Small size makes the light a bit harsh, but a little creativity helps

The small size means Lume Cubes' light can be a bit harsh, even with the optional high-strength or bulb diffusers attached.

That's not to say the diffusers don't help – they certainly soften the light somewhat – but if you can live with reduced output, you can get much softer shadows by bouncing light off a small, collapsible reflector or placing your subject in a photo tent. With a little creativity, you can also make your own light modifiers with common household objects.

For example, in my shot of the vases near the end of this article, I joined a couple of sheets of paper together to make a long strip, suspended it from a stand and then aimed a Lume Cube behind the paper, closing down its barn doors to prevent any stray light making its way around the edges. Hey presto, homemade striplight!

And for the shot of the bank note and coins above, I set the camera up directly above the subject, which was surrounded by a lens hood to shade it from direct light. Then I set a single Lume Cube off to one side, and placed a pane of glass at a 45-degree angle between camera and subject, using it to bounce the light rays down towards the cash.

The technique worked surprisingly well, and nicely demonstrated how useful even a single Lume Cube can be.

Here, a pair of Lume Cubes sporting colored gels sit either side of my pants pocket-friendly Sony RX100 for a sense of scale.

Filters and accessories add fun, creative potential

There are, of course, alternatives to the Lume Cube. Small, battery-powered LED lights are available from several other manufacturers like Joby, Litra, Ulanzi and more. It's the generous selection of magnetically-attached filters and accessories which most differentiate the Lume Cube series from these rivals.

And as you can probably tell from some of my images throughout this review, I had a lot of fun unleashing my creative side with all of the accessories in the Professional Lighting Kit bundle., which includes 12 filters, two honeycombs, two snoots, two barn doors and two bulb diffusers along with a pair of lights.

The modification frame is a tight fit, but I love it

The modification frame to which the various accessories attach is very nicely designed. The first time it's attached takes a surprising amount of force, but it's easy enough to remove and replace subsequently.

The filters stick to the front of the frame in any orientation, and regardless of which way around they are, but you should pay attention regardless. The magnets aren't placed symmetrically, so filters can sit offset or a bit crooked if not facing the same way. And if you want to stack filters with something like a snoot or barn doors, you need to place the filters beneath it logo-side out so they won't repel it.

For this shot, I used three unfiltered Lume Cubes. One lit the backdrop from beneath, one was aimed through a home-made paper "diffuser" on the right, and the last was bounced off a folding reflector on the left.

Changing filters is quick and easy, and they stay put

Changing filters is pretty quick and easy, although I did think they could use more of an indent on the sides to give your fingernails purchase. The honeycomb grids in particular can be tricky to remove from the modification frame if not stacked on top of another filter, as they're a one-piece molding with no seams to grip.

There's no worry of filters or other accessories falling off, though. Even larger ones like snoots stay in place well, with no risk of them detaching unnoticed. And if you want a gel color that Lume Cube doesn't offer, you can slip a piece of bare gel material in between filters; the magnets still hold them together just fine.

Modifiers and filters cut your already-limited light, though

There are only really a few downsides to the accessories. Most significantly, they will reduce the lights' already-limited output. This is especially true of the red, green and blue gels, obviously, but even the warming gels, honeycombs and diffusers will reduce output noticeably, and even more so if you stack them.

Here's every filter and modifier from the Pro Lighting Kit bundle attached to a single Lume Cube 2.0 light. And yes, they're entirely supported by their own magnets.

The filters themselves also seem relatively fragile. They're just a ~0.2mm-thick sheet of gel material inside a 3mm-thick plastic holder, and with nothing to protect the gel itself, it could easily be scratched or pressed out of place if you're not careful.

With the strength of the magnets, I was initially worried this might happen while changing filters, but whilst I unintentionally slipped and touched the gels a fair few times, I never damaged one. I did make one buckle a little, though, and had to jiggle it to reseat it in its holder.

The good news is that I very quickly realized when not in use – but also not in the nicely-made travel case that comes in the Pro kit – you can simply store stacks of the fragile gel filters between the much stronger honeycomb grids and diffusion bulbs for safe keeping.

Early-access Lume-X app shows promise but lacks polish

If there's a weak link in the chain for the Lume Cubes right now, unfortunately it would have to be in the app through which they're controlled. While it's in theory quite capable, I had multiple issues both with its interface and with its functionality.

The Lume-X app clearly has a fair way to go before it's reliable and intuitive. Almost all the important features are hidden in the so-called Mission Control menu above, which also allows individual lights to be renamed.

As it stands, Lume-X – available for both Android and iOS – is quite unintuitive and aims to replace your smartphone's built-in camera app. Yet, save for its LumeCube connectivity, it's a very basic camera app indeed. You can choose where to focus / meter, and adjust the digital zoom level or exposure compensation, but everything is automatically controlled.

More enthusiast-friendly features like manual focus control, a Raw file format and support for camera-specific features like optical zoom and custom visual cores are all absent, too. You might gain access to lighting controls, but otherwise you're making a substantial tradeoff by foregoing your stock camera app.

A new version of the Lume-X app is on the way with a better UI

And control of the lights themselves almost feels like an afterthought, while the menu system through which everything is controlled is unnecessarily painful to use. But I won't go into this in detail, as a new version with an updated interface and control flow was quietly announced last December.

In the meantime, though, neither the Apple or Android versions available publicly have been updated in nearly three months, presumably delayed by the new design direction.

This self-portrait again required three Lume Cubes: Red and blue-filtered ones on either side of me, and a yellow-filtered one directly behind my head.

As of right now, Lume-X is quite unreliable in use

Far more concerning to me were the reliability / interoperability concerns I experienced on the Android version, specifically. (I'm not an iOS user, and so can't say with certain if these concerns are true there too, although anecdotally the user reviews on Apple's App Store would seem to suggest the answer is "yes".)

Thankfully, you can do almost everything without using the app until it's reliable

In my time with the Lume-X app, I have experienced very frequent communications issues where the app and lights would go out of sync with each other, the battery indications would vary wildly for no reason, active lights would appear and disappear from the app seemingly at random, lights would randomly lose and regain sync with each other while strobing, and optical slave functionality was near-impossible to get working unless configured using the physical buttons on the lights.

A more polished user interface is a great thing, and something I definitely believe the Lume-X app needs. But equally, I think it needs more stable, reliable connectivity, especially when using several lights at once.

Rest assured that I'll be monitoring Lume-X's future app upgrades, and intend to return to this review with a brief update once a significantly reworked version is available.

The good news: You don't need the app for the most-used features

The app issues might seem like a showstopper, but honestly they're not. That's because you can use almost all of the features 100% reliably, entirely from the physical buttons. Really, all that you lose by foregoing the app is the convenience of not having to reach the individual lights to make adjustments or toggle the power, and the ability to use the stroboscopic flash function.

And truth be told, that feature is a bit limited anyway, thanks to a choice of just seven rates from 0.5 to 10Hz, combined with its current tendency not to sync well between multiple lights. I doubt most users would miss its presence much.

For this shot, I crafted a tall "strip light" diffuser from a couple of sheets of paper joined together, then aimed a Lume Cube at it and used barn doors to keep the light on the paper alone. This sat out of frame right, while a second Lume Cube on the camera's tripod mount was bounced off a folding reflector to the left. Finally, a third Lume Cube with green filter is hidden behind the rightmost vase on a mini tripod.

Bottom Line

The Lume Cube 2.0 is an undeniably useful little light. It's remarkably small, lasts for a fairly long time on a charge, and casts a good amount of high-quality light with a useful daylight color balance. And because it's so compact, even a full kit with several lights, a wide selection of filters and several different light modifiers fits within a moderately-sized purse or small camera bag.

For my money, it's the accessory ecosystem which makes Lume Cubes such an attractive option. The magnetic modification frame system means filter and accessory changes are exceptionally quick and easy. And with a wide selection to choose from, you can really get creative with your lighting.

The folks at Lume Cube Inc. definitely need to up their game with a friendlier and more robust Lume-X app, and until they do I think the lights are better off controlled from their hardware buttons wherever possible. But you're not losing any major features by skipping the app, so that's a relatively minor inconvenience.

Undeniably useful, but Lume Cube needs to step up its app game

Available immediately, the Lume Cube 2.0 is priced at $90 apiece with modification frame and starter filters, or $175 when bought in a two-pack. The Portable Lighting Kit, priced at $195, adds almost $150 of filters and light modifiers to the single-light bundle. The Pro Lighting Kit, meanwhile, costs $299 and adds nearly $200 of gear to the twin-light bundle.

What we like

  • Extremely portable, solid and weather-sealed
  • Great battery life for the size
  • Decent light output
  • Improved hardware controls
  • Well-designed magnetic filter / modifier system

What we don't

  • Lume-X app is buggy and frustrating
  • Long charging times for USB-A chargers
  • A little pricey compared to rivals