Photography and video production requires a source of light in order to create fantastic images and video clips. A solid lighting kit should be a staple of anyone into product photography, or in our case model trains. I recently decided to build my own film-rig around my Sony A6100. It’s a fantastic ASPC camera that is capable of producing 4k footage down-sampled from a 6k sensor. Needless to say, it’s a tiny beast of a camera and something I’ve been putting a lot of time into learning.
However, all the fancy features in the world mean nothing on a camera if the camera is in a poorly-lit room. In Missoula, MT where I live it’s hard to even depend on outdoor lighting because winter days here are almost always overcast with a thick layer of clouds. To fix this problem I decided to get myself an early Christmas gift, a lighting kit I found on Amazon made by Neewer. You can find the kit for sale on Amazon here for $172 (Dec 2021). I am not sponsored by Amazon and Neewer so rest assured this review will be thorough and honest.
The Lighting Kit
Two weeks ago the box arrived at my apartment. The entire kit consists of two lighting rigs and some accessories. Here’s a breakdown of what came in the box:
- 2x Neewer 480 Bi-color LED panel lights
- 2x diffusion panels for the panel lights
- 2x 120v power cords
- 2x aluminum U-brackets to hold the lights
- 2x telescoping 75 inch tripods
- 2x carrying bags for the light panels and accessories (no bags for the tripods)
That’s a lot of kit for $170! Opening the boxes and assembly only took about 5 minutes. Mostly it was a matter of tightening thumb screws. In addition to the lighting kit I also purchased a set of four NP-F batteries made for Sony camcorders. These high capacity batteries are commonly used by videographers and photographers because the NP-F mount is commonly used on many accessories including studio lights. With these batteries, the Neewer lighting kit can be used away from power cords. Of course, at high intensities the batteries won’t last forever so it’s important to shut off the lights when not filming and to have some spares handy.
The Light Panels
The core of this lighting kit are the lights themselves. They are made in China and while somewhat cheap, the finish seems to be mostly aluminum so things could be a lot worse. Neewer is known for making camera accessories and lenses, but they also make a wide range of studio lights and are generally a solid option. This kit is one of their cheapest offerings though so if purchasing this kit don’t expect bullet-proof quality.
Anyway, I found that the design of the light panels was sleek, lightweight, and packs a lot into a tiny space. On the frontside we see 240 LED’s arranged in a 20×24 grid pattern. Half of the LED’s match outdoor sunlight with a color with a temp of 5600K, the other half match an indoor incandescent color with a temp of 3200K. Basically 120 LED’s are warm and 120 are cool. By mixing the brightness of these two sets of LED’s a wide range of color temperature is possible ranging from 3200-5600K.
This allows the user to match most lighting situations with the correct color temperature. The front of the light panel also has a space to add a diffusion panel (included) or different color filters (not included). The diffusion panel makes the light softer, which is a major benefit to model makers who don’t want harsh shadows. This is one area of complaint for me. While the diffusion panel does something, in my opinion it doesn’t do enough to actually diffuse the light. Fortunately, there are many options out there that can diffuse light and I’ll be making a post about that in the future.
The backside of the light panel has a plastic housing for the electronics that is approximately 7 inches wide, 4 inches tall, and about 1 inch deep. This plastic housing features two NP-F battery mounts, a power selector switch, and two knobs that control the intensity of the warm and cool LED’s separately. The controls are simple to understand and easy to use which makes these lights fantastic for beginners. The power switch also works as a power selector and the light can seamlessly transition between 120V power and 7.2V battery power without any flicker of the light.
Another area of weakness in this lighting kit are the tripods, but it’s not really a deal breaker. I’ve owned about a half-dozen different tripods for cameras in the past and have taken all of them on cross-country excursions to photograph incredible landscapes. The tripods included in this kit are not up to that task. They are made from flimsy metal and will get beat up easily. A couple of solid dents will render these things unusable. That being said, this lighting kit is not meant to be thrown around as luggage.
Consider for a moment the intended use of this kit. It’s meant to be a budget option for product photographers who do almost all their work indoors in a studio setting. The needs of a model railroad photographer and a studio photographer are very similar. If the intention is to light up subjects for publication in a magazine or to post on YouTube, a fancy, durable lighting kit isn’t really necessary. Instead what we need is a couple of simple lights that can do the job without taking up too much space or eating into our wallets.
In this regard, these tripods do the job just fine. They are able to extend up to 75 inches in height and when folded up they are only about 2 feet long. They can take the weight of the light panels just fine, though they are very top heavy when extended past head height so caution must be taken so as to not accidentally knock the light over and damage the LED’s.
If you feel that these tripods are too thin and fragile for your needs, the lights can be bought on their own for $81. However, since that only saves $10 it will be worth it to just buy the two light kit with the tripods.
Included and Recommended Accessories
Along with the light panels and the tripods, the lighting kit came with two major accessories, carrying cases and the diffusion panels. I’ve already talked about the diffusion panel and the bags I’ll briefly mention. They do the job, but offer very little in the way of protection against anything that could stab at the panels. Realistically the bags will be used to store the kit with accessories in one, easy to access package. But again, these lights are mostly for use indoors at a studio or our train layout area so the bags work just fine.
To make the lighting kit more flexible you may want to but some additional accessories. The first that I would recommend are some NP-F batteries. There are many third-party options out there but I purchased a 4-pack of NP-750’s and a charger from PowerExtra through Amazon. The batteries have a 5200mAh capacity at 7.4V DC which on the light panels gives me enough juice to power the light at full intensity for around 70 minutes (light panel draws 28 watts maximum). Since my camera rig also runs off of NP-F batteries I plan to have two batteries dedicated to the camera and one battery each for the light panels.
Besides batteries, you may want to get something that does a better job of diffusing light. One of the better commercially produced options is a soft-box. As the name suggests, a soft-box is a collapse able box that encases the light panel, diffusing the light being created. It’s essentially a lampshade for a studio light. Looking on the internet there are a variety of options out there but since I haven’t tested any of them I’ll refrain from making a recommendation.
The final accessory you may want to purchase for this lighting kit is color filters. For most people taking pictures of daytime scenes on their model railroad, color filters are not necessary. But for those who want to make photos or videos simulating dawn, dusk, twilight, night time, rainy days or any other lighting condition found in the real world, having filters makes the process easier. For instance, if making a photo of a night scene, using a deep blue or violet filter simulates a black light and gives your camera just a few more photons to work with, making a sharper image.
Would I Recommend This Kit?
Absolutely! If you are a model railroader who is looking to learn photography or videography to better document your projects or train layout(s) then this lighting kit will do whatever task you require. With a few accessories, this kit is flexible enough to handle a variety of different lighting situations. Reducing video grain or sensor ISO goes a long way toward making a sharp, crisp image. For less than the price of a locomotive you can have a basic lighting kit that will cover most of your needs.
Besides the two light kit, Neewer also makes a 3 and 4 light kit at a low cost. For another $70 Neewer makes a more advanced kit that has a wireless control option. This adds a whole new dimension of control for photographers and filmmakers. That is probably more than what most people require but it is an option.
That being said, if you are an experienced photographer, a professional model maker, or someone who prefers high quality materials to be satisfied with a purchase, then this kit is not for you. Fortunately there are plenty of options out there but most of the high quality ones will cost a bit of money. This kit is intended for beginners and the budget-conscious and for those people I think most will be quite satisfied.
Just to be safe though, I recommend buying through a website like Amazon that has a good return policy. If I have any issues between now and Jan 20th next month I can return the lighting kit and get a full refund. That being said, on Amazon the reviews are quite favorable and if I were to take an average it seems only about 1 in 50 customers are disappointed with 1 in 20 being pretty neutral. Everybody else, about 94% of the reviews, are either four or five stars. Compared to a lot of stuff on the internet, I like those odds.