What do you need if you like macro and portrait photography and want even lightling on the go, that adds a halo effect to the person and also that round sparkle in their eyes? Exactly, a ring flash.
Of course there is a huge range of ring flashes and modifiers, depending on your budget and area of use there are various factors to evaluate which ring flash you need and what benefits and disadvantages it brings, for example a real ring flash versus an adapter for one of your existing flashes, as the orbis is.
Let’s go through some of the points that were involved in my selection process and also review all my current findings from using it for more or less an hour on several scenes and subjects.
One of the reasons I went for the orbis was its 195€ price point: 140€ for the orbis, 45€ for the arm and 10€ shipping cost. If you go for the real deal like an Alien Bee, or the regular Canons, you are talking double to triple the price, and considering I am not going to use it every day, it was clear that I did not want to peak over the two hundred mark. The downside of this is clearly the fact that it is a addon unit, assuming you don’t have a flash yet you are paying another 250€ for the flash itself, the entire system is bigger and does not fit together as natural, which brings us to the next point, how to mount the unit.
It had to be a one size fits all solution, no limitation in lenses used, or flash units for that matter. The Canon ringlites only accept a small collection of lenses due to its diameter, the Ray flash ring covers up the IR part of the flash and is kind of fixed in position by the flash on the hotshoe, other solutions are tailormade for flash x, which is nice in general, but I don’t want to buy three of them when I change to a bigger or newly shaped flash gun.
The orbis houses any flash from small to big system units thanks to a flexible plastic bracket in its foot that snugs on to the flash, you should be aware though that there is no locking mechanism to fix it in place, it is not exactly unstable, but it can slip off occasionally. It holds best when used together with the arm attachment, effectively tensing it between the lens and the lower end of the arm. It allows any lens up to 82 mm in diameter, which basically covers all lenses you might want to use, but turns out to be more difficult to handle when in combination with none L lenses that have a smaller profile (you want to center the ring around the lens, making it float freely in those cases = less stable/wobbly).
An area where a real ring flash scores over any adapter is the amount and quality of light produced, and the continuity of the ring. A proper flash unit will have a higher output, which is to be ignored indoors in most cases, but really shows outdoors with sun and when not working in proximity to the subject. I took several pictures in total darkness and was happy with the results the orbis gave me together with a 430EXII, this can surely be improved by using a 580EXII, cranking up the ISO, or additional flashes from different angles, if needed – and generally you have ambient light too, not total darkness :).
Using a 50mm lens on the 7D within portrait distance created nice rings in the eyes and exposure where it hit the face and upper body, the disadvantages became way more visible with a 100mm macro lens framing one eye. The circle is not 100% complete due to the foot element taking a little curve away at the bottom of the ring, and the reflector layout creates a mismatching approx. 120 degrees lower and 240 degreees upper part, thus being uneven.
A plus for some and maybe a minus for others is also the size, it is bigger than I personally expected, which is good in terms of the light produced, but difficult to store in a regular camera backpack, it just fits about perfect in the front pocket of my Lowepro Flipside 400 AW, but might be too big for others, and I had to evacuate the LED flashlight and sunglasses case to the outer pockets. This also shows when the orbis is in action since it adds significant bulk and weight to the camera setup, you need to hold the DSLR with one and the orbis arm with the other hand, that becomes particularly awkward in portrait stance.
Judging from the current results I am happy with the orbis for what it is, it does what I expected it to do in the quality that matches the price I paid and the pros and cons of the one fits all mentality, making it more useable, but a bit less stable. If you don’t want to spend big bucks, need something that is portable and gets into the action, the orbis is definitly a nice solution and a good start.
Rating: 4 out of 5 points
You can find more product info and order it here:
As always leave any questions in the comments and I will try to respond to them as soon as possible.