REVIEW – Part of being a writer for the Gadgeteer is also being a photographer. We have to take all our own pictures of the products that we review. I don’t know about the other writers, but I am not a professional photographer, so I’m always looking for ways to improve the quality of the photos that I take. As any experienced photographer will tell you, one of the most important elements of a good picture is the lighting, and I can never seem to get enough of it while taking pictures of gadgets indoors. I’m hoping that TONOR’s TRL-20 ring light kit will make it easy to bring some extra light to those Gadgeteer pictures that I take around my house.
What is it?
The TRL-20 is a kit that mounts a 12-inch ring light on a tripod, thus creating a portable light source for indoor photography. The ring uses 160 LEDs with three color modes and ten levels of brightness, and the tripod can extend to 4.5 feet tall. The TRL-20 is made by TONOR, a Chinese company best known for its microphones; their goal is to help you “own high-quality professional audio recording devices without pinching your wallet.”
What’s in the box?
- 1 x ring light with a USB-A cable
- 1 x tripod
- 1 x Bluetooth remote
- 1 x phone mount holder
- 1 x manual
- 1 x after sales card (with 9 pages of English instructions)
- Ring light size: 12 inches in diameter
- Ring light cable length: 81 inches
- Ring light controller:
- Color modes: cool white, warm white, warm yellow
- Max tripod height: 53 inches
- Max tripod weight: 6.1 pounds
- Tripod material: aluminum and plastic
Design and features
The tripod is a three-legged spindly affair that looks like any lightweight tripod; everything from the legs to the locks to the handle has a matte black color. The leg pieces are aluminum, but everything else is plastic. The ring light mounts on top of the quick release plate, a circular piece of white plastic in front and black plastic in the back that’s about an inch thick and a foot in diameter. It’s a simple, practical design.
Installation and setup
The tripod functions like any other tripod. Each leg has four telescoping leg pieces, and I extended the bottom three by releasing each of the appropriate leg lock levers. At its max, the top of the tripod is 40.5 inches off the ground. There’s no crank handle, but when the elevator lock nut is released, I could raise or lower the center column by hand. At its max, it adds about 10 inches to the height of the tripod.
There are three pan-tilt mechanisms that control the angle of the platform. The panning lock nut allows me to rotate it in the horizontal plane, the pan handle allows me to tilt it forward and backward, and the side tilt lock nut allows me to tilt it left and right. All of these are very common for pan-tilt tripods and worked exactly as expected.
The quick-release plate has the standard threading size, though the screw is shorter than most. I removed it and screwed it into the base of the ring light. I then popped it into the platform. I took the phone mount and screwed it into the threaded hole inside the ring light, then angled forward. It has a spring-mounted grip often found in selfie sticks and a ball socket behind it that allows the phone to be rotated horizontally or vertically. At its widest, it can hold a phone that is three inches wide, so it worked fine with my iPhone8 and my GoPro.
The base of the ring light has a cable that ends in a USB-C connector, so I plugged that into a spare iPhone charger and then plugged that into the wall. There’s a controller built into the cable that I used to turn the light on. I’m ready to take some pictures!
Here’s a short time-lapse video of me setting up the TRL-20:
My first impression of the TRL-20 is that it’s not very strong or sturdy. The legs are thin, and all the connecting pieces are made of plastic. The head in particular is quite wobbly, especially when adjusting my phone in the phone mount. I previously reviewed TONOR’s T20 microphone arm stand and found it to steady and solid, and to my disappointment, the TRL-20 tripod is not like the T20 at all. I suppose that there’s an advantage to the lightweight construction: it’s easy to move around the house. The disadvantage, however, is that I won’t be able to use it with my DSLR, a camcorder, or other heavier equipment. As long as I limit myself to using the tripod with the included ring light for photography around the house, it will be ok.
I really like the ring light, and I think it’s the best part of the kit. It has three different colors, cool white, warm white, and warm yellow, and ten different levels of power. This flexibility allows me to get exactly the shot that I’m looking for, given the subject and the existing light in the house.
The ring light has a built-in cable that powers and controls the light, and it has a number of short-comings. One, it’s not detachable, so if it ever has problems, the entire ring light will have to be replaced. Two, when the tripod legs are fully extended, the ring light has to be within five feet of an outlet. That’s pretty constraining, even when just used inside my house, and so I wish the cable was a lot longer. Three, the controller that is built into the cable is located in the middle of the cable. That’s an awkward location at best, as I find myself having to bend over near the floor to use it. I wish TONOR had placed it a foot or two from the ring light itself. Four, the end of the cable is USB-A. TONOR did not include a charger, and as most chargers these days are USB-C, I wish they used USB-C instead of USB-A.
The phone mount is attached to a flexible arm that is very stiff. It’s a bit difficult to get it to point to exactly the right place, especially since adjusting it causes the entire platform to flex, due to its plastic construction. My solution is to bend it so that it’s more-or-less pointing in the right direction, and then use the pan-tilt mechanisms for the precise adjustments.
As the tripod is not super steady when my phone is attached to the phone mount, TONOR smartly included a simple Bluetooth remote control. This allows me to take pictures without having to touch my phone, thus avoiding problems with blurry photos. I found the remote paired easily with my iPhone 8. It has a switch that turns it on/off, and one button for taking photos. I really like this little remote.
I have used the TRL-20 while taking pictures of several gadgets; here’s one that I took of the Proscenic A9 air purifier.
The TRL-20 also comes with a small bag for the tripod, though there’s nothing for the ring light.
What I like
- Ring light with three colors and ten levels of brightness
- Bluetooth remote
What I’d change
- Improve the ring light cable
The TRL-20 is a kit that includes a 12-inch ring light, a lightweight pan-tilt tripod, a phone mount, and a Bluetooth remote. While the tripod is not very sturdy, it’s perfect for using with the ring light around the house to provide extra light for photography. The ring light itself is the highlight of the kit, having a variety of light colors and levels. While I use a lightbox for photographing smaller gadgets, the TRL-20 is a good companion for photographing those gadgets that are too large to fit into the lightbox. If you’re looking for some extra light for your photos, I recommend taking a look at TONOR’s TRL-20.