Let Me Light the Way

It’s kind of funny how things go in circles.  As a regular reader of the Strobist website (as I am sure many of you are), I found it interesting that David was covering the RayFlash from ExpoImaging and comparing it to other styles of ringflahses over the last couple of days.  The reason for my interest – today I am actually going to share with you some thoughts on the RayFlash specifically.

I was going to make this a combo post for both hardware and software, but given the length of the former, decided to hold off on the latter for another week…so, let’s just take a look at the Rayflash today. First off,  you may ask how this is at all different from David’s write-up, and you would do well to ask.  The answer lies in the nature of the comparison.  You see, David is looking at different types of ring flashes, while I am considering adding a ringflsh to my gear bag.  So, rather than look at different ring flashes, I am looking at a ringflash as opposed to not shooting with one.  What are the differences in the nature of light?  Or better yet – are there differences in the nature of light?  Thanks to the folks over at ExpoImaging, I got a chance to take a firsthand look at the Rayflash.  Here are my thoughts…

For starters, I decided to consider the nature of the gear itself, since it is specific to camera body and flash type.  So, this means if you are shooting with a Canon 40D and a 580 EXII, it takes a different model from, say the Nikon D300x and the SB900.  In a way this is a good thing, but there’s also a downside.  The downside is the lack of cross-camera support.  If you ever change gear out for any reason, the Rayflash as an accessory won’t migrate with you.  That being said, it’s a good thing because that means the product is custom made for your specific setup, whatever that may be.   In the end, it depends on your perspective, but I would consider this a pro for the Rayflash as I know it’s going to fit – no questions asked!

The other big thing to consider is weight.  Having not gone through any capture with my light on-camera lately, it was an adjustment going back to shooting with the 580 on the hotshoe.  In taking the 40D, a 580 EXII, and a Sigma 70mm, then adding the Rayflash to it – my arms got a workout!  It was heavy!  I can’t even imagine how heavy the setup would have been with one of the other styles of ring flashes, as the Rayflash on its own added very little weight.  Score another one for the Rayflash.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the output – what kind of light does it produce?  Well, there’s no better way to answer this than to take some actual pictures.   So, let’s take a quick look at the purpose behind ring flashes as a general tool in your bag – what do they do?

Ring flashes are good at providing even light, to kill shadows.  They also make for great catch lights in portraiture.  There’s something quite compelling about seeing a portrait with a nice little ring of light to add some dimension to an image and make it more compelling.  However, due to lack of available models in my time frame, I decided to take advantage of the shadow killing aspect of ring flashes.

This meant going for macro work.  With macro photography, often it is challenging to get nice even lighting throughout an image primarily because you are working in such close proximity to your work.  Ring flashes can help eliminate that problem.   Let’s take a look at how the Rayflash performed here.

To test the quality of light, I set my 580 on manual exposure rather than ETTL because with the Rayflash on, it could effect the light output, and I wanted to be in complete control over this element of the photo.  So, I set it to 1/32nd power, with the camera set to a shallow DOF (f2.8) and a shutter of 1/500th.  The following images show the resulting image, first with the Rayflash, second without the Rayflash and finally, with the built-in camera (except here I couldn’t control the flash output – but I wanted to include it for comparison purposes..you’ll see in a second here, take a look):

Taken with the Rayflash

Taken with the Rayflash

Taken without the Rayflash

Taken without the Rayflash

Taken with on-camera flash

Taken with on-camera flash

As you can see, the Rayflash gave a nice, even distribution of light around the subject of focus – the flower.  It softened things much like a diffuser would and prevented excessive shadows from forming arond the edges of the petals.  Compared to the flash without any adapter, the result is much more harsh, with more blown out highlights, and in general, a less compelling image on the basis of the quality of light.  You can see now why ring flashes are used in macro work.

Finally, the on-board or built-in flash.  Ugh!  Almost unusable from the quality of light perspective.  Unless your purpose is to capture a subject in the most unflattering light possible, I can’t imagine enjoying the third image.  This is why we add flashes, then learn to accessorize them, and finally to move them off-camera.

So, there you have it – I would say that if you are serious about macro work, then a ring flash should definitely be in your camera bag.  Apologies for not getting to the portrait side, but that would have made things SUPER long.  (Aren’t ya glad I didn’t add the software review too?)  Feel free to chime in via the comments or email if you have additional thoughts or feedback on the gear, and many thanks to the folks at ExpoImaging for their support in providing the review unit – couldn’t have done this without you!

Until tomorrow, Happy Shooting (and let’s be careful out there)! 🙂

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