We get asked a lot what kind of cameras and equipment we use to take photos of products that we review on the site, so we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to show you the type of setup we use to get some of the shots you see around Gadgetmac. One of the most important pieces of gear is the flash, or an equivalent continuous light source of course. Good lighting is key when it comes to photography, but there are a few ways you can go about using lighting in your photographic endeavors. One of them calls for using a ring light. Beloved for its stylish catchlight and fashion lighting effects, a ring light's purpose is also to evenly light up a subject whilst eliminating or reducing shadows around it as much as possible. There's one problem though and that's the price. Ring lights or flashes are very expensive, and if you're just getting into photography, we think we've found the next best thing.
RoundFlash is the latest and one-of-a-kind ringflash diffuser that mounts onto your DSRL camera while using your external flash as its light source creating a powerfully convenient all-in-one, lightweight handheld ring flash setup at a fraction of the cost. What's even more amazing is that the RoundFlash can fold into a compact piece of kit for portable carry and storage. Want to know more? Our full review awaits your stunned eyes down below!
At first glance, what looks like pouch stuffed with headphones is actually how the RoundFlash Magnetic Black (the most current RF version) gets to you already packaged inside its durable protective carry pouch. And as you can tell, it's impossibly compact when folded down to its storage form. You can easily fit it into your camera bag if you have enough space for another camera body. As photography gear tends to cost, the RoundFlash while not extremely overpriced, it somewhat expensive given that it's basically just a smallish softbox. At $145 a pop, the RoundFlash does get marks for having a high quality feel to its materials and construction. RoundFlash is a small company that produces its product in its home turf, Poland. Not mass producing somewhere in Asia does have benefits, and when you get your hands on the RoundFlash you'll notice it straight away.
What makes the RoundFlash Magnetic Black an ideal flash diffuser is that its innovative collapsible design allows you to easily carry it along with you everywhere you go, and setting it up is literally a matter of seconds compared to "true" light rings that need external power and require stands to be propped up. Whereas this actually mounts directly over your camera lens and flash giving you a versatile freedom to move anywhere you'd like with no cables attached or heavy gear to carry around. The RoundFlash combines both a softbox design with a round ring diffuser that properly distributed the light coming our of your flash in a 360-degree angle in order to light your subject with soft, even light across the center point. Of course, when using a ring flash your photos will be subjected to vignetting around the corners and edges depending on where you shoot; but it can also be seen as a desired effect in most cases.
A very basic instructional tag tells you how to set up the RoundFlash with your camera as well as how to fold it back to store it in its protective storage pouch. Scanning the QR code will direct you to a YouTube video showing you exactly how to erect and collapse the RoundFlash. But it's straightforward and so easy that without even thinking you'll know what needs to be done.
Much like a round light reflector, the RoundFlash will spring into its original circular shape when unfolded. But as you can tell, it still remains as flat as a pancake.
To erect the RoundFlash to its final rounded softbox shape, you then pull the edges out all while the 5 magnetic metal suspension rods automatically extend and lock into place in order to support the RoundFlash's exterior rim. These rods split in half as they collapse and feature both a stretchable cord inside along with strong magnets that help keep them in position when magnetically clicked into place and allow for effortless setup and deconstruction with just a pull or a tap.
The finished result looks a little like a snare drum with a hole in the middle. The RoundFlash's softbox structure is amazingly sturdy with a tightly stretched white diffusing ring panel all thanks to its interior metal rings and the 5 external magnetic support rods.
With a star-shaped stretch cord mounting system, the RoundFlash can be easily slipped onto your camera's lens while the cord stopper prevents the mount from getting lose around the lens and secures the shape tightly around it.
With this type of mount, you can use virtually any lens with the RoundFlash. Even small prime lenses like the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and 40mm f/2.8 fit and work flawlessly with the RoundFlash even though they're greatly recessed within the RoundFlash's deep lens mount creating by its softbox shape. Just to be clear, unless you're using a long telephoto lens, the lens will not poke out the opposite end of the RoundFlash and that's perfectly okay.
The company does note however that some wide angle lenses will show vignetting. Furthermore, RoundFlash will work with any DSLR camera body. As you can see, the RoundFlash's lens opening spreads gradually outwards in order to prevent unwanted lens vignetting and from our experience it has worked phenomenally well in doing just that when using a small 35mm fixed focal lens. Although we haven't tried any wide angle lenses, we can confirm that normal 18mm focal lengths show no vignetting as well.
Lastly, the flash is inserted into the universal flash mount which is secured with a Velcro strap. This part is the more important part in keeping the RoundFlash performing as it should. And because there are various flash sizes, the RoundFlash features a Velcro adjustment piece underneath the strap that lets you adjust the vertical size of the flash opening. It's also recommended that you set your flash zoom to 85mm to best fill the ring with optimal light.
The finished kit looks a little like this. We've got a Nikon D7100 body with a Nikkor 40mm f/2.8 macro lens and a SB-600/700 Speedlight flash attached and the whole RoundFlash setup is maneuverable and easy to hold without you arm getting tired. It would seem as if there really isn't any place to grip your camera body when it fact there is just enough as the whole unit moves on the lens to provide you with just the right amount of hand space. And again, the build quality and structure of the RoundFlash is really solid that it can support the full weight of the camera body, lens and flash atop of it when you want to set your camera off to the side instead of putting it back onto a tripod. And if you happen to be using a battery grip on your camera body that wouldn't be an issue for the RoundFlash either as it supports full frame professional bodies as well.
What it really looks like if you were to be shot with a RoundFlash...it's fun.
One desired lighting effect that comes with using a ring flash is the bright circle-shaped catchlight that occurs in people's eyes which makes for a really awesome looking reflection effect when shooting portraits and even inanimate objects with reflective, glossy surfaces.
Next we tested the RoundFlash to shoot a miniature guitar object with a shiny surface finish. The result is outstanding, little to no shadows and an evenly lit center when close up. Of course there's that vignetting we mentioned earlier.
We compared the RoundFlash against what we typically always use to diffuse the flash we use, a cheap and small Fotodiox softbox flash adapter - the hexagonal kind if you really must know. But as you can see, the result is very different when shot up close. Light has more of a hotspot towards the top and isn't as even around the object compared to the RoundFlash result. Then again, some might even like this lighting effect more.
We also tried bouncing the flash using the Fotodiox diffuser and that definitely lead to a much more even lighting, but it looks more boring, flat and full compared to what we got out of the RoundFlash.
And again the results repeat themselves when shooting in macro mode. The RoundFlash provides a much softer, even light across the subject whereas using a flash with a normal diffuser softbox still outputs harsher lighting that again, some may prefer to the RoundFlash as it introduces more shadow and depth effects in comparison.
As great as it may be, there are some drawbacks to the RoundFlash. Not only is it bulky yet manageably so, it restricts tripod movement in that you won't be able to tilt your camera down beyond a vertical orientation. And then there's the stretch cord lens mount system that blocks access to your lens' manual zoom and focus ring when mounted.
Also, the fact that when you're using the RoundFlash, it essentially reduces your flash's power by a full stop. Now that can of course be adjusted, but it means that at full power, your flash will have a stop less of light output. I wouldn't call this a negative because you are gaining much from using your flash as a light source to power this huge ring diffuser, but it is something you should keep in mind - especially when you're working with a basic flash outdoors.
Most annoyingly of all, the Velcro strap used to secure the flash inside the mount doesn't seem to have enough grip and slips apart more times than we would cay is acceptable. Even tightening the strap to its most snug fit, the smooth surface of the plastic flash is almost like holding a bar of soap. Of course if you insist on fixing this issue all by yourself, you could devise a more secure strap of your own to ensure the flash stays in its place. But we're a bit disappointed with the fact consider we have the latest RoundFlash Magnetic Black model which supposedly fixed other issues since its inception. Because the whole unit is designed to move around as a handheld kit, it's a lot easier for the flash mount to lose its grip using the Velcro strap. We found that nearly each time we would shoot at a birds eye view, the flash would slip away the most.
As much as we like the RoundFlash Magnetic Black, it comes with a balanced share of drawbacks we think should have already been addressed in this latest version. One can use a similar on-flash softbox diffuser such as the Fotodiox as a much cheaper alternative and get away with some incredible results and lighting effects. But when it comes to ring flashes, the RoundFlash is still one of the best pieces of kit you can get for no more than $150. It's well built, sturdy, highly portable and really easy to shoot with handheld while leaving behind your tripod. It's also worth noting that as a ring light the RoundFlash creates strong vignetting in low-light conditions or in total darkness, and that some angles are completely unflattering when shot directly with the RoundFlash as the light seems very harsh and hot, whereas a regular bounce of flash would have looked superior. Definitely don't expect to be using the RoundFlash for every photo you'll take as it isn't suitable nor ideal for day-to-day normal photography.
You should ask yourself whether you could benefit from using a ring flash in the type of photography you usually work with or even if you're looking to try new things. Something like the RoundFlash hasn't been done before, it's really impressive but it's not perfect. Prepare to use Velcro stickers on your flash, be restricted to using auto focusing and simply having a difficult time adjusting your zoom. $145 seems like a good price considering it's the cheapest softbox ring flash diffuser out there. Scratch that, it's a one-of-a-kind. If you're shooting macro photography, up close portraiture and small objects and want to achieve a high-key, shadow-less flash lighting effect, you might want to consider trying out the RoundFlash Magnetic Black. If you'd rather not wait until your RoundFlash ships from Poland, you can grab one over at B&H Photo for $139.