Last fall I was at my local camera store when I saw the Dot-Line LED ring light. I was not sure how I felt about the idea of an LED light. I had heard mixed reviews about LED lights in general. Specifically a friend who is a DP (Director Of Photography) for video work told me he did not like using LEDs as a key light (main light). But at the same time the curiosity about what you could do with one intrigued me. I picked it up to give it a thorough testing.
The first great thing about this light is the price. At 150 dollars it has the potential to be great for macro on a budget. The bulbs are daylight balanced for color temperature, 5600K, like sunlight and most flashes on the market. Unlike a flash this unit is a constant light source. One of the great things about a constant light source is what you see is what you get. There is no need to test and retest your flash settings.
One of the features that caught my attention is the way the translucent plastic bends down towards the lens. This provides better wrap around light when working with macro photography. Many of the ring lights I have used only have the light open on the front.
The light itself is made up of two parts. There is a power unit containing the batteries, an on off switch and a dial used to adjust between one/fourth and full power. This unit sits on the camera’s shoe mount. The LED’s are in the second part, which attaches to the front of the lens with a screw on adapter. A set of various size adapters comes with the light. The light unit has 60 LED bulbs and is covered by a translucent piece of plastic. A power cord attaches the two units.
Since the unit does not interact with the camera I did a series of readings at different distances to determine the level of light it can produce. One factor to keep in mind with any lighting source is falloff over distance. When using modern TTL flash systems the camera takes all factors into account when controlling the flash output. With non-TTL flash systems and constant lights you need to know what your light output is at a given distance. The falloff of light obeys the inverse square law and can be calculated mathematically. When I test lights I prefer to check light levels at various distances with a light meter rather than take one reading and calculate the rest. Below is a chart with my results for this light’s output at different distances and power settings.
I have been pleased with the light overall. During the last 6 months I have run it through its paces. One of my first concerns was the construction of the unit. It has a very plastic feel, but it has held up very well over extended use. No matter how hard you try to avoid it gear will get bumped around. My second concern was battery life. Four AA batteries power the unit with a life of 1 to 11/2 hours. I would recommend having a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries for the light. If you are using regular alkaline ones it can get expensive quickly. When I am not shooting I try to keep the light off but there are times when you are working with insects and it is just not possible. I would take 3 or 4 sets of batteries if you plan to be out shooting all day.
I wanted to gauge how the light would do under a variety of different lighting scenarios. So I decided to use it as my only additional lighting source for a photo essay I have been working on. I had tried it in different situations before this but I wanted to get a feel for how it would look when a group of images was taken as one body of work. The photo essay is of a nest of Robins from the time they hatched until leaving the nest. Here are some photos for three different lighting situations I encountered during the project and a little discussion about each.
This image was taken on a heavily overcast day. Not much available light compounded by the nest being in a bush and the Ring Light became my main source. The light produced a nice even effect. There are not any shadows resulting from the ring light. For macro photography this is what we want. The plastic covering the bulbs has a bit of a frosted quality helping to produce a softer light. As with any single light source it does come off as a little flat, but I can live with that.
The second shot was taken about 4:00 in the afternoon with a sunset time of about 8:30. The sunlight was direct and a bit harsh, with natural light coming through the bush as can be seen on the upper wing of the bird. The LED light is at 100% but can’t quite get that much power. Overall I am ok with this because I like the contrast it adds. The lighting difference still allows detail to be seen in all parts of the image and adds some depth.
The third image above was taken around 6:00 with about an 8:30 sunset. There was some natural light coming across the front of the nest and onto the bird’s face. The sunlight was a little less intense than the image above because of the later time of day. I was able to balance the available light with the ring light giving some fill on the birds’ faces. Also with balancing the two I was able to darken the background.
I feel these different lighting conditions under which I used this LED unit make a useable and cohesive set of images. This is a big plus for me, a piece of gear I can’t use at different times to get a complete body of work to look compatible is a non-starter. A final consideration is how adaptable is a piece of gear. Another plus for a constant light source is its ability to be used with video. Since many DSLR’s now produce Hi-Def video it could come in handy.
Overall this LED Ring Light has earned a place in my bag. Its inability to keep up with harsh midday light is a not much of a limiting factor for me because I do a lot of my shooting earlier or later in the day. There are times when the constant light is nice, as in my photo essay above. I only spent a few minutes a day at the nest because the parents were not keen on my presence. I did not have to worry about any errant shadows because of the 60 bulbs all throwing light at slightly different angles. The lighting produced was nice and even producing a good foundation to edit from. The light has proved to be reliable with no flickering or unintentional dimming either.