Today we're looking at the Rotolight NEO!
Let there be light! Realistically, we really can't do anything in this industry without light; but as many professionals have pointed out it can be very easy to get carried away chasing the hype surrounding the “quality of light.” When professional images are routinely made with D.I.Y. setups, does this light merit its cost?
SINGLE SENTENCE SUMMARY
Premium power, light, and features, at premium prices.
WHY I BOUGHT IT
The main reason I bought one was for shooting ring photos at weddings, and for adding a bump of subtle light for portraits when I'm deployed in the field with the military.
Yes, sometimes it gets quite dark and you absolutely have to shoot. You may use flash, but sometimes you don't want to distract the subject from experiencing the moment by popping flashes. I personally don't like guess work, and in some high-pressure situations even TTL takes time to setup, test and adjust. Constant light obviously shows you immediately how a scene will look, and you see in real time how much your adjustments will affect the image without snapping a shot, checking the screen, and adapting.
WHAT I LIKE
This unit packs a surprising 1077 lux at three feet, and will last up to 3 hours at 100% power on 6 AA batteries! That (to me at least) was insane. It's ring-light shaped, so if I want to do some glamour portraits or macro photography I'm set, and the range of accessories allow me to modify it further for use with a softbox and barn doors. The programmed video functions (fading, strobes, lightning, fire, police lights, etc., etc., etc.) really open up a world of video applications, and it even comes with an AC adaptor, gels, and a convenient carrying case.
I recognize that the same lighting in most instances can be achieved by adapting materials on-hand (check out Joey L's finished products here), but in a military context, things like concussion and portability are distinct factors, and during a wedding you can't be scavenging for scrap cardboard and paper to make a makeshift softbox. The Rotolight Neo is super small, portable, and capable in those applications, and also don't leave the bride and guests cringing and questioning your professionalism when you need them to be smiling.
WHAT I DON'T
I won't even note the price in this one, because realistically given all that it provides in versatility between stills and video it's not really that bad. I will say however that I think that they would be well served to bundle these things with a gorilla pod at a minimum. Sure, you can mount it into your hot/cold shoe and have some functional on-camera light (gross), but it really shines (pun-intended) when it's off the camera. They bundle these in packs of three in a flight case with stands and mounts, but they really should have tossed in a gorilla pod or clamp for the price to really make this worthwhile, I had to buy one to make this thing work well when I'm working without an assistant.
Granted, I'm only saying this as it makes more sense for how I use it, but I think it would make sense for so many other reasons, not to mention make them more marketable as a versatile lighting option on-the-go. I also wish the case were solid. The cover for the rotolight is a thin plastic, and thus damage is a concern for me; I feel like if you're putting one of these atop a light stand you're basically asking for it to fall and shatter. Plus when I load the neo into a Pelican I now have to pack it so that it's not going to shift and get damaged by the other gear. To me that's annoying, especially given how much I've invested in buying it.
I use this thing for everything. The imagery for very equipment review I've done, the ring shots for every wedding, heck I even use it in much of my lens and prism shots to create light refraction and interesting results. I can't imagine trying to accomplish what I do by other means, shy of buying Rotolight's bigger Anova Pro V2 model (which is on the dream list...) but even that has its drawbacks in that it's massive and requires a brick for a battery. It's absolutely indispensable to me in my workflow and in planning my shots, and even when I (eventually) buy a couple of Anova Pro's I'll still likely keep this for hairlight/rimlight use.
As always, I'm not sponsored by anyone in these reviews. I've got no vested interest in this aside from being a happily active member of the photography community who likes to give back.