Best Light Boxes Reviewed & Rated for Quality
Believe it or not, there are a ton of photographers that work in the analog field. This means that they use analog 35mm or medium format cameras, work with actual physical film rolls, and the technical alchemy that comes with developing negatives and producing enlargements.
One of the best tools for photographers working with analog film and negatives is a lightbox. Though many of them are designed for traditional artists and illustrators, a lighttable, or lightbox is the perfect tool for inspecting and judging your negatives. Paired with a magnifier, the lightbox is a key home tool for film photographers all over the globe. Especially those developing their own rolls at home.
Here are the ten best lightboxes on the market for photographers to use!
In a Hurry? The test winner after 200 hrs of research
Tikteck Quality Make
Easily Powered Light Box
10 Best Light Boxes
1. Tikteck A4 Ultra-Thin
Tikteck Quality Make
Easily Powered Light Box
Not Very Large
Some Shipping Woes
Oh hey! We managed to start a list regarding accessories and additions to a camera or photography life without mentioning the brand Neewer. Maybe that’s because we couldn’t find a Neewer Lightbox. Instead, we've got something amazing from Tikteck, and this lightbox, in all of its glory will set the tone for the rest of this list for sure. It’s the Amazon Best Seller for a reason.
It’s Thin and Portable
Perhaps one of the leading causes to the development and invention of thin, battery-powered kind of light boxes was the way the original ones were made into huge desks, with the need for a power outlet, and gigantic, difficult to replace tube lighting. Now, thanks to advancements in technology, we’ve got an almost paper-thin lightbox, that doesn’t use bulbs at all, and has just a single, simple USB power cable.
For one of a thousand reasons, users are always going to choose manipulation and adjustability over almost any other quality when it comes to the idea of spending money on a product. Unless the product in question is a single use, you’re going to want to adjust things. The Tikteck A4 Ultra-Thin Portable LED Light Box has adjustable light levels to both adjust the brightness during different hours and atmospheres, as well as for different use cases.
Cost and Value
At only the cost of a decent meal from any of the readily available fast food joints, the Tikteck A4 Ultra-Thin Portable LED Light Box is a crazy great deal and would prove to be an ultimate, and versatile tool to add to any analog photographers line-up. The proper use of a light box makes such a huge difference in terms of analyzing negatives, so it’s proper to start with something so great.
2. Gagne Porta-Trace 1012-1L
Stainless Steel Frame
Not the Biggest Surface
Reseller Woes (reports)
There are so many things to be said about the advancements we’ve made as a species in regards to our electronics, and our lights, but LED bulbs or diodes are probably the best thing to come out of those inventions. The match-up between light boxes, photographers, and LED bulbs just makes for a dramatically different marketplace today, versus yesteryear, and almost no product exemplifies this as much as the Porta-Trace 1012-1L Stainless Steel Frame Lightbox.
Alongside the evolutions of technology that have seen things get smaller than bigger, before getting smaller again. And the current marketplace for electronic Light Boxes doesn’t really shy away from that. It’s thin and small all the way. Except for this stainless steel lightbox from Gagne, that brings back all the retro feels for photographers of the previous decades, and animators alike.
Eco LED Lights
Like we said in the opening, the invention of LED lights has been a boon for technology, and the environment. There are so many great things about LEDs, and two of them are that they last for a very long time, and they consume far less power to light up. The former of those, speaking into longevity, will see this lightbox produce high-tier light for up to 50,000 hours with their LEDs. The latter of them is a result of the technology behind LEDs, which see a drastic drop in power needed for even brighter light.
Cost and Value
For so many reasons, the Gagne Porta-Trace 1020-1L Stainless Steel Frame LED Lightbox is almost as premium as you can get, while still remaining relatively small, portable, and actually affordable. Sure it’s roughly twice the price of some of our cheaper options, but there comes a whole lot of nostalgic love, high production of light that is unseen in a lot of other products.
LED Harmful Light Filter
Great Power Button Location
Up to 50,000 Hours of Light
Very Thin Build
5 Year Warranty
Free Paper is Unimportant
Power Cable Woes (reported)
In what looks a lot like our first entry, the Picture Perfect LightBox and Ultra-Thin Portable LED Light Pad is something that rivals the best out there, for all of the same reasons that this marketplace is flooding with nearly identical products. There is a lot to love here, and the longevity, superior craftsmanship, and filters are just some of them. Picture Perfect have an apt company name, because their products seem to follow that title to a tee.
Just in case you didn’t have a parental figure as I had, I’ll break the news to you now, that it’s pretty bad for your eyes to stare into the light for prolonged periods of time. Especially if you’re concentrating on something in front of that light. It’s a dangerous mix of necessity and … well … eyeballs. But thanks to a pretty market-wide standard, the Picture Perfect Lightbox comes with a built-in filter that blocks out the LED light spectrum that causes strain on the eyes.
Warranty? No Worries.
In a rather surprising move, the folks at Picture Perfect come out of the gate swinging, and not only are they bringing a line-up of pretty great products, but they’re also backing up their products with a guaranteed five-year “no hassle” warranty out of the box, helping you put your mind at ease. This is something that is seldom done to this extent, even at the premium levels, and with this price point, the Picture Perfect LED Light Box doesn’t fall into premium territory.
Cost and Value
We’re only at number three on our list, and already we’ve established the industry standard for great budget-friendly products, but also for what we can generally expect to be paying for something of this size, with this type of use, and it’s all very palatable and pleasing to the consumer market.
4. NXENTC A4 Tracing Light
Great Build Quality
LED Light Box
Budget Friendly Price
Pink Color Options Isn’t Very Nice Looking
Some Shipping Woes (reported)
On the surface, it would (or could be) very easy to mistake the NXENTC A4 Ultra-Thin Light Box for an iPad or other tablets of that size, or even other products on this list. But, NXENTC does a far better job of designing and manufacturing their light boxes than it does coming up with their company name (that sounds an awful lot like a ship designation from a sci-fi film franchise). There’s a ton to love with the A4 Ultra-Thin LightBox from NXENTC, and we’ll show you just a few of our favorites.
One of the most important things to have as an option for adjustment on anything that involves power, light sources, and our eyeballs staring at them, is the brightness, and that’s just what NXENTC allows us to do with their A4 Ultra-Thin Portable Ligh Box. With an easy to understand touch power button mechanic, you can adjust the overall brightness of the light box with ease and properly set the light levels for your current atmosphere.
Powered By It All
It’s not very often that someone would need a light box and is in a convenient location near or next to a power outlet. Which would make for some very awkward necessities for sources? Luckily, NXENTC ensures that never has to happen by requiring a low-level power source, meaning you can get full brightness if the lightbox is plugged into a power bank, or portable charge, or laptop, or (of course) a wall if there’s a power outlet near where you need to work.
Cost and Value
At somewhere around the same price as all of the other products we’ve listed that are playing at the same game like this, the NXENTC A4 Ultra-Thin LightBox, it’s a pretty darn good option to throw out there. We will, however, continue to muddle your vetting options by throwing a whole lot of light boxes like this one at you, so be prepared. The NXENTC does come with a few very quality perks, and that’s not to be forgotten. Especially in this war of the A4’s.
5. Artograph LightTrace
Two Size Options
Made in the USA
100% Recycled Materials
No Brightness Adjustment
Sloped Surface is Awkward Sometimes
We’ve tried to drill it home a few times now, and it’s really just for the benefit of you folks not going into this shopping and vetting experience with different expectations, but the overall market for light boxes in the twenty-first century is largely filled with similar (but still great) products. Artograph -- get it? Like autograph, but with art? -- isn’t playing that game though, and they’ve designed and shipped a product that more closely resembles those Disney animation studios’ light desks of old. The LightTracer from Artograph is just the quintessential newness, with that older flair and extensive quality.
Two Great Sizes
Though we don’t normally go into other options available from companies when we write out what makes these products great, it’s important to us to note that this fantastic lightbox from autograph comes in two great sizes. The first on (image is shown on this entry) is a square shape and is a brilliant option for almost everything. While the second is the same height, but almost twice the width (horizontal measurement), making it even better for those with large laps, or larger tasks.
We checked. We had to see if this was a bluff … but it’s not. The Artograph LightTracer (made in the Delano region of Minnesota (United States of America), is made with 100% recycled materials. Everything from the frame to the lights, to the board on the top acting as a surface. It’s pretty astounding to us that in an industry that sees almost none of this kind of thought, Artograph does it with ease.
Cost and Value
It’s not quite at the budget end of the slides, but considering the extreme level of care and adoration that has gone into the make and manufacturing of these Artograph LightTracer light boxes, you’d be silly to think that it was a budget product. A product of the United States, to boots, which is a very important thing to a lot of people (supporting local, that is). There is so much value in everything that’s being done here.
6. Small Fish A4 Ultra Thin
LED Light Source
Power Button Can Be Tetchy
What was that thing that everyone’s mother tells them after they’ve come home from getting their heart broken as a teenager, for the first time or the tenth? Oh right. There is plenty of fish in the sea, right? Well, this has all been an elaborate and unaffiliated lead-up to some sort of pun about this Small Fish (which is the name of this company), that just isn’t going to pay off. I’m sorry. But what will pay off, is if you decide to pick up one of their awesome budget-friendly light boxes?
There are so many things about technology involving lights that makes somethings difficult to look at, and one of the worst culprits is a flickering display. This happens a lot with older televisions or modern electronic billboards, but it won’t happen here. Thanks to an adaption of an industry standard (at this point), the Tracing Light Box A4 Ultra-Thin from Small Fish has a flicker-free light source that will keep your eyes from having to endure a rave.
A lot of the products we’ve talked about so far on this list boast that they are ultra-thin, and for the most part, they are. But the Small Fish Tracing Light Box is a pretty darn thing one. Having a thin light box helps out so much to the comfort and versatility of the product, making it rather easy to pick up and use the lightbox in almost any situation you might find yourself in.
Cost and Value
At two-thirds of the price of almost all of the budget-friendly products we’ve propped up on this proprietary guide, the Tracing Light Box from Small Fish might be the most well-endowed Budget-Friendliest one of them all, and none of that really shows in the quality of the light source, or the make of its box. This makes Small Fish a big player, in a large ocean of options.
7. ME456 5mm Ultra-thin
Ultra-Thin Body Design
Easy Low-Level Power Source Needed
Power Button Kinda Stinks
Some Shipping Woes Reported
Straight from the company that sounds like a weird order, you would ship to and from lumber distribution houses; the ME456 company brings you their amazingly crafted budget-friendly LED Light Box. It just occurred to me now that calling them light boxes in the twenty-first century, what they're there really being no box involved. This is an astounding very of the very standard modern package we’ve come to expect from light boxes of today.
No matter how many times we’ve mentioned it on here so far, it’s always a pleasant surprise when a company takes the time to add a brightness adjustment to its light box products. It becomes so important to carefully expose your eyes to the right amount of light, as we get older, and it’s especially important in times of distinct and intent focus. There’s no room for abuse here. Being able to adjust the brightness of your lightbox can be key.
Much like a lot of other products vying for the same space as the ME456 -- honestly, that’s such a weird and difficult company name to remember, and type on a keyboard -- A4 LED Light Box, this product is remarkably thin, and in regards to that size, is astonishingly easy to carry around. With a simple USB power cord, this “thinner than most notebooks” lightbox could be the tool your kit is missing.
Cost and Value
Even though the discount we see on the product page as we write this may not be around or available to you when it comes time to check out these products yourself, at full price the ME456 A4 LED Light Box is inarguably budget-friendly, and comes packed with all of the tools, build qualities, and features that we’ve all come to expect from these modern Light Boxes at this point. It’s a product to consider, for sure.
8. AGPtek LED Ultra-thin A3
A3 Paper Size
Low Power Consumption
3-Tier Light Levels
Can Be Too Large For Some
Touch Switch Can Be Finicky
We’re eight options in and we’re finally bringing you an awesome example of an equally awesome product in the A3 paper size proportions, and we’re just sitting here wondering why it is you’ve kept up with us this far and not sent us a nasty email fighting for your love of A3 dimensional paper measurements. But here we are, and we’re sorry to have disappointed you.
A3 Paper Size Surface
Even though these light boxes are designed with specific paper sizes in mind, there’s not always going to be needed for a particular spec to your lightbox, and this is especially the case when it comes to using a lightbox to digest negatives from a film. However, some folks like larger surfaces to work with and we can’t think of a better and more comfortable size than that of the A3 US paper size. It’s a slightly larger and more square size compared to the common A4 we’ve seen so much of.
Low Power Needs
It’s been brought up a bunch in this list as well, but we don’t want to downplay how important it is that these modern light boxes consume as little power as they can, all while requiring as little power as possible to use. The A3 Light Box from AGPTEK is a product that hits both of those specs brilliantly and without fail. There’s a whole lot to love in that aspect.
Cost and Value
You’d probably think that a light box that is this much larger than the ones we’ve listed a bunch of times already on this guide would be a whole lot more in the wallet department, but you’d be happily wrong to learn that it only comes with a small bump in the price tags, and brings with it a whole lot more surface area to work with. It’s a brilliant size, with an equally appealing cost. The value in that is tremendous.
A4 Paper Size
Rugged and Thin Body
3-Tier Brightness Levels
Illuminati Name Might Detract?
Permanently Attached Power Cable
The internet has spent so much time hunting them down and trying to expose them in all sorts of different situations around the world for what feels like so long now at this point, but we found them, and it came up by just a simple search for amazing light boxes, modern or otherwise. Here, we’ve discovered the Illuminati, and they’ve arrived with one of the best light boxes on the market today, at a very competitive price in this market.
Perhaps it’s not quite Ford tough, but the fine folks at the Illuminati (what a weird sentence to write in 2019) back their product up with some really dramatic claim that their lightbox will outlast most others on the market. And for what we’ve seen, they’re not joking around. The very tough build quality of the body, even in its thin design, is extremely durable and will last a very long while. Something other products in this market may not be able to replicate.
It might seem counterintuitive, what to boast that your product is extremely durable, and prove it with the design and manufacturing process to back it all up, but then why offer a lifetime warranty? That’s right, this budget-friendly LED Light Box comes with the Illuminati stamp of approval, and a “no hassle” lifetime guarantee that even goes as far as covering your product for simple satisfaction.
Cost and Value
There’s no crazy difference in price when it comes to the Illuminati A4 Light Box, and in that regard, it’s playing fair with the rest of the marketplace. But it does stand out in being a ruggedly tough body, which is pretty rare in this market of plastics and glass, all while guaranteeing not only the product but your approval of the product, making it one of the most fantastic options out there.
10. Huion L4S LED
Pretty Premium Quality
Rulered Border Edge
One Complaint Said They Don’t Offer More Products
In a surprise turn, we’re bringing you another contender in a very similar game with the Huion A4 LED Light Box, and the reason being, that it seems to have done something not a single other product on our list has done, and that is almost unanimously won over their customer base. It’s made even more surprising by the fact that we’ve pretty much never heard of this company, and yet here we are talking about them, and their LightBox.
Scaled Ruler Border
One of the finer and smaller touches that can make such a huge difference when it comes to using light boxes for many different things is being able to quickly adjust sketches, or measure out what it is you’re working with. In this case, Huion has built that fit right into the lightbox, placing a photoshop-like ruler border around the outside of the lightbox’s light up surface.
Just in case you forgot, paper clips are a real thing! That’s right. It’s not just a little beady-eyes caricature that sits on your desktop and judges everything you do in while working in Microsoft Office products. Huion has done an amazing job of pleasing their users, and one of the small touches that make companies and products like this stand out are things like this Light Box paper clip. It attached easily to the top (or any side) of the lightbox and holds your paper or pages down with a very firm grasp.
Cost and Value
Even though there isn’t a whole lot different in this product from the other products very much like it, the folks at Huion have done enough of the little things to truly win over their customers, and make their product stand out a bit from the crowd. From the small additions like their paper clip, and ruler edge, to the larger picture of a high-quality frame, and brightness settings, Huion has come into this fight relatively unknown, and won the hearts of this guide writer.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
It might seem very obvious to a lot of people out there, and that’s probably because there is a pretty standard use case for these types of light boxes, especially when it comes to being used by photographers that shoot with analog film cameras. But being able to use your chosen lightbox as a true viewer of film negatives is the ultimate criteria because your product should do the thing you need it to do. No, if, and's, or buts about it.
In order for a light box to be a decent light box for your analog film negative needs, you need to have a strong backlight, and in the twenty-first century, there are many great options that use true white light from LED bulbs that produce a little bit less strain on the eyes (especially so when the product has a purpose that involves directly focusing, or staring at it).
The addition of LED technology helps a whole lot more than it may hinder -- and with the added protection for your eyes in the form of harmful light ray shielding coats and layers -- because they bring a whole lot more light, more control, less power consumption, and a much longer lifetime. But most importantly, LED lights (if done correctly) have a flicker-free display of lights and let us tell you that staring intently at something with older display technology, with that flicker, is nearly a death sentence.
Overall, you’d be hard pressed to find any modern light box on the market that doesn’t meet at least the basic functionality needs for viewing and scoping out negative film shots, and in that matter, this is a pretty easy road to travel. But finding one that has the use case, and does different enough to bump it up and apart from the pack will be tougher, though we’ve propped up a few options on our list that do just that. Good luck, and happy shooting!
We’ve mentioned it so many times during the course of this buying guide, and we just can’t harp on it enough. This is so important. Being able to adjust your screen brightness is almost a completely mandatory feature at this point, and more so when it comes to a product like this that you will most likely be using to focus on and stare intently.
Though a lot of the great modern world is viewed and interacted with via screens, there is a lot of downside to such a thing, and the main one is our vision health. It’s no surprise that this new generation of humans that have grown up with screens have begun seeing insanely new and foreign eyes and vision problems that just didn’t exist before the invention of displays.
Staring at screens can cause two major problems and the first one is dry eyes. Most of the things we’re checking out on the screens are things we do not want to miss a moment of, or, we’re so distinctly focused on a specific point -- which is crazy relevant to the idea of checking out and vetting film negatives.
One of the biggest things you can do is use filters on your screens, much like computer and cell phone “blue screen” filters, most modern LED light boxes to have built-in filters to keep any of that harmful light from reaching your eyes. The other thing you can do is adjust the light output.
Ensuring that your devices, screens, and lights to be brighter than your atmosphere is bright, and dimmer when there is less light around you, could be absolutely key in keeping your eyes, and your vision in as good of health as they possibly can be. It’s almost impossible to avoid screens and lights in our modern age unless that’s how you've structured your life, so just be sure to take care of your eyes, and seek out those products that take extra care to put in the features that could save you some trouble down the road.
In a world with a million different kinds of products, we as consumers have unfortunately shifted to a mindset that seeks to present one product’s value against another's, and this creates some rather unfortunate hurdles to jump over in the vetting and shopping process. What products SHOULD be compared to is their values match with your needs. For this, we’ve designed the perfect vetting rules, and we have shared it with you a hundred times -- and we will continue to share it, of course.
What you have to do to find a product’s inherent value is gather up all of your vetting criteria (here, in this guide, we’ve got Adjustability, Use, Size, and Portability) and you find out how much of those the products fill (give them ranks out of ten if you must), then you take all of those criteria, and you match them up against the price you’re going to pay for said product. This keeps value detached slightly from straight-up price, and brings in a “does it do enough to justify the cost” kind of attitude. Folks often think that cheaper products have less value inherently, but that’s just inaccurate.
Cheaper products just have a different value, not a lesser value. When it comes to a cheaper product, you can expect it to tick fewer boxes, or come with less additional features or changes, while a most expensive product should do more, or do as much but better, and this is the fairest way to judge a consumer product.
While we might not put a huge amount of time and thought into the value of these products while we vet them, and rank them, there’s no sense in ignoring it. The criteria we’ve laid out bring upon the consumer a great value because we’re picking products that fill those criteria in the best of ways.
As a consumer, propping products up against your specific needs, instead of against one another, you will be better off.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Some of our lightbox choices are extremely thin, and only just slightly larger than most common paper sizes, making them crazy easy to travel around with (assuming you remember your power cable). Another prime addition is the low-level of power demanded because it means that you can power the lightbox from a simple power bank or portable power chargers, as well as a laptop, or straight into the wall outlet. This makes it simple as well as easy to take your lightbox around with you, wherever you go.
If you're just starting out with photography, you might be overwhelmed by all of the gear you needed to purchase right out of the gate. There are plenty of benefits to investing in a lightbox, however, so it shouldn't be something that you overlook. If you are dabbling in product photography, a lightbox is an incredibly important piece of equipment. It helps to filter the light and reduce the amount of shadows in your photos. Using a lightbox for product photography will also help to eliminate distracting backgrounds.
Other Factors to Consider
Now, to get this out of the way right off the bat, there isn’t a whole lot of options when it comes to the available sizes of light boxes out there on the market. The most efficient way to get some variety is to look at light tables, rather than light boxes.
The standards (especially as seen on our list) are standard United States paper sizes in A4 and A3, but there are some squares, and longer lightboxes out there. For our specific use case here, viewing negatives, there is no work advantage gained by having one size or another, and that’s because our negatives are 35mm or medium format, every time. There’s no real mix in size of negatives. Rather, we think there’s an importance in size because of comfort. Finding the right size of lightbox that you are comfortable using, and one that fits into your workspace, is more than ideal, it’s key.
It’s true; we haven’t been able to find many light boxes that do not need to be plugged into a power source to use, which means that there is a certain level of cap on these products when it comes to their portability. But, when we talk about the portability of a lightbox, we’re more referring to “how easy is this product to take from point A to point B?” which in our mind, falls under portability.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: Does this have multiple brightness settings?
This is a very important question, and we thank you for not only asking it but caring whether or not these products do have brightness controls. We’ve spoken so many times in this guide, and again we went into great depth regarding the importance of brightness control in our criteria section, so we’re sure you understand how seriously we take this. It’s important to never pick up products that can do damage to you as a human, and more specifically, in this case, the eyeballs. Almost every single product we chose to add to our top ten list has a brightness control. Some of them are completely controllable, allowing users to change the brightness in infinite stages between off and full, while the majority of products in this market as a whole, will have a two, three, or four steps (or strength) choice of brightness settings.
q: Can I use my light box for things other than negatives?
YES! Oh my god, yes. The real truth is that these modern light boxes are designed for the same crowd that the original light tables used in dark rooms were made for, and that is animators and illustrators. The use of a light producing surface to match up frames of animation to the next one is what allowed famous and talented animators to make frame-by-frame animations before the introduction of computers, and the programs that come on them. It’s important to know that these products are really good at doing a bunch of things, and just one of them (and a strong one at that) is for viewing negatives as needed.