Unless you’ve been in a cave, you’ve probably already seen or heard about the Ray Flash. Everyone is talking about it these days because it is an inexpensive way to get results that are similar to a more expensive solution like the Profoto Ring Flash Head, which is frequently used in fashion photography these days to soften the shadows on a model and also to create a trendy stylized look.
When I got my Ray Flash I was pleased to see that it was a lot more sturdy than it seemed in the pictures. This is actually one well built device that seems like it can withstand normal wear and tear very well. Granted, I wouldn’t toss it on the concrete or sit on it, but short of that it should hold up quite well.
One challenge with these things is due to the nature of what they do – because the flash goes around the lens (as shown – albeit crooked - above on a Canon 5D Mark II using a 580 EX II and a 24-105mm lens, the flash you use as well as the size of your camera body is critically important in determining the size unit you need.
If you shoot with multiple bodies that aren’t exactly the same size or using the same flash, this means you either need to dedicate the ring flash to one camera body (my preference) or get two. When I discussed this issue with ExpoImaging and inquired about an adjustable body, I was reminded that they did try this solution but it resulted in a 2 stop light drop, so for efficiency sake it was felt that a fix solution was the right way to go. After using this device, I would agree as more light fall off would be a very bad thing!
Visit the the Ray Flash web page on ExpoImaging’s web site for lots of great information, sample images and more reviews. However, be sure to come back here for a great discount on the Ray Flash!
I’ll admit that when i started this review I wasn’t a huge fan of the ring flash look so I wasn’t expecting to get any photos from it that I’d be very pleased with. However, this thing surprised and I got one of my favorite studio shots to date with it. All the sample images in this article were taken with a Canon 5D Mark II using a 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, and I intentionally used a black paper background with a model in all black to help illustrate the impact of the ring flash lighting opposed to more traditional lighting methods.
f/4.0, 1/125 sec, and ISO 800 – 580 EX II Flash Exposure Compensation: +1
This image was taken after I had gotten warmed up with how to use the Ray Flash. Specifically, I learned that you need to kick up the exposure compensation and crank up the ISO to get the light you need for it to work the magic that a real Ring Flash can give. This was something I really didn’t expect as it seemed the Ray Flash is very well designed to minimize the loss of light, but the reality is that you are asking a lot of it so some light loss is inevitable.
The image above was my favorite shot of the bunch and one that actually made me open my eyes up after the shoot and say “hey wow, I might really be able to use this thing!”. Seriously, I am not crazy about Ring Lights, so I thought this was going to be an article where I proved there were crap, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. However, one thing it did prove is that you have to watch the type of clothes your models are wearing (or not wearing underneath) as this bolt of light will shine right through the fabric as shown in this shot. Nevertheless, the result here is that the shadows on the skin look fantastic and the hair is simply radiant which I really like! I couldn't have been happier with this shot, so score one for the Ray Flash here.
f/4.0, 1/200 sec, and ISO 400 – 580 EX II Flash Exposure Compensation: +1
This image had to be brightened quite a bit in Photoshop because my initial exposure was way off. I needed the settings of the previous picture (which was actually taken after this one) to get a proper exposure, so my original shot was way too dark. In fact, all of my original shots were a sea of black with some skin poking through. The good thing is that I shot RAW and was able to fix it. What this tells me is that had I exposed my shot properly, then this result could have easily occurred out of camera (as shown in the previous shot) and the net result is a nice shot that has enough shadows to show definition, but eliminates enough of the harsh contrast to still create a nice look on the skin. There is a good separation between the model and the black background, and once again the the hair looks radiant.
Image taken with just the On-Camera Flash
I’m pretty pleased with my on-camera flash especially, after reading On-Camera Flash Techniques. However, for this shot I thought I’d do the traditional point to the ceiling and pop the white card that most people do (and I do when I’m in a hurry) to see what kind of results I’d get.
f/4.0, 1/125 sec, and ISO 400 – 580 EX II Flash Exposure Compensation: 0
The first thing you notice with this shot is that the shadows are creating more depth in the image, and not in a flattering way. The skin tones are pleasing and the lighting is nice (especially on the top of the hair), but the catch lights aren’t as dominant either. Now this isn’t to say that I couldn’t have worked the shot to get the results I needed, but when compared to the equal effort I put into the ring flash shots, the result is that I liked the ring flash results better. The results under the eyes and on the neck, clearly show the advantage the ring light offers. You’ll also notice here that with no exposure modifications that ISO 400 with no flash exposure compensation was enough to light this shot very well. The only fault here is mine for not bouncing my flash in a more favorable way.
Image taken with Off-Camera Flash using Umbrellas
f/4.0, 1/125 sec, and ISO 400 – 580 EX II Flash Exposure Compensation: 0
Using two lights off camera on umbrellas I was able to eliminate some of the shadow problems and create a better result, but without the aid of a flash on the background the separation between the subject and the black background isn’t as defined as I would like. I also feel like this setup did a much better job with the shadows on the face to create a nice balanced soft shadow look like you get with the ring light, but without the light on the background (which in this case is a bad thing). Overall though, you can see that this solution (or one with softboxes, studio lights, etc…) can create a pleasing result without putting a bright highlight on your background which may not be desirable (as it is in this extreme black on black scenario).
In short, I liked this gadget. It isn’t something I’d say is a “must have” or something that I’d use 100% of the time, but it is a fun tool to play with. This article isn’t trying to convince you that it is better or worse than anything, but rather to show you how the results you achieve with it (under the same conditions) can give you drastically different results. Now in this case I did stack the results in the ring flashes favor by going all black, but that was primarily to show how it really can light up your background which in the case of a bright background may or may not be what you really want.
I should also point out that this device works with other flashes and camera bodies (i.e., Nikon), so be sure to refer to the information on ExpoImaging’s site for more information.
Yes, there are other devices by Orbis and Alien Bees, but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about my 2 cents on the Ray Flash which ultimately I enjoyed. I don’t think I’ll use it every day, but I can definitely say that I’ll be experimenting with it more often on shoots just to see how I like the results compared to my traditional setups. I haven’t tried the others, but others have so I encourage you to check out those comparisons via the link here.
Save 15% on all ExpoImaging Store products like the RayFlash or ExpoDisc when you enter ronmart09 in the “Enter Redeem Code” box and click Redeem in the ExpoImaging Store’s shopping cart as shown above.
I was provided an evaluation copy of the Ray Flash by ExpoImaging for this review and I will earn a commission when you use my discount code (thanks for supporting the blog).