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  • Stephen Knight

LED Panel Light Review: Neewer NL-288ARC

Updated: Mar 4

Whilst there are plenty of small and bright pocket LED panel lights, these light sources can be quite harsh for portraits. I was thus looking out for a photography light with a softer light beam, decent brightness, but still highly portable. The Neewer NL-288ARC is one of many bi-colour soft LED panel lights that have been around since the start of the 2020s, and ticked the most boxes.


Disclaimer


The Neewer NL-288ARC was purchased with my own funds. The links in this article are not affiliate links.


Neewer NL-288ARC soft LED panel light
Neewer NL-288ARC soft LED panel light

Design and Construction


The Neewer NL-288ARC is a relatively portable soft LED panel light. Specifications are:

  • Dimensions (no batteries attached) 37.6cm x 26.6cm x 2.5cm.

  • Weight:1.17kg no batteries (approx. 1.57kg with 2 Sony NP-F750 batteries attached).

  • Power supply: 15V mains adapter (included) or 2x Sony NP-F batteries (not included).

  • Max power: 45W.

  • Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT) range: 3200k-5600k (Bi-colour).

  • RGB: No.

  • LEDs: 144 warm, 144 cool white (side illumination).

  • Claimed illuminance: 1400lux/1m, 4800lux/0.5m @4400K CCT.

  • Claimed CRI: 97+.

  • 2.4G remote: 430 channels/4 groups.

  • IP rating: not stated.


I purchased the Neewer NL-288ARC as a stand alone item, without the optional light stand (as I have plenty of tripods). At the time of wriitng the price was US$94. The NL-288ARC has a 1/4-20 thread at its base for mounting directly onto a tripod plate. The light came with carry bag, power adapter and plug, remote, instructions, a few mouting screws, and mounting plate for a light stand. The package does not include Sony NP-F type batteries and chargers, and these will need to be purchased seperately if you don't already have a collection. The light is compatible with NP-F550, NP-F750, and NP-F970 batteries. The higher the mAh rating, the longer the runtime. Personally I would have preferred internal Li-poly batteries for less bulk, but I can understand that others may have a different opinion for inside studio use.


The front of the light has a diffuse soft light panel. The rear of the light has the controls and power attachment. More in the user interface section. As is common with most LED panel lights, there is no IP rating, so best not to use it in the rain (use the Aputure MC Pro or Inkee GC30/60 for that). Making the light weatherproof would significantly add to the weight and cost.


Portability and Alternatives


The Neewer NL-288ARC is roughly the size of a 17" laptop. It just fits into the laptop section of my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II backpack, which means that I don't need to bring an extra bag when carrying it to locations. It may not fit into all camera bags with laptop compartments, so YMMV. I should note that ring lights (typically 18" diameter) will not fit in camera bags.


The weight is 1.17kg. and 1.57kg when you include 2 Sony NP-F750 batteries. Whilst this is "relatively portable" it does add significant weight to my backpack considering my camera and three lenses only weigh 1.2kg combined. I did consider the smaller and lighter (with internal battery pack) 11-12" Neewer NL-192AI (650lux/1m) and the almost identical Lumecube Studio Panel (525lux/1m). However the former was only available in Australia in a twin pack, and the latter is not available for sale in Australia. Both are at the lower limits of what I would deem acceptable brightness for portraits. The smaller panel will not be quite as soft as this 17" panel, but much softer than 5"(ish) pocket LED panels. .


The newest generation of lightweight and portable COB video lights such as the Inkee GC30 and SmallRig RC-60B should also be considered as alternatives. For example the SmallRig RC-60B and mini softbox weigh just 1.04kg and have a similar brightness (illuminance) to the NL-288ARC when using the softbox with diffuser in Eco mode. The RC-60B even fits in a lens compartment in a camera bag. COB lights also give you the option of a point source beam for even more output, though I've never come across a model who likes point source light sources. Panel lights are much more useful in cramped spaces where a soft box takes up too much room. A review of the RC-60B is coming soon.


Neewer NL-288ARC bag
Neewer NL-288ARC bag

Neewer NL-288ARC included accessories
Neewer NL-288ARC included accessories

Neewer NL-288ARC panel back
Neewer NL-288ARC panel back

Neewer NL-288ARC 1/4"-20 thread
Neewer NL-288ARC 1/4"-20 thread

User Interface


The user interface is pretty simple. There is a switch for off/battery/mains power. A button for wireless mode/group. The brightness and CCT are controlled by two dials. There is an LCD display which displays % brightness, CCT, and wireless channel. The light has last mode memory - yay!


Neewer NL-288ARC controls
Neewer NL-288ARC controls

Light Output and Runtime


The 17" soft panel is designed to produce less harsh light than pocket and smaller LED panel lights. Testing showed this to be case. This uses LEDs placed around the edge of the light, firing inwards towards a diffuser system. The diffused light is similar to using a mini-soft box, but not as soft as full size soft boxes which aren't particularly portable. Portability requires compromises!


For lights that are used to illuminate models, the most useful brightness measurement is illuminance in Lux/distance (usually stated at 0.5m or 1m). Each time the distance is doubled, the Lux will reduce by a factor of 4. Some panel light and ring light manufacturers only use lumens which is misleading. Thankfully Neewer uses Lux measurements.


Comparison Illuminance measurements were performed using a Opple Light Master 3 Pro at 5000K CCT:

Neewer NL-288ARC 5000K mains power/100%: 1093 lux/1m

Neewer NL-288ARC 5000K battery power/100%: 1111 lux/1m

Zhiyun M40 5000K 100%: 1531 lux/1m

Zhiyun M40 5000K 50%: 974 lux/1m

Weeylite RB9 5000K 100%: 320 lux/1m


Iluminance, CCT, CRI, and tint measurements of the NL-288 ARC at various CCT settings (running on battery power):

3200K: Illuminance 1117 lux/1m, CCT 3302K , CRI 97.9 Ra , Tint +0.0016 DUV

4400K: Illuminance 1185 lux/1m (15% less than claimed), CCT 4377K , CRI 100 Ra, Tint -0.0019 DUV

5600K: Illuminance 980 lux/1m, CCT 5884K, CRI 100 Ra, Tint +0.0001 DUV


At >1000 lux/1m or >4000 lux/0.5m, this light is bright enough to be used as a portrait key light. Illuminance was however measured to be 15% less than claimed by Neewer. It should be noted that the comparison lights measured above specification. Compared to much smaller pocket LED panel lights, it is completely outclassed by the max output of the completely nuts Zhiyun M40 (which has the achilles heel of a very short battery life), but is far in excess of the Weeylite RB9 (which is otherwise one of the brightest pocket LED panel lights). The Neewer NL-288ARC however has a much more pleasant diffused light beam for portraits, and is really in a different class of lights. It should be noted that the NL-288ARC's illuminance is also approx. x2 higher than most 18" ring lights.


The CCT range is fairly standard for bi-colour lights at 3200k to 5600k. I would prefer the see a wider CCT range, something that the M40 and RC-60B manage without excessive magenta tint at "mixed" mid-range CCTs. CRI is excellent at more than 97 Ra at all CCTs. Tint is also very neutral at all CCTs, with only very slight magenta when both warm and cool LEDs are "mixed" with mid-range CCTs. I do not have the equipment for testing each R channel.


Runtime was tested with two Neewer 5800mAh NP-F750 batteries, and the light managed an impressive 121 minutes of runtime. Brightness was stable throughout the entire runtime.


Neewer NL-288ARC on just 20% output.
Neewer NL-288ARC on just 20% output.

Conclusion


Positives:

  • Smooth diffuse beam.

  • Fits in the laptop compartment of some camera bags (YMMV).

  • High CRI and good tint at all CCTs.

  • Bright enought for use as a portrait key light.

  • At least x2 to x3 more brightness/illuminance than most pocket LED panel lights and 18" ring lights.

  • Good runtimes with Neewer 5800mAh NP-F750 batteries.

  • Stable brightness throughout runtime.

  • Similar brightness for mains power and battery power.

  • Easy to use.

Neutral:

  • Weight is at the upper limit of what I would consider "portable".

  • No IP rating. Can only be used outdoors in dry conditions.

Negatives:

  • 15% less brightness/illuminance (lux/1m) than advertised.

  • Limited CCT range.

  • No RGB.

  • Some 30-60W COB video lights are more lightweight alternatives.


The Neewer NL-288ARC is a fantastic soft LED panel light, that is fairly portable, and has enough brightness to be used as a key light for portraits.


Some of the newer generation of 30-60W COB video lights are more lightweight, and thus form factor (both in use and for portability) may be the decider between a soft panel light and COB video light.



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