Review: The Orbis and Orbis Arm, Ring Flash On a Budget

By Curtis Joe Walker

The orbis ring flash from Enlight Photo is a modifier for hot shoe flashes that allows them to emulate the functionality of a studio ring flash. Fitting onto the end of a hot shoe flash, it takes the light and bounces it through a highly reflective inner chamber, outputting diffused, characteristic light through its ring.

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The high-impact-plastic unit has been expertly designed for maximum efficiency, using the brightest chrome finished plastic available. By adding translucent material to the bottom of the ring and a series of baffles inside, the light output from the ring is evenly distributed and creates flawless specular highlights. Inside, a series of spring hinges ensure a snug fit on the end of your flash. It isn’t designed to permanently marry the two devices, though. In other words, take care to hold the device in a way that protects both units from an unintended free fall.

So, how does it hold up in use? Pretty good, within its limitations. For one thing, it’s limited by the output of the flash that’s going into it, and it loses about 4 stops of light in the translation. That means there’s no way this light is going to light a whole set, but for portraits and very carefully composed full body shots, it’ll work. The instructions suggest bumping the ISO setting to 400, so depending on the camera and lens, it could be possible to get more out of the flash. With the ring flash, portraits show the characteristic wraparound shadow and the highlights are perfect donut shapes. Despite the limited efficiency, it is possible to overpower daylight if you’re able to shoot your subject from a few inches away.

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©Curtis Joe Walker

Originally intended to be a hand-held unit triggered optically or with an off-camera TTL connection, the introduction of their sturdy new orbis arm makes one-handed shooting possible.
Unlike other designs that mount the flash on the hot shoe, hanging the ring down in front of the camera from above, the arm mounts everything to the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera.

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The arm is outstandingly rigid and sturdy, but all of the weight of the ringlflash unit is placed on the foot of the flash. This shouldn't be a problem for those with metal feet, but could end in tragedy for those with an all-plastic design. Having a way to attach the ring flash to the arm itself would be handy. The design makes portrait-oriented shots awkward and shooting straight down definitely feels like something would eventually break. The arm doesn't so much free up a hand while shooting as it helps keep the photographer from accidentally dropping everything.

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Even with the lightweight construction of the orbis and the arm, once a flash is added the weight can add up to a couple of extra pounds attached to a camera. The benefit, of course, is having an arm free for holding an additional flash, for instance. The weight and bulk won't be unfamiliar to shooters who've used a flash bracket. Unfortunately, the customer has to provide their own shoe to mount the flash to, as orbis assumes people will be using a wired link to their camera. Adding a simple cold shoe to the orbis kit would be an inexpensive and welcome addition for Nikon shooters who rely on the Creative Lighting System, and for people shooting with a camera or flash that relies on simple PC sync.

The combination of the orbis and the arm allow for inexpensive entry into the world of ringflash lighting. While cumbersome, it is smaller and lighter than studio models. It is also infinitely more portable than larger units because it uses battery powered flashes. It doesn't have the raw power of a bigger unit, but for the portrait, wedding or event photographer, this isn't critical. The ability to shoot with a ring flash in TTL mode allows for a much faster learning curve and makes the orbis an ideal starter model.

The orbis is manufactured by enlight photo and distributed in the U.S. by Omega Satter.
The orbis arm is available now for $59 or $249 bundled with the Orbis ring flash.

NOTES: For this article, Walker tested light output with a Sekonic L-558 at a distance of 30 inches with the flash bare, zoomed to 24mm and with the ring flash. He used a Nikon SB-80DX as the light source. Photos were taken with a Nikon D80, Nikkor 12-24mm lens and Nikon SB-800 Speedlight using CLS mode.

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