Paul C. Buff AlienBees ABR800 Ring Flash
The Paul C. Buff AlienBees ABR800 Ring Flash did for the ring flash segment what the first Canon Digital Rebel did for consumer DSLRs, it opened up the market with professional quality performance for a price even casuals could afford. What was once almost strictly in the domain of the upper-end professional fashion photographer became accessible to everyone. For the first time a hobbyist could get professional results for their portraiture using similar tools professionals had without taking on a second mortgage to pay for the privilege.
The AlienBees ABR800 packs 320w/s of power, which is significantly more than the most powerful speedlight. While that's not enough to overpower the sun (don't expect to go out on a sunny midday and have your way with the light) you can expect far more creative freedom than what a speedlight modified with a ring flash attachment will offer; in fact, this is a true and powerful ring flash for the price of a nice speedlight.
As a self-contained unit, the ABR800 can plug right into the wall for unlimited power. However, if you need to get mobile, and why wouldn't you want to, Paul C. Buff (PCB) offer a Vagabond lithium battery that pairs with the ABR800, making your ring flash setup all the more powerful and creative. The ABR800 even directly links into PCB's CyberSync system of remote triggers, allowing you to control the flash remotely if you so choose. The ABR800 is well built to last quite a while and replacement flash tubes are relatively inexpensive. All in all, this unit checks all the boxes for those who are just getting into ring flash photography and seasoned professionals looking to broaden their artistic options.
Profoto is a Swedish company known for their exceptional, quality-first products relied upon by countless professionals the world over. If you want to impress the art director, show up with Profoto lights as your clients will know immediately you mean business.
Keeping in line with the quality of Profoto products, the Acute/D4 Ring Flash is a powerful, easy-to-use, and dependable flash unit with a predictable quality of light. That last point is important. Most flashes vary, at least a little, in the quality of light they produce from flash to flash. This usually manifests as slight differences in color temperature and/or power. Profoto flashes, on the other hand, are renowned for their consistency in both regards. Once you dial in your color and exposure, you can set it and forget it and this flash will churn out image after image with identical output.
When you're onsite where precision and efficiency are paramount due to scheduling and time constraints (common on professional shoots) you want a flash that produces a quality of light you can rely on. The Profoto Actute/D4 Ring Flash is very powerful, a blowtorch that blasts to the tune of 9,600W/s per minute at full tilt putting it in f/45 territory. If you can think up a shooting scenario, the Acute/D4 Ring Flash can light it.
The Acute/D4 Ring Flash is meant to be used with Profoto's Acute and D4 power supplies and battery packs. It comes with neither, so if you can get past the sticker shock of the ring flash itself you'll still need to budget for a power solution! However, if you can manage it or justify the expense, you'll be the proud owner of a ring flash without peer. All things being equal, there is no better ring flash on the market for those relative lucky few who can afford it. You'll have the creme-de-la-creme of ring flashes and a precision tool to take your ring flash photography to the highest level.
Even though Quantum was late to the ring flash party they've been a player in the flash market for a very long time. Quantum is most known for their high-powered, bare-bulb speedlights that offer more output than first-party speedlights. They've more recently introduced the OM line of ring flashes, including the OM3. The OM3 TTL Flash and Video Light offers the high quality and robust build we've come to expect from Quantum.
The OM3 is an LED-based, continuous light source with the ability to flash at 4-times the max continuous output. This setup is absolutely great for weddings, where it's becoming increasingly popular for photographers to also grab video while shooting stills. The continuous light the OM3 produces is good for indoor video and stills work, while also being bright enough for moderately bright outdoor shooting. It's a convenient one-two punch and the type of functionality in a product that is not only becoming more popular, but necessary as well. As photographers are increasingly finding themselves wanting to branch into the realm of motion, multi-use products like this are a godsend. There's no need to pack a different light for both genres, saving you space in your bag and, more importantly, strain on your back.
Like most of Quantum's other products, the OM3 ring flash runs on Quantum's lightweight Turbo series battery packs. These packs offer a lot of juice for not much space and are perfect for location shooting and video-on-the-go. The Quantum OM3 is built to typical Quantum standards, which is to say exceptional. The OM3 is a perfect two-birds-with-one-stone solution if you shoot both photography and video.
Switzerland's own Elinchrom SA have been producing some of the best lights and light modifiers since 1962. They have a near spotless reputation and are relied on by some of the biggest names in professional photography. An investment in any of Elinchrom's lines, like the Quadra product listed here, opens up the buyer to a very well-supported lighting system with a diverse array of options. You can be assured that no matter how your photography grows or which direction you take it, Elinchrom will have you covered with their broad range of quality, well-built products.
Using the Quadra Hybrid RX Ringflash ECO will require a battery pack, like the Quadra Ranger RX Hybrid ECO, which will be the more expensive purchase of the set. However, like the other flashes on this list that run off battery packs, you will be able to use the pack to power other types of flash heads. Consider this when you're thinking about investing in a Quadra product since once you purchase the battery pack you won't be limited to using just the ring flash.
The Quadra Hybrid RX Ringflash ECO is a 400W/s flash head, so it's significantly more powerful than a speedlight, but also won't give you the same amount of punch as the Profoto Acute/D4 Ring Flash. You can set the duration down to a minuscule 1/6,000 sec for some serious motion stopping power, too. Since the Quadra line uses lithium ion battery technology in the packs, you can expect to get several pops out of a charge and the weight to be light enough to carry comfortably for extended periods of time.
This ring flash ships with a white plexiglass diffuser, which is one of the most common light modifiers for ring flashes, so you won't have to purchase one separately. Also included is a universal camera bracket for mounting your camera to the ring flash so you're ready to go right out of the box. If you are looking for a moderate-to-high powered ring flash with a quick duration and a predictable, high quality of light, the Elinchrom Quadra Hybrid RX Ringflash ECO deserves to be on your shortlist. It's a popular ring flash and for good reason.
One popular uses of ring flashes is close-up macro photography. Sigma's EM-140 DG Ring Flash is designed specifically for photographing those small details that make macro photography so captivating. This is also a popular macro flash in scientific and medical fields. Sigma is perhaps best known for their line of adapted lenses and are the most popular 3rd party manufacturer of lens products for Canon, Nikon, and Sony camera systems. Their line of flashes are also offered in multiple manufacturer mounts, including Pentax.
The Sigma EM-140 DG Ring Flash has a guide number 46'/14m at ISO 100, so don't expect it to perform as a powerful portrait flash, but it should give you centered, circular catch lights which is half the fun. For close-up macro work, this flash has the goods as you can flash both of the EM-140 DG's flash tubes together, just one or the other, or you can use them in a ratio to better sculpt the subject with shadow. This ring flash comes in TTL modes for each manufacturer, Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax. As an option, you can have the EM-140 DG to trigger Sigma's EF-500 DG Super or EF-610 DG ST set as a slave for even more light sculpting options.
This flash mounts onto the camera a little differently than the other flash units on this list. By using lens adapters, 55mm and 62mm rings included, the EM-140 DG screws directly onto the lens. Be mindful that if you intend to use this flash on a lens that doesn't have either 55mm or 62mm filter threads, you will need to purchase the proper lens adapter from Sigma or adapt the included rings with a step-up adapter. If you're looking for a ring flash for macro photography, the Sigma EM-140 DG Ring Flash is an ideal choice for snapping those fine details.