• Ed Dozier

Neewer R-160S LED Ring Light Review

I submit for your approval (as Rod Serling used to say) the Neewer R-160S LED ring light. I’d like to bring to your attention a battery-powered LED ring light that was designed for macro photography. The first thing I did after I got it, of course, was to try to misuse this light for portrait photography with an unanticipated lens (the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4).


I have used an LED ring light for my macro photography for many years. This particular LED is built like a tank out of anodized aluminum and has to be powered from a voltage supply plugged into a wall socket. To attach this light, there are three tightening screws to press against the macro lens barrel. It’s very limited in which lenses it can be used with, and you have to stay relatively near to a wall socket.


The Neewer LED ring light is none of these things. Which is why I got it. It’s really light, portable, and all plastic. Come to think of it, though, how many flashes are made out of metal?




Neewer R-160S and Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 on D850


The Neewer LED R-160S is powered by 6 AA batteries (I use rechargeable batteries). It, in fact, comes with a little adapter plug that can be used with an external DC power supply (6-17 volts) that I will never use. The 6 “flower petals” around the ring light house the 6 AA batteries in little slide-open drawers.


The Neewer LED is pure plastic (for light weight) and has 160 dimmable LEDs (100% through 10%) that have an advertised color temperature of 5600 Kelvin. It produces up to 1200 Lumens (more than enough power at full output to make models quite angry with you). Little +/- buttons on the rear of the unit control the brightness. Press “-“ before pointing it at a model.


This ring light can be mounted three ways: onto your lens filter thread, onto the camera hotshoe, and onto a tripod. The hotshoe/tripod attachment is also included.


Its light is specified to cover 45 degrees. I have only tried it on 35, 50, 85, and 105mm lenses so far. Forget 35mm; edges were dark. At 50mm with longer focus distances, you’ll need to fix edges being dimmer with your photo editor; macro range lighting is fine. Illumination is perfect corner-to-corner with lenses longer than 50mm.


The provided (anodized aluminum) filter thread attachments come in 49mm/52mm/55mm/62mm/67mm sizes. Personally, I just use the largest provided 67mm adapter and then attach it to either my step-up or step-down rings to use it with my lenses ranging from 52mm to through 77mm filter threads.


And now for the bad news. Here’s why I bet at least half of these lights will get returned for a refund: the inner ring lights shine directly into your lens! This is a glaring design faux pas (pun intended). This problem took maybe 2 seconds to discover after I turned on the ring light after mounting it onto my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 lens.


It took maybe another 10 seconds to figure out a cheap and quick fix for this inner-light flare problem. All I had to do was spray black paint over the inner portion of the ring light. For extra credit, you could first spray the inner ring with silver paint and then give it a second coat of black paint. The silver paint would reflect the light back out to your subject, and the black paint coat acts like a lens hood. The finished product is shown in the shot at the top of this article.




Neewer light out-of-the-box condition


In the shot above, you can see that the inner portion of the ring light is just transparent plastic, lined by many LEDs. This inner portion of lights causes massive lens flare, since the LEDs shine directly into most lenses! What were the designers thinking???


For macro lenses with a deeply-recessed front element, this inner-circle light probably wouldn’t be a problem, and you could leave the ring light unpainted. If you tried using a reverse adapter on the lens, however, this flare problem will really bite you.




Some painter’s tape masking


I traced and then cut out a circle of painter’s tape to put over the outside of the ring light. I also masked further back where my fingers are seen. Just the inner portion of the ring light is exposed before unleashing the (plastic-compatible) spray paint.




Ring light after two coats of black spray paint


The shot above shows the ring light post-spraying. After the first coat, I turned on the ring light and discovered that light was still getting through the paint. Those LEDs are really powerful. Two coats of paint stopped any light leaks. Problem solved.


As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to see if this ring light would work with my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 lens (filter thread 77mm). Before the paint spraying, this combination was a disaster of light flare.





Tripod/Hotshoe mount is included


You can mount this light above your camera onto its hotshoe, if you wish. You can also mount it onto a tripod with an attachment that can pivot to aim the light. I’d be careful with this attachment, since it didn’t seem very robust.




Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 with 77-72, 72-67 step-down rings


Shown above, I attached a pair of step-down rings to connect my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 lens onto the Neewer’s 67mm attachment ring. The 85mm lens has a 77mm filter size. To test how this combination would work, I photographed a blank wall at f/1.4 and saw NO corners cut off and the shot was evenly illuminated. And zero flare from the ring light. Stopping down the lens, the illumination got even better, since the 85 has a fair amount of built-in vignetting when shot wide-open.




85mm f/1.4 with Neewer LED ring light mounted onto the lens


The ring light works really well as both a primary and a fill light. Compared to a flash (even with most flash diffusers) the light is just so smooth. Shown above, the light was used to fill the shadows. It’s so nice to see the lighting before the shot instead of after the fact when using a regular flash unit. Note the neutral-gray vase shown above stayed neutral using this light.




105mm f/2.8 Micro Nikkor with Neewer ring light


The sunflower was lit entirely by the ring light. It just looks different than using a flash. Focusing is really easy, compared to using a flash.


The ring light makes shots look more like they were done in a studio, and they don’t scream “flash”.




Macro shot from 15-shot focus stack using Neewer LED light


The macro shot above (105mm Micro Nikkor at f/8) at about 0.25X magnification is made from 15 stacked shots. I used the Neewer LED light to provide much more even lighting than a regular flash would have provided. In times past, I would have had to use a different lens to get this shot, because my metal riing light wouldn't fit onto the 105mm Micro Nikkor. In addition, I didn't have to bother with any power cables.


Conclusion


I bought this light to use for macro photography, so that I won’t have to be tied to a wall outlet anymore with my old ring light. After trying this for more general-purpose photography, I’ve decided it’s going to also get used for portraits; the lighting really minimizes wrinkles. If you haven’t yet noticed, people don’t like their wrinkles showing any more than they have to. Reflections off of the eyes look good, too (no doughnuts).


This Neewer R-160S LED ring light definitely isn’t built as robustly as my metal ring light is. I’m pretty careful with my equipment, so that’s not much of a concern for me. If you’re rough with equipment, then you probably shouldn’t get this light.


If you are reasonably careful with your equipment, I think that this light can be really useful. If you’re not up to the challenge of a little spray painting project, then you probably won’t be happy with it.


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