The hardest part about putting together your kit is understanding all the unique qualities of the seemingly endless varieties of the equipment. To the uninitiated, learning what lights your production will need can be quite intimidating – especially with how expensive they can be. We wrote this comparison of Ring Lights vs Softbox lights to help you understand which type better suits your video production needs.
The ring light and the softbox light are both essential parts of your film arsenal and should each be utilized differently. Let’s see who they’re made for.
Ring Light Vs Softbox Light – Pros and Cons
We will do a more detailed comparison below, but here’s a quick rundown on all the Pros and Cons of ring lights and Softbox lights, along with the #1 products we chose in our best softbox and ring light buyer’s guides.
- 5400K Daylight bulb that dims to 20% of full power, and a diffusion cloth to reduce harsh shadows
- Flexible Gooseneck for other light stands
- 6′ Diva Ring Light Light Stand
- Tripod Z Bracket for Video Tripods
- 1-year Warranty Assurance
- Accepts 110V-240V power for worldwide use (US plug).
A ring light is a disc shaped light typically lined with LEDs that is very popular among beauty YouTubers and vloggers. These are designed to surround the lens of your camera, providing a flat lighting reminiscent of the effect of a camera flash – albeit a little less harsh.
This creates an angelic halo-like effect around the face that is very flattering, and can make just about anyone look pretty. This has led to their massive popularity among beauty gurus and vloggers who like to sit and speak into a stationary camera.
While the look is very appealing to many, the aesthetic is very particular, and certainly stands out. This makes them undesirable for filmmakers who want to keep their in-universe lighting sources to appear somewhat natural.
- Great for close-ups and face shots.
- Creates a very stylistic effect.
- Great for Beauty YouTubers and vloggers.
- Very simple to set-up and use, takes up little space, can fit on a desk.
- Create a shadow/halo around your face which is considered very flattering by many.
- Limited to close ups and face shots.
- Catchlights take the form of rings in your eyes and look very unnatural or distracting (although some people like them).
- Staring directly into the ring is considered unpleasant by some.
- Often constructed with LEDs, need to replace the whole unit if defective.
- Main/Key Light, boom hair light, and fill light UIncluded
- 11 x 45 Watts total for 495W CFL draw equivalent to 2500W incandescent output
- Each 5 socket head has five light sockets that use 5500K Daylight fluorescent bulbs creating a balanced light source for your photography or video shoots.
- Carrying Bag
- Boom Arm W/ Sandbag
A softbox light is a type of light that uses scattering material to create a soft diffused light. The term softbox refers to the enclosure around the bulb which is lined with reflective material on all sides except one, making them very directional and reducing the amount of light spillage you’ll have.
The aesthetic is much more natural, as the harshness level is easily controlled by the positioning of the light. Subjects will just appear to be well lit, rather than looking like they have a light pointed at them. The right combination of softbox lights can achieve just about any look you would want, making them much more versatile than ring lights.
These are used to create the indirect lighting required for cinematic storytelling, and are often utilized in conjunction with other light sources.
- Much more versatile in terms of potential lighting set-ups.
- Great for general purpose lighting.
- Great in conjunction with other lights.
- Can reach any level of softness or hardness with proper use.
- Easy to replace your bulb if it goes out.
- Take up more space when set-up, can be much more difficult to understand and use properly.
- Requires more skill to use and set up properly.
- Doesn’t give you the (arguably gimmicky) angelic halo look that ring lights do.
Ring Light Vs Softbox Light – A Side by Side comparison
Here’s a screenshot from YouTuber Lily Highlands that shows the difference side by side.
The difference is relatively marginal. I think the Ring Light is slightly more flattering but not by any extreme. As you can see shadows around her face are more pronounced and her face has a little bit more of a “glow” to it. The Softbox illuminates more of the background and kind of spills into the entire room.
What may not be obvious however, is the versatility factor. The way she is using a ring light is… Pretty much the only way you can use a ring light. Directly in front of your face.
The softbox lighting set up she’s using is one of hundreds of potential lighting configurations. A softbox is a much more powerful source that can be bounced, combined with other lights and adjusted, but a ring light is only usable in very specific circumstances.
Ring lights also cause somewhat distracting circular catchlights in your eyes. Catchlights are specular highlights in your subject’s eye. Some may think these look really cool, but to others, they may be undesirable.
You can debate about the strengths and weaknesses of these two lights all day. The truth is, if you want the ultimate lighting set up for your videos, your best option would actually be to buy both. The ring light can be a key light on your face while the Softbox light could fill in your background. Either of these products are strong choices for lights, but if you’ve got the budget for both, get both!
Softbox vs Umbrella – What’s the difference?
Now you understand what the difference between softboxes and rings, but what about umbrella lights? Umbrella lights are very similar to Soft Box lights, but are often much cheaper, and usually easier to set up. Umbrella lights usually have a wider spread than Softboxes (because they’re not boxes, duh), illuminating a much wider area. This also means that they have less directional control.
They are by far the most popular lighting choice as they are very cheap, portable, and simple to set up.
As you can see in the photo to the left, there is a subtle, yet important difference between the two. The lights are positioned in the exact same place, but the look has changed a lot. The photograph on the left is similar to a Facebook profile picture while the photo on the right more closely resembles a movie poster. The umbrella light spreads more evenly across the room. Less shadows are cast and the lighting is much less direct and dramatic, albeit still soft.
Umbrellas also require more energy and output from your light source, as they are not pointed directly at the subject.
Like we said about ring lights, these are two different tools that have some overlap, but are intended for different jobs. Of course, all of these tools are best when used in conjunction with each other, and a true production kit should have all of them.
Our verdict is this: If you are strictly a make-up or beauty YouTuber, or you Vlog at a desk, you should go with a ring light. They can come pretty cheap, they create flattering effects you can’t get anywhere else. They are extremely simple to set up, leaving you more time to invent more insane eyeliner tips. However, if you are interested in doing anything else in film, or just want to be able to have more options when it comes to lighting, you’ll need some softboxes. One is a good starting point, two is even better.
If you’ve determined that you are going to be needing a Ring Light for your video kit , check out our buyer’s guide for the best ring lights. We compared all the details of the 5 best ring lights and will help you make an excellent choice. We’ve also put a guide together for Softbox lights!