Monday, April 13, 2009

DIY Ringflash - My Experience

Here is the version I made. Link to step-by-step instructions coming soon.

Ringflashes, they always produce such a cool look. With a lure of nice even wrap-around lighting beginners to "off camera lighting" are often disappointed to find out how much these can cost.

Enter the realm of the do-it-yourselfer, a quick google search will yield all sorts of ringlight contraptions. Recently two products have emerged to fill the niche for budget ringflashes, the Rayflash and the Orbis Ringflash, both seem to be derived from DIY projects. Both of these, like so many of the DIY versions rely on light from a Speedlight style flash, because of this they still aren't a genuine replacement for a real pro ringflash.

Last week I walked into the local photo store and saw that they had some Rayflash units in, I was immediately intrigued. After asking the salesperson to grab one for me I opened the box to see what all the fuss was about. There was no chorus of angelic voices, no warm soft glow emanating from the box lighting up my face, there was only a cheap feeling plastic ring. Now I'll admit the that it looks like it will do the job but really $300 CND? All it is is plastic, plastic that bends the light from your flash at 90° then channels it around your lens via lightpipes. Maybe I'm too critical, I just think this could be priced more reasonably at $100-$150 and this Ray guy would still be rich ;)

I haven't yet seen one of the Orbis Ringflash units up close and personal, from what I can gather its priced pretty close to the Rayflash. The Orbis design is more like the one I made, a ring with a hole at the bottom to shoot your flash into. It also appears to have some "trick" for bending the light around your lens. Regardless both are overpriced in my opinion but if you aren't much of a tinkerer or just don't have the time to try making your own they might be right for you.

Setting out to make a ringflash

I'm not going to go into full instruction mode in this post, instead I'll save that for my post on and just update this post with a link to it.

Over the last 6 months or so I've been infected with Strobisitis a condition that afflicts photographers that accidentally stray to and see the world of portable off-camera lighting. I went into a flurry of DIY mayhem putting together snoots and grids, bounce cards, and finally stumbling upon the beauty dish. The light from a beauty dish is similar to a ringflash but its still not "on axis" since you're not shooting through it. I did not know how big to make the beauty dish so I had made up 3 variations using different bowls I had picked up at the local $1 store. For months this former Halloween treat dish sat nicely painted just waiting to be used or tossed away. This was its chance.

Inspired by this guy's rig that was posted here at I decided to make my own attempt. For my version I decided I wanted to use a diffuser on the front to try and even out the light a little more, I also wanted to include a bracket like this guy did.

I had the bowl, I had spray paint, I still had white nylon leftover from a semi-successful softbox attempt. I even had the aluminum stock from a previous project, now all that I needed to do was mash the stuff together.

For the center whole I ended up using a plastic peanut butter jar that I cut the ends off of. The fabric diffuser actually worked out without a hitch (had to bring it to my mother to sew though ;) and I managed to get the brackets bent properly on the first try.

Front and side view of the DIY ringflash. The bracket still had to be painted black.

Quick test shot of my nephew as he walked in the door.

I'll put up some real test shots later but this showed me that the light distribution was pretty even. The non-flash side is a little darker but there are a few things I've still yet to try to even it up. For around $20 of material I'm pretty happy with the results.


Jay said...

Everything you say is so very true. After exploring the two products you mentioned, and discovering that due to dexterity issues I cannot use the Orbis and the Rayflash excludes products that will work for us Pentaxians I decided to return to my original attempt at a homemade version.

After some time exploring the plumbing section and electrical section of Home Depot I determined that anything I could build would either be too cumbersome to carry with me when I wanted to go somewhere with it or, based on the Rayflash design, would put too much strain on the head of my flash or the hot shoe.

I opted for something I knew much about and built a continuous light source from 18 55,000 mcd LEDs mounted in the outer ring of a dollar store plate with a hole cut in it containing a 4 inch PVC cap with a hole cut in it to fit the hood of my portrait and macro lens. It works absolutely fine and is very portable but entirely lacks the brightness for any practical applications in daylight. In fact it is pretty much limited to tripod use giving me an exposure of 1/20 seconds at f/5.6 at ISO 800. Because the LEDs are quite a tight beam of light it does hold this exposure for up to 6 feet but it is not very functional off of a tripod. I won't even get into the white balance issues though a one half CTP gel does pull the green out of the LEDs.

One final reason why, even if Rayflash does in the future make their product for a Pentax AF540fgz, it would restrict the use of additional off-camera lights without proprietary Pentax cables to attach a trigger to. So, at the moment the option of a ring flash for use as an on axis fill light does not look good for me.

The only option I can think of would be to try to quadruple the number of LEDs in version number two of my ring light. I will post the completed story of its construction and photos once I put them on the DP review forums.

jphphotography said...

Thanks for the comment Jay. I actually built an LED based ringflash a few weekends ago. I used 60 LEDs and an old 25pk CD spindle. It actually works pretty decently but there are still a few issues.

1) Only blind people can look into it without squinting ;) Its almost like staring into the sun.

2) Even though they are called white LEDs they end up with a blue tint to them. Not an easy thing to fix in PS if your shooting in mixed light. I found taking a yellow highlighter and running it over the tips of all the LEDs helped a lot to bring the colour closer to white.

If you're shooting still life etc the LEDs may be a good option but if you're shooting people I'll warn you right now you're wasting your time. Another tip for you is too put two switches into your ring, one momentary and one toggle. This way you can save battery power by only pressing the momentary switch when needed. My 60 LED version uses 3 AA batteries and draws 1.2A worth of current. That means most batteries will only last 1.5hrs tops.

Good luck with your build! Maybe I'll post some pics of my LED one in the future.

Jay said...

Yeah, you're right about the squinting James. Since people are my least favorite subject it's not the issue at the moment, but if I'm building something worth building it should function for all purposes.

I posted the final results on DP Review finally:

I'll keep considering options.