Ring flash affordable for everyone. (December 13th, 2009)
A ringlight offers even, soft light to a variety of subjects. Originally installed and used to light up items in medical photography (think dentists and plastic surgeons) as well as macro photography subjects, photographers started to experiment and sought out larger and more powerful ringlight devices that ended up costing in the range of several thousand dollars. Outfits like Alien Bees developed the earliest affordably priced totally complete ringlights; and now we have Enlight Photo's new Orbis ring flash, which promises a full ringlight for as low as $199. It promises to greatly expand the use of light by hobbyists, but does it work well?
Product Manufacturer: Enlight
Price: $199 (optional arm $59)
- Excellent price for the features.
- Great output with soft lighting.
- Works with commander strobes.
- Supports old flashes.
- Awkward to wield, focus without the arm.
- Best results taken up close.
a brief introduction to the Orbis RingFlash
Developed by New Zealand Photographer James Madelin, the Orbis is a light modifier that operates in a much safer manner than other attachable rings, and allows you to always have a hand on your strobe for extra security; it's also designed to present a much more professional appearance than the often ad hoc solutions that could scare away clients expecting professional gear. He set out to design a prototype to test with, using good industrial design practices, and then subjected it to the opinions of over 150 photographers worldwide to see if they could tell the difference between images made with the Orbis and those made with ringlights costing many thousands more. The answers told him he was on the right track and the Orbis was born.
design and ergonomics
The Orbis is a straightforward device, packaged in an innovative, wedged shaped box that prevents movement during shipping. Open it up and you'll find a bright yellow nylon bag to protect the Orbis, as well as a lanyard to always keep it attached to you (or at least your wrist). Directions and information round out the package.
The design is comprised of a big ring and what's best described as a flash receptacle. Made to fit virtually every small strobe dating back to the Vivitar 283, it really shines with the newest breed of iTTL strobes, including Nikon's SB900 Speedlight or Canon's 580 EX II. It has a black collar with two hard plastic elephant ear-like devices that maintain pressure against the strobe head to keep the strobe and Orbis joined together as one.
The whole package can become a bit awkward to move unless you have more than two arms to work with. Truth be told, you might be more comfortable with a third arm to hold your lens while your second and first hold the Orbis and camera respectively.
Recently, however, the company introduced an adjustable Orbis Arm that accommodates many sizes of strobes and then attaches to the tripod socket on the camera. It's a bit large and perhaps a touch clumsy, but it does make the unit much more controllable, especially when trying to operate a heavier than normal lens like the Nikon 70-200mm AF-S ED-IF lens, which in addition to being a great travel and sports lens, is also an exceptional portrait lens well suited to the Orbis. We'd consider the $59 extra worth the expense if you want to use the ringlight even semi-frequently.
operation and output
We tried the Orbis in several different modes, including B-TTL (balanced TTL) mode as well as straight TTL. Initially, we liked the results obtained with the straight TTL mode. But upon further experimentation, we found we like the B-TTL settings better, but with digital cameras, you shoot until you have what you like. The Orbis can use the pop-up flash as a commander strobe on those cameras that support it, such as the Nikon D300s and D700. Conversely, it can be used on other cameras without the commander pop-up flash by way of a TTL cord from the respective camera maker.
Once the strobe and lens are fitted into the flash head receptacle on the Orbis, it's ready to shoot. We'd note, though, that autofocus is a definite advantage with this add-on unless you're also using the Orbis Arm; there are otherwise too many controls at play. You quickly shift your attention to the actual output, which is of course the very goal.
With our friend Natalie offering to play model, we found an interesting background to photograph her and to gauge the actual impact of the lighting technique. Sure enough, the copper-tinged paint offered a nice contrast to her skin tone, and allowed for a subtle rendering of the telltale halo effect that is a giveaway the shot was made with a ringlight. That, in addition to the soft, diffuse lighting produced a desirable effect that contrasts sharply with the at times artificial looks of other on-camera flash systems. The closer the light to the subject, the softer and more flattering the quality of light.
Better still, by adding a TTL extension cord (or the wireless control of the Nikon CLS strobe system) the Orbis ring flash can be set up on a light stand off-camera, where it will do the subject (and photographer) the most good. It provides beautiful, even light that will flatter most subjects, as seen in our photographs of the Chevy Camaro SS' dark and potentially tricky engine bay and cabin.
For a modest price relative to the price of a DSLR, the Orbis ring flash allows virtually any small strobe the ability to become a soft, flattering ringlight for a fraction of the price of higher power, much more expensive flash units. With high quality results, and extreme portability, it is another tool of must-have gear in our photographic equipment locker.