If you’re a streamer, you need good lighting. Elgato’s Key Light quickly became a popular solution for streamers but was out of reach for many gamers on a budget. Enter the Key Light Air, a smaller version retailing for only $129. Is this what you need to take your stream to the next level? I’ve been using it daily for the last six months and am ready to tell you the good and bad of the Elgato Key Light system and whether it’s worth the cost of entry. Let’s dig in.
- Current Price: $129.99 (Elgato, Amazon)
- LEDs: 80 Premium OSRAM
- Light Output: Up to 1400 Lumens
- Color Range: 2900 - 7000K
- CRI: > 92%
- Power consumption: up to 25 W
- Wireless app control
- Connection: Wi-Fi, 802.11 b, g, n
- Supported encryption: WPA/WPA 2
- Included stand with height and 3D angle control
- Elgato Stream Deck Integration
- Multi-Mount Compatible
- Dimensions: 205 x 205 x 35 mm / 8.07 x 8.07 x 1.37 in
- Weight: 550g /1.21 lbs
- Mac and Windows Support, Apple and Android App Availability
Light: it’s the basis for all camera work. It’s light that lets a camera capture an image, and it’s light that can take your stream from looking underproduced to professional, even if you’re just using a webcam. In fact, if you’re like most streamers with a webcam setup, investing in lighting is one of the smartest moves you can make. Proper lighting makes your stream look immediately better in brightness but also takes the strain off of whatever camera you’re using, allowing it to run at a faster shutter speed and lower ISO, resulting in a smoother, clearer picture. If you’re using a green screen, good lighting is even more important for a convincing background removal effect.
Taking a look at Amazon, there’s no shortage of lighting options. You can easily buy full lighting kits with softboxes and stands for under $100 (that’s what I used for a good two years). If you’re willing to spend a bit more, you can upgrade to LED panels, and a little more on top of that will allow those panels to be adjusted for color temperature. No one should feel like they need to spend an arm and a leg to get their stream properly lit.
So you might wonder where a $129.99 light like the Key Light Air comes in. Given its size, there’s no mistaking that it’s fairly expensive compared to some other options out there from brands like Neewer that for just a little more will give you a whole second light, stands, and softboxes to boot. I know, because I actually own a similar kit and use it for different photography and video jobs. It’s great. So why would someone choose the Air, apart from it being an alternative to the flagship $199 Key Light?
The biggest answer is size. Many of the lighting kits you’ll find on Amazon that cost less than the Key Light Air are large. The cheapest use large CFL bulbs with big softboxes. Even if you go with LED panels, the lighting stands take up a good amount of floor space. When I used mine, I would up propping them against a wall with the legs completely retracted because there was simply no way to fit them without completely pulling my desk away from the wall.
The Key Light Air fixes this in two ways. First, the base is small enough to sit on your desk like a normal lamp and the actual light panel is small and thin. Second, the stand telescope up and then arches out to angle over a computer tower or monitor. The panel itself is also rotatable and angle adjustable. I keep mine in the corner of my desk, behind the tower, out of the way but fully able to do its job as a key light. When I don’t need it, I rotate it toward the ceiling and let the light bounce down for a wider light source (more like a normal lamp).
Second, the Key Light Air is designed for facial lighting. Most LED video lights available at this price spread the LEDs across the entire surface in a grid. This works, but it also creates much harsher lighting on your face. As a result, you’re forced to turn down the brightness or use a diffusion panel. It can take time to find the balance between a flattering light and one that creates hot spots or shows too much detail.
Instead of going that route, the Air positions its 80 LEDs around the edge of the light panel and uses reflective material to project that light outward. That light is then reflected from an aluminum film through a grid, two-layer diffuser, and a panel of opal glass to thoroughly diffuse it into a soft, flattering light. In practice, this accomplishes a similar effect to the softboxes used by professional photographers, but in a smaller form. This type of lighting is about as close as an LED panel can come to a ring light, which is another popular lighting option that flatters the subject.
That said, the Key Light Air remains a smaller light source, so even with edge lighting and diffusion, it will still result in a harder light than a full-size Key Light or softbox. As a result, I found that I needed to position it a bit further back to achieve the best look. The smaller size also means fewer LEDs (80 vs 160)and reduced brightness overall, so I couldn’t just apply the same brightness settings as my existing Key Light.
The Key Light Air also allows you to dial in the exact color temperature you would like. Everything from a warm, amber 2900K to a cold, blue 7000K. This is a great customization to find the look you like best, but can also be important for finding the best white balance on different types of cameras. Setting each light to 5000K and then matching that setting on my Lumix camera made dialing in accurate colors that much easier.
Thus far, you might be able to work your way around these different features. You can buy desktop lighting stands and even find copycats to the larger Elgato Key Light’s desk clamp. Likewise, edge lighting is great, but there are thin softboxes and diffusion panels you can use to get yourself looking good. So why spend extra?
The feature that sets it over the top is how easily it integrates into Elgato’s ecosystem. If you’re not already an Elgato user, this will mean somewhat less but is absolutely a selling point. As someone who has a full size Key Light and Stream Deck XL at the same machine, wireless app control and network connectivity make using these lights so much more convenient than my other lighting systems.
I haven’t physically turned the lights on and off since changing my router several months ago. The Control Center app allows me to dial in brightness and color temperature with easy to use sliders. Though I keep custom settings for each light, you can also adjust them both at once by linking their controls. This is a simple feature, but so useful. There’s no stretching over my monitor for switches, and if I happen to be on my other computer and want more light in the room, I can turn them on without even leaving my seat.
Most important, it’s easy and reliable. My GVM lighting kit (which was more than $100 more expensive than both Key Lights combined) also features wireless app control, but it’s such a pain to connect and use that I never do. With the Elgato, all I have to do is open the app and the lights are there, ready to go, every time. It has literally never failed after the first setup process.
Second, existing on the network also means they’re controllable via the Stream Deck. Assigning buttons to lighting controls is easy since the Stream Deck software automatically detects each light once you’ve chosen the Key Light option. From there, you can add brightness and temperature controls, and on and off buttons. From there on out, you don’t even need to use the app as long as the Stream Deck software is running.
The downside to this, and something I really dislike, is that there are no onboard controls. That means you have to use a computer or smartphone to control them. Since these are streaming lights, it’s a foregone conclusion that users will be able to download and run the lighting software, but when cheaper lights have dials and even digital readouts on the back, I would really have liked to have seen that included here too.
Ultimately, though, there’s no mistaking that the Key Light Air is a great light, just like the Key Light before it. It’s not going to be for everyone and no, you don’t need it to have great lighting for your stream, but it sure is nice. If you’re already in the Elgato ecosystem, you’ll probably find it to be a great addition to your setup, especially if the full-size Key Light is out of your price range.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.