Macro Ring Flash vs. Larger Ring Flash

A typical macro ring flash has a controller which attaches to the hot shoe of the camera, a diffuser which fits around the camera lens, and some control cables. It is optimized for taking pictures of small items with a camera’s macro lens. It works quite well for close-ups, especially in scientific and medical environments, because that is the use for which this ring flash is designed. A clear shadowless image is created that emphasizes the detail and texture of the subject being photographed.

A larger ring flash should be used for fashion or portrait work because it does produce the same effect as the macro version, an even light over the whole subject with no sharp shadows and a surrounding halo. But, because the distance from the camera to the subject in these studio situations is measured in feet rather than inches, more light is needed to light the subject, which means heftier bulbs and stronger battery packs are needed. This fact, in turn, means that the flash units are bulkier, heavier and more difficult to use in any location outside a studio.

One other difference is light coverage. A macro ring light flash, at best, covers a circle 6″ in diameter. If the subject is smaller than that circle, you will get an excellent result. But, if the subject is larger than that circle of flash light, you will lose the effects you would expect from using a ring light flash.

True, you will get an excellent fill light from a macro flash and results will be slightly better than what you would get with an off-axis flash. However, if you are attempting a full-body shot, a macro flash will not do the job you expect. Use a large ring flash intended for studio work, one that issues enormous amounts of light over a large area. A face shot may work out well with a macro flash, but only if done as an extreme close-up.