The new Ray Flash from ExpoImaging is a unique adapter for your hot-shoe flash unit that is designed to replicate the lighting effect that produced by traditional and much more expensive studio ring flash units. The Ray Flash was built to be lightweight and to be powered by your existing hot-shoe unit, it contains no heavy electronics.
What is a ring flash? First invented in 1952 by Lester A. Dine, it was originally used in dental photography to pinpoint light into a patient's mouth so that a clear picture of patents teeth could be made. In the 1970's, it was found to have other photographic benefits and took off in other genres.
The device itself is a circular photographic flash that fits around the lens of a camera. It is meant to provide even illumination on the subject, and is effective in reducing the number of shadows that can be produced by traditional flashes. In many ways, it works like a soft box in that it spreads the light from many angles and softens the shadows. It is now used in many different areas of photography, especially portrait and fashion photography.
The way the Ray Flash works is through little channels that direct the light from the flash around the ring. Closer to the top of the ring, the spot where your native flash is, there are no little reflectors, and as it channels to the bottom, more channels spread the light around the ring. One thing to note is that you will lose a little lighting power from your flash. It's about a full stop, so you will have to run your flash with a bit more power which in turn will affect your battery life, but that is one of the trade-offs for having a lighter unit.
Installation is really easy as well. As you can see in the image below you just slide the Ray Flash over the head of your flash unit and turn the lock on the top of the unit. Each Ray Flash is made for certain flash/camera combinations so you will need to make sure that you get the correct combinations. There is a list on the ExpoImaging site to make sure that you get the right one for your system.
The unit itself seems to be pretty well made. Its lightness is because it is made of a plastic material. While I think that if it were used roughly, it could show some adverse effects and probably be irreparably damaged if mistreated, when treated with a little common sense and care, it should have no problems. My first thought was that it would be easy for this to fall off when using, but I had no problems with it. Despite flinging and flipping my camera, it all felt snug.
Once you have it attached, shooting with it is as easy as ever. There is a little weight noticed, especially when shooting freehand and flipping the camera back and forth, but nowhere like a full mechanical ring flash attachment, or some of the do-it-yourself configurations I have seen.
In the sample below, the image on the left was shot with a Canon 20D and a Canon Speedlight 580EX II. You can see the harsh shadows that were produced behind the subject. The image on the right was done using the Ray Flash. No harsh shadows. I did no editing to either picture other than cropping and sizing.
As with all ring flash units, there is a certain amount of fall off. If you want the background to be illuminated by the Ray Flash, then what you are shooting needs to be close to background or use additional fill lights. Keep in mind that this is not isolated to the Ray Flash, but to ring flashes in general and I only mention it if you have not worked with a ring flash before.
At $299.00 USD, the Ray Flash may be a little pricey for the average hobbyist, but for someone who is doing portraits, fashion work, commercial, or wedding photography, this will make for a nice addition to your bag of tricks and will pay for itself many times over. If you are looking for a lightweight, easy to use ring flash, then you really need to check out Ray Flash.