DIY Ring flash + ambient light sources. Flash at 1/32 power, 1/160sec F7.1 ISO320, 51mm.
The assembled DIY Ring Flash with my Canon 580EX and Cybersync radio trigger.
Ring flashes are famous from the fashion world, where the classical make-up ad often uses the light frequently. By surrounding the lens with the light source, a cool ‘shadowless’ light gives a unique look. But even when not used as the primary source of light, a ring flash can be an excellent on-axis fill, as championed by David Hobby of strobist.com.
The only problem for the hobbyist photographer is the price. Ring flash units cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. In recent years a string of new products let the photographer use their speedlights with a ring flash modifier to achieve the same effect for $200-300 – I own an Orbis ring flash myself. Even so, $200 is a big investment for a student, or a photographer who doesn’t know if they’ll get enough use out of a ring flash.
DIY Ring Flash
Enter DIY Photography with their flat-pack, self-assembly ring flash for $24.95. You might think that a ring flash modifier at that price can’t deliver on its promises, or must sacrifice too much. Having used it in a few shoots now, I can tell you it’s the real deal.
Though the DIYP Ring Flash is not without it’s problems and compromises, it is an amazing piece of equipment that can deliver exactly what it promises with only the necessary compromises. In short, every photographer who can get their speedlight off their camera should have one of these!
I’m going to be thorough and list every problem I could find with the DIYP Ring Flash, and there were a few. If you’re expecting to get a $200 product for $25 you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re aware of the following, then you can judge for yourself if the minimal cost is worth it.
Must be assembled. This is to keep the costs as low as possible and allow for easy shipping, but it only takes about 15 minutes, and isn’t too challenging.
Though greatly exaggerated in this photo with an extreme close-up, the unevenness of the catchlight is apparent. This typically is difficult to see, as in the photo at top.
Not very durable. The ring flash is made of a combination of plastic sheets and cardboard, and naturally isn’t going to last forever. Transport could be difficult as it could easily get crushed. It is also vulnerable to water damage. Of course this isn’t a problem if you’re only shooting in a studio.
Uneven catchlights. The light distribution can be a bit uneven, and may vary slightly from shot to shot. This is only apparent in reflections, such as catchlights in the eye. Illumination across the frame of your photo will appear even.
It’s physically quite large. It’s not practical to make a self-assembled modifier curved, so the corners protrude a bit, and might make it tricky to get very close for macro photos for which ring flashes are often preferred.
Less efficient. When compared with my Orbis ring flash ($200) using the same flash (Canon 580EX) and settings, the DIYP Ring Flash delivers approximately 1.3 stops less light.
Cooler WB. Also when compared to my Orbis, the DIYP Ring Flash delivers a significantly cooler colour balance (5350K vs 6450K). Green/Magenta WB was the same.
With identical settings on the camera and flash power, the DIY Ring Flash (left) exposes approx 1.3 stops under the Orbis (right), and has a 1100K cooler white balance.
Can’t accept very large flash heads. The opening into which the speedlight is inserted is small, and larger flashes such as my 580EX require the corners of the opening to be cut to make room. My LP160 wouldn’t fit without cutting the cardboard further than I personally felt comfortable (but does into the Orbis). Good luck getting a Vivitar 285HV into this, or the Orbis.
The flash isn’t held firmly. The cardboard opening doesn’t provide much grip on the flash, so it’s a little tricky to hold. An optional metal flash bracket is available ($9.95) for this purpose, but I found it to be a little bulky and preferred to handle it without. Also, the provided rubber bands to attach the flash to the bracket are a rather bright (and I think unattractive) pale blue.
It’s a ring flash! For $25! It’s hard to argue with the price, and the results are absolutely what you would expect when you use a ring flash.
It’s light. Due to the flat pack low cost nature of the ring flash, it’s very light. Shooting for more than 15 minutes hand-holding my Orbis can be very tiring and painful. The DIYP Ring Flash weighs only grams.
It works. Despite the lower efficiency and cooler WB, the resulting light is fantastic. If you are aware of these problems you can adapt and easily correct in post processing. Functionally, when corrected for, the light from the $25 ring flash is equal to that from my $200 Orbis.
When the differences are corrected, the results of the DIY Ring Flash (right) compare very well to the Orbis (left) which is eight times the price. The only apparent difference is the greater contribution of ambient light to the scene shot with the DIY ring flash, resulting from opening the aperture to compensate for the lower power. Alternatively the flash power could be increased to match the Orbis completely.
I find a ring flash an invaluable tool in my lighting gear. Follow the link above to see how David Hobby uses ring flash, and you’ll open up a whole new realm of lighting possibilities. But do I recommend the DIYP Ring Flash as THE ring flash you should get? Well I won’t be giving up my Orbis. I use ring flash often enough that I need the durability of the tough plastic construction that comes with a more expensive solution.
However, unless you have a better ring flash, or are certain you need one, get this. If you are curious about ring flashes and want to try one out before you decide to get a more expensive model, get this. If you want to play with ring flash lighting but don’t have the budget for a more expensive model, get this. When you can get honest-to-goodness ring flash light for $25, why wouldn’t you?
is a professional photographer from Melbourne, Australia. He has been shooting with a DSLR since 2004, and blogging about his experiences since 2006. Neil has authored five ebooks and a video training course, all designed to help others improve their photography. View Neil's folio at his home page. Learn about his publications here.
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