Ooh me ring(flash)!

Irwin Wong takes a look at the Orbis ringflash adapter.  This is one ring that shan’t be cast into the fires of Mount Doom. Insert other ring-related gags here.

Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and the walls.

“I have come,” he said. “But I do not choose now to do what I came here to do. I will not do this deed.  The Ring is mine!”

And suddenly, he set it on his SB-900 attached by an SC-17 sync cord to his D3x, tethered into Capture One, and Sam gasped as shadows vanished from his sight from the photos appearing on the calibrated 32″ Apple monitor.

And so on.  This is what makes a ringflash so much fun.  Notwithstanding the ability to work it into tenuous film references or immature gags of the rectum, the Orbis ringflash adds another dimension to your ability to light well and quickly with small strobes.  Plus, it’s light, doesn’t take up too much space in the bag, and easy to set-up.  It all equates to a highly usable piece of kit that is now a no-brainer for me for any assignment these days. How does it stack up for you guys though?

Lemme just start out by saying I light my shots – pretty much all the time. If a client comes in and asks for some photos, I don’t feel like I’ve done the job properly unless I come away from it with some nicely lit photos.  And, due to Tokyo not being the friendliest or cheapest place for cars, I carry around a smaller kit from job to job, which means I use hotshoe strobes for about 90% of my shoots. I know my way around them and I know what I can and cannot get out of them. So it surprised and delighted me quite a bit when a small plastic flash attachment opened up all sorts of new possibilities for me and caused me to get excited about flash again. There’s no denying it. The Orbis ringflash is useful. Darn useful. It’s got certain limitations, just like all camera equipment, but there’s plenty about it that makes it worth considering as a essential flash accessory.

So what’s the big deal about ring-flash anyway? For beginners to understand, a ring-flash is more than a flash for donut-lovers and rectum aficionados.  That hole in the middle is for you to stick your lens through, so when the flash is fired, the light goes out – and then bounces straight back down the lens. No more hard shadows under the chin, no more weird shadows under the eyes, no more shadows…anywhere, except for that faint halo of shadow around your body, which is the distinctive hallmark of the ring-flash.

Damn!  As you can see, clean, shadowless light with no fiddling about.  Works absolutely great when you’re on the move and your subjects are on the move.  It also couldn’t be simpler to set up – just stick your flash inside the Orbis. The downside is however that you’ll probably want to buy another piece of kit: a a TTL cord to connect your hotshoe to your flash off-camera.

Above is a set-up shot for the Orbis – pretty simple stuff. You can either hold that combination out at arm’s length like an old flash-bulb or you can stick your lens through for the aforementioned shadowless lighting.  The great thing is it fits all flashes, which is great because I don’t have to worry about the SB900 with it’s significantly larger head not fitting inside.

One thing I do want you to notice about the shot above is the size of the ring relative to the flash. It’s big, which is a deliberate design feature in order to provide softer light.  The larger the light-source relative to your subject, the softer the light will be, and this is something Orbis have obviously wanted to include as a feature.  The minor hindrance to the size of the thing is that it won’t fit into most small carry-bags, so you’ll have to upgrade your bag-size to carry it around.  It is supplied with a bright-yellow pouch so you can carry it externally, if you want.

Fitting it into your bag is a minor issue though, compared to the quality of light one gets out of this thing.  It almost manages to ape a beauty-dish in it’s properties; soft but directional light with smooth shadow transitions and defined shadow areas.  In case you have no idea what that meant, here’s a couple of photos from the last workshop to show you:

These shots of Ella are pretty much as they were shot – the main light is the Orbis ring-flash boomed in from high camera left.  The splash of orange is provided by a snooted SB-800 with the end of the snoot paper-clipped down to further narrow the shaft of light.  As you can see the light from the Orbis is not harsh, but it doesn’t cause the light to wrap around the subject either, like an umbrella.  This kind of light quality from such a relatively cheap and small attachment makes me extremely excited about the new possibilities of what I can now shoot, while keeping my kit portable.

Slight caveat – I love this ring-flash, but it does have it’s limitations.  The only thing you need to worry about when you use this thing is that it absorbs around 2 stops of light from your flash power.  For those who need a more detailed explanation let’s just say we have a hypothetical situation where you need 1/1 (full power) on your bare flash to shoot a scene at f/8.  With the Orbis attached to your flash at 1/1 you will have to open your aperture up to f/4 to get roughly the same results.  These aren’t quotable figures – but you get the idea.

I wouldn’t be using this to light a group of people outside on a sunny day but this tool is invaluable to me as:

1. A quick lighting solution when I am on the move and need quick and clean light

2. A main light for informal portraits

3. A shadowless fill light for more complex lighting situations

4. A cheap and portable ‘beauty-dish’

5. An excuse for me to joke about rings

Well there you have it – as you can tell I’m pretty enthusiastic about the Orbis, and any Tokyo photog who wants to keep their kit light would be well served by having one of these in the bag.  It is a multifaceted tool that has plenty to offer for beginner and advanced photographers alike.  We’re working with the exclusive Japanese distributor of the Orbis, Gin Ichi, whose store is down in Tsukishima. Currently we’re getting a voucher scheme organised with them, for Japanorama students and readers. So enquire with us for more details.

Hit us up with questions or comments down below.

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Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

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