A few months ago when I saw Canon was releasing a new version of their ring flash I called the guys at Allen’s Camera and asked them to get me the first one that came through the door. I have been eagerly waiting for them to become available. Last week they called to say the first few had come in and I ran over to pick mine up.
Since last week I have shot with it a few times. I have worked with the previous version in the past but recently I have been using an LED ring light when I needed the extra light. After using this flash for a few days I have been impressed with how well it is performing. I want to share an initial review thus far. I will follow up with another after I have really put the unit through its paces.
The flash has two tubes, one positioned on either side of the lens. Additionally there are 2 LED-modeling lights to help with focusing, one on the top and one on the bottom. Four AA batteries provide power. A screen and controls on the back allow you to adjust your settings. You can also connect an external battery power pack to increase the power recycle time.
For this image the flash was set to a 4:1 power ratio. The 4 was on the left side of the image. With monochromatic images like the one above it is a challenge to not have the different parts of the image all bleed together. By making the left side more intense than the right it give the image a better feel. Additionally the wrap around lighting of the flash gives separation in the center of the flower.
One of my favorite features is the ability to adjust the 2 flash tubes independently of each other. They can be set between 1:1 and 8:1, meaning one side can put out as much as 8 times more power than the other. This gives you the ability to create modeling in your image with one side being more brightly exposed than the other or you can better match the direction of ambient light already present in your image.
With the Sunlight coming in from the right front of the image the Canon MR-14EX II provide the ability to add light to the left and rear portions. The power ratio was set to 4:1 favoring the left side of the image.
The control panel is well laid out and makes it easy to quickly adjust the power ratio while shooting. It is changed with the push of a single button and rolling the scroll wheel. It is equally quick to change the flash exposure compensation, another very useful feature, which allows you to have the flash over or under expose compared to the camera settings. The function is changed with the push of one of two buttons and then moving the scroll wheel as well. These are the two settings I change most frequently while shooting with a ring flash. Canon has done a great job allowing the photographer to manipulate them while shooting thus preserving your flow while working.
One of the advantages gained from using a ring flash is richer color in shaded subjects. The two-flashtube design helps to cancel out shadows from the other side giving an even light when the power ratio is set at 1:1. Even when you have the power ratio adjusted there is a nice quality to the light without creating unwanted shadows. When using the TTL function on flashes some will do a better job than other. Whites especially can cause the flash to over expose the image, thus blowing out the highlights.
To see how the flash would handle this situation I took the two photos below. The first was taken of a shaded white flower with ambient light and the second is of the same flower with the flash on TTL. The flashed image has nice color while preserving good detail and not over exposing the whites. The white is not over powering and there is great detail throughout the petals. Neither of these images have been altered.
The flash helps to bring out the color in the white while providing some depth and intensity compared to the non flash image. The flash does not over expose or blow out the highlights in the subject. Shot while the power ration at 1:1 in TTL mode. No photo editing applied.
Overall the insect activity here in South Eastern PA has been light this year so far. I did find this on guy to shoot while having one of my sons hold the stick he was on in a shaded area. The flash did a good job of keeping up with cycling while shooting 4 or 5 frames with the motor drive. With fresh batteries it fired every time. I did not have the external bower supply hooked up. I would recommend using it when using the flash heavily, forgot to bring mine out on the heavy day of shooting.
Besides doing a great job keeping up with motor drive shooting, when working with insects the flash provided the ability to really bring out the detail in a dark colored subject while in a shaded environment. The ability to work effectively in shaded areas opens up a lot more places to shoot.
Thus far I am pleased with the performance of the flash. I look forward to testing out the TTL system further under a wide array of conditions and environments. If early indications are indicative of the rest of the time I use this flash it will have a permanent home in the macro kit. I will report back again in a few months with another review after some heavy use.