Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coco Ring Flash - First Impressions


A few weeks ago, after much deliberation, I finally decided to get a ring flash adapter.  My purpose was to use it as on-axis fill, much like how David Hobby often uses a ring flash adapter.  Here are my impressions from having used it briefly.

OPTIONS
David uses the Ray Flash and the Orbis, both of which are around $200 each (see his comparison here).  I unfortunately don't have the budget for that.  Instead I got what seems to be a knockoff of the Ray Flash, the Coco Ring Flash.  There are other cheap ring flash adapters such as the Cowboystudio Ring Flash and the Saturn Ring Flash.  What made me pick the Coco was that I was skeptical of the light quality from the horseshoe-shaped CowboyStudio Ring Flash.  Between the Coco and Saturn, they looked pretty similar and the Coco was significantly cheaper, so that's what I got.

BUILD QUALITY / DROP TEST:
I had really low expectations for build quality based on the Amazon reviews.  However, it wasn't as bad as I feared.  It's probably not very sturdy but it's not as fragile as an egg or ready to fall apart.  In fact, I dropped mine by accident from a height of about 3 feet (it got knocked off) onto a hardwood floor and it survived with only a tiny crack on one corner.  It still works ok.

The construction would not be mistaken for DIY.  However, the build isn't very polished.  It looks like it was hastily assembled, because of extra glue around some bits.  However, from a functional point of view, I don't have any complaints about it, and I think it's not overpriced.

FIT ON SB-800 AND SB-600:
There actually isn't a Coco flash available for the SB-800 and SB-600.  They only have units for the SB-900, the Canon 580EXII, and the Sony HVL-F58AM.  (On the other hand, there is a Ray Flash specifically for the SB-800).

Not surprisingly, this SB-900-sized Coco adapter was much too large for an SB-800 or SB-600.  However, the packaging came with a very thick and dense rubber foam to prevent the Coco from moving around during shipment, and the thickness of the foam was just right to fill the gap between the adapter and the SB-800's head.  It also fits on the SB-600, albeit with a slightly less snug fit.  I cut up the foam to about the size of the top of the SB-800's head.  There's also a knob on top that pushes a plate down but it doesn't have enough thickness to substitute for the rubber foam.

To further secure the adapter to my flash units, I taped some velcro on the inside of the adapter:

When I use the adapter, I first mount the flash on camera, insert the adapter over the flash head (each of my flashes have velcro around them), then I insert the rubber foam to hold the adapter securely:

The process is a bit cumbersome, but once inserted this way, the ring flash won't move unless you really try.

BTW, the shot at the top of this post is with the Coco mounted on an SB-600 and a D300.  It's a little off-center.  With the Coco mounted on an SB-800 and the D300, the Coco is close to centered.

LIGHT LOSS:
I don't have a flash meter, so I can only estimate the light loss. I fired bare flash and then fired the flash with the ring flash inserted, then compared the apertures that yielded similar histograms.  Using this protocol, it seems that the ring flash eats up about 3 1/3 or 3 2/3 stops of light compared to bare flash.

PERFORMANCE - PORTRAIT
My main purpose for this ring flash is for photos of people.  Here are some test shots showing the effect of this ring flash adapter on portrait-type shots.  These were just quick tests, so the flashes here are all on TTL.  These are also straight-out-of-camera with no adjustments, to give you a hopefully more accurate idea of what to expect in terms of diminished TTL accuracy.

SB-800 with Ring Flash only
Key light only (bare SB-600). No ring flash.
Bare SB-600 as key, SB-800 with Coco Ring Flash as fill/commander

PERFORMANCE - REAL WORLD
What I was most interested in was whether this ring flash would work as a good fill light option for real world shots.


In all of these photos, it isn't obvious to me that flash was used -- which is ideal, especially for fill light. 

PERFORMANCE - MACRO
By special request, I took macro shots with the Coco.  I'm not a macro shooter, and I don't know what macro shooters look for in terms of lighting.  I don't have a real macro lens but I do have a Nikon 28-105 which goes up to 1:2.  Anyway I took these test shots - again, SOOC with no editing whatsoever.  Please click on them to get higher resolution 1600px versions (remember to click on the "+" to zoom in if necessary).


This plant was swaying in the breeze, so it was hard to focus especially with no AF Assist.
Another plant/weed
 
Crop from the shot above.  Hopefully the spider web and tiny spider gives a clue as to the scale.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

Advantages:
  • Does provide near-shadowless on-axis fill.
  • Can be used to create a shadowy "aura" around the subject (in front of a wall).
  • TTL still works - somewhat.
  • Keeps both hands free.
Disadvantages:
  • Blocks the AF Assist Lamp
  • Uses up a lot of light.
  • Inconvenient to carry around.
  • Inconvenient to install on and remove from SB-800 and SB-600.
  • Not spouse-friendly.  My wife hates it more than she does the handheld umbrella, because to non-photographers, it looks like a sci-fi b-movie prop.
I plan to use this ring flash for those occasions when I want fill light, I don't need to keep my camera in the bag, and plan to use only one camera.  Meanwhile, I did test another modifier for on-axis fill that is even less expensive than this ring flash adapter - the Fotodiox 8x12 softbox.  Will post that review soon.