Bringing a LuMee case to a party means you’re coming armed with a fool-proof party trick.
The case, which has built-in lights to brighten up your photos, is synonymous with selfie-takers, Kim Kardashian, and the Insta-famous set. It’s unlike anything else on the market, and at the very least, the lights are incredibly bright. In short, it tends to draw a crowd.
I am neither Insta-famous nor a fan of selfies, and yet I’ve long been fascinated by the LuMee case. Does it really light your photos flawlessly? Would it turn me, a non-selfie-taker, into someone who loves them? Would I suddenly look as good as Kim does?
I decided to find the answers to those questions with the LuMee Duo, the company’s newest product and the first case with lights on both the front and the back. Here’s what I found:
LuMee was invented by Allan Shoemake, a former professional photographer who got tired of dealing with poor lighting while video chatting with his daughter.
His original prototype for the LuMee case was a piece of cardboard with Christmas lights stuck to it, but things have drastically improved since: The LuMee case is heavy-duty, durable, and the lighting is surprisingly powerful. In a video on LuMee's site, Shoemake describes the case as a 'professional lighting kit attached to your phone.'
The case is arguably most famous for its biggest proponent: Kim Kardashian. The case started popping up in Kardashian's Instagrams in 2015 and she officially partnered with LuMee in early 2016.
Not just for selfies anymore
I tested out the LuMee Duo, which originally launched in December 2016. The case is different from its predecessors because it's not just for selfies: It has the signature lights for your front-facing camera, but it also has lights on the back for using your regular rear-facing camera.
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The first thing I noticed about the LuMee case was how hefty it was. Once I snapped it onto my phone -- which took a certain amount finagling and a lot of muscle -- it just about doubled the thickness of my iPhone.
And it's heavy, too. The lights on the back are the likely culprit, but I was not prepared for how this case turned my phone into a brick. I was asked by friends several times while I was testing it whether the case charged my phone and the answer is, sadly, no.
Despite the added bulk, my phone now seems incredibly secure. I very seriously told my Business Insider colleagues that it felt like I could safely toss my phone out the 8th floor office window -- which caused them all to stare at me in horror -- and I meant it. The rubber bumpers on the front keep the screen protected and the thick plastic backing felt like a tough outer cocoon for my phone.
I tested the case in black, but it also comes in rose, gold, and white gloss and costs $A95. Right now, it's available for iPhone 6, 6s, 6 Plus, 6s Plus, 7, and 7 Plus.
I only found one main problem with the case itself: It's not particularly scratch-resistant. A few days in, I noticed I already had several small scratches on the back, particularly around the button that turns the lights on. For a luxury case -- $A95 is a lot! -- I felt as though it should have held up to daily use a bit better.
Goodbye, grainy photos
The technology in LuMee is not the same as a flash. It's a sustained glow, much like a ring light in professional photography. When you click the button on the back of the case, the front-facing lights will turn on first. Click it again and it will switch to the back lights. One more click shuts the whole thing off.
Since you're only using it intermittently, the case has sensational battery life. I've been testing the case for more than a week and haven't had to charge it up once. If you do need to charge it, it has a port parallel to your phone's charging port that connects to a portable charger or can plug in to any USB port.
The main purpose of LuMee is to shoot in low (or no) light. I tested it out in a variety of conditions, from total darkness to low light to bright, natural light, with varying results.
Better selfies -- filter sometimes required
Let me start by saying I am not a selfie connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination. I rarely take them, I rarely send them, and I rarely even receive them. They're not my thing.
But when I started using the LuMee case, I noticed an immediate issue: It magnifies any flaw on your skin times 1,000.
Frequently while I testing it, I thought I looked pretty good. Then I'd go to take a photo with the LuMee on and think, 'yikes.' Much like a flash, the LuMee lights can be unforgiving to your skin. Any redness or shininess looked enhanced by the bright light -- until I edited the photo.
Let me show you what I mean.
Here's what happened with a selfie taken in a completely dark room -- I took this photo in a room (OK, a bathroom) with no windows and the lights turned totally off.
The photo on the left is nice and bright, but wow, does it emphasise all the shiny spots and the redness on my cheeks. Throw a filter on it, however, and that excellent lighting comes in handy.
I tried again in very low light, and the raw photo was definitely improved. I was immediately impressed by the glow the LuMee case gave me.
While the photo on the left is fine -- I have no major complaints about it -- once I threw a filter on it, I liked it much better. It looked professionally lit and it was something I actually wanted to put up on Instagram (if I were the selfie type). While I'm sure professional photographers will quibble with me, I was happier with the edited version.
Arguably the best use I found for the LuMee case came on my final day of testing it. Bored in the elevator, I took a tired and awkward selfie and was stunned by the results.
Turning the case on removed all the shadows caused by overhead recessed lighting and brightened my eye area significantly. It also removed most of the overexposed highlights on the top of my head and made the ends of my hair look shinier. The LuMee lighting made me look less tired and more made-up, somehow, and all I had to do was press a button -- no filter required.
Finally, I understood why Kim Kardashian loves LuMee so much.
Should you buy it?
In the end, LuMee is an expensive case that most people probably won't need. Unless you're an avid selfie-taker, or love the look of flash photography without the annoying flash, you probably won't find yourself using the lights on a daily basis.
The case is also incredibly thick and I'm ready to have my thin, LuMee-free phone back.
But LuMee did blow me away with its capabilities. It can easily light up a pitch-black room, eliminate poor overhead lighting, and even enhance naturally lit photos, brightening whites and eliminating strange shadows. Plus, it makes nighttime video chatting a breeze.
Having the lights on both the front and back of the phone meant that I found myself using LuMee to get creative with my photos, testing out new techniques and filters I'd never used. And at the very least, the case forced me to get more comfortable with selfies -- and I even took a few I actually like.
The LuMee Duo case isn't yet a must-have, but if you have $US70 to spare, it sure is fun.