Rotolight NEO 2 LED light
We’ve nominated the Rotolight NEO 2 as an Editor’s Choice because of its versatility and overall value for money as a light source for taking still pictures and movie clips. It works very well as a continuous light source and having the ability to switch to flash will add to its appeal.
The NEO 2 is unlikely to match the light coverage of similarly-priced on-camera flashguns, but it’s easier to work with and more versatile.
LED lights have been around for a number of years but until relatively recently, most were studio lights that replaced energy-hungry tungsten lights. Even now, most portable LEDs are designed for videographers, rather than stills shooters, although some photographers prefer them to traditional flashguns. The new Rotolight NEO 2 caters for both by providing a portable light source that combines continuous LED light and high-speed flash.
The Rotolight NEO 2 shown mounted on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera, the camera we used for our tests. (Source: Rotolight.)
The Rotolight NEO 2 unit is supplied with a filter pack (216 – Full Diffuser, 250 – Half Diffuser, 184 – Cosmetic Peach, 279 – 1/8 Magenta), filter holder, shoe adapter to ¼- inch male stud, RL-NEO-PSU AC adapter, printed instruction manual and belt pouch carry case. Batteries are not included.
Why use Continuous Lighting?
While continuous lighting is the only choice for videographers, there are plenty of reasons for stills shooters to switch to continuous lighting. For starters, the ability to see the effects of the lighting before pressing the shutter release makes working with artificial light sources easy for novice photographers.
It’s also easy with to modify the strength and direction of the light continuous lights and adjust its colour balance in order to achieve whatever result you want. In contrast, using flash delivers a high-intensity pulse of light for a very brief fraction of a second. You’re forced to rely on modelling lights if you want to check where the light will fall – and they may not be correctly colour balanced.
LED lighting is ideal for any subject where you want real-time control over the light. For this reason, it’s particularly useful when capturing portraits, taking still lifes (including shots of food), shooting products and macro work.
Modern LED lights are environmentally friendly; they use less power than other forms of continuous lighting. They also operate silently and produce little or no heat. Because of this you can attach coloured filters directly in front of the light and leave them there for long periods of time.
Why use the Rotolight NEO 2?
The NEO 2 is a second-generation product that replaces the Rotolight NEO (which was still available when this review was published). While it shares many features with its predecessor, the NEO 2 is considerably more powerful and provides more interfacing options. The table below shows the main differences between the two units.
|Overall CRI (RA)||>95||96|
|Power Consumption @ 100% Output||9 Watts at 5600K @ 100% output 15 V DC||12 Watts @100% Output 15 V DC|
|Peak Output at 0.9 metre||1077 Lux (measured at midpoint of 4306 Lux)||2000 Lux (measured at midpoint of 4110 Lux)|
|Luminous Flux||530 Lumens||1032 Lumens|
|Control||Local, with Dynamic Drift Compensation and Thermal Monitoring||Dimming 0-100%|
|Mounting||Integral 1/4″ – 20 Tripod Mount, with Hot Shoe Adapter||3 x 1/4″-20 threads|
|Power source(s)||6 x AA Batteries||6 x AA batteries (NiMH, Li-ion); D-Tap port; AC adapter|
|Connectors||n.a.||PC sync , 3.5 mm|
|Wireless||n.a.||2.4 GHz Elinchrom Skyport Receiver; range 200 metres|
|Included Filters||216 – Full Diffuser, 250 – Half Diffuser, 184 – Cosmetic Peach Skin Tone, 279 – 1/8 Magenta|
|Dimensions||Diameter 145mm x Depth 50mm|
|Weight||Body only: 354g, Body + 6 x AA Batteries: 504g|
Unlike most competing LED lights (including the original Rotolight NEO) which are designed to provide a continuous light source, the NEO 2 can also operate as a flash system and provide a respectable Guide number of up to f/5.6 at one metre with ISO 100 when using AC power or ISO 200 when battery-powered.
This versatility makes it useful as a continuous light source for recording movie clips as well as providing flash illumination for still shots. In the flash mode, it can provide additional light for macro shots where greater depth of field is required or be used for ‘freezing’ fast-moving subjects like splashing liquids or popping balloons.
Who’s it For?
From a practical viewpoint, the NEO 2 will prove most useful for studio photographers and environmental portraitists. It is portable enough for use when photographing weddings and social events and supports a variety of almost as portable accessories for controlling the direction of the light.
Used as a continuous light source, it works well for product and macro photography and is powerful enough to provide the main light source when shooting close-up videos – as well as acting as a supplementary light source with more powerful lights. Its ability to simulate a variety of lighting effects could appeal to videographers shooting movies and music videos for broadcast. Available effects include flashing police lights, colour cycling, lightning, fire, shot (the burst of light when a gun is fired), flickering neon lights and old television pictures.
Professional photographers who use studio flash will find the NEO 2’s built-in Elinchrom Skyport system can automatically connect at start-up and the receiver can be triggered by a Skyport transmitter from a distance of up to 200 metres. This enables the NEO 2 to be used in complex set-ups and situations where remote triggering applies.
As a continuous light, the NEO 2 can deliver up to 2000 lux at 0.9 metres with a 50-degree beam angle. Its brightness level is adjustable from zero to 100% in one per cent increments and the light output is flicker free at any shutter speed.
For flash photography, the NEO 2 can produce up to five times more light output with instant recycling. It has a top synch speed of 1/8000 second enabling it to keep pace with the high continuous shooting frame rates in recent cameras. In a studio set-up it integrates seamlessly with Elinchrom’s Skyport radio technology, offering high-speed synch with all power levels and the ability to control up to 10 lights in four groups.
Built-in Accu-Colour Technology helps to ensure optimal colour rendering. The unit has a rated CRI (Colour Rendering Index) of 96 out of a possible maximum of 100 for stills photographers plus a TLCI (Television Lighting Consistency Index) of 91 for video. Colour temperature is also user-adjustable across a range from 3150K to 6300K for both continuous and flash lighting.
The circular shape of the light delivers a naturally soft light output that is flattering for portraiture. It also produces characteristic circular catchlights in subjects’ eyes.
Other features include True Aperture Dimming, which allows the brightness setting to be displayed as an accurately calculated aperture for a given subject distance. This mode is selected via the F-Stop Dimming (F-DIM) mode in the menu; adjusting the brightness with the right knob displays the adjusted f-stop for the camera’s ISO and shutter speed and the distance to the subject. Dynamic Drift Stabilisation technology preserves the colour temperature throughout the entire dimming range.
For both continuous and flash output, the NEO 2 is brightest at around 4100 Kelvin, where both sets of LEDs are at full power. This midpoint colour is indicated by a reference dot that appears in the data window on the rear panel.
Power consumption for the NEO 2 is relatively low, when compared with normal flashguns. Each set of rechargeable AA batteries is claimed to provide power for 1.5 hours continuous output at maximum power or 85,000 full power flashes, compared with 200 flashes from a typical flashgun. Rotolight also offers an optional RL-BATT-95 lithium-ion v-Lock battery, which delivers a six-hour run time and supports the MAX+ power setting.
The unit can also accept mains power via the supplied AC adapter or be powered from a DC source with a range of 7V-15V, such as that supplied via the 12V socket in a car or D-Tap from a broadcast battery. Note: the flash mode can provide double the normal light output when the unit is running on mains power.
Because no batteries are supplied, the first step is to purchase and install six suitable AA batteries. This means NiMh rechargeables or Li-ion (2700mAh) because normal alkaline batteries don’t have enough power. All batteries should be of the same type and brand and have the same charge levels.
If the supplied shoe adapter has been attached below the branding label, it must be unscrewed so you can slide off the cover of the battery compartment (this isn’t mentioned in the User Manual). The six batteries are loaded facing in alternate directions, after which replacing the cover and re-installing the tripod mount sets the unit up for immediate on-camera use.
Installing the batteries. The battery compartment cover and shoe adapter are also shown in this illustration.
The shoe adapter consists of a threaded shaft with two rotary clamps, which are shown in the illustration below. The top clamp holds the adapter to the NEO 2, while the lower one keeps it steady on the camera’s hot shoe.
The shoe adapter, shown with the rotary clamps indicated.
A black power button to the right of the battery compartment switches the light on and off and two red knobs let you navigate the menu system. There’s also a flash port on the left of the battery compartment for connecting a 3.5 mm synch cord or trigger for interfacing with third-party flashguns. Below the power button is a DC input socket for use when the NEO 2 is mains powered.
Powering-up the NEO 2 lights up the screen above the two red control buttons. By default, these buttons provide basic controls: left hand button controls the brightness adjustments, while the right hand button controls colour adjustments. Each button can be adjusted by toggling in steps of 10% for brightness or 100K for colour or turning the knob, the latter providing more precise control in 1% increments of brightness or 10K steps for colour.
Pressing both red buttons simultaneously opens the advanced menu (the same buttons are used to close it). Navigating this menu is simple; rotating the left button scans through the menu settings while pressing it takes you back one level. The right button provides value or data entry when turned or enter/start commands when pressed.
Eight menu settings (‘submenus’) are accessed by turning the left knob. Each one is shown on the screen by three or four letters: FLSH, TRIG, DISP, FADE, SFX, F-DIM, TECH and DEMO, which are largely self-explanatory. Pressing the right button selects the item displayed on the screen.
The NEO 2 comes with a pack of four filters, which fit under the clear panel in front of the LED array. To lift this panel off, you simply rotate it until the cut-outs in the panel align with the three tripod mounting sockets, which are positioned around its circumference.
The front panel of the NEO 2 showing the tripod mounting sockets and locking position.
Turning the cover to the right will lock it into position, holding the filter in place. The four filters supplied with the review unit were: 184 – Cosmetic Peach, 250 – Half White Diffusion, 216 – Strong Full Diffusion and 279 – 1/8 Magenta (minus green).
We took test shots with each of them and found the camera’s auto white balance system cancelled out the small effects the coloured filters had, while the effects of the diffusers were barely discernible when the NEO 2 was used as a continuous light source. Ten additional filters are available optionally; some of the ‘effects’ filters being relatively strong.
Most of the shots we took with the review unit were recorded on our OM-D E-M1 II camera with 12-100mm f/4 lens, although we also tried it out with a Canon EOS 5D II plus 24-105mm lens as well as with a smartphone. It took a while to get used to having the NEO 2 attached to the Olympus camera and the additional weight above the lens mount made the combo a little clumsy – although not impossible to use effectively.
The balance was better on the 5D II, largely because it was a bigger, heavier camera. With the smartphone the only way to use the NEO 2 was to have somebody hold it or to attach the NEO 2 to a tripod. Both ways works quite well.
With the two interchangeable-lens cameras, we found mounting the camera on a tripod and hand-holding the NEO 2 provided a lot more flexibility. Being able to constantly adjust both the lighting angle and the distance between the light and the camera provided plenty of scope for experimentation. Adjustments on the NEO 2 give even more control over light output, although we found it just as easy to move the light source close when more light was wanted and further away when we needed less.
A still-life set-up photographed with the OM-D E-M1 II camera with 12-100mm lens on a tripod and the NEW 2 hand-held. Two shots from a sequence taken with the light at different positions. 32mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/40 second at f/9.
Some vignetting of the frame was found when shooting with wide angles of view (24mm equivalent in 35mm format), although this was resolved by the time the focal length was equivalent to 50mm in 35mm format. Light fall-off with distance is evident in the changing ISO values in the test shots reproduced below.
A close-up shot taken at an angle of view equivalent to 24mm in 35mm format. Note the vignetting. ISO 200, 1/30 second at f/7.1.
The same subject taken at an angle of view equivalent to 70mm in 35mm format. Note the vignetting. ISO 400, 1/20 second at f/7.1.
The same subject taken at an angle of view equivalent to 200mm in 35mm format. Note the vignetting. ISO 1250, 1/20 second at f/7.1.
Depending on the angle of the light and its distance from the subject, the NEO 2 can work as a fill-in light, provide subtle modelling as a hair or rim light or be the primary source of light for the exposure. The same factors apply when using the light for recording video clips.
A professional video set-up using Rotolight’s next model up, the AEOS, on a light stand, separate from the recording camera. (Source: Rotolight.)
At its brightest, the continuous output from the NEO 2 is not powerful enough to illuminate large rooms and you’ll probably need to use higher ISO settings or add more lights (or both) when shooting from distances greater than three or four metres. Fortunately, the camera’s metering system should deliver correct exposures in the auto, P, A or S modes, allowing you to adjust exposure parameters according to the result you want.
The recommended colour temperature setting is 4100K ( indicated by a dot in lower right hand corner of the Kelvin display). We ran a set of test exposures to gauge the effects of changing the colour temperature settings and found the camera’s auto white balance largely cancelled out the extremes of the NEO 2’s range.
The available light exposure, which provides a baseline for the ambient colour balance. ISO 200, 80mm focal length, 1/20 second at f/8.
NEO 2 set to 6300K; ISO 200, 80mm focal length, 1/30 second at f/8.
NEO 2 set to 4100K; ISO 200, 80mm focal length, 1/30 second at f/8.
NEO 2 set to 3150K; ISO 200, 80mm focal length, 1/50 second at f/8.
To utilise the flash, the camera requires a PC sync input or HSS capable trigger and receiver, neither of which is supplied so we weren’t able to test this aspect of the review unit. We’ve included a couple of illustrations from the user manual and Rotolight website to address this issue.
Flash exposures require users to set the NEO 2 to FLSH mode and the camera to manual flash since the NEO 2 lacks TTL flash capabilities. The user manual supplied with the unit provides an exposure guide (page 20) to help you home in on the correct exposure.
The flash power should be set to MAX or MAX+ and the flash duration to between 1/50 and 1/100 second, depending on the camera’s synch speed. Photographers are advised to take a test shot with these settings and either adjust the output power, or the distance to the subject to achieve the desired exposure level.
We were unable to test the NEO 2 with Elinchrom’s Skyport radio technology due to a lack of equipment. However, the user manual provides detailed instructions on using the NEO 2 with it and other third-party triggers.
When used with cameras that support High Speed Sync (HSS), the NEO 2 can support much faster shutter speeds with will synchronise the flash with the camera’s shutter release. This enables users to freeze action and/or shoot with wider apertures to ensure greater subject isolation.
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Colour range: Adjustable from 3150 to 6300K in continuous and flash modes
Colour Accuracy Standard: CRI 96, TLCI 91
Max. light output: LED – 2000 lux at 1 metre, Totally Flicker Free
Flash exposure level: f/8 at ISO 200, f/5.6 at ISO 100
Flash mode recycle time: 0 seconds
Beam angle: 0 degrees
Refresh Rate: 8000 Hz
Dimming: Yes, 0 to 100%; True Aperture Dimming calculates the aperture for a given distance
Cine effects: Strobe, Lightning, Throb, Colour Cycle, Fire, Police, Television, Shot, Neon, Film, Weld, Paparazzi
Remote control: 3.5 mm PC port; 2.4 GHz Wireless Frequency Band; range = 200 metres
Power Source: AC Adapter, External Battery (6xAA)
Power output: 12 Watts (at 100% 15V DC)
Battery capacity: 85,000 full power flashes on 6 x AA (NiMH or Li-Ion) or 1.5 hours continuous output at max power
Weight: 354 grams body only; 504 grams with 6x AA batteries
Dimensions: Diameter 145 mm, depth 50 mm
Mounting: Integral 1/4-inch – 20 tripod mounts with hot-shoe adapter
Kit contents: Rotolight NEO 2, belt pouch, Universal power adapter with regional mains cable, 4 piece filter kit (full and half diffusion, cosmetic peach skin diffusion and magenta plus filter holder)
Distributor: CR Kennedy & Company; (03) 9823 1555; www.crkennedy.com.au.
A sample shot by Jason Lanier, reproduced from the user manual supplied with the Rotolight NEO 2.
Another sample shot, this time by Gavin Hoey, taken from the Rotolight website.
An example of the use of the NEO 2 as a fill-in light using the EOS 5D II camera with 24-105mm lens. 105mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/20 second at f/4.5.
An outdoor macro shot with the NEO 2 on-camera, used as a fill-in light. OM-D E-M1 II camera with M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens; ISO 400, 1/80 second at f/6.3.
Indoor close-up shot of a 60 mm high vase, where the NEO 2 provided the main light source; 60mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/25 second at f/8.
Macro shot of the same subject; 60mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/13 second at f/9.
Indoor shot taken with a smartphone using the NEO 2 as a fill-in light; 4mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/20 second at f/1.7.
Still frame from a 4K video clip recorded with the OM-D E-M1 II camera and 12-100mm lens at 100mm focal length.
RRP: AU$599; US$400
- Build: 8.7
- Ease of use: 8.8
- Features: 8.9
- Versatility: 8.9