Soonwell has recently released a new series of RGB tube lights (actually RGBW) that are ideally suited for Youtube creators who want to elevate their home studios. There are three sizes - ST25, ST50, and ST100. For this review, we’re looking at the ST50 tube light.
RGB lights in general have exploded over the last few years, primarily thanks to Youtube. While there are limited use cases for wacky colors in the documentary filmmaking world, RGB lights are an evolution in color accuracy and flexibility without having to depend on filters.
But really it’s the Youtube world that has adopted colorful lights to jazz up studios that would otherwise look like plain basements, garages, or spare rooms. And arguably Youtube creators are who are leading the most recent surge in video gear production, so it’s smart of Soonwell to offer a series of lights that are purpose built for home studios.
Why RGB Tube Lights for Youtube Videos?
There are many ways to spice up a Youtube studio set, such as furnishing an engaging background, ensuring lighting and gear is setup in a visually pleasing way, or even using a green screen for a virtual background.
The reason to pursue an upgrade in your Youtube background is simple: if the audience is going to watch you talk for long periods of time, you want to give them something pretty to look at. You also want to differentiate your “look” from a standard at-home vlogger, or maybe you just want your Youtube studio to look a little more modern.
Tube lights are a great solution to making your home studio look different and modern because they’re uniquely shaped, they look futuristic, and they can be used in many different ways. Of course you can use a tube light as your primary key light as well, but the beauty of colorful RGB tube lights is you can place them in the background for an easy effect.
Here’s a few quick and easy setups we created using the Soonwell Sensei ST50 RGB tube light. For starters, you can simply stand it up vertically somewhere in the background to give your studio setup a cool look.
Alternatively, you can place the tube light somewhere where you can’t see it, but it lights up your background with a variety of colors. Here we simply dropped it on top of a sofa, chose a random color, and we have an instant vibe.
If you have a simple black backdrop, you can also use the tube light to enhance the background. Simply moving it up and down on a light stand gives you several different effects.
If you want to use a green screen, you can also combine the tube light in your background with a virtual set that creates a more full studio environment.
Keep in mind all these layouts were created in a spare bedroom with just a workbench, a Canon EOS R for the main camera (and a 35mm f/2 lens), and a black foldable 5x8 backdrop hanging from the wall. It doesn’t take a lot of money or time to make your set look good.
Other use cases for the Soonwell Sensei RGB Tube Light
Of course a tube light isn’t only meant for Youtube studios. You can use one for creative photography, you can jazz up your webcam setup, or you can use it in traditional filmmaking.
For example, it’s perfectly fine to bring along your Soonwell Sensei tube light to a production where you can use it as a practical light. There are many times when we’ve been filming people where we hoped we had a good quality workshop-like light to hang or attach to a light stand. These are very portable and easy to place, compared to full sized lights.
We’ve been using Westcott Ice Lights for years on nearly all of our productions - both corporate and documentary - and they have a unique look to them for key lights placed very close to the subject. And they’re also very easy to place in the background or use as a general room fill light.
But while other tube light reviews focus on using these lights for professional productions, we believe the ideal use case is for semi permanent studios. A Soonwell ST50 tube light is not super practical for air travel, and it’s not as handy as an Ice Light for quick lighting setups.
There’s also the lack of a 1/4 thread on the bottom of the Soonwell Sensei tube lights, so it’s not as quick to deploy using a simple light stand and adapter. But it’s also not impossible, and Soonwell includes a good set of clamps to ensure you can mount one of their Sensei tube lights to a light stand quickly and easily.
Soonwell Sensei RGB Tube Light - What’s Included
So let’s talk a little bit about what’s included in the Soonwell Sensei RGB Tube Light kit. You have a pretty nice carrying case, the light itself, a battery charger and an AC adapter, and a variety of mounting solutions.
First off, you don’t need any of the accessories to power the light. The battery itself is quite big and you can power it for over an hour at full blast with no accessories.
If you want to plug it into the wall, you can use the included wall AC Adapter to keep the light on for the duration of your production. The cable is lengthy and you shouldn’t have a problem reaching a wall socket - but of course you can use an extension cable if necessary.
If you want to charge the battery, you have to use the separate battery charging cable and AC brick to do so, after removing the battery from the end of the light. It’s a little bit of a hassle, and it would be better if the light could charge the internal battery while the AC adapter is plugged in.
But having a removable battery is quite handy, even if it does take a little extra work to charge it. You can buy extra batteries, and if one fails you’re not stuck with a bricked tube light.
When Westcott released the Ice Light 2, they went from an internal-only battery to a swappable battery and it’s been a huge difference in our productions as we can carry multiple extra batteries and aren’t reliant on wall power when the internal battery is depleted.
You also get a tripod kit in the bag, which enables you to mount the Sensei light vertically without additional gear. For most Youtubers, this is an easy and quick way to deploy the tube light without having to buy additional mounting gear.
But if you have a light stand - and we’re still using the ultra lightweight Manfrotto Nano Stands - you can use the included baby pin adapter to mount and rotate your tube light as you see fit.
The initial setup of the light stand adapter can take a bit of time, so we recommend just leaving it all connected after the first setup. Then you can simply clamp on the tube light somewhere along its rear plastic part anytime you’re ready to use the light.
In the box you also get a few plastic, flexible wires to hang the light, which you can do by looping the wires through the ends of the tube light.
Soonwell Sensei RGBW Light Build Quality
Let’s take a moment to talk about the build quality of these tube lights. The housing is made of plastic, which cuts down on the weight of the light. Without the battery, this is a really lightweight and portable light. And the overall quality of the parts and build look decent.
But if you’re clamping and unclamping often, the back of the light will show scratches after a while. And the plastic front part of the light may get damaged if you accidentally drop the light.
But overall Soonwell is giving you a good value for what these lights cost. We’ve had good luck with Soonwell lights over the years, such as with their flexible LED lights, so we’re confident in these lights being durable and longstanding if you take care of them.
Soonwell Sensei RGB Tube Lights Cons
There are a few frustrations with these lights, and we assume it’s the same with the ST25 and ST100 models, even though we’re only reviewing the ST50 model here.
For one, if you’re using the AC adapter for wall power, the light turns on as soon as you plug it in, and there’s no way to turn it off unless you unplug it. This is frustrating as you’ll have to physically plug and unplug the light anytime you’re ready to use it or taking a break.
Another feature that is really frustrating is the screen automatically rotates to face up based on how you’re holding the light when you power it on. If you have it mounted already and turn it on, there’s a good likelihood that the display screen will be upside down. Now you have to teach yourself how to press the buttons and scroll through the settings using opposite directions.
And while there’s Wifi control built into the Sensei tube lights, there’s no app currently so you have to buy a separate unit to control the light remotely.
But all lights have their shortfalls, and for the price you have to decide if you’re willing to live with the frustrations. For us, we believe this light is best suited for a Youtube studio where you choose your settings, mount the fixture, and then just plug it in when you need it. But if you need to be able to continually change the light settings and use it in a fast paced environment, you may decide otherwise.
We also wish we could clamp the light at an angle, such as when it’s on a light stand facing a black backdrop. But the clamp can only be used on the rear plastic housing, so you can’t rotate the clamp and secure it an angle, with part of the clamp on the front part of the light.
Soonwell Sensei RGB Light Settings and Modes
As with most RGB lights, you have a vast variety of color options to choose from. You can use simple color presets, you can adjust via Kelvin numbers, or you can use Lee filter presets. There are plenty of ways to pick your color output, and here are a few of the different menu options.
The dimming feature is really nice in that it enables you to dim all the way down to 1%. If you’re planning to use a tube light for your background, you most likely will not need it at full or even half brightness, so it’s nice to be able to dim this light where it doesn’t overpower the background.
Soonwell Sensei ST50 RGBW Light Review Conclusion
Soonwell has made a name for themselves by differentiating their lights from other Chinese lighting companies. They continue to innovate and offer better quality than most budget lights, while also retaining a good value for what you spend.
The Sensei RGB tube lights have been modified and improved since their initial announcement, and the final retail version is a perfect solution for filmmakers and photographers who want to experiment with tube lights without spending a ton of money.
While there are some frustrations with this first generation of Sensei lights, we’re also quite happy with how thought out the design and packaging is, and you can use these lights fairly quickly and easily to improve your studio or field production.
RGB Tube lights are not just a fad, they’ve made a unique imprint on Youtube productions and they’re here to stay. Soonwell’s Sensei lights now give you another choice as you decide if they’re right for you.
Soonwell Sensei RGBW Tube Lights - Soonwell Store