The advent of the new generation of consoles proved that there’s one major thing that can entirely change the look of a game, even if graphics stay relatively the same: lighting. And the same holds true for lighting up your face. Whether it’s streaming the latest game with amazing ray tracing technology, or turning on your webcam for yet another hour-long video meeting that could have been an email, the Elgato Key Light was made to make sure you look good all the same. Say goodbye to the dank, dingy, cave lighting. Get rid of the sickly yellow overhead light casting awkward shadows on your face. And gone are the days of massive, cumbersome lighting setups that aren’t realistic for an office (and far too hot). Elgato makes sure you’re ready to go with nice low-profile lighting panels that evenly and brightly light whatever they are shone upon.
Elgato sent us a couple of the Key Lights to try out. The panels come with a telescoping metal arm on a desk clamp, with a ball-joint head for the light to position it just right. At its shortest, the arm is 22 inches, extending up to its full length of a rather tall 49 inches. This gives it plenty of flexibility to fit into nearly any setup. However, just like with the Wave Mic Arm, the clamp (and way the vertical metal bar comes up) didn’t work with my old desk, and I couldn’t sufficiently set them up until I got a new one. It was a pretty non traditional desk, however, and I’d wager the stand would work with a vast majority of people’s setups. However, make sure to look at pictures and start considering where you might place one or two of these lights.
The other downside of the stands is that they are strictly vertical, with no real horizontal reach or flexibility, though the ball joint on the top and the rather large bright panels fill any need that might otherwise necessitate horizontal reach. Also, Elgato’s multi-mount line of products includes accessories that can meet the need for horizontal reach, if necessary. The very slim light panels—at just under 1.2 inches at their widest point—make it easy to position these anywhere, even up against a wall if that’s how you have your desk. Included cable clamps ensure the power cable—the only cable it needs—isn’t just flailing in the wind, keeping things relatively clean looking.
The panel itself measures about 13.8 inches wide by just under 10 inches tall, big enough to provide a good amount of lighting coverage, but not so overly large as to dominate the space. If you do prefer smaller lights, Elgato also has the Key Light Air, measuring about 8 inches by 8 inches (though it has a different freestanding mount/stand, which will take up desk space, and it’s a dimmer light). Part of that slim design on the Key Light comes by putting the power supply in the large plug end of the power cable, which eats up a lot of space wherever you decide to plug it in. I had to get an extra dual-sided small extension cord to keep them from hogging spots and covering up other plugs on my power conditioner.
Two Key Lights really put a professional look on your video, though even one will do the trick without casting annoying shadows that can come from other non-professional lighting sources. I’m fortunate enough to have my desk face out a window to get a lot of natural light, but even then, I’ll use the Key Lights on darker or cloudier days, or even on bright days just to fill in any shadows and tweak the color temperature.
Elgato Key Light Review – Full Control
The Elgato Key Lights are controlled via the Elgato Control Center app on your phone and/or computer, but they don’t take up a USB port to run. You’ll connect them to Control Center via WiFi through a rather easy to follow process that takes a couple minutes at most. Once connected, you’ll have full control over the lights through your WiFi network. This isn’t connecting the lights to the internet itself, so even if your external internet is down, as long as your WiFi router is still putting out a signal, the lights will still work. You can also simply power on the Key Lights via a switch on the back, but the only way to have full control over brightness and color temperature is through Control Center.
The benefit here is that you won’t need to fiddle with the back of the lights to lock in the settings you want. You can do it via the app all while looking right at your video feed to see how the changes look in real-time. The Control Center app also means you can hand over control of the Elgato Key Lights to an Elgato Stream Deck, using the buttons to adjust settings, create macros, and whatever other creative things your heart desires.
And those settings cover a wide swath of lighting options. At it’s brightest, the Key Light can reach 2800 lumens. That’s exceptionally bright for a lighting source that’s going to be just a few feet from your subject. The general lighting across the entire panel ensures that there are few shadows generated by the directed light source—even better when you have two. It’s loaded with 160 “premium OSRAM LEDs” evenly diffused by the Key Light’s opal glass front panel. Color temperature can range from the more comfortable and cozy warm white of 2900 K, to a very cool white at 7000 K, which Elgato describes as “Sunset Amber” and “Arctic Blue” respectively. This keeps the Elgato Key Light right between where the color of the light starts to change, just allowing you to dial in the perfect color for whatever you are using them for, in addition to tuning that brightness.
And despite that brightness and range of color temperature, the Key Light doesn’t really generate any perceptible heat. Being subjected to traditional studio lighting can have you sweating bullets by the end of a call or stream, but the Key Lights keep your face well lit at the perfect brightness and color temperature without the same directed heat generation as other lights have. This means you can use the Key Lights while live streaming or in the new work-from-home era of video calls without breaking out into a sweat. You can also use the Key Light for other lighting needs, like product photos, unboxings, or other video and photography that could benefit from studio-quality diffused lighting.
There is a premium, but in an industry of “you get what you pay for,” $199 is a small ask for the Key Light. Other less expensive lights have caveats and sacrifices—they don’t get as bright, have a narrower color range, are bulkier, get hotter, or have far less efficient stand setups. Other lights also don’t factor into the Elgato ecosystem, which allows control from the Stream Deck and Elgato apps. And the design of the Elgato Key Light is such that it looks good in your office, or wherever else you might place it. There’s a lot to be said for the aesthetics of how things look off-camera too. I’ve dealt with other bulky and less than ideal lighting solutions in the past, and the Key Light is by far the easiest to setup and use, along with looking the best.
The Elgato Key Light is easily one of the best and most accessible desktop lighting solutions available, perfectly designed to address a wide variety of feedback about getting your on-camera face lit up just right. While the premium pricing may put it out of range for some people, the Elgato Key Light is a worthwhile investment that will instantly improve the look of your streams, video calls, product videos, and even selfies, if that’s what you choose to use it for. And as a part of Elgato’s wider effort to provide a one-stop-shop for home streaming needs, it shows that this is a company that listens to the wants and needs of its consumers to tailor fit its products to them.
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