Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ring Flash...

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Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ring Flash...

Postby Remorhaz on Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:03 pm

I'd been thinking of investing in some sort of ring flash unit primarily for macro photography for some time but the cost (and size) of dedicated ring flashes (like the Orbis Ring Flash) or macro flash units (like the Nikon R1C1 system) is prohibitively high (the former is more than AUD$250 the later is more than AUD$700).

I'd also seen some ring flash adaptors - which connect to your existing hot shoe flash and have a reflective area which brings the light down and around your lens. These units are relatively cheap but you have to purchase an exact unit for your camera, flash and lens combination (so that the lengths all line up) and frankly they look pretty flimsy and prone to destruction.

LED technology has been increasing in sophistication and capability in leaps and bounds of late, and I had been seeing a number of LED based ring macro light units appear and yesterday decided to take the plunge and give one a try.

I found a number of essentially similar contenders all around the same price (roughly AUD$30 to $50) including the NEEWER 48 LED Ring Light, Meike LED Macro Ring Flash FC100, Yongnuo MR-58 LED Macro Ring Flash and the one I purchased (for under $35 delivered on eBay) the Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ring Flash.

All of these units have essentially the same features:

- constant LED light source with an effective range of about 5cm to 150cm with a guide number of GN15
- LEDs in a ring to go around the front of the lens with adapter rings to suit various front filter thread sizes (to attach to the lens)
- a battery pack and controller unit to hold 2 or 4 AA batteries
- adjustable settings - like variable brightness, all on, left side only or right side only

The reason I chose the Aputure Amaran Halo unit over the others is:

- not all the units were large enough and had adapter rings all the way up to 77mm (some had as few as four rings only up to 67mm - the Aputure unit has 8 rings up to 77mm)
- this unit has a flash (burst) mode which is twice as bright as the continuous light mode for some extra power
- it can also act as a focus assist light with half shutter press

The following video gives a very good quick overview of the unit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOC_K2NGRWE

However what the on paper specs and the video doesn't show or tell you is how effective the light is - in comparison to say using a dedicated flash unit through a diffuser (what I currently use for handheld in the field macro photography) or a dedicated ring flash unit.

When I receive mine (in a couple of weeks?) and have a chance to play I'll post again on some relative performance figures (e.g. it adds an extra n stops of light at a certain subject distance).
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Re: Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ring Flash...

Postby gstark on Wed Jun 13, 2012 3:04 pm

I'll be very interested to hear how this works for you.

As you say, LED technology has been progressing and now it's light years ahead of where it was a few (light) years ago.
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Re: Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ring Flash...

Postby Remorhaz on Wed Jun 20, 2012 5:44 pm

I was expecting it to take a few weeks to arrive but I'd underestimated the efficiency of the HK sellers - ordered on the 11th and arrived on the 18th so it took under a week.

The unit comes in a nice packaging box and it feels well made and is simple to use.

I've fitted the 55mm adaptor ring to my Tamron 90mm 1:1 macro and as a simple test found an indoor subject in dim lighting to photograph (small coloured embroidered flower on a dark material background).

Test #1 (close macro)

I've focused at a certain distance - it's about 7.5cm from the front of the LED ring in front of the lens to the subject (and about 30cm from the subject to the sensor plane in the camera) - and then set the camera to manual focus so I can reliably repeat the distance at different settings. This would probably be a typical distance for very close 1:1 macro work and down near the minimum focusing distance for this lens.

I first took an ambient exposure which was 2 seconds @ f/8 and ISO 100

Then with the LED at maximum continuous brightness the exposure was 1/100 @ f/8 and ISO 100 - the histograms look roughly the same - if anything the second image with the light is slightly more exposed.

However if we assume they are the same then at this distance the light is adding about 7 and 2/3ds stops of light which is fantastic and would be the difference between a handheld shot of 1/30th @ f/2.8 at ISO 1600 and 1/100th @ f/16 at ISO 800 (i.e. blurry handheld with no DoF and slightly noisy vs sharp with much more depth of field and lower noise).

I also tried the flash mode where it turns off the LEDs before flashing them at double brightness and it also works and does seem to give double the power - I took the shot in manual at 1/200 @ f/8 and ISO 100 and got a good exposure so in theory you could get almost 9 stops of lighting power for close macro work.

Obviously these are fairly ideal conditions so will have to see how it fares in the real world but for macro applications at close distances I think it will do a great job. Obviously the further the subject is from the lens the weaker the power will be so it's not really for portrait or other work (unless they are very close) so it isn't going to compete with real ring or other off camera flashes in that arena but for it's intended purpose it looks very promising.

Image
2 sec @ f/8 and ISO 100

Image
1/100 @ f/8 and ISO 100

Image
1/200 @ f/8 and ISO 100

Test #2 (70cm)

This time a dimly lit subject 50cm from the front of the LED ring (about 70cm from the sensor) so we are well out of macro territory here - this would be near a head shot portrait distance with a portrait lens.

The before shot was 2.5sec @ f/3.2 ISO 100 and the after shots were 1/8th (& 1/15th) @ f/3.2 ISO 100 - so about 4 and 1/3rd stops (+1 for flash mode) - still pretty respectable and the difference between a shot at ISO 6400 and ISO 320 (160) for instance.

I'll update again when I have had a chance to use it for real out in the field and with real world images to show...
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Re: Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ring Flash...

Postby photohiker on Wed Jun 20, 2012 6:54 pm

Looks encouraging!

Which of the images is the correct colour, and what is the WB set to for each? There's quite a difference between the natural light shot and the two ringflash versions...

In any case, this looks to be a bit of a bargain for the money.
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Re: Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ring Flash...

Postby Remorhaz on Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:24 pm

photohiker wrote:Looks encouraging! Which of the images is the correct colour, and what is the WB set to for each? There's quite a difference between the natural light shot and the two ringflash versions... In any case, this looks to be a bit of a bargain for the money.


Ah yep - I'd just taken all the shots on AutoISO so they were a bit all over the place and I posted the images unprocessed. I shot in RAW so I just set the WB to Daylight for the last two and slightly adjusted the first but other than that WB they are unedited - I've re-uploaded the images now.
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