Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews Workflow

Ray Flash: The Ring Flash Adapter

Ray Flash, a portable ring light for your Canon or Nikon DSLR camera system

Tonight I was making whipped cream for my wife’s dessert. It brought back fond memories of my mother making whipped cream, usually at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I almost always got to lick a beater from the mixer. That was worth running from anywhere in the house – getting a beater with the thick, sweet whipped cream on it. Ah, those were the days. That is, until now.

A few weeks ago I got a box in the mail… the box was bigger than the hand mixer my mother used, but what it contained was sweeter than whipped cream. It was the Ray Flash attachment for my Nikon SB-800 flash unit, designed to transform an ordinary flash into a ring flash. This model was specifically for my D2X or D3, although it would also work on my old D1X. Ha… Christmas came early this year. And, I didn’t have to fight my brother for it.

Ring flash has an almost mystical following in the fashion and photography world. Ring lights are generally expensive, heavy, dedicated units that fit one manufacturer’s brand of flash pack. They can be very cumbersome to use hand-held. Oh, but that light… the wrap-around quality of shadow-less light is hard to create with any other equipment. The light produces a crisp catch-light in the model’s eye, with very even illumination and quick falloff.  The light that you can now, with your existing equipment, mount on your Nikon or Canon camera!

Imagine if you will a ring light that mounts directly to your camera mounted flash unit, and redirects the light into a perfect circle of light surrounding your lens.  Now imagine that it works totally TTL (through the lens metering with your camera’s exposure system)… finally imagine that it only costs about $300, not closer to $1,000 or more. OK, quit dreaming… it is here, in a real product that you can use now.

Let’s look at what you get in the box. First, you find the ring flash itself, with a head specifically designed for your model of flash (Nikon SB-800 or Canon 580EX). The ring slides on over the lens and the head cover slides onto the head of your flash and with a quick twist of a knob on top, locks securely to your flash. Second you will find a small Ziploc bag of shims… the shims are provided for the head if your flash head tends to droop under the weight. Finally, a short instruction manual. Do you need the manual? Probably not, but it is nice to have.

So far I have shot with two lenses, the Nikkor 24-120 AF VR and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF. I shot the 24-120 without the lens hood, as it stuck a couple of inches in front of the ring light. I kept the lens hood on the 50mm, as it was much shorter. Here is what I found… first, on the 24-120, it isn’t easy to zoom… the zoom ring is pretty close to the body of the ring light. It is possible with nimble fingers, and I think it could be learned with a little practice. The 50mm had no such problems. I think an ideal lens is my 85mm f/1.8, although I have currently loaned it out to a friend.

So, what do I like about the Ray Flash? Well, for what you are getting, it is relatively lightweight. It stays easily mounted to the camera, and doesn’t get in the way of the camera straps or camera controls with a couple of exceptions… the controls that are a little blocked are the mirror lockup, autofocus mode selector switch, and lens mount button. With the 50mm, I could simply swing the whole assembly carefully up and make needed adjustments, but the 24-120 wasn’t quite as easy. All the exposures are TTL reliable, with all your adjustments being easily controlled from the back of the flash. You do have to use either TTL or manual flash modes, as the Auto mode won’t work… the photo receptor on the front of the flash body is blocked by the Ray Flash. I can’t remember the last time that I used Auto mode on a flash… probably more than 10 years at least. Want to turn vertical from horizontal? Well this is complicated… just turn the camera. Ha. No more rotating the head of the flash – it’s round!
Teen model Lindsay photographed with Nikon D3 with SB-800 and diffusion dome… note the telltale shadow on the wall. Surely we can do better for such a pretty girl.


Same location but photographed after removing the diffusion dome and installing the Ray Flash ring light on the SB-800.

I found several nice uses for the Ray Flash. First and most obvious, I had to find a pretty young lady to photograph for my testing. Lindsay was as easy to work with as the Ray Flash. First we did a test shot with my normal flash arrangement (turning the camera to portrait mode and rotating the SB-800 flash head to match). This usually works well, but if you have a wall or other object fairly close to the back of your subject, you will normally get a rather objectionable shadow on the side of your subject. Next I installed the Ray Flash, and shot the same photo – presto, magico… the shadow went away, and Lindsay’s face was beautifully and evenly illuminated. We shot at a couple of locations, both in open shade and then the lowering gloom of a late fall post-sunset evening. The shots turned out great. I played with the adjustment on the flash to get the illumination level correct with the changing ambient light.

Lindsay posing about four feet from the turquoise garage door… this shot was in open shade just as the sun was going down.

Did somebody say wireless? Commander Ray, front and center! Yes, the Ray Flash works with the Nikon wireless TTL system – program your other SB wireless compatible lights as slaves, set the one on your camera as master, and prepare to make some really funky cool photos. As long as the photo eyes on the side of the slaves can see the ring flash go off, you should be in business.

Lindsay posing about four feet from the turquoise garage door- this shot was in open shade just as the sun was going down.

Another nice use is fill flash on close-up subjects, like flowers. I even did a shot of a couple of my trusty, if dusty, F2 to see what it looked like – worked just fine. I set up a second SB-800 as a background light to make it interesting.

Until I looked at this shot in Photoshop’s Camera Raw  module, I had not realized how really dusty my trusty  F2 camera is. Another use for the RayFlash is shooting  quick photo illustrations like this one to use for online  auctions. This was shot with the RayFlash mounted on  my SB-800 plus 1-2/3 stops with a Nikkor 60mm  Micro lens. In the full-sized version of this photo you  can see every glorious scratch and dent of this 1972  camera.

Ok Britt, you say, there has to be some kind of downside, some trade off with the Ray Flash. Well, there is – the Ray Flash is only as powerful as the flash you mount it on.  An SB-800 has a guide number high enough to be very useful, but you do lose some light in the Ray Flash. On the D3, that is not a big deal – just go up from ISO 200 to ISO 400 and shoot away.  (I found my best results for portraits were shots done within about 8 to 10 feet of the subject. For exact information, refer to chart on the Ray Flash page at  HYPERLINK "" It is somewhat bulky, and does block some camera controls, but no more than any other ring flash I have seen short of the small macro photo ring flashes that Nikon makes. And to be fair, the $300 price is a little steep for some people, but let’s be completely fair and say that the ring light attachment for my studio strobes costs about $1,400 and you have to lug a $3,000 pack with you that weighs 25 pounds. Oh, don’t forget that you have to have AC power or an expensive battery pack unit to actually use it. Is the studio strobe ring flash more powerful? Absolutely. Is it more convenient for fast-moving location work? Not a chance.
This shot is cropped to show the catch light in Lindsay's eye from the Ray Flash ring light. This is typical, although it seems that the further the subject is from the flash, the less defined the dark spot in the center of the catch light is. Love those freckles!

The bottom line is, if you shoot Nikon or Canon DSLR’s and want ring flash capability out in the real world, get a Ray Flash.

Oh, yeah… after I made the whipped cream, I got both beaters. What a day – playing with the Ray Flash and getting the beaters. Gotta e-mail my brother. He he he…

Ray Flash is imported to the United States by ExpoImaging, the same folks who bring us the ExpoDisc. It is available from select photo dealers or directly from ExpoImaging at or 1-800-446-5086. ExpoImaging stands behind their products and offers free telephone technical support from 9am to 5pm Pacific Time Monday through Friday.

Digital Lifestyles Photography

Photographing Bears- Summer 2008

We are in Katmai National Park, a road-less area.  Hallo Bay is one of a number of bays on the Alaskan Peninsula, a special protected place for bears, a place to live in harmony with bears. These bears are coastal brown bears, grizzly bears, Ursus arctos.  They occur in very high densities in Katmai NP due to good habitat, plentiful salmon, and lack of competing human activities.  During the clean up after the EXXON Valdez oil spill it was realized that these bears became tolerant of the humans cleaning the beaches.  The bears were tolerant of humans in much the same way as they tolerate one another while fishing a plentiful food supply such as spawning salmon.  This is how bear viewing, living on a boat that moves from bay to bay, began.

These pictures were taken with a Canon 30D w/ 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens and 2X extender.  At times the bears may pass quite close just to check us out.  Sometimes all that is in the viewfinder is bear hair; sometimes you just have to do the details.  The bears are doing whatever they want including grazing on special sedges that grow here due to the nutrient richness provided by the Hallo Glacier, digging for razor clams, fishing or napping.  The salmon are just beginning to arrive in late July.

The weather can be cold, windy and rainy.  The seas can be rough.  It is glorious when the sun shines giving views of surrounding mountains and glaciers.  I am flown from Kodiak, 2 days delayed due to weather, out to the boat on a Dehavilland Beaver floatplane (1+hour). For 4 days I live on the R/V Kittiwake, a retired crab fishing vessel.  The Captain takes us towards shore in a skiff until it is shallow enough to get out and wade through the surf in hip boots.

We view from a distance for a time, 1-2-3 hours.  In the Katmai NP there are bear viewing ethics that basically say if your viewing activities cause the bears to change their behavior, change your behavior.  The bears rule here.  We are in a tight group of maybe 6 to 9 people, not sneaking up on them, respecting their space. No guns are carried. Our guide/naturalist is very aware of bear communication, visual cues that indicate the level of comfort or discomfort a particular bear may be feeling.  Sitting down is an easy way for us to put an approaching bear at ease with our group’s presence.  Should there be a need to discourage a bear’s approach, human words are used first, with pepper spray and hand held flares ready.  Careful attention to bear communication is a more successful way to avoid confrontation.

This mother and her 1.5-year-old cub are grazing in the rich sedge, kind of like a really good spinach salad.  She is noted as one of the best fishermen and passes this skill onto her male cub.  This is my third year of viewing her. The second year I saw this same mother with her then 2.5-year-old cub, a lanky spoiled teenage boy.  This third summer he may still be with his mom, still learning all that he must know to be an adult male bear in the real world.

The fishing twin moves around the bay at low tide, deciding to come by us for a closer look, passing very close – remember bear hair – then off to fishing with her sibling.  I love the opportunity to view the bottom of her beautiful hind foot.  And all that is left in the sand bar is her footprints and the memory of the special encounter.

We turn a corner and see this sleeping bear, stop and let her know we are here with human words “Hey bear, hey bear”.  She lifts her head as if to ask if we had heard a weather forecast, hoping for some relief from the drizzling rain.  She looks around, returns to sleep covering her eyes, moves through dog/cat like stretches, rises in a series of yoga poses – her sunsalutation, and then walks off for some lunch perhaps.

Imagine we are babysitters for a mother bear with 6-month-old triplets.  She spends the afternoon grazing in our proximity, allowing us to view them uninterrupted for a couple of hours. Perhaps she thinks the trouble-making males will stay away since we are there.  The cubs romp back and forth, each as if on a rubber band attached to their mother.  One cub is definitely more adventurous than the other two, getting out of sight, being called back with motherly grunts.  The cubs are curious about us, beginning to learn that there is a point that is too close to approach humans, an important lesson if they are going to coexist without problems later in their lives.

This is a special place for bears; this is a place where bears can be bears without being hunted; this is a place where humans can appreciate a glimpse into the lives of the coastal brown bears of the Katmai coast.

Possible next installments:  Paws/Claws & Teddy Bear Ears, Baby food, Fishing Lesson, Fish Stealing, Dancing Bears, Dominant Males & Rules of Dating, Alaska Landscapes?

Commerce Digital Lifestyles Hardware Photography Workflow

The Nikon D3

I was always an F kind of guy. My first Nikon pro camera was the original F – a 1971 black body FTN. It supplemented my FM2 and I had it until just a couple of years ago when I sold it to a close friend, who bought it with the understanding that I might occasionally need to fondle it… call it conjugal visits.

A few years later I found a really nice F2 that I still have… I skipped the F3 and F4 entirely

Digital Lifestyles Photography


When I studied traditional photography over twenty years ago I did not see how much the art would shift for me in the way I executed it and what it meant for me.   I believed like many of us that the silver halide was a thing of exacting beauty that could never be replaced.