Fast forward to today. We’ll skip past the phase where I was using the Nikon D610 also for TTL wireless macro flash photography and jump to the Nikon D500. But perhaps I should clarify. With the introduction of the D300, Nikon introduced CLS (Creative Lighting System), which involved TTL wireless triggering of off-camera flashes. The beautiful part of the system was that the camera’s built-in flash could be used as the trigger, or transmitter, without contributing to the flash exposure. But that worked great when the camera came with a built-in flash.
Now, with the D500 in hand, I suddenly found myself without a pop-up flash that I could use to wirelessly trigger that remote flash. Hence no CLS, leaving my wireless ring flash orphaned.
Yes, I could use one of my existing Nikon flashes as the transmitter but that would be more of a nuisance. And buying the Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander wireless IR transmitter, which costs more than some shoe-mounts and slightly less than my wireless ring flash by itself, would be a pricey option. Not to mention, it would be one more thing that requires a battery and which could easily get misplaced or lost in a tiny nook or cranny.
What’s more, as is, I always found wireless shooting with the built-in flash somewhat precarious. You see, I like to wear hats, and my hats would always push down on the pop-up flash. The upshot of this was: the wireless flash would fail to be triggered. So, even though I liked not having cables that sometimes get in the way, having a flash that I could depend on to fire 100% of the time, what’s more, without worrying about moving the brim of my hat out of the way was more important. What’s the wireless ring flash I’m referring to? The Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1.
So, when you do the math, it made good sense to switch to the Nissin MF18. (You can get all the particulars about the Nissin macro flash in my Shutterbug review and tips about using a ringlight in those other Shutterbug articles listed below).
Since the MF18 comes with a variety of ring adapters to fit all popular lens filter sizes, there was little doubt I’d find the right adapter for the Tamron 90mm I was now using. You just have to make sure to bring it with you, and the way I usually do that is either by first attaching it to the flash ring housing before leaving home, or to the lens itself. The only problem with attaching to the lens is that it may block reverse-mounting of the lens hood. In fact, once you attach the ring to the lens, there’s no room for a lens shade any way you slice it.
One of the unusual aspects to the MF18 ring is that it elongates to sort of an oval shape. The original design was to accommodate larger-diameter lenses, but I use it with larger subjects, so the light fully wraps around them.
In use, the bright color LCD display proved easy to see in practically any light, even outdoors on a bright day. If you have a problem with strong sunlight, for example, simply turn your back to the sun so the flash housing is in shade. The large numerical display made it easy to read and set flash exposure overrides for subjects that may need it – perhaps a tad too distant from the camera/flash or highly reflective so as to cause the flash to underexpose. It was far simpler than with other ring flashes I’d worked with – and more direct.
The color quality of the resulting images, while difficult to compare without side-by-side comparisons, could be evaluated as quite satisfactory on its own, if not exemplary.
One other nice thing about the flash. The ring is very well diffused, further ensuring an even wash of light surrounding the subject.
Who Should Use This?
Any photographer interested in close-up and macro photography, from novice to advanced and professional.
Easy to use with a very user-friend interface (color LCD panel) and very few buttons; well designed; reliable; consistent; adapter rings are metal, not plastic, so they’ll last. Only negative I can think of, at least where my Nikons are concerned, the flash doesn’t enter standby when the camera is turned off – a minor point, but it still needed to be mentioned (the flash will power down on its own after a user-defined period).
Adding a ring flash takes your close-up and macro photography to a new level. You no longer have to shoot at large apertures. Given that depth of field is minimal the closer you get to your subject (the larger the reproduction ratio/subject magnification), it’s important to have the capacity to stop down considerably (short of encountering and being limited by diffraction at the smallest F-stops). The added light output gives you that ability to stop down.
What’s more, since it’s electronic flash, you can freeze both subject and camera movement while you’re at it. Admittedly, it won’t stop a breeze from blowing a flower out of frame, but if you wait for a lull, you’ll capture a sharp image now matter how minimal the existing lighting conditions are.
What’s more, another benefit of using a ring flash is that, by limiting the reach of the flash illumination (owing to the lower light output of a ring flash to begin with), combined with the use of a small F-stop, you can minimize background illumination. I’m often able to create a stark black backdrop behind my subject. And if you find the light is too strong, the MF18 gives you the ability to reduce that light output, as do other settings on the camera.
Also, and not to be overlooked, the MF18 features four powerful LED lights that will help you focus under the dimmest of lighting conditions. As you get closer and closer to your subject, the camera increasingly blocks ambient light. This continuous light source will prove invaluable in the field. Simply hold the Set button down for 2 seconds to switch it on.
In the final analysis, if your top priority is to photograph flowers, bugs, and other critters close up and personal, or even if you’re a forensic photographer or dentist, doctor, or engineer that needs to light small discreet areas for research or records, you won’t go wrong with the Nissin MF18 ring flash. In fact, you’ll find yourself looking for projects to go out and shoot once this flash is attached to your camera. Once you experience the MF18, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to shoot close-ups without it.
PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS (per Nissin)
Dedicated versions for Nikon, Canon. Tested with Nikon.
Distributed by/Order From/More Info:
www.neidllc.com (order from authorized resellers)
How much is it?
You may be asking, why use a ring flash? And, if you’re not entirely familiar with the concept, you may also be asking, what is a ring flash?
Simply, a ring flash is a circular flash housing that sits on the front of your lens. The advantage is that the flash now has a direct line of sight with your subject. In contrast, the flash seated in the hot shoe experiences a form of parallax – aiming past the subject to some degree, if not entirely, and possibly blocked by the lens itself.
The other advantage is that the ring flash bathes the subject in a wash of light, more or less evenly. On many ring flashes, such as the MF18, you can actually assign a lighting ratio between two halves of the circular flash tube (it’s actually two semi-circular tubes) – for shadowing and depth, as opposed to completely even lighting.
On some ring flashes the flash tube is fully circular. This also means there’s no way to proportionately adjust output from left to right (or top to bottom, if you rotate the ring). That also means it’s an inexpensive flash.
That Metz ring flash mentioned earlier features twin linear flash tubes on opposite sides of the flash head assembly. That means the so-called “ring” is not really forming a ring of light.
In my experience, with nature subjects, I’ve often found it best to simply leave the output even on both sides, without setting ratios, since time is not always on our side to make these adjustments and the situation itself may not warrant it. Anyway, by encircling the subject, the ring of light fills in shadows, leading to what many describe as “shadowless” lighting. In truth ring lighting is really virtually shadowless at best, since some shadows can be seen and help to create a sense of depth with any three-dimensional subject. Light-toned areas behind the subject may still exhibit shadows, although these shadows tend to be soft-edged, rather than distinct.
The ring assembly may clip directly onto the lens, but more often than not, an adapter ring (supplied in most popular filter sizes) is required. The adapter screws onto the front of the lens much like a filter. The ring housing then clips onto this ring, which has a grooved channel that allows the ring head to rotate. Why rotate the head? If you’ve set output ratios for the ring, that lets you control where the stronger light will fall, just as if you had a key light and supporting light.
Read my review of the Nissin MF18 macro ring flash in Shutterbug Magazine (online).
Two reviews I wrote for Shutterbug on the Tamron 90mm macro lens.
- Tamron 90mm macro review 1
- Tamron 90mm macro review 2
An overview on macro ringlighting for Shutterbug (including LED and fluorescent lights – in short, don’t waste money on them; if you’re going to use a ringlight, make it a ring flash).
A more recent roundup of macro lighting tools for Shutterbug.
An early but very comprehensive introduction to using a ring flash for close-ups.
Read my introductory feature story on TTL wireless flash in Shutterbug Magazine (online).
Read my feature story on No Strings Attached With Wireless TTL Flash for multiple-flash photography in Shutterbug Magazine (online).