Lighting can be tricky. You can purchase all the right equipment: cameras, microphones, software, and yet, if your lighting misses the mark, everything else dims down. With so many types of lighting products, most streamers are faced with a choice between a key light and a ring light.
A ring light is better than key light because of its circular shape, allowing even distribution of light, so there are no tricky shadows. Most importantly, you can stream for long hours because it does not heat up as quickly as a key light. And, finally, it costs less than a key light.
In this article, you will also learn more about both types of light as we will go over the differences between the key light and ring light covering the benefits and drawbacks of each. After reading our detailed comparison, you’ll find yourself better equipped to decide which one to go with.
Key Light: A Brief Overview
A key light takes the form of a softbox light; only it sets aside the gear’s traditional structure, similar to the ones we see in a professional studio where the equipment just seems intimidating and complicated. Instead, it takes the studio level quality and features of a softbox lighting, makes it more compact in the form of a key light, ultimately making it fall in the category of desktop lighting.
This rectangular-shaped light puts the spotlight on you; it can be placed directly overhead or on your desk, next to your computer. In photography, a key light is the primary source of light and is located behind the camera. Stemming from this notion, a key light is also simply a desktop light that can be clipped or placed close but behind your camera.
Pros of Key Lights
- Saves up space. A key light can easily be hooked on to your computer or propped up against a wall. If you are a streamer who has a lot of equipment, then a key light will work best for you. It says overhead, rather than on the desk, to minimize space.
- Square-shaped. This is more of a personal preference than anything else. A key light spreads light in a rectangular shape filling in just enough of the background so that it does not glare into your eyes but at the same time creates a spotlight effect.
Cons of Key Lights
- Additional lighting is needed. While a key light is bright on its own, for some, it may be too bright. Its intensity is adjustable, yet, due to its positioning and purpose, it casts sharp shadows and glares that might not give you the best result. To fill in the shadows, you will need to invest in a fill light. A fill light can either be separately purchased or found at home in the form of a lower-power light or a soft clip-on table lamp.
- It is not cheap. A key light, seemingly simple, is not the most cost-friendly alternative. If you do not care so much for fill light, the cost might be reduced but not by a large margin. The best key light on the market right now commands four times the price of a ring light, and for some, it might not even be worth it.
- Heats up quickly. Due to its brightness, most key lights will heat up quickly. If you are a streamer and find yourself sitting in one place for long durations of your video, a key light will start to get too warm and make you feel hot.
What Is the Best Key Light for Streaming?
Key lights are expensive, and to get the best one, you have to be willing to invest more than you would for a ring light. With that said, we recommend the Elgato Key Light, available on Amazon and on their website, which gives you a lighting environment of professional quality.
It gets attached easily to your computer screen above the camera, reduces clutter, and is controllable through an app rather than buttons on the actual light. It has a 2800-lumen output, and despite that, it is built to keep heat levels low. The 160 premium OSRAM LEDs offer the brightest illumination that can also be dimmed down to a subtle glow.
With over 1000 reviews on Amazon, the product is Amazon’s choice for its category and has a collective global rating of 4.6 stars out of 5. More specifically, it is rated at 4.8 out of 5 stars in brightness and 4.5 stars for versatility, both of which are important for streamers.
Ring Light: A Brief Overview
Ring lights have probably been one of the most popularized products for lighting for any sort of streaming. It is found being used by almost everyone on YouTube; even if it is not visible, you can figure it out by the tiny ring of light reflected in their eyes.
With that being said, a ring light does live up to the hype. A ring light is, quite literally, ring-shaped. The large gap in the middle is there for you to attach your camera for shooting. With this specific shape, the illumination falls evenly around the subject. It is attached to a tripod stand and sets up in any corner of your room. It also comes in different sizes with different lumens to match your color intensity requirement.
Pros of Ring Light
- Easy on your wallet. A ring light is relatively a cheaper investment. Most would not even consider it as an investment. There are high-end as well as low-priced ones available. And the price depends on how you will use it and what you are using it for.
- No shadows. A ring light surrounds your camera, making it very close to the piece of equipment. This ultimately eliminates any shadows or glares and captures details and colors accurately and vividly. It also provides a well-balanced distribution of lighting, improving appearances and temperature. It is perfect for YouTubers who have channels focused primarily on beauty, make up, video shoots, and portrait shoots.
- No heat. A ring light does not drastically affect your room’s temperature the way a key light might. The shape allows for a less glaring and evenly focused light making it easier to use, especially for gamers. It also becomes less of a fire hazard because it does not overheat.
Check out my guide to what to do if ring lights make you look bad.
Cons of Ring Light
- Not very compact. While it does come in different sizes, a ring light cannot be clipped on. It has to be set up on your desk so that it might take up some space.
- Durability. A ring light requires extension cords and cables, meaning that maintenance might be an issue. The quality of ring light is undoubtedly good yet, due to multiple sellers now online, you might be getting one that is likely to give up soon.
Which One Should You Use?
While it ultimately comes down to what fits you best, a ring light is more lucrative than a key light for streamers who go long hours. For streamers in the travel niche, a compact key light would be handy. If you’re a gamer or a singer whose streaming setup doesn’t change often, go with a key light.
Shorter high-quality content can be lit with a key light provided that you do not mind spending more, whereas a long stream will remain uninterrupted if you use a key light that doesn’t heat up as quickly.
Lighting is an essential element in the visual identity of your content. To get the best results, understand whether your stream requires versatility or longevity.
If you go online for hours on end from a rigid setup, use a ring light, but if you’re doing short lives from different places, invest in a key light.
Check out to see whether dynamic or condenser microphones are better for streaming here!
- New York Institute of Photography: What is a Ring Light?
- Format: Key Light Photography: A Beginner’s Guide
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