The best low-budget lighting equipment under $250 — 2024

One of the telltale signs of amateur video is poor lighting. In fact, lighting is often times more important than the camera you’re using to shoot. If details aren’t properly lit, your camera can’t record them. So, having a sufficient lighting setup is vital and can significantly improve how your videos look. This guide aims to help you in selecting a quality, low-budget lighting setup that you can use for years to come.

The basic lighting setup essentials

When putting your lighting setup together, there are some common essentials you should have on hand. While not every scene will require these components, you will likely need them at some point.

A basic lighting kit is made up of these components:

  • The key light: the primary light source that casts the most light and defines the scene.
  • The fill light: a secondary light source that’s typically softer and less intense, and eliminates unwanted shadows caused by the key light
  • A back light: a light placed behind your subject to separate them from the background
  • Modifiers, like diffusers and gels: often used for shaping and coloring light, enabling filmmakers to achieve various creative looks and moods.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the must-have lights in these categories, and more, so you can build your budget-friendly setup.

Best low-budget lights

Key light

amaran COB 100x S Bi-Color LED Monolight

Strengths

  • Bi-color capability with dimming control and effects
  • Compact
  • Good color accuracy

Weaknesses

  • Eats up a lot of power
  • Can get hot despite being an LED light

The Amaran 100x Bi-Color LED Monolight APA0175A10 is an excellent key light for budget-conscious videographers. Its bi-color feature allows for a smooth transition between warm and cool tones, mirroring natural sunlight or indoor lighting conditions. The 100x also allows for flexibility when controlling the scene’s ambiance through its adjustable intensity knob. With the addition of a softbox, barn doors, and/or gels, it’s easy to further control the light to achieve your desired look. For the sheer power and quality of this light, you can’t beat the price. 

Fill/back light

GVM 800D-RGB LED Light Panel

Strengths

  • RGB control
  • Adjustable color temperature and brightness
  • App control
  • Built-in effects

Weaknesses

  • Lacks in build quality compared to higher-grade panel lights
  • Though decent, color accuracy isn’t necessarily professional-grade
  • Knob adjustments are in increments of 5%, making it hard to fine tune in some instances

The GVM 800D-RGB LED Light Panel is more than capable of reducing the harsh shadows created by the key light, keeping your image exposure balanced. This light comes with detailed RGB capabilities, offering a spectrum of colors to fine-tune the scene’s mood. This level of control allows you to match the fill light perfectly with the key light and achieve a natural-looking scene. 

Speaking of control, you can use the knobs on the back to adjust the panel’s color and its intensity or connect to it via Bluetooth using the GVM LED App. Additionally, it runs on both battery and AC/DC power, so there’s no need to depend on power outlets and extension cords — as long as you remember to charge the batteries.

The lights are also available as a two-light and three-light kit that includes stands and a carrying case. We recommend getting one of these kits. This way you can save money on stands/cases, and use one as a fill light and one as a back light.

Diffuser

Neewer Parabolic Softbox

Strengths

  • Provides natural-looking lighting with gradual falloff
  • Durable
  • Uses the popular Bowens mount, making it useful for a wide array of different lights

Weaknesses

  • Heavy
  • Cumbersome to adjust and transport

The Neewer Parabolic Softbox is a great choice for softening and spreading light evenly. Typically, harsh shadows (like seen in a Rembrandt-style image) are undesirable unless it’s for a creative filmmaking purpose. But no matter what type of video production you dabble in, it’s just always good to have a softbox at your disposal to mimic natural lighting. More likely than not, you’re going to need it when using powerful lights.

When used on a COB light with a Bowens mount, such as the Amaran 100x, the softbox will minimize harsh shadows and reduce light intensity without losing the light’s effectiveness. A softbox is essential for achieving gentle, flattering lighting, and the Neewer Parabolic Softbox would be a great addition to any low-budget lighting kit.

Vlogging light

FotodioX Selfie Starlite Stix Vlog 2-Light Kit

Strengths

  • Portable and easy to use
  • Versatile mounting
  • Adjustable brightness and color temperature

Weaknesses

  • Not suitable for lighting up larger scenes
  • No RGB
  • Included stand isn’t sturdy

Sometimes, you need a simple solution when you’re both the talent and film crew. It’s such a pain to have to adjust your lights, check how you look on your camera screen, then repeat until you get it looking just right. If you’re a solo creator, vlogger or livestreamer looking to set up your scene in a quick and user-friendly way, this light by FotodioX is an excellent choice. 

Designed for portability and ease of use, vloggers and streamers can use this as a key and fill light at the same time. Its compact size and adjustable features allow for quick setup, and it even comes with a phone mount. At a weight of five pounds, it works well for both stationary and mobile use cases.

Tube light

DigitalFoto Solution Limited P7RGB PRO

Strengths

  • Wireless RGB control
  • Waterproof
  • Good output and overall value for the price
  • Built-in effects
  • Five hours of battery life

Weaknesses

  • Color temperature adjustment isn’t smooth
  • Built-in battery — no options for swapping

The DigitalFoto Solution Limited P7RGB PRO Tube Light offers a nice blend of durability and portability, making for a great addition to your lighting arsenal once you’ve acquired the basics. First of all, it’s waterproof and has a runtime battery life of five hours. Beyond that, you get color temperature and RGB options, totaling up to 36,000 custom colors. It also has four effects modes, options being Lighting, Gradient, Progressive and Police Car. Lastly, you can control the light with the included remote control, or with their free app. What more can you ask for at less than $100?

Best low-budget lighting accessories

Gels

Pro Gel Vivid Colors Filter Pack

Strengths

  • Variety of color options
  • Cost-effective
  • Made to last a long time

Weaknesses

  • Could be too small for larger lights

If any of your lights lack RGB control, you can still add color to your scenes the old-fashioned way: gels. One of the key benefits of gels is their cost-effectiveness. Rather than investing in multiple RGB lighting fixtures, videographers can achieve a wide spectrum of colors and effects using these gels without a significant financial investment. 

This pack by Pro Gel includes a selection of high-quality, heat-resistant gels in various colors. They’re great for any kind of light, and the quality of this pack means they can be used repeatedly without significant degradation over time.

Light stands

Neewer Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel Light Stand

Strengths

  • Made of strong stainless steel
  • Can reach heights of over nine feet
  • Resistant to rust and corrosion
  • Easy to collapse and transport

Weaknesses

  • Larger in size when folded compared to others
  • Can be overkill for smaller gear

If you’re not hanging your lights in a studio, having the right stands is critical for a safe and stable lighting setup. We’ve personally seen the results when you have flimsy light stands; they often tip over. Beyond the hefty price tag associated with replacing a broken light, you also expose yourself to liability for medical expenses if it falls on someone (including yourself). This is why it’s crucial that you have a sturdy light stand when completing your setup, and the Neewer Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel Light Stand is built with high durability.

Constructed with stainless steel, these stands offer the durability needed to withstand the rigors of frequent use, both in studio environments and on location. Their heavy-duty nature ensures that they can support various lighting fixtures and accessories without compromising stability. It can support up to 17 pounds and reach heights upwards of nine feet.

Sandbags

Neewer Heavy Duty Sandbags

Strengths

  • Further stabilizes light stands and other similar equipment
  • Easy to fill with zippered compartments
  • Cost-effective

Weaknesses

  • Doesn’t come with sand
  • Could leak sand if zipper comes undone

Speaking of safety, sandbags are another crucial element for ensuring the stability and safety of lighting setups while shooting. These sandbags from Neewer, a company known for their cost-effective durability, serve as a safety net for light stands and other equipment. The bags are designed to prevent any accidental tipping and damage by balancing your equipment’s weight distribution.

Made from high-quality, tough fabric, these sandbags are built to endure the demands of both indoor and outdoor shoots. They can be filled with a range of materials to achieve the desired weight.

Note: This product comes empty and does not include sand.

There you have it

There are plenty of options you can choose to start building your lighting arsenal without breaking your budget. Remember, every light fixture has its own purpose. The most important thing is recognizing exactly what you need for your specific video(s). From there, you can choose between the many options out there within your budget. Learn more about lighting design and equipment here on the Videomaker website.

Kyle Alsberry
Kyle Alsberry
Kyle Alsberry is a multimedia producer and audiovisual technician at California State University, Chico.

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