Elinchrom Ringflash 3000
The ringflash is the archetypal fashion photographers' tool. It produces a direct and even cast of light that is nigh on impossible to imitate with any other lighting set-up. Even when it is applied outside of a fashion context (think Tony Blair by Rankin) it creates an instantly recognisable and edgy feel. For those not fully versed with the look, there are a number of classic tell-tale signs, including an even shadow cast around the edge of the model, a doughnut-shaped catch light in his or her eyes, and a lack of shadow around his or her face.
A plethora of adapters and converters claim to replicate the ringflash look, but for many photographers there is no substitute for the real thing. Ringflashes are sold by all the main lighting manufacturers and are generally priced at above £600, excluding the price of a power pack. If that proves too pricey, you can always hire the kit. Whatever route you choose, remember that not all ring flash models are the same. Many come with an array of light-shapers for different lighting effects, as well the option to power them from the mains or battery packs. Whether you need quick recycling times for a fast-paced studio fashion shoot or a lightweight unit you can carry up a mountain, there is a model to suit your needs.
Swiss manufacturer Elinchrom sells two different ringflash models, for mains and battery-powered operation. The Ring Flash 3000 is designed to work with Elinchrom's mains power packs (such as the Classic, Digital AS and RX packs) up to a limit of 3000J output. It incorporates an adjustable bracket to attach either a DSLR or medium format sized camera - as do all the models featured. A sculptured grip also allows it to be comfortably handheld and operated without being fixed to a stand or tripod. It weighs in at just 1.9kg and has a 5m cable, so there is plenty of scope to move around in a studio. The RF 3000 can be used with a clear cover for a hard punchy light, or a matt glass cover for a slightly diffused look.
The Ranger RX-RF 1500 is designed to be used with Elinchrom's Ranger RX battery packs. The maximum flash power is 1500J. The Ranger RX packs boast impressive performance capabilities, with the RX Speed AS version advertising recycling times of 2.9s at full power with around 250 flashes at the maximum output setting. The RX packs are by no means bulky, measuring 19x14x28cm and weighing 8kg (RX Speed AS). But for the ringflash-wielding photographer who really wants to travel light, it can also be powered using Elinchrom's new diminutive Quadra pack, which is about half the size. It attaches to the RX-RF 1500 via a plug adapter, so it will connect with the pack's smaller-sized power socket.
There is an inevitable compromise in performance power compared to the RX packs, but this battery unit measures just 15x8.5x21cm and weights a feather-like 3kg and is arguably one of the most portable ringflash solutions on the market. Sharp-eyed photographers will have noticed that the Elinchrom ringflash models bear a striking resemblance to the Hensel versions, which luckily means they are compatible with the German manufacturer's comprehensive array of light-shapers.
Hensel currently has two ringflash models in its product portfolio. The RF 3000P/PM-XS version has a maximum 1500J power output and is designed to work with the manufacturer's highly-rated battery packs, including the new Pro Mini and Porty generators. The RF 3000-XS is the mains powered version, with a powerful 3500J max output. It is designed to operate with generators such as the Tria series.
The ring flash models feature an adjustable mount on the back to attach both SLR and medium format sized cameras - the 105mm front diameter is suitable for even bulky lenses. It is possible to mount the model to a light stand or tripod head, but its ergonomic handle and light weight (at 1.8kg) also makes it easy to hand hold for extended periods of time. And with a 5m cable, it offers plenty of scope for moving freely.
One of the most appealing aspects of the Hensel products is the first-class array of light-shapers available to use with them. The OctaHaze RF 90 is, in essence, a softbox and it alters the classic, hard, direct light into a more diffused and controllable illumination. In fact, the OctaHaze RF 90 has two diffusing layers, offering the chance to alter the quality of light further by either removing one or both for very precise control.
Other lighting shapers in the Hensel range include a Beauty Dish and Reflector attachment that comes with a Honeycomb Grid for even more lighting control. It is also worth noting that the protective panel in front of the flash tube comes in either a transparent or matte version. Another extra worth a mention is an adapter to rotate the mount to help shoot portrait format images.
Profoto users have a choice of three ring flash products, with some important compatibility differences. The Acute/D4 Ring, as the name suggests, is designed for the Acute and D4 packs. The ProRing and ProRing 2 are compatible with all the Pro series battery packs and Pro mains generators such as the Pro-B2 (battery) and Pro 7 and 8 series models. However, both of these ProRing models are also compatible with the D4 model such as the Acute/D4 Ring.
At first glance there seems to be little difference between the three. The ProRing and Acute/D4 models both weigh the same at 2.3kg, while the ProRing 2 is less that 0.3kg heavier. The Hensel style handle is omitted but the kit can be attached to any stand or tripod. They come with a 4m cable and the 100mm diameter interior aperture means they're compatible with most cameras and lenses.
All the models deliver impressive performance potential but the ProRing 2 is the most powerful head and offers a maximum output of 4800Ws. It can flash as many times in a minute as the generator can manage, making it perfect for fast studio model shoots. One noticeable difference between the models is their size, because the ProRing 2 is more bulky. It offers a modelling lamp facility unlike the other two, in the form of ten halogen bulbs. They can come in very useful, not only as a way to see how the light is falling on a subject, but also to assist a camera's Auto-Focus. The smaller and lighting ProRing and Acute/D4 Ringflash are more likely to appeal to photographers on the go, especially those using the Acute and Pro series battery packs where modelling lamp facility will only drain power.
All the Ringflash models can be used with an array of accessories including a Softlight Reflector, Widesoft Reflector, a ProRing Diffuser and a Close-up Reflector, which focuses the light source to around 0.5m in front of the camera lens.
Broncolor keeps things simple with a very straightforward pair of ringflash lamps. In fact, they have one primary model called the Ringflash C for use with a camera, while the other one, the Ringflash P, is designed for use with the Para FB reflector. It's also possible to buy a conversion kit so each one can be transformed into the other.
Both the Ringflash C and P have a fan-cooled heads and a flash tube with a maximum output of 3200J. They also incorporate a modelling lamp facility with ten 20W halogen bulbs, providing a useful means to see how the light falls and narrow a model's pupils to combat red-eye. The Ringflash C comes with a 5m cable and weighs around 2kg. It doesn't have a handle but it can be attached to almost all types of cameras and stands and - remarkably - is compatible with every Broncolor Power pack that has been manufactured since the early 1970s.
The cast of illumination from the Ringflash C can be controlled by one of three different narrow, medium or wide honeycomb grids. These enable users to attain a more concentrated spread of light with deeper shadows by using a narrow grid attachment, or to obtain a classic, even illumination using the wide grid or no grid at all. Broncolor also produces a Soft Reflector to get a more even spread of diffused light for a flattering effect ideal for model shoots. Plus the holder on the C model allows the ringflash to swivel to a precise angle, meaning the hotspot can be moved away from the centre of the image frame.
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