So a few months back, I had the opportunity to borrow a Ray Flash from the Red Raven rep, who is now the distributor in Canada for them, (Being a Kerrisdale Cameras employee does have it's perks...) since then I have purchased the Ray Flash, after having such a good success with it.
After some moderate testing with it, I felt comfortable enough to use it more often; but in doing so, I have learned its strengths and weaknesses, and today I am going to share those with you.
First off, a Ring Flash is something that many of the fashion magazines have used for many years. Ever looked at a cover of GQ or Voque and wondered how they lit that model... there is a very good chance that they used a Ring Flash. It creates a very hard light, but focused centrally, and it falls off on the edges, creating a natural vignette to the image, and if you are close enough to your subject, you create a nice donut shape highlight in their eye, but an almost shadowless image on the main subject. Even if you are using a telephoto lens, it helps create a striking shadowless subject...
Now a studio sized Ring Flash is very big, very heavy and VERY powerful... like 800 watts per second each (or w/s) or more; but with great power... comes no Through The Lens metering. So you have all the power in the world to combat existing lighting and supersede it with your own, but you have to meter it yourself with a handheld meter or read the histogram. I have used the AlienBee ABR-800 before, and it is very powerful, and does the job very well, but sometimes I don't want to shoot at F16 @ ISO 100; I like that shallow Depth of Field (DoF) to my pictures, with or without flash. Most of the main Strobe manufactures make a Ring Flash for their systems, all of them require a portable battery powerpack or a wall socket.
The Ray Flash is designed to fit right onto your existing TTL Flash, they make them for the Nikon SB800 & SB900 and the Canon 580EX II, and they are fairly specific on the size of camera they fit; so be sure to get the right one to fit your equipment if you do order one. But the power you get out of a Hotshoe mounted flash tends to be about 85w/s (give or take, depending on the model of flash), so as you can see, there is quite a significant drop in power. But do we need all that power we are missing?
And the answer is: sometimes... but most of the time, I have been working very well with the power of the hotshoe flash for some time now, and in that time, I rarely say I need a LOT more power; and the few times I do need just a little more juice, I add in 2-4 more flashes. 3-Vivitar 285HV's in a single umbrella is all the power I have needed when the push really comes to shove.
So, this little attachment that sits on my flash, by sliding into place, and locking down with a 1/4 turn of the dial on top; the fibre optic channels (I think that is what they are) send the light down and around the lens. Now.. one thing I have noted here, is that while still fairly light-weight, weighing in at only 16 oz, it does weigh enough to tilt the head of my SB800 and my SB80DX on a slight down angle; creating it not to sit quite level on the lens axis. So to combat this, I cut one of the little silicone stoppers (the ones you put on your cupboard doors to prevent them from slamming) in half, and placed half on each side where it meets the flash to raise it to prevent it from that odd angle. This has successfully fixed that issue for me, it is cheap, easy to do and I keep a sheet of them in my Pelican case with me where ever I go.
With this set up, I have shot many subjects, from the cat to many people... I hadn't come across a single problem with it, until I photographed a couple of young ladies, with ice blue eyes... and then came the red-eye, photo after photo. I mean the CAT didn't even get that silver glow to their eyes when you use a flash on them in a photo look to her, and she was only 10 inches away when I took that image. *seen here* This has been the one time that I found a problem with it. Sadly that was a paid job, and I spent some time fixing that error in post after the fact. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I am glad I found that issue... no other eye colour has caused me the grief that the ice blue eyes have; not even a darker blue.
I have found that the Ray Flash does take away some of your lighting power, so I have been giving the flash a +1 Flash Compensation to give it that little bit of oomph that it lacks without that setting, cause the image comes out a tad dark on the subject. *Seen here* I have been shooting in Shutter or Aperture priority and letting the camera figure the other one, while I concentrate on my speed or DoF, but it has usually been my DoF.
In all I give the Ray Flash attachment a 9.5 out of 10 for build, ease of use and image quality.
If you want to view more of my Ray Flash images you can view them here, and that set will continue to grow as I take more images with it.
And a special thanks to David M from Red Raven for the loan of the Ray Flash and the Honl gear, it was enough of a tease to make me buy it all.
Cheers and good shooting