Never before have I so wished that I could use a device for taking photos of that device. That was certainly the case with Photojojo’s US$30 Pocket Spotlight, however. It’s simply a tiny battery-powered array of 32 LED bulbs, that provide a source of soft, even light as an alternative to the harsh light of a flash. While serious photographers will already have proper lighting systems of their own, it’s a nice tool for all the point-and-shooters out there.

When I’m taking photos of small items for reviews like this one, I almost never use a flash. Instead, I find an area where there’s indirect sunlight, and use that. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of sunlight at night, or on cloudy days. Additionally, the indirectly-lit areas don’t always have the neutral backdrop that I’d like. With its ability to softly brighten up any area, I figured that the Pocket Spotlight would be just what I need.

The light comes with three interchangeable mounts. One allows it to be stuck into the earphone port of a smartphone, one is designed to slide into a camera’s hot shoe, and one is ... well, I don’t know what the other one is for. The light does work completely independent of the camera, so I simply held it in place on top of my hot shoe-less compact Canon.

The Pocket Spotlight's 3.7-volt lithium-ion battery charges from a computer via an included USB cable – a built-in indicator light changes from red to green when charging is complete, which takes two to three hours.

When I first fired it up, I found that its light was indeed bright, yet soft. Because the LEDs are arranged in a rectangular grid, it gives off a much wider swath of light than one would get using something like a flashlight (which I’ve tried).

For taking pictures of small objects right up close, I noticed that its intensity was initially pretty close to that of the flash on my camera. The nice thing about the Spotlight, however, is that you can move it farther back in order to soften its light – it would be nice if there was an intensity adjustment right on the light itself. You can also see what the lighting looks like before snapping the photo, plus you can light the subject from different angles.

The difference is more obvious in wider shots, in which a flash really gives subjects a glaring, corrupt-politician-on-the-front-page-of-the-paper look.

The Pocket Spotlight’s lower intensity, however, does mean that longer shutter speeds will be required. After a certain point, that means you’ll need to use a tripod. By contrast, one of the advantages of using a built-in flash is the fact that your camera will automatically set itself to a relatively fast shutter speed. That said, I found that the Spotlight was a very welcome addition on my camcorder, where shutter speed isn’t such an issue.

Upon looking over my flash vs. Pocket Spotlight still pics, I noticed that the Spotlight’s 5200 K color temperature is definitely towards the blue end of the spectrum – it’s pretty similar to overcast natural daylight. I was able to address this somewhat by manually adjusting the white balance on my camera (something that most point-and-shooters aren’t likely to bother doing), or simply by tweaking the color after the fact in iPhoto.

In the three photos below, you can see my remarkably still-intact DJI Phantom quadcopter lit with my camera's built-in flash (top); with the Pocket Spotlight; and with the Spotlight, with the camera's white balance set to "cloudy day."

Photojojo lists the battery run time at “up to an hour,” but in the case of the light I received, that’s wrong – it’s actually longer. Along with the use it received while I was taking the photos for this review, it’s been sitting on my desk continuously shining away for over an hour and a half now.

In summary, the Pocket Spotlight is a great little device for doing things like getting photos of items for eBay listings, doing creative lighting in snapshots, or shooting handheld video. You might need to use a tripod for shooting some stills, however, plus you may find its color temperature to be a little too cool.

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