The Ray Flash adaptor is the original ringflash converter designed by a Czech photographer and introduced in 2008. The functionality has been copied by various manufacturers - some being knocked out at less than half the price, but this model continues to sell well, so we decided to take a look and see what's so special.
Build and handling
Ray Flash Adapter: Features
The Rayflash is designed to convert a normal hot shoe mounted flash into a ring flash. It does this by bouncing the light from the flash tube through an acrylic tube and into a circular chamber that is positioned around the camera lens. These light channels and reflectors distribute the light emitted from the flash evenly around the lens.
There are ten options available that are designed for use with four flashguns: the Canon 580EX and 580EXII and Nikon SB-800 and SB-900 on a variety of camera combinations. You can also use one with a vast array of other similar sized guns and cameras. The key is the measurement from the centre of the lens to the centre of the flash tube. It needs to be either 160mm, 170mm, 175mm or 180mm.
We're testing the RAC160-2 which has a measurement of 160mm and is fine for our Nikon D700 and Sunpak PZ42X combination. The website says it has a weight of 462g, but our sample weighs 422g.
The unit comes with a couple of soft plastic wedges that can be inserted to pack the head into the receptor so it provides a firm grip when the pressure plate is tightened.
Ray Flash Adapter: Build and Handling
The adaptor is solidly built and much better than the lower priced Chinese copies that have emerged. It's quite bulky, but considering it's going to produce a ring flash output similar to studio units with none of the associated weight the bulk is worth carrying. The unit is sealed with a silver reflective plate on the back of the ring and clear plastic on the front. The head receptor has a rotating clamp with a pressure plate below. As you turn this the pressure plate closes in on the flash head to proved a solid grip/clamp.
It's easy to attach. Just slide the head into the receptor, add a wedge or two if needed and rotate the pressure plate lock to clamp it into place.
Although relatively light for the size having this on a flash head is quite an addition, but it holds surprisingly well. If you have a flash with a macro down angle it may pull the head down. but you can use your left lens-supporting hand to balance the unit when hand-holding.
With our Nikon D700 and Sunpak PZ42X combination the ring tended to hang a bit lower so it wasn't uniform around the lens and needed a bit of support. In all fairness the head of the Sunpak flash is too small for the aperture, but we could still adapt and use it effectively.
The hole the lens pokes through is 103mm so should be fine for most of the lenses you're likely to use with this set up. The space when assembled was a bit tight to get a good hold of the lens's zoom ring but we managed.
Ray Flash Adapter: Performance
On the fourth go while attaching the adaptor to the head I rotated the pressure plate clamp too far and it made a broken sounding clunk noise and the knob sunk into the chamber. It still works but now easily sinks into the chamber. This seems a bit poor in design and should have a restriction point.
That aside it fits the head well and delivers a good ringflash style effect that provides a larger shadow than the small macro flashes and more akin with the large professional studio heads.
|A before and after shot of a vase of
sunflowers close to a wallpaper
background. Notice the harsh
shadow underneath on the shot where
the Ray Flash hasn't been used.
|A close up still life shot of a pear against a dark wood background. The flash was set to -1.5 exposure compensation. Notice the typical ringflash shadow and also that its even front lighting has also illuminated the edge of the shelf too.
I used a flash meter to measure the exposure reduction at a distance of 2.6m. The unit reduced the exposure by just 2.5 stops which is good considering the path the flash has to take to output. This effectively makes our flash, with its guide number of 42 (ISO 100/m), around 16, but that's still better than the macro flash guns that typically have a guide number of between 8 and 14 depending on product. And you have the advantage of a larger circle for fashion photography.
What's really good is the unit can be used with TTL flash systems that will automatically take care of the exposure reduction. In TTL mode I found the exposure balance spot on with most subjects. On close up portraits the light was too bright so I added a -1 stop flash compensation and the results were more interesting. The tube could be better diffused, studio units have softer covers. I improvised by cutting out a hole in a sheet of thick diffused plastic sourced from the front of an A4 wallet and taped that on. A bit Heath Robinson, but worth the shabby look.
I was expecting the large circle of flash to be uncomfortable for the model, and almost blinding It's surprisingly gentle so you don't get bad after flash blind spots. I normally suffer from flash afterglow, but this didn't hurt at all.
The result of using the Ray Flash Adaptor on eyes at a distance of 1.2m, as you can see here, is a slightly larger ring style catchlight.
|A plain wall photographed from 2.5 meters
with a focal length of around 50mm The
bare flash shot has some uneven illumination
at the base.
|The Ray Flash version is a more even shot with just a small amount of overall vignetting. This won't be seen on a shot with tones into the edge of the frame.
|A small glass ornament about a meter from
a plain wall. It has no side shadows but the
rear shadow from our hot shoe mounted
flash is almost a solid lump behind the legs.
|With the Ray Flash Adaptor in place we get an interesting pair of side shadows and no harsh black blob. The ringflash catchlights in the glass are a little more distracting though.
Despite Ray Flash site saying "The fact that the lens is not central is only a cosmetic issue, but technically makes no difference to the light output or quality." I'd dispute this. When the unit isn't central the characteristic outline shadow you get is also uncentral, so it's worth making sure you have the ring evenly positioned.
Ray Flash Adapter: Verdict
The Ray flash Adaptor offers a low cost alternative to a studio unit for those who've already invested in on-camera Speedlites and similar. It's really easy to use and provides a much better output than the macro flashes that are a similar price. If you want to create a ringflash style lighting this is recommended. The light is direct and evenly distributed, giving much better shadows than the light coming direct from a hot-shoe mounted unit. Be prepared for manual focusing in low light as the flash assist beam is blocked.
In this comparison taken about 1.5meters away from the flash the shadow from the shot without the adaptor is large and distracting and the brightness on the mask is harsh. The Ray Flash version is far more pleasing.
Ray Flash Adapter: Pros
Large ring illumination
Neutral colour balance
Ray Flash Adapter: Cons
Clamp quite flimsey
AF focus assist blocked
Ray Flash Adapter: Specifications
||Inner: 103mm Outer: 175mm Height: 160mm - 180mm (depends on model of camera)
The Ray Flash costs around £149 and is available from WarehouseExpress here: Ray Flash Adaptor for Nikon SB-800