Ring Light vs. Key Light for streaming? What better suits you?
When it comes to any type of photography or video (or streaming in this case) lighting is always very important. You could have the best camera, microphone, and software, but if your lighting isn’t good, you may as well have the worst equipment in use. There are many different types of lighting products but for steamers, most look for a choice between a key light and a ring light.
In theory, a ring light is better as its circular shape allows even distribution of the light, this way it’s much easier to get rid of any shadows. Another good aspect of ring lights is that they don’t heat up as quickly as a key light, which would allow you to stream for longer without the extra heat from the light. Finally, ring lights are cheaper than key lights. However, there is a reason for that and we’ll explain below.
In this article, we’ll learn more about both types of lights as we go over the differences between them, what drawbacks they have and what benefits they can provide. After this quick read, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to make a decision for yourself.
Key lights take a very similar form to traditional photography softbox lighting. However, are much more compact, and don’t need all that extra setup and equipment. Instead, this takes that studio-level quality and features of those softboxes and puts it all in one compact package, essentially, making it desktop lighting rather than photography lighting (hence why they’re perfect for streamers).
These rectangular-shaped lights put a big spotlight on you and illuminate a lot with a very soft light that doesn’t look harsh in photos or videos. Usually, these types of lighting would be placed behind the camera, facing you.
Pros of Key Lights
- First, they save you space. A key light can be either connected directly to your computer, on a small tripod, or even have it propped up on your wall. So if you’re a streamer that has lots of equipment, then a key light is a perfect lighting accessory for you. You can even place them overhead to achieve great lighting.
- Its square shape allows the light to spread in a rectangular shape filling in enough of the background and so that the light isn’t glaring into your eyes, which would create a spotlight effect.
Cons of Key Lights
- You may need additional lighting. Key lights are extremely bright by themselves, so that’s not an issue. However, the way you position the light may cause harsh shadows and glare which won’t give you the best result. To fill in those shadows you’ll need a separate fill light. You can purchase these separately, or, you may utilize something you already have at home, like a desk lamp with a soft light or a low-power light to help fill it in.
- Key lights aren’t cheap. Since they technically cover more area with light than a ring light would, you’d usually find them more expensive than a ring light. So you may not want to invest in a further fill light which would reduce your budget, but not by too much at all.
- Key light heats up quicker than ring lights. Due to the brightness a key light can produce, they would heat up much quicker than what a right light would. So if you’re streaming without any type of cooling (air-con, fan, window, etc.), then sitting in one spot with a light that increasingly gets hot overtime may be uncomfortable.
Ring lights, without a doubt, are some of the most popular lighting products for any type of streaming. Game streamers, YouTubers, Podcasters, etc. almost always use ring lights. While you may not always be able to see them in the video, you can almost always tell as you’ll see the tiny ring of light is reflected in their eyes.
With that said, ring lights are hyped up, for good reason. Ring lights are also easy to set up, they are obviously, ring-shaped, to help with light distribution. Ring lights don’t have anything in the middle, so you can attach your camera/phone to that space for filming/streaming. Their shape allows the light to be evenly distributed around the subject (in this case, you). It’s attached to a tripod stand and you can set it up in basically any corner of your room. Just like key lights, they come in a variety of sizes with different brightness to match your requirements.
Pros of Ring Light
- Ring lights won’t kick your wallet in the butt. Ring lights a relatively cheaper to buy than key lights, but the cheaper you go, the worst the quality may be, so find yourself an even ground. You get what you pay for in the end.
- Shadows are easily eliminated. A ring light surrounds your camera, essentially, it’s like having a flash on top, around, and at the bottom of your camera. This ultimately eliminates any shadows or glares allowing your camera to capture details. Due to its well-balanced distribution of light, it improves appearances and light temperature.
- Ring lights don’t heat up considerably. While it may heat up your room a little, it will not drastically affect your room temperature, whereas a key light may (depending on a number of factors). This allows for streamers and content creators alike to spend more time streaming and creating without the added heat.
Cons of Ring Light
- You’ll need a bit of room. Ring lights do come in various sizes, however, unlike key lights, they cannot be clipped on. They’ll need to be set up on your desk to that will take up some extra space.
- Their durability. While they are fairly robust lights, keep in mind as mentioned earlier, you get what you pay for. If you were to go for a really cheap model, chances are its structure durability or the stand they come with, maybe extremely flimsy.
What is the best key light for streaming?
Key lights are expensive and if you wanted to go for the top-of-the-line model, you’ll be investing a lot more than what you would spend on a ring light. With that said, key lights give you an extremely professional-looking lighting situation once set up correctly compared with a ring light.
We highly recommend the Elgato key light, it's easily attached to your computer screen, above your camera, it reduces clutter and you can control it via the Elgato app rather than the physical buttons if you choose. It also offers a 2800-lumens output (extremely bright), but is also specifically designed to keep the heat down. This brightness can also be tuned down if you don’t wish for it to be that bright.
The Elgato key lights are some of the most popular lights for streaming on the market at the moment, aside from ring lights.
Which One Should You Use?
In the end, it comes down to what suits you best. A ring light is better suited for extremely long streams which would reduce the heat over a long period. However, specifically made key lights (for streaming) can defiantly help reduce that such as the Elgato mentioned earlier. If you’re a traveler, then a compact key light would come in handy for you. If you’re a gamer, streamer, or YouTuber whose setup doesn’t really change too often, then we’d definitely recommend a key light instead.
So in short, if you want high-quality content, you may want to spend a little more for a key light and possibly a fill light if needed. However, if you’re doing long streams and want to remain interrupted, a ring light may be better as a key light may heat up a bit quicker than what a ring light may.
Lighting is essential, you’re better off going with one or the other than having no type of lighting whatsoever. To get the best results, try to find out whether your stream requires versatility (key light) or longevity (ring light… Or a very good key light).
You’re online for many hours and have a rigid setup, go with a ring light. If you’re doing short live videos from different places or your room setup doesn’t change much, then go with a key light.
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