NEO 2 by Rotolight Review
Strobe & LED Solution
Bottom line: If you like the original NEO then you will love the NEO 2. The NEO 2 is a dependable system for both still photographers and video shooting with enough light performance to satisfy light duty photography work. Rotolight stepped up their game with this updated NEO 2 continuous LED and Strobe lighting solution now with a built-in trigger, no recycle strobe and higher light output.
My Set Up: I bought two NEO 2 with an Elinchrom Skyport for Nikon to maximize my flexibility and I use the Sekonic L858 with the Skyport module to trigger the NEO 2 to allow measuring of light output & control the light output in LED mode - this is an optimal setup for use with a Rotolight NEO 2 setup.
The best NEO 2 setup In My Opinion:
- Rotolight Optimized Elinchrom Skyport for your camera brand
- NEO 2 x the number you need I recommend two if you can afford them
- Sekonic 478 or 858 with Skyport module to measure and control the light from the light meter
- 1 Rotolight handle
- What is the NEO 2 - A small light measuring 5 1/2 inches across, slightly more weight and mass than a standard flash, but not heavy. NEO 2 is a nice LED light solution allowing photographers to shoot with continuous lighting but adds the flexibility with a built-in High-Speed Sync (HSS) flash strobe when needed. Keep in mind not all cameras support HSS, I must mention the NEO 2 is a manual strobe, not a TTL but as a manual flash, the strobe output is adjustable from the Skyport.
- Build quality is very good, NEO 2 has a solid robust feel that is mostly all plastics, the shoe mount is a metal cold style, if you are so inclined to remove the cold shoe altogether you can then attach a handle (sold separately). The NEO 2 has three total attachment points. The Knobs are very firm and responsive including the on/off switch, the A/C input has a rubber weather sealed cover. ONE Negative - the power button is very sensitive and during routine use and holding - I un-intentionally reset the NEO 2 - FIX THIS ROTOLIGHT!
- Power - Normal Alkaline batteries are not recommended - I use the Eneloop pro batteries to maximize lighting you should use good batteries. The kit includes battery recommendation. The unit requires 6 AA batteries or A/C power, if you use a good set of 2700mah rechargeable batteries - you get an estimate of 80,000+ flashes. So, battery life is extremely good if you are just using the flash, the unit comes with a carry case that has slots for six spare batteries. In Continuous Light Mode, you can expect 2 hours of life in real-world life. I have not tried counting the number of flashes for a set of batteries, but I believe what Rotolight states, In continuous lighting, I get a hair over 2 hours, but that will depend on your battery brand and output. The NEO 2 does have a battery level reading via the menu - too bad it is not a built in visual indicator.
- Flash/Strobe, NEO 2 has zero recycle time for shooting in flash mode, The strobe will fire continuously for as long as your camera can fire or your batteries run dead, be aware the strobe output is not as powerful as a dedicated flash such as an SB-5000 or SB-910. Understanding the limitation of LED light fall off you will soon understand when and how to use this great little NEO 2. This NEO 2 has many benefits in a small and very portable light. Rotolight claims that setting the color temperature of the continuous LEDs the strobe will also fire at the same color - which is a nice feature. If you are looking to use the NEO 2 as your primary flash - I would recommend you consider other options, The NEO 2 is better suited for those without high light output strobe needs, the NEO 2 does a good job of fill light, and in most cases is all that is needed.
- The menu, Getting into the Menu and making changes is easy and accessed using the rear buttons - press both at once and you are in the menu, the other adjustments are based on turning and pushing the rear buttons - very intuitive. Brightness and color adjustments are both at your fingertips without the need to go into the menu. The light is easy enough to understand in operation without needing to study a manual which is a big plus.
- Special Effects, YES - if for nothing more than a choice for adding some special effects to your video work the NEO 2 includes several useful built-in effects that can be turned on and off using the EL-Skyport transmitter, or manually at the back of the light. These include;
- Gun Fire Flash
- Police Lights
- Cinema Movie flicker
- Watching TV
- Fades over time
- Aperture Diming
- Built-in Elinchrom EL-Skyport receiver Rotolight offers an optimized EL-Skyport transmitter for the NEO 2 to control color and output, but regular Elinchrom Skyports work as a trigger and some can support HSS IF your camera does. To fully enjoy the NEO 2 with the built-in receiver you need to shell out $250.00. If you already own a Skyport you are in luck - keep an eye open for new firmware updates for older Skyports to support NEO 2. If you use 3rd party triggers having a flash sync cable port, you have access to remote fire with limitations no controlling LED output or color adjustment - At least that is my experience.
| Pros and Cons
Bright Continuous LED Lighting
Common AA Batteries
A/C Power support
Built-in special effects
Included basic filter set
- Must use a Skyport to benefit fully
- Full power limited by color choice
- No built-in battery charger
- No TTL Support
- Strobe output limited
- High Price
- Back power button very sensitive
- No dedicated battery level readout
- Elinchrom Skyport NEO 2 delivers the best usability paired the optimized NEO 2 Skyport, Other 3rd party triggers may not be able to change the color and settings remotely. The NEO 2 does support pluggable flash PC Sync, which should be sufficient for most 3rd party triggers. I recommend after you buy your NEO 2 and fall in love with it, you go buy the Elinchrom Skyport (the one made for the NEO) this combo will allow you remote control and menu access from the "specialized" Elinchrom. If you have multiple NEO/Rotos which you will eventually, it makes sense to invest in the Elinchrom Skyport made especially for the lights.
- Final Thoughts and Recommendation, I use two NEO 2 for what they are best suited for - to compliment my portable lighting needs. The NEO 2 is not a replacement for dedicated Flash/speedlights due to the limited strobe output and lack of TTL control - the NEO 2 has enough lighting bang to cover many lighting situations and with the many special effects and continuous LED output, the NEO 2 works well overall for both still and video shooters. Yes, there are much cheaper LED solutions available that offer smartphone and Bluetooth connectivity without strobe. If you only need a continuous LED system and are on a budget, you may wish to shop around.
- If you can stomach the price for an NEO 2 and already have an Elinchrom Skyport - go for it. It is too bad the NEO 2 does NOT support TTL and in my opinion, is a concern for a company promoting FLASH.
If you mostly do strobes and are looking at an NEO 2 for that purpose consider using your money for adding MagMod modifiers to enhance your existing flash setup or buy a dedicated flash outright if you do not have a flash yet, you will be much happier. If you need a well-rounded lighting solution the NEO 2 fits the videographer needs with enough output for still photographers in many lighting situations, your decision should be based on what you do most often and prefer in your lighting and no the NEO 2 is not the answer to everything in lighting.
Cost Break Down: $399.00 NEO 2 + $245.00 Skyport = $644.00
Do you own a Sekonic Light meter with a Skyport module - You can remote fire and adjust the NEO 2 right from the Sekonic Light Meter - I use an L858 and Sekonic 478 - both have nice touch interfaces to ensure you get the proper exposure at the touch of a finger.
My Rebuttal to TTL - TTL is a wonderful, fast, easy to acquire the most useable flash shots in very fast order - It is not perfect and neither is manual mode. Take time to discover how TTL is employed in a photo shoot - watch a few Joe McNally videos, he is a lighting genius. When someone says I do not use TTL, I think they may not really understand how to control light with TTL - which you can, TTL light is fully controllable in camera or at the back of the strobe, you can adjust output down or up for each flash, this puts you in the ballpark faster, and you are not obligated to go with the settings - just that simple. TTL works, and as the manual mode, you need to master it, not let it master you.