I’ve been thinking about getting a ring flash for ages as they can give quite a nice look to fashion images with very even light and a classic outline shadow. I tried one of those things you stick on a normal speedlight, such as the RayFlash or one from Orbis, but they were rubbish. The light pattern was not circular, they gave a very uneven spread of light plus they were bulky and tended to keep coming off the flashgun making the whole thing very unwieldy. However, they were cheap, unlike a full blown studio ring flash which is not, so I’ve never bothered with one until now.
A couple of things helped change my mind 🙂
Completely separately I was looking to get an 85mm 1.4 lens and wanted to pick one up while I was in New York. However, New York camera shops seem rubbish at holding stock of pro kit so I came home empty handed and while looking for one in the UK came across a few reviews of the Sigma variant. These seemed to be universally good, all saying it’s basically the same as the Nikon but half the price so I bought one and yes, it is very good. I’d also been looking at battery powered studio strobes as I tend to do a lot of location based shoots and wanted a bit more power. I came across a company called Lencarta and they had a decent, well priced, setup that seemed to offer more than some of the big names like Elinchrome and Bowens. Luck would have it that they also did a ring flash that could be connected to the same power pack….
So early one morning a knock at the door and a big cardboard box appeared containing a ring flash, power pack, diffuser, brackets, cables and a big carry case for it all 🙂
Lencarta do two separate power packs, the older Safari Classic which is a traditional Nickel Metal Hydride battery and the Safari Lithium Ion version. I went for the Lithium as its lighter, recycles faster and they don’t suffer memory effects. It doesn’t have quite the same capacity shot wise from a single charge but it’s enough for what I need.
Although the ring flash is made of plastic, so its nice and light, it seems pretty well built and once attached to the camera doesn’t upset the balance or get in the way of operating it. The flash is attached to the mounting bracket which then screws into the tripod mount on the camera. That may be an issue if you use a special tripod mount as I normally leave mine on the camera (just so I don’t lose the damn thing) which means taking it off to attach the ringflash. It goes on fairly easy but can be a little fiddly adjusting it so the lens is central in the opening of the flash. I found it best to lay the camera flat on a table to do it. If you don’t want to mount it on the camera the mounting bracket has a screw thread on it that will attach to a light stand.
There are some advantages to putting it on a stand – you don’t have to carry it on the camera and, more importantly, you don’t need to keep adjusting the output of the light. If it’s attached to the camera and you move position, in relationship to the subject, you may need to adjust the power output of the light. I forgot to do this the first few times I used it but now I tend to remember!
If you are going to attach it to a stand it can be used as a normal studio light. If you hunt around you can find a mount that includes a holder for an umbrella so just shoot through that and voila you have a normal studio strobe.
You can either use the flash bare for the standard look or you can attach a diffuser which softens the light quite nicely.
You then have to attach it to the power pack and the lead is long enough that you can either leave the pack on the floor or carry it around with you. The power pack comes with a carry strap and I’ve not found it uncomfortable if carrying it while shooting although it’s best if you sling it round your back to keep it out the way.
All the controls for the light are on the power pack, some of which are not applicable when just using the ring flash (things like modelling lamp) as the same pack is used for the normal studio strobes. There are two power outputs on the pack, A & B. B has a power output between 12.5W and 200W and socket A 25-600W. In normal use socket A will go up to 400W but the output from socket B can be added to go to a full 600W. So you get a pretty good range from 12.5W all the way to 600W. There is a power output dial on the top of the pack along with a digital display and in practice it’s pretty quick and easy to get it set to the correct level.
To actually fire the flash you can either use the supplied sync cable or, more preferably a radio trigger.
So, is it any good? Well, yes it is! I’ve used it on a couple of shoots now and been very happy with it. Once you get used to having something extra attached to the camera it is easy to use and puts out a lot of light. You do need to watch for red eye though if shooting in low light as the models pupil will be wide and you have an on camera flash shooting straight at them. That’s another advantage of mounting it on a stand. You get a very flat, even light with the classic shadow around the subject. It’s great for fashion but you wont be getting very dramatic lighting out of it although if you go off camera then you can do all sorts of things.
So overall I’m very pleased with it and I’m most likely going to get a main strobe to go with the setup to give a bit more flexibility.