The second generation of the Ray Flash ring flash adapter can be used with pretty much any flash and camera. I tested the €99.00 Ray Flash Universal Ring Flash adapter with my trusted Sony A700, a hotshoe converter and the new and brilliant LumoPro LP180.
First this: why would you want a ring flash? Believe it or not, you can’t achieve the same results with anything else. The result you’re after is a portrait or an object photographed close against a backdrop with the light seemingly ‘embracing’ him/her/it. You can try this with a whole army of speedlights and diffusers positioned at various locations, it simply won’t work. A ring flash is what you’ll need.
A ring flash adapter uses an existing speedlight to give you what you would buy a ‘real’ ring flash for. The Ray Flash Universal Ring Flash adapter comes in two sizes: regular and large. The difference only refers to the maximum distance between the centre of the flash head — which is the Ray Flash Universal’s mounting point — and the centre point of the lens (optical axis). My setup required the “L” version, which allows you to extend the Ray Flash’s ‘neck’ to 19cm. Without requiring a hotshoe converter on my A700, the L version would have a nice margin. With it however, the margin was 3mm — near to nothing.
That didn’t stop the Ray Flash Universal from working extremely well. But I’m running ahead of myself. The Ray Flash Universal uses your existing flash to “bend” the light so that its output concentrates in a ring around your lens — the light wraps around or “embraces” your subject. As far as I know, the only other system that works with your ordinary flashgun is the Orbis. The difference between the Orbis and the Ray Flash Universal is ease of use. The Orbis requires you to either hold the thing in your hand or mount it on an optional metal mounting bar.
The flash mounting system of the Ray Flash is different. It hangs from your flash, using a spring-loaded pre-formed top jaw that clamps your flash head against a bottom jaw. This sounds like a good way to damage your speedlight, but the Ray Flash Universal is lightweight enough not to have any adverse effect on the flash. In fact, the Ray Flash comes with a rubber ring designed to keep “weak” flash heads from falling into their lowest position (which ruins the lighting effect you’re after), but the LP180 didn’t budge. The Ray Flash Universal hung without the flash head moving at all.
Other advantages of the mounting method and the design used by Ray Flash are that you can rotate your camera to portrait position without much effort and that you don’t have to put up with (extra) cables and power packs.
I tested the Ray Flash Universal by shooting a portrait, a bottle and a white flat surface. The Ray Flash Universal used with the portrait gave me the much desired “embrace” effect, while the bottle looked nicely sculpted against the white wall. In both cases, the light was a bit hard, but not unpleasantly so. There was nice even lighting (I used a 75mm lens), with no aura or light rings (like what you get from fresnel lenses). I can imagine using the Ray Flash Universal both a ring flash and a fill light, as the effect is quite nice and more universally usable than just as a portrait ring light.
I also tested for loss of light. The result of this test was a loss of 2 f-stops.
Ray Flash Universal or real ring flash?
Well, I can’t answer that one. I’ve never been able to test a real ring flash, so I can’t compare. What I do know is that a real ring flash is much more expensive than a Ray Flash Universal adapter. It also requires AC power, which the Ray Flash does not. In short, the real thing is for studio photography, really.
p>I guess it all depends what you need it for. If you’re a fashion photographer working for Vogue using a Hasselblad, I’m sure you won’t be inclined to use a ring flash adapter. However, if you’re a serious amateur shooting portraits or objects, the Ray Flash Universal may be much more efficient. It certainly won’t make you look bad, break the bank or get you ugly images.