Best ring flash for photographers: 5 top models tested and rated

Best ring flash for photographers: 5 top models tested and rated

We put five of the best ring flash options for photographers to the test. Find out which offered the best results…

Best ring flash for photographers: 5 top models tested and rated

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of photography. Without good light, even the most compelling subject won’t make for a great shot.

Learning how to control light and use it to your advantage is a great skill to master. Readily available accessories, such as flashguns, may seem daunting to beginners but offer a whole host of photographic opportunities.

Even on a sunny day, a flashgun can be a very handy tool to balance light or fill in shadows.

When it comes to macro photography, a flashgun will enable you to shoot with narrower apertures to ensure you’ve got enough depth of field to capture the majority of your subject sharp.

However, as you’re working at such close focusing distances, unless you position your flash off camera, your lens will be prone to casting nasty shadows.

The solution is to use a specialist macro flashgun known as a ring flash, where the flash tubes are attached to the front of the lens.

These strobe systems use a round tube that encircles the lens, providing soft, near-shadowless light, which is vital for macro photography.

Not only does this eliminate shadows created by your camera and lens, the evenly distributed light wraps around your subject to produce a soft, even light to emphasise detail and colour.

Some ring flashes actually have a pair of tubes, one at each side, which can be fired at independent flash power ratios to give a more three-dimensional feel to shots.

Most ring flashes consist of two components that are attached together with a flexible cable; a control unit that slips into your camera’s hotshoe and a circular unit containing the flash tubes that fits to the lens via an adaptor ring. However, we’ll look at some ingenious alternative designs, too.

SEE MORE: Best macro flash – 6 top models tested and rated

Things to consider when buying a ring flash

Guide number (GN)
The guide number measures the reach of the flash, and is given in metres at ISO100 at f/1; to find the true range, you need to divide the GN by your actual aperture. As ring flashes are used at close range, you don’t need anything too powerful so the GN will be small, typically between 14 and 16.

Adapter rings
Most ring flashes fit to the lens via adapter rings that screw onto the lens  filter thread. Some ring flashes come with a range of adapter sizes, whereas others will only include a couple of options, so you may need to purchase additional adapters separately.

SEE MORE: How to buy a flashgun – the most important features every photographer should have

Best ring flash for photographers: Orbis Ringflash Adapter

Best ring flash for photographers: Orbis Ringflash Adapter

Price: £149 (accessory arm £49 extra)
Unique in this test, the Orbis Ringflash Adapter is a flashgun attachment that channels the flash output into a ring of light.

The ‘one size fits most’ design simply slots onto a standard flashgun, which has to be used off camera – so you’ll need an off-camera cord (none is supplied) or fire the flash as a wireless slave.

Unlike the other ring flashes on test, the Orbis doesn’t fit directly to your lens; instead you slide the ring over your lens (the central aperture is 86mm, so it will easily fit a variety of lenses) and hold the flashgun in position with your left hand, which is a bit fiddly.

Alternatively, there’s an accessory arm that connects the flash to the camera, but this costs an additional £49.

Our first impressions of the Orbis was how cumbersome it looked and fiddly it was to put together. Handling the proved tricky, even with the aid of the Orbis arm, as we didn’t have a spare hand to manually focus our 100mm macro lens, and we certainly wouldn’t be able to use this with our MP-E 65mm lens.

Compared to the other ring flashes on the test it felt quite intrusive for macro work and could easily scare off little critters.

Despite that it did produce a nice even light, but it’s more suited to portrait photography.

The Orbis initially seems good value for money if you want to give ring flash photography a try, but unless you already own a flashgun and an off camera cord or trigger it does all add up to a considerable amount if you’re starting from scratch.

Pro: Offers a cheap way to achieve a ring flash effect, providing you already own a flashgun
Con: Cumbersome for macro photography; not very portable; accessory arm costs extra

Best ring flash for photographers: Orbis Ringflash Adapter
Best ring flash for photographers: Nissin MF18 Macro Ring Flash
Best ring flash for photographers: Metz 15 MS-1 Wireless Digital Macro Flash
Best ring flash for photographers: Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Flash
Best ring flash for photographers: Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II
Best ring flash for photographers: Verdict


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  • mypointofview

    Guide Number (GN) is based on feet, not meters. German “Leitzahl” (L or LZ) is based on meters.