Ring Light vs Softbox : Pros, Cons and which is better for you ?

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If you are trying to select your first light and confused between ring light vs softbox , then you have come to the right place.

Light is the most important factor in photography and videography ( other being the Audio !) . It’s what makes sure your subject is visible and brings out their features. Choosing the right light for the right occasion will make a lot of difference to your photographs.

In this blog post, we’ll be comparing ring light vs soft box. We’ll go over some pros and cons of each type as well as when one should use a soft box vs ring light.

Ring light gives more uniform , bright and front on light , while soft box gives more diffused , soft light and is generally placed side on.

If you are interested in buying a ring light or a softbox then here are a few good ones you can buy. For softbox you will have to buy the light separately as well.

There are small ring lights called mini ring light , you can read all about it in our post.

Ring light vs Softbox : The main differences

As you must have seen by now the fundamental difference between ring light and softbox is the shape of the light , the intensity and the evenness.

  1. Ring light is circular bright source while soft box is more of a square or rectangular large diffused light source.
  2. Ring light product more even and brightly lit images , whereas softboxes tend to produce a more natural soft lighting.
  3. Ring lights are generally placed front on to the subject , while the softbox is almost always placed on one side at around 45 deg angle to the subject. Softbox creates more light on one side of the subject and produces soft shadow on the other side. You can always control light on the other side by putting reflectors or another soft box as well.
  4. Ring lights create catchlight in the eyes of the subject while softboxes don’t.
  5. Last but not the least the cost. Overall ring light will always be cheaper than the softbox. The ring light is complete package in itself while softbox needs the light source and stand as well to work. This makes it a lot more expensive than the ring light.
Ring Light vs Softbox
Ring Light vs softbox

What is a ring light ?

Have you ever wondered how most of the beautiful photos and videos on social media are lit so well? A lot if it has to do with one piece of equipment that’s becoming very common: a ring light. It creates an even exposure, which allows for high quality video or still images as desired by content creators without costing them thousands in dollars!

What is a ring light ?
Ring light

A ring light is an extremely bright circular source of light. It is often used in video and photography to provide an even, uniform lighting. The ring light is usually made from a single circular fluorescent bulb or several connected small LED lights that form the shape of a circle.

Ring light

Ring light produces bright even light on the face of the subject and also produces catchlight in the eye on most occasions.

Ring light is so popular because it’s incredibly versatile and can be used for multiple purposes .

Pros and cons of ring light

A ring light provides many great options for any photographer, however we must consider both , the pros and cons of this affordable lighting setup.

Pros of ring light

  1. Allows you to control harsh shadows: most ring lights are composed of many small LED or fluorescent bulbs, which allows for a bright and even light. Since the light is generally placed front on and the camera is at the center , you do not get any shadows at all.
  2. Creates strong and bright looking images: An even exposure is created by the use of this kind of lighting setup. The result is a very bright looking image, which is almost flat in low contrast situations.
  3. Can create catchlight in your subjects eyes : The bright ring light can create some beautiful catch light in the eyes of your subject. Catchlight always brings the subject to life and adds a complete different look to the portrait.
  4. Lightweight and versatile : Ring lights are generally very light weigh and versatile. They are easy to mount and operate. The learning curve is very small and hence beginners start with this as their first light. Ring lights come in variety of sizes starting from few inch in diameter to a couple of feet. They can be mounted at the front of the camera , a laptop screen or on a separate stand for more professional use.
  5. Not very expensive : One can get a very decent ring light for just $100 or so, which is great because it allows photographers and videographers on smaller budgets to experiment with different types of lighting.

Cons of ring light

  1. It’s difficult to alter a catch light in your eye if you don’t want one. : The ring light creates some really bright reflections of the light sources in your eyes. If you’re not a fan of that, it can be tricky to change once you set up your camera and lighting setup.
  2. It’s a little underpowered. : Ring lights are great for on-the-go work or hobbyists who want to take flattering pictures at events. However, if you want to achieve professional studio-like lighting in your home or office with low ambient light , it’s not the right option for you. They are often weaker than other types of lights and don’t reach far enough to cover a larger area.
  3. More suitable for smartphones and small cameras. : Ring lights are unique in that they work with a small camera or smartphone. You need the camera at the center of the light to get the best image. This may not be possible with large DSLR or Mirrorless cameras.
  4. Less direction control over lighting : Ring lights by nature tend to spread their light out words and foreword by design. This means there is less control over where exactly the light falls directly. Hence more often than not the ring light is put in front of the subject or exactly on top of the subject in case of macro or product photography.
  5. Staring directly into the light can be uncomfortable or distracting : Since the ring light is a circular source of bright lights, it can be uncomfortable to look directly into the middle. This may distract from your work!

Best Ring lights to Buy

What is a softbox ?

A soft box is a type of studio light equipment (modifier) that provides even, diffused lighting. It’s made up of a single or multiple bright lights at the core surrounded by a box.

The box is flexible and is lined from inside with a highly reflective surface. The front of the soft box is either square or rectangular in shape. The front surface is made up of fabric or synthetic material which is capable of diffusing the light coming from the bright source at the core.

Soft box

The soft box essentially converts a small, pointed, bright light source into a much larger , diffused light source. The large frontal area a crucial in producing more natural light on the subject and bigger the area better it is.

Using a softbox lets you soften harsh shadows by breaking up directional light. This creates very smooth illumination for your subject!

Softbox has been the backbone of professional photography and film making for decades now and is an ideal choice for you if you are ready to spend the money and are ready to handle the slightly bulky equipment.

You will also need to invest in a light stand as softbox has to be mounted on a separate stand.

If you are short on budget but still need the soft box effect , then you can check out these videos and make a DIY softbox at home.

Softboxes come in different versions Octabox , Squarebox , Stripbox and honeycomb grid box. The honeycomb version produces more directional light and does not spread as much as a square one.

Pros and cons of Softbox

Soft boxes are very versatile because they can be used with any type of lighting system. Softbox is generally coupled with another softbox or reflector to adjust the illumination on both sides of the subject. However, there are some downsides to this kind of product as well! Here are some pros and cons for this unique studio photography tool:

Pros of softbox

  1. Natural looking images : Softboxes diffuse the light very evenly across a broad area, providing a very natural look. large surface area is the key for this diffused light.
  2. No loss in intensity of light: Although there is diffusion occurring with soft boxes, they don’t lose much light at all! The inside reflective surface preserves all the intensity of the light and you do not lose out n power much.
  3. Suitable for larger cameras : Softboxes are traditionally used by professional photographers and are suitable for any camera including the large full frame DSLR cameras. A good DSLR with a prime lens and a couple of softboxes make an ideal kit for in studio portrait photography.
  4. Effortless setup and tear-down : Many small size models of softbox only take seconds to set up and tear down ! You’ll be able to quickly move your studio around if needed without hassle. Of-course this comes with practice and with more expansive gear. Cheap softboxes can be a little trick to handle.

Cons of softboxes

  1. They can be bulky and difficult to transport : Sometimes , larger sizes or certain models may be too big for you to transport easily. You also need the light stands and big light sources as well. Overall package can be bulky and difficult to manage if you are working alone.
  2. Can add weight on the front of lights : Many types of light stands often have limited load capacities . This means they cannot support heavier modifiers like soft boxes without tipping over . This is why it’s important to consider the stability before buying a stand that fits your needs perfectly.
  3. No direction control: The most common type of softbox spreads out light a little bit naturally from its design. If you need more directional control, you will have less options compared to other modifiers.
  4. Overall package can be costly : On most occasions a single softbox does not provide the required light and needs to be coupled with a reflector or another softbox. This coupled with light stand and light source overall cost can be high.

Best Softboxes to Buy

Ring light vs softbox for food photography

Lets compare use of ring light and soft box for food photography. Food photography is more close to macro photography and ring light will be better for that. With a ring light you can get very close to the food and capture stunning detailed images without harsh shadows.

If you are looking to photograph a table full of dishes waiting for people to join the dinner or in general a wider view then soft box will be better.

Ring light vs softbox for product photography

Both ring and soft boxes are popular for product photography. Selecting between ring light vs soft box for product photography depends on the size of the product and the type of image you are looking for.

For smaller products and more evenly lit but bright images, ring light is better. For bigger products and more dynamic product images a soft box is always better.

Product photography also involves multiple lights in most occasions and saltboxes placed at strategic locations can achieve a near perfect image and your product will standout.

Saltbox used as a key light only on one side of the product can create some stunning dynamic and gritty images. This can be helpful if your product has that kind of vibe.

For small products placed on table and shot from above a ring light is always better.

Ring light vs softbox for video

For YouTube videos and product videos shot from close distance a ring light is a good options and it gives evenly lit and bright videos that are liked on social media. ring lights are also good for makeup videos and any video where you need even and bright lighting or a single light setup. However , if you want to shoot professional videos then there is no option but to go for softboxes.

Ring light vs softbox for video

Softboxes are preferred choice of filmmakers for many years and practically all Hollywood movies are shot using soft boxes as key and filler light as well.

Softboxes provide videographers with a large number of lighting options and help to create a more dynamic lighting rather than an even flat lighting created by ring lights.

Ring light vs softbox for YouTube

For YouTube especially for new youtubers on a low budget, the ring light is much better option. Ring light comes as a complete package , you mount it on a stand or somewhere convenient to you and switch it on. That’s it , you can start making videos right away.

Ring light vs softbox for YouTube

You can place it front on with camera at the center. If you make YouTube videos of sketching , drawing ,painting , art and craft or even cooking then you can mount it on top of your desk facing down.

The top angle will give fantastic results and clear picture of your craft.

If you are making more talking videos and have space and budget , then go for soft boxes. A soft box + reflector + backlight is the most commonly used YouTube lighting setup. and can take your videos to a whole new level.

Ring light vs softbox for Zoom

Work from home being the new normal , everyone has to attend zoom meetings and look good in those ! One easy and cheap way to achieve this is to use a simple ring light clipped to your laptop screen or monitor.

Ring light vs softbox for vs Zoom

They can as cheap as 10$ and bigger and better ones can be as high as 100$.

Zoom meeting happen everyday and you need something handy and light and easy to use. Softbox will be an overkill for such an application.

Ring light vs softbox summary :

Ring lights are a great option for photographers who want to capture detail-rich, evenly lit images. Softboxes produce more dramatic lighting that is perfect for high quality photography and videography projects where you need multiple light sources or dynamic lighting.

With so many options available it’s important to decide what your needs are before making a purchase – do you want bright flat lighting or cinematic effects?