Mmmm! Donuts. A review of the coco ring flash
Yes, donuts are man's best friend as Homer Simpson phrased it, but donuts may not be what you want when it comes to photography. If you are not mindful of what you are doing with the new Coco ring flash (where did they come up with that name?), this may be what you are ending up with. Not the regular, sugar-coated kind that Homer Simpson reveres, but rather donut-shaped catch lights in your subject's eyes. This classic, fashion photography look is just one of the characteristics that the ring flash can produce. Knowing when the characteristics can show up is key to getting the look you want.
What is the Coco ring flash?
The coco ring flash is an adapter you slide onto your flashgun. It is built specifically to fit on the flashgun mounted on the camera with whatever lens you have on the camera sticking through the hole in the ring flash. Even my biggest lens, the Nikkor 17-55mm f2.8 easily fits in the adapter with room to spare. With the flash and adapter mounted on your camera, it grows a bit in size but is still manageable and steady. Just be warned that you will get a lot of 'what is that thing'-questions.
Those darn donuts
Traditionally you will shoot with the ring flash with the flash attached to your camera for ease of use and freeing up both hands for setting your camera and lens. If you shoot this way and are relatively close -- roughly within half a meter -- you can end up with the characteristic donut-shaped reflections in your subject's eyes mostly seen in fashion photography. Now this may be what you are looking for, but it doesnt' always work as I discovered when photographing a couple of 'rowdy' boys. The 'flashy' catch light tend to work better with women, especially if you are mimicking a fashion shoot look. Oh! and one more thing. If you are into droplet macro shots or just macro photography with wet subjects, such as water on a leaf etc., you will also get circular reflections in the droplet/water. Quite odd and unnatural looking so be aware of that.
Used on camera with plenty of light around, the direct light from the ring flash can produce very flat, unflattering light washing away most of the contours and contrast of your subject. Taking away the 'pop' of the image. In these cases, take the ring flash off camera and fire it remotely from the side or above of the subject (such as the baby shots below), and you will have a much more interesting shot being able to play with how the soft shadows fall. On the other hand if you are shooting with the ring flash on camera with very little available light, the straight-on lighting really helps separate the subject in the foreground from the darker background producing a nice, 'popping' image.
Where did the shadow go?
The ability to produce a nice, soft edged wrap-around shadow is another positive effect of the ring flash, and it really becomes apparent if you shoot up against a wall. What a difference compared to a 'naked' flash. The wrap-around shadow really shines in close-up portrait photography and macro photography where you are you want a smooth surface with minimal shadows. But you still have to be careful not to loose too much of the contours and contrast in your image.
Beam me up Scotty
Without getting too technical, your flash will need some extra juice to properly expose the images using the ring flash. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense since the flash has no way of knowing the ring flash is there and consequently cannot compensate for the light loss introduced by the adapter. A good work-around is to set the flash to TTL (through-the-lens) metering and then dial in +0.3-1 stop of extra flash power depending om the amount of available light. That usually did the trick.
And you just gotta love that light.
All shots with the Nikon D300 and a mix of Nikkor lenses: 50mm f1.4 G, 17-55mm f2.8 and 105mm f.8 VR. The Coco ring flash is available at the moment only for the Canon 580 EXii and Nikon SB900 flash. The fit is loose, but with some additional Velcro tape (that is there for my portable soft box) it feels a lot more secure. The ring flash is clearly cheaply produced, but it is very competitively priced @ $60 USD versus the more expensive cousins, the Orbis ($169 USD) and Ray Flash ($200 USD). Despite the relatively cheap price tag, the ring flash is fairly sturdy and has now months of shooting in various locations. You can buy the Coco ring flash at amazon.com.
Are you looking for a new lens?
What a coincidence. The startup I co-founded has just released the first beta version of a new lens finder. Simply head over to www.findthatlens.com to find all the compatible lenses for your camera. Let's go.
- 85mm f1.4
- San Francisco
- shutter speed