Bowens Ringflash Review

As a lighting consultant I get asked a lot of questions fashion photography, the dream of many aspiring photographers. Mainly, what sort of lighting is best for the job? Obviously you can shoot fashion with pretty much anything and get good results, but there is one piece of equipment that still ranks as being 'the' fashion accessory, the Ringflash.

Synonymous with fashion and glamour, the Bowens version has been around for nearly 30 years and used by most of the top names in the business. It's a while since I've used one so I asked my photographer friend Chris Reeve if we could get together in his studio and take some fashion stuff for a product review. Chris is always up for a challenge so he said yes straight away. While I left Chris to sort out the minor details of organising a model, clothes, make up etc I got hold of a Bowens Ringflash to look at.

Basically the Bowens Ringflash consists of two crescent shape flash tubes, (each with its own 'Quad' cable) fitted into a round head about 12 inches in diameter. No modelling of course, just twin flash tubes. The head has a large circular hole in the centre so that a camera can be mounted right in the middle of the tubes. This is what makes the Ringflash so special, an amazing coverage and unique camera position combine to give sensational results.

To control the output, the Ringflash has a choice of two accessories, a High Intensity Reflector that increases the output and coverage, or a Ringflash Diffuser that softens and is ideal for direct shooting. You can shoot without both, but the lighting is much less refined. I wanted to shoot with the diffuser, the most popular Ringflash accessory.

The Ringflash only works via Quad generators or packs, Bowens make a range of either studio packs or a battery option, I decided to use the Bowens Quad 2400 a great little studio version that has two 'Quad' sockets so perfect to run the twin cable Ringflash.

To fire the Ringflash, both of its plugs are connected into the pack and the power output run symmetrically through each cable and tube. As the Quad 2400 has 2400 joules to play with, a maximum of 1200 joules can be run through each tube, quite a bang when it goes off at full power!

Bowens Ringflash Setup

While I was looking at the Ringflash, Chris phoned me with an idea he had for the shoot, 'cats eyes' he said 'I'm going to shoot Rachael with cat's eyes'. Apart from telling me he had tracked down a model called Rachael, he also told me he had acquired some bright yellow contact lens cat's eyes for her to wear on the shoot. I was impressed and would never have thought of that, that's why knowing a real photographer is so useful!

So we were all set, with a model called Rachael, clothes and make up via Chris's dress designer friend Hannah, a Ringflash with a Quad 2400 and a pair of yellow cat's eyes!!

We all met up at Chris's studio, Chris and I first to do some test shots and the girls a little later when we had got things working ok. The Ringflash is very easy to set up, first the camera bracket that comes with it is screwed into the back of head and then the whole thing can be mounted onto the top of a standard lighting stand, via a thread in the camera bracket. The Ringflash Diffuser accessory simply clips to either side of the head.

This diffuser is very important as it pushes the light from the tubes back into the small reflector so that the Ringflash produces a beautiful even light source over a very wide area. The camera is mounted onto the camera bracket so that it's dead centre in the middle of the tubes.

To take few test shots, Chris put the Ringflash about 2.5 metres in front of me and I stood the same distance from the background. The coverage it gave was amazing, not too soft, but very even and Chris managed to shoot me full length at around f.11 with the pack on half power. We did some more test shots, with Chris changing lenses and me taking lots of meter readings. As I metered across a standard 9 feet wide background, the readings I got were less than half a stop difference from the middle to each side, confirming it even coverage.

So when Hannah and Rachael arrived, Chris and I had already got the powers, distances and apertures sorted out. Rachael was great and didn't mind having yellow cat's eyes to wear for a lot of the shoot. She said she couldn't see too well but that was an advantage because when the Ringflash went off, she said that it left an imprint of the tubes when she closed her eyes, a strange experience.

Photo of Rachel, using a Bowens Ringflash
2nd Photo of Rachel, using a Bowens Ringflash 3rd Photo of Rachel, using a Bowens Ringflash

Click an image for a larger view

We started the shoot by asking Rachael to stand where I had been and just asked her to stretch out her arms and then stand to show the coverage of the Ringflash, she dressed very simply in jeans and a top. These shots were taken at 60th of a second at f5.6 with a 50mm on Chris's Nikon D2X. As you can see, a really good coverage, clean and not too soft.

4th test shot

To really show the cats eyes, Chris got this great shot of Rachael, with his 85mm lens.

5th test shot 6th test shot

After a quick change of clothes and eyes, we took these 2 shots, again just to show the coverage against a charcoal grey background. It was very easy to get that slight graduation which gave a nice feel to the shot. Again the meter readings I took were less than half a stop difference from head to foot.

7th test shot 8th test shot 9th test shot

We changed backgrounds and clothes again for the final session, this time a white background and a white dress. As you can see the results are really beautiful, clean, crisp and again a very good coverage across the whole background area.

10th test shot

Chris finished off by taking this head and shoulders shot of Rachael, at f16 using his 50mm 1.4 lens. Throughout the shoot, the Ringflash was run at around half power, that's 600 joules per tube from the Quad 2400 pack and triggered from the camera via the Bowens Pulsar radio trigger system.

After everyone had gone for the day, Chris and I sat down to look at the hundred or so shots we had taken. We only wanted about a dozen shots for the review, so we went through each shot, looking closely at the overall lighting and began to put a list together. It was so hard because nearly every shot Chris had taken had something pretty special about it. It seemed that you just couldn't take a bad shot with a Ringflash and I suppose that sums up why fashion photographers love using it, the quality, the even coverage and the sheer simplicity of it. All the pictures we took on that shoot were just with Ringflash, no other lights at all. Even Chris was impressed as he hadn't used one for a while and had forgotten just how good they are.

So if you are an up and coming fashion photographer who wants to make his or her mark, then put a Bowens Ringflash on your wish list. I know it's not cheap at around £675.00 plus the cost of the accessories and don't forget that you need a Quad Pack. The Quad 2400 pack we used is around £1600.00 making the whole package over £2000.00. But the results speak for themselves and the combination Chris and I used would be suitable to shoot fashion, glamour, hair and beauty.