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Full Review: Ray Flash Ring Flash Adapter

Ray Flash is the first commercially produced ring flash adapter designed to turn a speedlight into a ringflash. While ringlight is nothing new around here, up until now you have had to either go the DIY route, or lug around a much bigger piece of gear.

Assuming you've got the wallet to handle it, I think a lot of people are gonna go for this thing. More on the unit itself -- and how much it'll set you back -- after the jump.

Good News, Bad News

I'll give you the bad news first: The Ray Flash ring flash adapter costs $300.00.

Still here? Okay.

Because despite those 300 reasons against it, the Ray Flash is one very cool pice of gear. I've been playing with one for a couple of weeks. And to a person, almost every photog that I have shown it to was pretty smitten by it.

IMO, it's gonna be very popular with the wedding and people shooters. It's small, lightweight, maintains all of the flash's TTL functions. Best yet, it loses only one stop of light as compared to direct flash.

That last bit alone puts it head and shoulders above any DIY versions I have seen or tried. With that kind of output, it is even usable outside during the daylight at modest portrait distances. Especially as fill against other lights, which is the way you want to be using a ring flash if you want to have some variety in your photos.

That's the way I used it at the Southern Short Course in Photojournalism this weekend when a group of four photographers out of Florence, SC, asked me to do a group shot of them after we had finished portfolio reviews at about 1:00 a.m. (That's still early in the evening at a SSC.)

IMO, ring flashes have a total of exactly one look when used by themselves. That is fine, if you have, say, Czech supermodel Lenka standing in front of you against a wall. But that look is gonna get old for you if you just use it as a main light with nothing else. (Unless, of course, you are using it to mint coin every week at weddings...)

To my mind, the people using ring flash well are folks like Dan Winters, who combine it off-axis light (frequently, hard light) and create some really cool schemes.

For this shot, I placed (L to R) Keri, Heidi, Erin and Rebecca about 2-3 feet away from a wall and filled them with the ring flash. My SB-800 (which powered the ring flash) was dialed down on manual so it would light them at about three stops below the exposure at which he hand-held flashes would light them. I was also shooting with a CTO gel on the ring flash and straight light on the other flashes.

Being photographers, they all lit themselves using Nikon handheld SB-800's in the special slave mode. Those strobes were set at 1/128 power. I very much appreciate not having to do all of the work myself, especially after a day of teaching and a night of reviewing portfolios. (Thanks, guys!)

Now the classic ring light coming form the Ray Flash becomes a cool, 3D-ish, wrapping fill. This is the kind of approach that gets me excited about the Ray Flash as a lighting tool. Using it in conjunction with another speedlight (or four, in this case) gets you into all kinds of funky stuff.

(You can see a bigger version of the photo here.)

As specifics of the unit itself, the two things that stand out are its efficiency and its thin size. I cannot for the life of me figure out how they got that light around the lens while only using one stop. Amazing. That bit of engineering makes the adapter more usable in a wide variety of situations. And I am definitely gonna be experimenting with this baby some more.

Speaking of engineering, this is a pretty impressive piece of optical design. It uses little light channels to guide the flash around the lens pretty darn evenly. Given that the top is closer to the flash, you know that is gonna be the hot area. But they counter it by not releasing the light fully until they are an inch or two from the top of the ring, going around. Seems to work great.

The build quality seems to be pretty good, too. I had a little bit of de-silvering (de-painting, actually...) in one of my little light fiber channels, but there was no effect on the final output that I could discern. And to be fair, this was an early production model.

They have designs either in production or on the way for all of the current popular speedlights (the mounting bracket is designed to fit the individual flash heads). It attaches with a very sturdy clamp that makes both the strobe and the ring flash adapter essentially one unit.

As for size, they say you can't be too rich or two thin. And the Ray Flash is A-list in both categories. It will easily slide into the side pocket of a Domke F2 bag, the standard bag for PJ's. When you need to use it, you simply slip it onto a camera-mounted flash and you are good to go.

Here is a straight shot, typical up-against-the-wall stuff from a seminar in Phoenix earlier this month. (No added light sources were used here.) The whole, camera-flash-adpater combo is very easy to hand hold. The Ray Flash adds very little weight or bulk to your setup.

Shooting with it is a breeze. Works great in both manual or TTL mode, although you'll probably wanna tweak your compensation a little to fine-tune the look in TTL mode. But that's easy enough.

Gelling the Ray Flash flash is easy, too. You slip a gel on the actual speedlight before you mount the adapter. The Rosco sample pack gels work great.

But $300, you say? You can buy an ABR-800 for $400, right?

Yeah, sure. But then you'd have to lug it around with a Vagabond -- or find some AC. It all comes down to your shooting venue and style. If you are primarily a studio shooter, it is ABR-800. No brainer. Or something else, which would be north of $1,000.00. Way north.

But if you are mobile -- and especially if you like the TTL thing -- you have to give the Ray Flash strong consideration. And this design clearly took a lot of time and effort to produce. Not to mention a some very expensive mold design.

For the people for whom it makes economic sense, the cost will be returned many times.

I suspect that the Ray Flash will be a hit with the hipster wedding shooter crowd. It takes up almost no room in the bag, then you just slip it on when you wanna do the funky bride shot. You can do it at each wedding -- it's always new to them, right? This thing could make some cool reception pix, too, if you are into that kind of thing.

The Ray Flash ring flash adapter is a sophisticated light modifier that fills a big gap in today's strobe gear, and will open up new possibilities for many shooters. It's great to see a company taking light to a new level.

More Info:

:: Ray Flash ::
:: Ring Flash Resource Page ::


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