer volume of shape and style choices. The company’s most well-known products tend to use triangles, but over the last few years it has expanded into squares, hexagons, and lines. Nanoleaf Shapes are only compatible with two sizes of triangles and hexagons while the other options are in different lines that require separate command units. Separate product lines aren’t able to be connected together with the same pieces, but they can all work together using Nanoleaf’s app. Nanoleaf is also a Matter partner, which means its LEDs will be compatible with other smarthome items in the future.
Nanoleaf lights aren’t meant to be anything other than a design element, so color accuracy and usefulness for actually lighting a subject aren’t factors at all. That said, they do have the capability to reach significant brightness, especially when you get a group of them together. Because they’re capable of expanding basically endlessly, you can create a pattern or block of light anywhere in a room and use for a variety of purposes. You can see some of them in action behind Jaron Schneider in the PetaPixel podcast, but he is also lit with a separate group behind the camera which are set to a warm tone. Because they can play a few different roles, Nanoleaf panels are great for building a personal space where you want to enjoy it during entertainment time but also want it to have some professional value.
The main downside of Nanoleaf products is that they are expensive. A set of seven triangle Shapes panels costs $200, but that does include the command strip and power.
I’m a huge fan of Aputure’s COB (chip on board) series of high output, single source lights, but I was skeptical how the lower priced Amaran models would fare, especially the color temperature tunable 200X. Single point light sources are my favorite as they can be easily modified to cast anything from a thin, strong beam of light, to a large soft light source. Thankfully, the Amaran model still uses the popular Bowens mount, which has an enormous list of compatible modifiers.
Despite being bi-color, the Amaran actually has more accurate white balance than my original COB 300D. Despite the 300D being designated a daylight balanced fixture, I typically have to set my camera to “Cloudy” white balance to get proper skin tones when using that light. The Amaran 200X looked great with the color temperature dialed to 5600K and my camera set to ‘Daylight’ white balance.
One sacrifice I’m used to seeing on less expensive lighting fixtures is much louder fans. The 200X surprised me with minimal noise compared to other cameras in this output class, even the higher end COB 120D. It is also surprisingly light: I felt comfortable using a standard light stand and not the heavier C-Stands I typically rely on when using COB fixtures.
The output of the 200X is totally sufficient when used in a medium sized softbox to light a single presenter in a full body shot. If you require a larger set or multiple presenters, I would recommend going to a higher output light fixture. That said, with the $350 price of the Amaran 200X, you could buy a couple of them for the price of one COB 300X and have far more lighting flexibility.
If you’re looking for other options, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the SmallRig RC 450, which are excellent LEDs that are absolutely a great alternative.
RGB Tube lights have been available for a long time now, but most have been on a much higher price tier and require a learning curve to use effectively. Those on the more affordable side have been functional, but frustrating and not the greatest quality, so it’s arguable that Lume Cube entering the market now and with the $169 12-inch Lume Cube Tube Light Mini is a good thing, as it gave them the time to iron out many of the user-complaints and make a creative lighting device that just plain works.
As we covered in our review, while it may not have the power to be a true main light for most photographers, the Lume Cube Tube Light Mini actually works rather fantastic as a compact, lightweight, and durable rim and accent light for most creative image and videography needs you can throw at it.
Most tube lights suffer from this problem, but Lume Cube’s Tube Light Mini isn’t particularly bright, but if you’re willing to bump the ISO on your camera a bit, you can use them as a key light.
There is a lot to like about the $169 12-inch Lume Cube Tube Light Mini because it’s durable and very easy to use. So while there is a lot of competition on the market for these, they manage to stand out and earn our highest recommendation.
The FiveRay M40 LED panel light from Zhiyun is a tiny and surprisingly bright 40W pocket LED that adds an impressive array of versatility for both photo and streaming content creators. What makes this light system attractive is not only does it offer a wide color temperature range of 2700K to 6200K with a CRI index of (≥96) and TLCI (≥97), but the travel-ready light also includes a pivoting arm with multiple mount points for easy adjustments once connected to a stand.
The small light measures just 136.5mm by 77.8mm by 29mm, features 88 cool light and 88 warm light chips and weighs just 320 grams which allows it can fit in many small spots and is very easy to travel with — yes it can even fit in your pockets. Sadly, the Fiveray M40 LED light doesn’t have a wireless app for remote control adjustments of the settings, but it does offer two dials for fast and easy adjustments with one dial controlling the color temperature, and the other controlling the power (a dimmer dial for precise adjustments). These dials are covered by the fold-down mount arm that can rotate a full 360 degrees and has two mount points (one at the base and one at the side) for a 1/4 inch mount (like a tripod or wall plate) for easy connections to account for a variety of shooting setups.
While the light is impressively bright for its small size, the battery life when used at full power only works for 25 to 30 minutes, but the good news is you can run this light connected directly to a power source using a USB-C connection for extended durations making it an excellent compact LED choice for just $89.