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I was recently lent a rather unique and useful flash adapter by the folks at Ray-Flash. It’s an adapter that fits over specific strobe and camera combinations in order to make the strobe usable as a ring flash. For those not familiar with a ring flash, in professional photography studios it is a circular flash that typically uses an accompanying softbox and special adapter to allow shots to be taken through the hole in the middle of the light. What Ray-Flash has done is simplify this setup and adapt it to already existing Canon and Nikon strobes (specifically the Nikon SB-800 and SB-900 and Canon Speedlite 580EX and 580EXII).
In use, the Ray-Flash is a simple device to handle; just slide it over the strobe and lock down the dial on top to make a snug fit. It will fit around most lens except the larger zooms with barrels beyond 80mm in diameter or so (noting that any LENGTH zoom will work, such as a 70-200mm if you like). If you have velcro on your flash, for use with gels, bounces or softboxes, you may experience some trouble as the fit is very specific and tight for the strobes. The ring flash adapter has many small channels to basically funnel light from the strobe along paths and spread it evenly around the circumference of the lens. In practice the adapter is very easy to slide on and off and dead simple to use. This set of diagrams from Ray-Flash’s site shows just how easy.
Of course, this diagram is showing the install without a camera attached. You’ll want to install the unit while the strobe is on a camera as the strobe mounts back to front and the Ray-Flash mounts front to back. Also, once attached, the Ray-Flash does cover focus assist lights on strobes that use them, but does not change any TTL functions of the camera.
Let’s take a look at a quick self portrait I shot after unpacking the adapter and eagerly tinkering with it. My setup is a Canon 7D with a Speedlite 580EXII strobe. First, a shot taken at 1.5 meters with the Ray-Flash removed. (ISO 100, 1/60 sec, f/4, 48mm equivalent)
Because of my proximity to the background, there are heavy shadows as well as under my chin. Yes, there are other ways to remove these shadows, but here I’m trying to show the utility of the Ray-Flash. I’m also in need of a haircut at this point. The Ray-Flash can not help with that.
Now the same shot with the Ray-Flash attached. (ISO 100, 1/60 sec, f/4, 48mm equivalent)
The shadows behind me are greatly softened and now make something of a halo effect. Also, the shadow under my chin is much more manageable and helps to add depth to the photo, rather than detracting from it. However, as you can notice, this photo is darker than the first. This is a by product of the adapter as some light loss occurs when all that light bounces around the channels before exiting the Ray-Flash. Different models (between the Canon and Nikon versions) require a bit of boost. You can either adapt by adjusting in post-process as I did below by upping the exposure one stop in Lightroom, or you can adjust your flash output while the adapter is attached.
Ray-Flash has more specific data on light output and flash ranges available on their website here.
Another example is below with the help of my friend Genevieve. I could not convince her to put down the book on climbing anchors (and quite frankly, I’m glad she didn’t as I had to rely on those anchors later) but it actually helped to show the difference in flash effects. In this case, because some of the flash is coming from under the book when the Ray-Flash is used, it does cause a bit of shadow from the book as compared to when no Ray-Flash is used and the light is only coming from the top. And as the background becomes further removed, so do the shadows seen in my self portraits. The first photo is without the Ray-Flash and the second is with.
While these photos are not ‘professional’ in-the-studio examples, I wanted to give a real world test to the Ray-Flash. I could have brought it in to a professional studio and compared it side by side with a softbox setup costing hundreds of dollars more, but this adapter is best suited to being stuffed in a bag for shots done on location. Also, while most of us do not have access to a much larger ring flash setup, the Ray-Flash makes it possible for the serious hobbyist to experiment and improve on the standard single strobe setup.