Let's make this clear: The orbis ring flash is a strobe accessory. It is not itself a light. It modifies the light from your existing small strobe unit meaning it does not have its own internal circuitry and light tubes. Because of this, it is a very fun and economical way to start experimenting with the signature ring flash look.
There's not capitalization errors anywhere in this article, just to get that out of the way. The folks behind enlight photo's orbis ring flash prefer their names lower-cased. But there's nothing small about the big ring flash feel of the results from their small-strobe accessory. And so we're matching their style in our headlines for this hands-on.
This $197 light modifier slips atop your existing small strobe, such as a Canon 580 EXII, a Nikon SB-900, Pentax AF-540FGZ, and so on, and then you thread your lens around the orbis. Depending on your camera system, there are various wired and wireless ways of triggering the strobe. As you can see in the above image, we decided to secure the orbis to our strobe with a few pieces of gaffer tape for obtuse angled macro tests atop a ladder while making shots of an orbweaver spider. If you are going to be very mobile when working with the orbis, some gaffer tape adhesion is a good idea.
For our experiments with the orbis, we used a Canon 580 EX II and a Canon OC-E3 dedicated ETTL Off-camera Shoe cord, and a Canon EOS Rebel XTi and a 1D Mark III. Hand-holding the orbis ring flash atop the 580EXII on the 1D Mark III with a Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro took some practice, but was certainly doable as the above photo shows. But with a 70-200mm f/2.8L on the Mark III, the whole setup gets unwieldy pretty quickly.
So, for the portrait test shots below, we decided to go with a double-tripod arrangement. (That's a carbon fiber Gitzo Traveler holding the strobe, and Manfrotto 190CXPro 4 and 222 head holding up the camera.) This setup allowed my lovely assistant to concentrate on making me laugh while trying to show the effects of the ring flash without having to worry about dropping the whole heavy rig on the floor after a few minutes. Even if you've only got one tripod, mounting the camera will cut down on arm and wrist fatigue when pairing the orbis with a heavy body and lens kit. Down the line, enlight will be unrolling some mounting accessories for the orbis, so stay tuned for updates on this front.
The slideshow above shows three portraits at 1/200 f/5.6 ISO 400 straight from the camera with nothing except resizing applied to the images. Camera to subject distance was three feet. Subject to wall distance is also three feet. Shot number 1 shows the signature smooth lighting of the ring flash style of lighting. Flash Exposure Compensation was dialed up to +1. Shot 2 is also at +1 F.E.C. with the strobe bounced off a slightly-warmer-than-neutral ceiling. Shot number three is with direct flash, no F.E.C. applied. The straight-on flash is just brutal, and there are subtle, but noticeable differences between the orbis shot and the bounced strobe. Overall, best portrait results with the orbis were achieved with between +2/3 to +1 1/3 F.E.C. Click on the flyout box in lower right of the slideshow player to launch into fullscreen mode.
As the orbis doesn't require its own power source, it makes it well-suited to mobile macro shoots. I climbed up a ladder to capture this orbweaver spider at 1/200 f/8.0 ISO 200 +1 F.E.C., with the orbis and 580EXII on my Rebel XTi. Looking at the actual pixel view of this spider's "face" you can see the signature circular highlights of the ring flash. You'll also notice the more "organic" looking orbital highlights on the slick glaze of the Bermudian piggy bank during a tabletop test. Click on the flyout box in lower right of the slideshow player to launch into fullscreen mode.
The bottom line on the orbis
The orbis ring flash accessory is an economical way to produce ring flash-style images at a nice savings to flashtube-and-circuitry-containing-true-ring-flash-units. If you've already got a small strobe and off-camera shoe cord or wireless trigger, this accessory is all you need to get experimenting with ring flash style shots. Since it is relatively small–by ring flash standards–it is portable enough for photojournalists and other quick-turn shooters to keep in the trunk, if not in the camera bag, at all times for location shoots. The mobility offered by the ring flash design and application also allows it to double as a softbox-style directional accessory light source–either from above, or either side, for close-up product and portraiture work. For the budget-minded photographer looking to expand their skills, this is a very cool lighting accessory.
Do keep in mind that the very things that make the orbis versatile and affordable also limit it to a working distance of about twelve feet, with optimal performance at mid ISOs (200-400, for example) and apertures f/2.8-f/8). Don't think you'll get glossy publication-ready high-end fashion results at a distance of twenty feet, f/16 at ISO 100. But for many a small-strobe shooter, the orbis has a whole lot going for it.