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Ring lights are exactly what they sound like: strips of LEDs built into a halo-like apparatus. By placing your camera, webcam or smartphone in the center of the ring, you minimize shadows and get flattering light that seems to come from everywhere, without creating shadows, harsh lines or distracting reflections. They’re perfect tools for making you look good on camera.

Long used by professional portrait and macro photographers as well as makeup artists, and perfect for selfies, streaming, vlogging and most photo and video tasks, they have become favorites of social media influencers and content creators of all kinds. But you don’t have to be a top Twitch streamer or overnight TikTok sensation to appreciate being cast in a better light on Zoom calls — they’re also the perfect addition to work-from-home office setups.

Ring lights are available in many sizes and setups, from DSLR-friendly models meant to be mounted on tripods or light stands to miniature versions you can stick to smartphones, so over the course of a month we tested eight top-rated ring lights to determine which provided the best overall lighting for everyday users, with two taking top honors.

Best overall ring light

With tons of lighting and placement adjustments, the EMart ring light gives you the flexibility to get great, consistent lighting for video calls, streaming, selfies or any content creation need.

Best portable ring light

Small enough to put in a pocket or purse, the Whellen ring light gives you great video call and selfie lighting you can take anywhere. The convenient clip mounting fits on your phone or laptop, and won't scratch your screen.

Best overall ring light: EMart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($22.99; amazon.com)

Amazon

The EMart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ticks all the boxes for what you’d want in a ring light: It’s got tons of adjustability in terms of setup and lighting options, a lightweight design and can be used in multiple ways with a variety of cameras, making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. It brings it all together at an affordable price point, making it a clear winner among the ring lights we tested.

From the outset, the EMart ring light is extremely easy to use. The light, which is wide enough to use with most cameras itself simply screws onto the included tripod, which has three collapsible sections. The base upon which the light sits can turn 360 degrees around and you can pivot the light 180 degrees up or down, which ensures you get the perfect angle to decrease shadows when taking a photo or lighting yourself during virtual meetings. A Bluetooth remote is included to control the light’s setting if you place it at a distance.

The EMart’s tripod can expand up to 50 inches in height but can collapse down to 19 inches, a perfect height to use on your desktop with your computer or tuck it behind your laptop. This flexibility gave the EMart major bonus points, as it was the only ring light we tested that peeked above laptop height even at its lowest setting. That means you can still use it straight on, as opposed to the others that you have to use off to the side a bit, which can lead to unwanted shadows.

But what, er, shone brightest during our tests was the flattering light cast by the EMart, which came across as natural sunlight in both portraits and selfies. That’s made possible by the light’s three light modes (there’s warm, cool and a nice mix of the two) along with 11 brightness levels for each mode (the most settings of any of the lights we tested). In photos taken during both day and night, the lighting gave us high-quality images, highlighting everything it was supposed to without producing distracting shadows. Even on its brightest setting, the light isn’t overbearing, so it’s not too distracting to use for video calls.

The EMart comes with two phone holders. One of them is quite handy, clipping onto the thinnest part of the tripod stand with a small metal clasp that wraps around the pole; it can hold your phone vertically or horizontally. The second phone holder is a tripod mount, which means to use it with the EMart you’ll need a second tripod or stand since the ring light itself also uses the tripod as a light stand. We would have preferred to see a single mount that let you place both the phone and the light on the tripod mount, positioning the phone in the center of the ring. This isn’t a deal breaker since the other phone holder gives you plenty of options, but it is annoying nonetheless.

Ultimately, the EMart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light, thanks to its adjustability and various lighting options, was the best of the bunch we tested. Whether you’re using this light for a professional appearance in virtual meetings or for fun and creative content making, this is a great option. Plus, for a combo of light and tripod, the $35.40 price is relatively low while delivering high-quality results.

Ellen McAlpine/CNN

Best portable ring light: Whellen Selfie Ring Light ($12.99; amazon.com)

The Whellen Selfie Ring Light is extremely lightweight and small, so it easily fits in pockets, purses, backpacks — you name it. We stuffed it in a purse while grocery shopping, and even with keys, a phone, a wallet and some spare change around it, the light didn’t so much as get scratched.

The 3.5-inch light clips right onto your phone or laptop. If you’re using it for the front-facing camera, the bottom half of the light will cover part of your screen, while the top half sits above your phone. That may sound annoying, but in use, it doesn’t block any important part of the screen — it never covered the other person while on a video call, and it essentially covers the same amount of space at the top of the phone as a drop-down notification, so you still see almost the entire field of view.

The Whellen’s clip has rubber padding on the reverse side to prevent it from scratching your screen. And even with a case, we had no trouble fitting the clip on our phone (we were using the Incipio Organicore case, which adds 3.7 millimeters to the phone’s thickness).

Like our overall winner, though much more compact, the Whellen offers three different lighting options: warm, cool or a combination of the two — more than some of the larger and more expensive lights we tested. The cool setting is bright white, and the warm setting carries an orange tint. Even in the darkest of rooms or during nighttime use, both the warm light option and cool light options worked well, though we found the mix of both looked most natural and flattering.

The light has only one button, which toggles through the light settings. If you hold down the button while on any of the light modes, the light will dim so you can easily adjust brightness levels. Most other lights we tested required clicking through for different brightness levels, so the slow dim was a nice touch for the Whellen Selfie Ring Light. Once the light is at its dimmest, you can click and hold the top button again for it to come back to brighter levels until you reach the brightest setting.

Battery life is the only aspect that left us wanting. It took about an hour for the USB-powered light to fully charge, and lasted about an hour and a half. While on par with the entire field (almost all averaged the same life span), the included USB charging cable is only 10 inches long. So while other lights can remain plugged in while in use, you’ll have to supply your own cable to do this with the Whellen.

Still, for just $16.99, the Whellen’s multiple light settings and ease of use make it one of the best ring lights out there — especially if you’re looking for something portable.

How we tested

To compile our testing pool, we read reviews, searched Amazon for the top-rated ring lights and looked at companies known for their lighting equipment. We then established parameters to test, looking in particular at brightness, color options and results in photos and videos.

Here is a breakdown of how we tested for each category:

Setup

  • We took note of any instructions included with the lights. For any lights or tripods that needed to be assembled, we noted whether or not the process was complicated.

Design

  • Durability: We determined how durable the lights were by using them consistently during the day. Portable lights were carried in purses while running errands and checked for scratches or cracks. We also looked at the materials used for tripods and whether they were plastic or metal.
  • Adjustability: We tested for both physical and settings adjustability via the control buttons offered. A light scored higher if adjusting the light brightness and colors was simple and if the light was easy to move around on a phone for use on both the front-facing and back cameras.

Functionality

  • Levels of brightness: We noted how many levels of brightness were possible. If brightness levels could be changed, a light would be rated higher. The more brightness levels available, the higher the light scored.
  • Ease of control: We rated how easy the light was to control and manage during use.
  • Color temperature scale: We noted when a light only offered cool or warm light, which lights offered both and which had a combination.
  • Selfie test, day: We used the front-facing camera of an iPhone X against a white backdrop in a room with two overhead recessed lights on and a small window across the room to get a clear idea of how the light showed up in photos during the day. We took pictures with the ring light off and then on at different brightness and light temperature settings, when applicable, and compared the before and after images.
  • Selfie test, night: We used the front-facing camera of an iPhone X against a white backdrop in a room with two overhead recessed lights on to get a clear idea of how the light worked in photos at night. We took pictures with the ring light off and then on at different brightness and light temperature settings when applicable and compared the before and after images.
  • Portrait shot: We used the back camera of an iPhone X to see how well the lights looked in portrait mode. We took photos in portrait mode both at night and during the day.
  • Video calls: We used each light during different video calls to see how the light looked over FaceTime. We also noted how distracting or bright the light was during use.

Battery life

  • Charge time: We plugged the light into a wall outlet using the charging cable provided with each light and timed how long it took to fully charge.
  • Battery life: We let the lights run until the battery died after receiving a full charge, noting the time it took to fully die.

Compatibility with phone and laptop

  • We observed how the light fit onto a phone or laptop. We checked how tight the grip was once attached, comparing the grip using various thicknesses of phone cases and checking the grip without a phone case. For standing lights we noted whether they had an option to hold the phone while using the ring light and if the tripod was tall enough to sit on a desk above a laptop for effective lighting.

Warranty

  • We checked if the ring light included a warranty with purchase.

Others we tested

Joby Beamo Mini ($69.95; amazon.com)

This is a bright LED light that has a cold shoe mount for a camera, a tripod mount and a magnetic back to attach to other surfaces, but it isn’t easily usable with a phone, and you’ll have to supply a small tripod to use it with a laptop. Meant more for serious photographers, the light itself is hard to set up, uses a proprietary charger as opposed to a standard USB charger, is overwhelmingly bright and is expensive to boot.

Kodak Smartphone Portrait Light ($6.02, originally $19.99; amazon.com)

Though this Kodak ring light provided flattering light with all three of its brightness levels, we noticed the brightness of the light starting to fade after the ring light was left on for longer than 30 minutes. It did, however, fit really well on our phone with or without a case, though it doesn’t fit well on thicker cases.

Qiaya Selfie Ring Light ($11.99; amazon.com)

This light was smaller than the other portable ring lights we tested but lacked in performance. The photos we took with this light seemed to have a white film over them that made them look unnatural or poorly edited. It’s more expensive than the Whellen Selfie Ring Light but didn’t provide nearly as good results.

Fotodiox Selfie Starlite Vlog Pro Ring Light and Tabletop Set ($99.95; amazon.com)

This is a good desktop option if you’re looking for a ring light to use while applying makeup, while filming videos or during virtual meetings. The tripod included is very short, so it sits at a good height on a desk but doesn’t adjust tall enough for use with a laptop’s built-in camera. It comes with a phone holder alongside a mirror for applying makeup, which was an added bonus. This light also gives you the option to mix warm and cool light at different levels with an indicator on the back. It lost points, however, because the tripod included is short and minimally adjustable. Plus, the light is much larger than the base, making it awkward and somewhat difficult to put together.

Movo VGC-3 Selfie Ring Light Kit ($24.95; amazon.com)

This option from Movo was different from all of the other lights we tested; the stand mount looks like a large chip clip, which lets you mount it to anything you can grab (the edge of a shelf or monitor, for instance), and holds three flexible, bendable arms, one of which holds the light, another a phone holder and the third a mounting point for an audio recorder, camera or other object. The lighting provided by this ring light was really crisp, but overall it isn’t as functional as the other portable lights we tested since it doesn’t simply sit atop a desk. But if you have a desk where you can clip it into place, this is definitely a great option.

Godox LEDM32 Smartphone Mini Light ($16.90; adorama.com)

Tiny but mighty, the Godox LEDM32 Smartphone Mini Light has a small clip on the back that fits easily on a phone and provided an extremely bright light. The light was almost blindingly bright, in fact, but the brightness could be adjusted using the plus and minus buttons on the top of the light. It charged really quickly, with the battery lasting almost two hours. The light looked great in photos and worked really well for video calls, but overall was overly bright and distracting during use.

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