A ring flash is a bit of specialized flash photography equipment, and whilst on the face of it a ring flash may seem like a good bit of kit to buy you do need to take a step back and carefully consider whether a ring flash is going to suit your needs before getting the credit card out and buying one.
Despite what you may or may not have heard a ring flash is no substitute for a standard speed light and if you are serious about your flash photography you still need a speed light, and the reasons for this are:-
Compared to a speed light a ring flash is pretty weak. For example the ring flash I use has a guide number of 14m at ISO 100, whereas all speed lights have guide numbers greater than this – even the lower powered speed lights for CSC and mirrorless cameras.
Whilst you can control the intensity of the light of a ring flash you can’t control the direction of the light like you can with a speed light.
The flash head in a ring light is fixed and doesn’t zoom, and this is true regardless of whether the ring light is a top end or budget model. I appreciate there are some speed lights with a fixed head (mainly the right cheap models) but the majority have a zoom function.
A ring flash is not designed to be used off camera. Okay, you can set one up to use off camera but it is a real chore and doesn’t work well at all. In fact, I would advise not to try to even bother to use a ring flash off camera
For general flash photography you can’t get better than a speed light. With this in mind, what’s the point of a ring flash then?
A ring flash is designed for close up and macro photography and where the lens is very close to the subject. Using a standard speed light in these situations doesn’t work very well for a number of reasons.
When the speed light is in the camera’s hot shoe the lens, being so close to the subject, can cast a shadow over it which is impossible to illuminate. Since a ring flash is attached to the lens’ filter, i.e. at the end of the lens and closest to the subject, the lens cannot cast a shadow and you can properly light the subject.
Speed lights are powerful, even when dialled down to the lowest power setting and this often results in over exposure. If you can move the speed light further away from the subject to reduce the intensity that’s great, but there will be times when you cannot do this and remain as close to the subject as you want to be. Ring flashes are low powered and designed to be centimetres away from the subject and not over expose it.
I bought a ring flash for macro work and find it particularly useful for insect photography when I am scrabbling around on my hands and knees in the dirt photographing various little critters. Using a ring flash means I don’t have a hand constantly tied up hand holding a speed light to (try) and get the right amount of light to fall on the subjects. A ring flash is also a great tool for dental work, laboratory work and the like
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.