The ring flash is a device that give the photographer a way to shoot an image that is almost completely shadowless. You will be confronted with many types of ring flashes and ring flash adapters. Which is the one you should get? I can’t answer that for you as a photographer but I will try to review the one I use frequently on my shoots.
The Alien Bee ring flash is a 320 w/s flash with a six stop variable power control. It uses 120 volt AC power, and weighs about 2.5 lbs. It is marketed as a professional ring flash that is affordable without being a cheap imitation ring light.
Let me start out by saying I didn’t purchase my flash new, but rather from another excellent local photographer who was selling all his lighting equipment and replacing it with better, new equipment. I also have purchased the 56 inch moon unit.
Second, if you have an Alien Bee strobe, the controls will be familiar and comfortable. Everything you find on the top part of the strobe is the same as you find any other Alien Bee strobe. There is a power switch low and a lock switch used to secure the mounts on the front of the flash that are different. I find the position of the switch annoying and think the switch would be better placed in another location on the flash.
After using the flash for several years, I have to say the flash is cheaply made. The parts that are plastic tend to break and give out. I have had purchase new parts on occasion (usually after loaning the flash to another photographer). If you buy this flash, you will buy replacement parts about every year or two. The few screws are loose and easily lost if you aren’t careful. After putting everything together, you will find that good lenses tend to go too far through the ring flash and cause glare and flare. Because of this, I don’t recommend that you mount your camera to the flash. The second reason is that you can only mount the camera on one axis, but do not have control with the provided mounts to rotate the ring flash to the other axis.
The last thing that bugs me is that the power doesn’t go low enough. When you shoot close images like head shots, it isn’t unusual to have F18-22 set on the aperture. True, you can add neutral density filters on the front of the flash, but it would be so much easier to just turn the power down.
With all of these down sides, I still own my Alien Bee ring flash. It does the job it was intended to do with periodic parts replacement for a reasonable amount of money. Until the parabolic umbrella was released Paul C. Buff, you couldn’t get a better light for fashion work that was flexible like this one. It is a great little unit.
If you plan on going mobile with this unit, always take someone with you. Also, don’t expect to use the moon unit in a mobile application unless you are very comfortable with setting up and taking it down. If you aren’t, you can expect to aggravate others on the location shoot as you get it set up.
Overall, I count the Alien Bee ring flash as a vital part of the equipment I own. Even so, the construction has a lot to be desired and the power switch can be annoying. It is an excellent light for the money you pay for it.