It gets dark and gloomy outside now in autumn so it's a perfect opportunity to do a review of a product that will lighten things up a bit - a ring flash. I got my hands on the Orbis Ring Flash (and the Orbis arm) already some time ago but I didn't have time until now to sit down and write a proper product review. But before going into details with the Orbis Ring Flash review, let me just highlight few things about ring flashes and what they are for those of you who hear about them for the first time. A ring flash is basically a circular flash which provides even illumination and therefore almost shadowless results. Ring flashes are popular in macro photography but also in portrait and fashion photography. The unique features of a ring flash make shadows much softer and create circular catch-eye / highlights in the subject's eyes, not to mention an interesting light halo effect.
I. Features of the Orbis Ring Flash
The first thing I noticed when I got my Orbis Ring Flash was the size of the reflecting area which is bigger when compared to other similar ring flashes. This means that the light source will also be bigger creating even softer light. I probably should have mentioned earlier that the Orbis Ring Flash is not a typical ring flash but it's an add-on on your speedlight. In other words, you can slide your speedlight into the Orbis Ring Flash to produce the desired light. This makes the ring flash portable because you don't need to connect it to a power source, which is usually required with the traditional ring flashes. The Orbis Ring Flash fits with most speedlights available on the market nowadays and it fits perfectly with my Nikon SB-900. Although it requires a bit of force to slide my SB-900 into it, the speedlight sits there tight and secure.
The other thing I got with my Orbis Ring Flash was what they call an Orbis Arm which is basically a mounting bracket for your camera and the speedlight with the Orbis Ring Flash on it. I used this setup recently while shooting an event in Gent, Belgium (yes, ring flashes are usually for close-ups, fashion and makro but they have many other uses as well) and I found the mounting bracket (Orbis Arm) quite useful but extremely heavy to carry around - this is because of the total weight of my DSLR (with a battery grip), speedlight SB-900 and the Orbis Ring Flash (I have to mention that the Orbis Ring Flash is relatively light-weighted by itself). Therefore, I recommend using this setup either on short assignments (preferably indoor where you can easily put aside it to let your arms rest) or on a tripod (the Orbis Arm supports tripod mounting but I haven't tested it myself yet and it probably won't fit onto all of the tripods due to its L-like shape.However, what I have noticed is that it was very hard to operate my zoom lens (18-100mm) while having the ring flash on the mounting bracket - no matter how I adjusted the ring flash around my lens, it was always getting in way with the zoom ring on the lens.
Another important aspect to consider is a way you will trigger your speedlight. In general, you have 3 options: (1) you can use a built-in flash commander in your camera, (2) use a wireless flash trigger or (3) use a sync cord (TTL cable). I prefer the third option because it's much more reliable (especially when you use the Orbis Arm and your built-in flash commander is hidden behind the ring flash which might not always communicate well with a speedlight which is positioned below the camera) and I don't like having fragile wireless receivers hanging below my speedlight when operating the ring flash in my hand.
II. Light Quality and Light Distribution
I did few photo shoots with the Orbis Ring Flash so far and I'm very happy with the light quality. It acts exactly as a ring flash should behave and produces the desired light. However, you have to remember that the power of light will most likely be less than in stand-alone ring flashes. This is due to 2 factors: (1) the power of light produced by the speedlight depends on your speedlight's power capabilities which is sometimes less than stand-alone ring flashes and (2) some of the light's power produced by a speedlight is lost in the ring flash itself as it travels across the mirrors before it's out towards your subject - this is a normal and expected behavior for such add-on ring flashes.
The pictures in this article clearly show that the Orbis Ring Flash has a very good light distribution and dispersion across the whole ring when comparing the opposite sides of the ring flash where the speedlight is inserted. In fact, the Orbis Ring Flash has an additional white coating on the side of the speedlight. This prevents the stronger light from dominating the rest of the light in the ring flash and ensures more or less equal light distribution.
III. Price vs. Quality vs. Product Ratio - Summary
I like to compare the product's price to its quality and overall purpose and my needs as a photographer. Before anything, you have to realize that Orbis Ring Flash might not be necessary a good choice for you, especially if you know that you won't be taking any outdoor macro/fashion shots and that you'll have a different use for your speedlights indoor other than using it with a ring flash (for example to do hair-light, background light etc.). However, if you're like me who takes lots of pictures outdoor and on-location, who looks for a versatile product and doesn't mind using one of the speedlights as a ring flash, then Orbis Ring Flash is perfect for you. The quality of the product is very high and seems to be durable (just don't throw it from the second floor to test its durability). When it comes to price I have to say it's a bit expensive - you can get the Orbis Ring Flash System (the ring flash with the mounting bracket) from their online store for $249. However, if you compare this price to the self-contained AlienBees ring flash which is on the market for around $399, then the Orbis system might look expensive. Overall - is it worth it the price?-Yes.