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Best Ring Flash for Nikon Speedlights

Kenneth Cortland , Jul 26, 2011; 09:31 p.m.

I'm new to the Lighting forum, so I'm sure there is a conversation out here that addresses this (if so, please let me know). I'm looking for a quality ring flash to use a Nikon SB-900, or an affordable option from another vendor. I've heard of the RayFlash adapter (which appears to be very popular), but not many other adapters. I've also seen the Nissin MF-18 (which looks very good, but apparently has not been released yet). The Sigma EM-140 also looks good.

Anyone have suggestions for something portable?


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Lorne Sunley , Jul 26, 2011; 10:00 p.m.

I use the RayFlash, excellent unit if you already have an SB-900 or an SB-800. Very nice for macro work, or for use as a fill flash. I looked at one other one (cheap 40 or 50 dollars) but it did not put out light all the way around the ring, it left a dark shadow from 11:00 to 1:00 o'clock.

ralph oshiro , Jul 27, 2011; 01:19 a.m.

I've also been looking for ring flashes for my Nikon system. At first, I looked into fancy power-pack versions, but I realized, many of the applications I have for ring flash won't necessarily need that much output. Do you have any estimation how much light loss is incurred with the Ray Flash unit? From what I could gather, it seems to use a "fiber-optic like" design to channel the light to the ring. How efficient is this? I would guess you lose a stop or two from this?

ralph oshiro , Jul 27, 2011; 01:33 a.m.

According to a reprint of a review posted on Ray Flash's site, "There is an effective light loss of about one stop when using the Ray Flash Adapter . . . "

Bob Sunley , Jul 27, 2011; 01:59 a.m.

That is quite a small loss, I have a Sunpak 622 potato masher/monster, the GN is 200 for ISO 100 with a standard head, the GN drops to 46 for the ring flash-tube head, a loss of over 4 stops.

ralph oshiro , Jul 27, 2011; 02:23 a.m.

Yes, very efficient. It's a very interesting product. However, I was a bit worried from the text of one review where the reviewer commented that it was "fairly unwieldy." I'm still hoping to find a more mechanically robust system, so I just checked the B+H site and found the comparatively pricey Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 ringflash (guide no. 49'/15 m at 50mm) for $405. It's also cool that it apparently works with Nikon's CLS, and has built-in Nikon i-TTL compatibility. Presumably, this would work with an SU-800, since my D3s doesn't have a built-in flash. I also like the Metz because it attaches to your lens via an adapter ring--a more solid design, and more what I was looking for in a ring flash. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like they make an adapter ring large enough for the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G, which is what I was planning to use it with--the largest adapter the B+H site lists for the Metz is 72mm.

ralph oshiro , Jul 27, 2011; 02:54 a.m.

Aha . . . yes, this is the result of the search I did a few months ago: the Sigma EM-140 DG ring flash for Nikon i-TTL, with a guide no. 46' (14 m) at ISO 100, for $379. It supports Nikon's i-TTL, FP sync, and has dual flash tubes. This is the only non-studio style ringlight I could find that could accommodate lenses with filter diameters of up to 77mm. Again, with this type of design, I would be able to benefit from the robustness of a hard-mounted light to the lens' front filter threads.

It's now between the Sigma and the Ray Flash. The Ray Flash is an attractive option, because, since it works with my Nikon SB-800, I'm able to use my Quantum Turbo battery for faster recycle times. If the Sigma unit had a high-voltage power input, that would be ideal. On the upside, with the Sigma's self-contained 'AA' battery supply, I won't have any squirrely power cables, or a power pack to deal with.

ralph oshiro , Jul 27, 2011; 04:03 a.m.

Well, I checked the Sigma video demo of their ringflash, and it appears to have two very small flash tubes mounted on either side. The "ring" of light is accomplished by what appears to be just a white or silver reflector channel. The lack of any decent photos from the manufacturer doesn't help market this product very well.

The Nissin product looks less "professional." In that its industrial design looks a bit "off." The Sigma unit looks more refined. However, the miniature flash tube design makes me wonder how "ringlight-ey" its output really is. Also, while both the Sigma and Nissin units have about the same output (GN 14m vs. 15m, respectively), they also both suffer from a relatively small flash-surface area. In this category, the Ray Flash wins--it has a much larger source area.

Another ringflash to consider is the AlienBees ABR800. At 320Ws, it's quite a bit more powerful than those already mentioned. Its design is also similar to its far pricier studio ringflash competitors. Compared to those, this thing seems like a bargain at only $399 (although the studio units are far more powerful). The ABR800 runs only off of 120VAC, so portable use would require the purchase of a Vagabond Mini Lithium AC inverter/battery pack for an additional $239. Also, the ABR800 is huge in comparison to the units mentioned above, but it's a serious studio-style ringlight certainly worth considering.

But for ease-of-use, portability, economy, and the ability to use a high-voltage power pack with your SB-800/SB-900 for faster recycle times, it looks like the Ray Light is a winner!

ralph oshiro , Jul 27, 2011; 04:55 a.m.

Now, I've just read some of the B+H reviews. One guys feels like the Ray Light will eventually break the plastic shoe on his Speedlight, or worse, bend the metal hot-shoe on the body. Another, strongly suggested it needed a DIY bracket to tie-in the whole system to the camera body's tripod socket to be more secure. Not sure about this now. I hate gear that's "delicate." I want to be able to work with my gear in all kinds of situations.

Marios Forsos , Jul 27, 2011; 06:10 a.m.

I have the Rayflash adapter and, while it is great for the money, if you're planning to use it, for example, to shoot events, there are cases where you'll end up with red-eye. Also, while it does give out a nice, spread-out light with minimal shadows, that can work out against you if you're shooting more than 1-2 people - the light falloff is a bit of a pain.

For portraits, as a fill (in studio) is a superb adapter and works wonderfully.

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