Rotolight NEO 2 review

The NEO 2 is Rotolight’s disc-shaped, polycarbonate, all-in-one High Speed Sync (HSS) flash and continuous on-camera LED light. Unlike traditional on-camera flash, the NEO 2 has no recycle time. It succeeds well as a continuous light, but using it as a flash requires a different mindset than when you’re using traditional flashes.

In my test box were the Rotolight HSS (a modified Elinchrom Skyport) transmitter that communicates with the built-in 2.4Ghz HSS wireless flash receiver, a set of optional special effects filters for use with the continuous light mode, a soft case and a handle to hold the NEO 2. The transmitter enables users to wirelessly control up to 10 lights in four groups at up to 656ft. It is compatible with all other Elinchrom Skyport devices.

The NEO 2 performs well in continuous light mode, capable of throwing around 1K lumen or 2000 lux at 3ft, at least when it’s set to a colour temperature of around 4100K. At lower or higher temperatures, the light loses between five to 10 percent of its output power. Two control knobs let you set the brightness and colour temperature of its 50-degree light beam. Both seem to be pretty accurate. Especially the colour temperature that is shown on the LCD screen with large red numerals is spot on. The colour temperature ranges from 3100K to 6300K. Rotolight paid special attention to the light’s skin tone rendition, resulting in a CRI for skin tone R15 of 98, a CRI of 96 overall, and a TLCI value of 91 (approved for broadcast without correction).

In continuous light mode, you can play around with special effects. For example, if you are shooting a crime scene, you can emulate the presence of a police car by putting a 712 Bedford blue filter in front of the unit and selecting the Police effect which simulates an emergency services light.

These special effects are called “CineSFX” and it’s a trademark name for built-in special effects. The effects include strobe, lightning, throbbing, fire, police, TV, gunshot, neon, weld, etc. To make these effects looking as close to reality as possible, Rotolight sells an optional set of filters for the NEO 2 to put in front of the device that fits the effect.

Most of the effects are actually very good. Even the Fire effect, which I thought was going to give a bit of a cheesy result, came out looking a lot like the real thing. But here you’ll be using the NEO 2 in scenarios that don’t add up when using it as an on-camera light. And when you really want to make it look like it’s the real thing, you’ll need at least a couple of them.

The NEO 2 as HSS flash

Before testing the NEO 2’s flash functionality, and as the user guide is too unstructured to be of much use, I searched the web for reviews. Many of them were quite negative, but it seems they miss the point. And the point is that you should forget much of what you know about speedlights, as this is a LED light. If you don’t, you’ll be frustrated with the NEO 2. Images shot with only one NEO 2 look different and underexposed if the light is positioned at a distance of one meter or more and the camera set at ISO 100. That is all due to this being LED technology which gives you a soft but lower output than what you’re probably used to.

Even at its maximum output setting, with the continuous light turned off completely, the NEO 2 needs a large lens opening or a high ISO value when positioning the light at a distance of one meter or more. At that point, my iOS Lumu Power showed the flash output to be “HSS”.

Moving the NEO 2 closer to the subject or dialling in a higher ISO value will, however, result in perfect photos with soft shadows without the need for modifiers. But if you want to get an even exposure with the light positioned at a distance, you’ll have to set up at least two NEO 2’s.

I’ve added a few examples in this video so you can see for yourself. The light has been placed at a 40cm distance from the microphone here.

The NEO 2 has some unique features that may get you interested. For example, the NEO 2 has a zero recycle time and you can instantly switch to a very decent continuous light for video and photography where flash may be considered to be obtrusive.

In addition, LEDs have a lifespan that’s a lot longer than other light sources and they keep their colour accuracy longer than traditional studio lights or flashes. The NEO 2 can be had for around €400.