Quick Ring Flash Test

That’s my oldest son, who likes to wear Christmas pajamas any time of the year (but not exclusively of course…that would be ridiculous).

I’m testing a very inexpensive ring flash from DIY-Lighting (link, and I don’t make affiliate commission of this). $29.99 plus $9.99 for a bracket to mount it, which is optional but I highly recommend.

First off, a little background on what a ring flash is. Traditionally it has been a curved flash tube that wraps entirely around the camera lens. They were first used in the medical profession, usually for small objects at close range. The benefit to using a ring flash is their ability to provide almost shadowless light. Because the light originates from every direction, in relation to the camera lens, the subject receives light from every direction (at least on the front of the subject).

Ring flashes were adopted by the fashion industry because of this very even light, and have come and gone with photographic trends a few times. The traditional curved-flash-tube type has been very expensive though, and currently range from $500 to several thousand dollars. However over the past few years, the convergence of powerful small strobes, and cameras that are more sensitive to light, has created an opportunity. Several companies have designed reasonably sturdy devices that allow the photographer to use a small strobe, which fires sideways into a ring around the lens. These ring flashes, made of plastic for the most part, range in the $100-300 range.

There has always been a do-it-yourself crowd however who builds these sorts of things out of pie tins and sealing wax (or whatever). The quality is as good as the builder, unfortunately. Enter DIY-Lighting: the kit delivers a well-designed, reasonably efficient and even ring flash kit, which is folded and assembled by the user. Cheap materials, easy to ship, and not very durable. But not very expensive either.

So what’s it like? Pretty rockin’, if the first test images are any indication. The light is very even, all around the ring. All of these small-strobe converters lose a lot of light as they turn a straight beam into a circle of light. And this one is no exception. You’d never use this outdoors as your main light, unless you found a really nice patch of shade. The light output can’t compete with direct sun. However it works very nicely indoors, and would also provide a nice fill a la David “The Strobist” Hobby.

The combination of bendy vinyl and cardboard, and a flimsy flash bracket make for a slow-moving shoot. You simply can’t run after a bride at a wedding with this on your camera, for instance. But that’s probably true with any of the small-strobe devices out there, and even a ‘pro’ ring flash is a pretty bulky thing. But for controlled situations, this is well worth the money. The even lighting is pretty darn gorgeous! I consider the bracket  to be a ‘must have’ though, because otherwise you’re forced to hold your flash in place with one hand, and your camera with the other. Heaven forbid you actually have to manually focus or anything like that! So get the bracket.

I don’t see myself using this for outdoor family portraits, because of the bulk and the fragility of it. It would not, for example, hold up well on a windy beach (never mind the fact that the strobe output would be too low to be useful). But this would be a lot of fun taking candid portraits at a wedding reception as a main light. And it would serve nicely as a shadowless fill light for actor headshots, or corporate/business headshots.

The image above was taken with a Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.4 lens, on new Kodak Portra 400 film.

5 thoughts on “Quick Ring Flash Test

  1. Hi Matt, first of all, your son is sooo cute! 😀 The Christmas pajama craze is sooo adorable. 😀 Kids will always have this obsession about something. That photo with the ring flash is perfect.

  2. I like the eyes. Its very clear capture. I also love taking pictures with my son and family.
    All in all this picture is Perfect! 🙂 thanks for sharing and inspiring people.

  3. Never would have suspected this was a DIY light. Looks great in the photo. I’ll be heading over to the site to see what this contraption looks like put together.

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