Cheap Ring Lights for Portraits

Profoto's Acute D4 Ring Flash.  Awesome in many ways but does not quality as inexpensive 

Profoto's Acute D4 Ring Flash.  Awesome in many ways but does not quality as inexpensive 

A client asked if he could use his macro ring light for portraits outdoors.  It's a somewhat common question for folks who have spent good money on a macro ring light seeking to get more out of it.  In controlled indoor conditions, it can work, but the limited power of most macro ring lights necessitates very close proximity to the subject and you lose some of the look that way.  So how do we deliver the ring flash look whether indoors or outdoors and make it work?

I have shot with a professional studio ring light, in fact a couple of them.  They cost thousands of dollars and still need a separate power pack.  I've used units from both Profoto and from Broncolor and the look is exactly what you expect.  I personally cannot justify the investment for my use cases based on the long time it would take to make the unit pay for itself.

Broncolor Ringflash C.  Also awesome.  Also not cheap

Broncolor Ringflash C.  Also awesome.  Also not cheap

So the cost therein moves them out of the game unless you have a big studio.

The best option that I have discovered in a proper ring light comes from Paul C Buff.  Many people think that I hate Buff products.  It's not true.  Yes one did set itself ablaze in a friend's home in Utah, but as I do commercial work in Canada and as no Buff products are CSA approved, I cannot afford the complete invalidation of insurance and potential negligence charges for using the gear here.  

For anyone where the US electrical approval is ok, Buff provide decent quality at aggressive pricing.  And in some cases, they are the only reasonably affordable route to pro style gear at part time imager pricing.

If that sounds like you, have a look at the Buff ABR800.  It's a 320ws unit that is AC powered and looks pretty decent.  It's well priced as well.  I cannot comment on real world use, because I have not used on in the real world.


But what do we do if we want the ring flash look, without the ring flash price?  One option worth looking at is the original Roundflash from Krakow Poland.  The company makes speedlite modifiers and the quality and reputation is superb.  They are available worldwide with B&H being one of their larger distributors.


The Roundflash mounts to the lens and has a hole for the speed light.  The good news about this is that the internal arrangement produces a very nicely distributed light.  Unfortunately for the company, the unit has been cloned a lot and there a number of less expensive, and frankly less functional units out there.  I first tried one of the clones and it was, how do you say, dog poop.  The original is far superior.

There are other options, such as the Orbis (never tried one) and the Rayflash (tried it, seriously underwhelmed on what it does for the cost involved)

Whatever route you go, whether cheap or super expensive, remember that the look of a ring flash is very specific, and because of the nature of the light, does not offer you buckets of flexibility.  It's kind of a one trick pony, but if that trick really works for you, have at it.

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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, and until next time, peace.