Speedlight Ringlights : Right tool for the job
There seems to be a holy grail of lighting mods, and the ring light is right up there in the pantheon of desired tools. The search for best in class has been an ongoing quest.
What is it? Essentially, a circle of light surround your lens giving the subject a flatter, overall light. This will fill shadows, and give a beauty light that can be very forgiving with skin surfaces. It is always connected somehow to the camera, and becomes the key. A mobile key.
First of all, each version has it’s place in a very subjective world. The fact that it’s primarily a portrait/beauty light seems to call out for portability. You may be moving around your subject, since as you move, so does the light.
My first ring flash was a Profoto Acute 2, and I had it modified to work with Dynalite packs. Great light, very long heavy cable to the pack to give me some mobility.
Enter the day of the speedlite Ring Flash. I’m only going to discuss 2, as I feel they are the real contenders.
In a small, slightly lumpy bag, is one of the best lighting tools I’ve found. The Round Flash.
(At the end of the post there will be sample images from the modifiers.)
The Round Flash came out awhile ago,but did not seem to make a lot of impact. Recently, one of my good friends was in town for Fashion Week and images of her online showed this big circle on her Nikons. Curiosity got the better of me and i had to ask. She did ask that I wait till she was out to town to reveal the magic.
When i opened the bag and took it out, the circular light mod was super easy to set up. With a system combining the reflector type plastic edges which pop open, combined with very strong earth magnetic connectors for the depth support with a cable running through , the lightweight “doughnut” was ready in seconds.
The lens opening in the back uses a star formation of fabric covered elastic to hold the lens.
You pop the speedlight though an opening on the top end, securing it with a velcro strap, attached to the unit.
That’s it. And it is super lightweight. ( playing card is shown for size relationship)
The light is evenly distributed, and it is a soft, dewy, light giving you a change from the classic hard edge ring flash. Notice the Cotton Carrier wrist strap, as you may not want to have any kind of shoulder or sling strap on the camera with this rig.
The you have the option of the Ray Flash Ring Flash Adapter.
The way this modifier works is it uses a prism to shoot the flash output to the ring around the lens. Very smart design.
Now in it’s second generation, it is slimmer, and they have addressed a 1st gen issue of drop down. What I mean is that the weight of the unit would cause it to not sit parallel to the lens, giving you uneven lighting. The trimmed down version and an included special rubber band type spacer, has solved that problem.
The Ray Flash light is designed to use the output of the speedlight at max, or ZOOM it for the max output. Same with the Round Flash.
The way it connect to the camera is by the flash, and a sliding, pressure based clamp with rubber sides to lessen any slippage factor.
Once connected, you also have a good, lightweight, speedlight mod, that is easy on easy off.
Remember that with all of these ring flash modifiers, you will be using the manual mode of the speedlights but can still use TTL . And you do not have a modeling light as you do with pack strobes.
Now is the time to become one with your speedlight and really understand it’s potential so you can adjust it’s output to your best advantage. I have not been using full power on these samples as I wanted to maintain a shallower depth, and the lens was a Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 on a Nikon D800, so i wasn’t going to far away.
Highly recommend using a battery pack with your speedlight, no matter which one you choose. Recycling time is the issue.
Round Flash wins my vote!
At the end of the day, my subjective choice is the Round Flash for portraits. The soft spread of light gave me an even, flattering light, that was very kind to the subjects. The fact that I can stuff it in my camera bag, and be set-up fairly quickly, is a huge plus. Well made, lightweight, and great light. My only question is: how did I miss this before?
Ray Flash 2 is a classic option
The Ray Flash mimics the Profoto Acute2 more closely, as it gives you a harder edge shadow line, yet stills achieves the overall fill of the features in your portrait.
If I’m going for a slightly edgier look, this will be the choice. A little harder to fit in my camera bag, but fits in my ThinkTank Shape Shifter no problem. When I took it on a trip, I was very happy I kept the box to protect it in transit.
The Ray Flash Ring Flash Adapter is also about $140.00
It really comes down to what kind of light are you looking for?
And now the sample images:
You can see how the Round Flash has a softer overall take on the ringflash. The Ray Flash gives a harder look at the light, which may be just what you are looking for.
And in fairness, here is shot using the Profoto Acute 2 RingFlash, with a softlight reflector, of a singer in a rock & roll band:
The camera was in a much heavier rig and tethered to a power pack. very fast recycle, however.
Cost for the flash head alone is about $1000,and then the pack you will pay between $600-$1000.