My first thought was that the Alienbee’s ABR800 Ring flash was going to be one of those products with limited use, for product shoots and very specific portrait scenarios. As I used it more and more, I could only come to one conclusion:
I really, really, really like this flash. (I suppose that is too many superlatives for an objective review, but reviews aren’t really objective in the first place, are they?)
What’s in the Package?
The ABR800 ships pre-attached to a multi-function mounting bracket. Included with the flash are a 10” reflector, an umbrella holder, bulb cover/diffuser, two semi-circular flashtubes, a set of eight modeling lamps, a 15 foot power cord, a 12 foot sync cord, and user manual. Alienbees has clearly put a lot of thought into the design of the ABR800 and how it will be used by photographers.
Compact and lightweight, the ABR800 is made almost entirely of plastic. I’ll go ahead and get one of the (very minor) negatives out of the way right now. While it’s light, the plastic feels somewhat fragile. When I took off the diffusion cover or reflector, I was always worried I might accidentally crack them by dropping or setting a piece of paper on them. I’m sure they can actually take a bit more abuse than I was willing to attempt, but to achieve the approximate 2.5 pound total weight, obviously lighter and more delicate materials had to be used.
The locking mechanism which holds on the reflector and diffusion cover also felt a little loose – not a detriment as it did its job, but I would have preferred a more confident, solid lock.
But still, I really like this flash.
So What's This Thing Do?
Take closeup and product shots virtually shadow free.
Diffused and bounced off the ceiling, the ABR800 can light up a large room.
The primary purpose of a ring flash versus a normal strobe is the ability to shoot on-axis. This means the light from the flash travels evenly 360 degrees around the same line that the camera is seeing. This results in minimal to no shadows (they are hidden behind the subject) and is perfect for close-up and product photography. You can also use a ring flash for portrait work, provided you pay attention to the reflections in the subject’s eyes. As the ABR800 uses two tubular half-circle strobe bulbs, it provides excellent quality light while keeping the bulbs easy to replace.
You mount your camera to the bracket by means of a removable sliding platform which you attach to your camera’s tripod thread with the included screw. This platform then snaps into a track on the ABR800 and by releasing a tension adjustment you can slide your camera back and forth through the unit’s center “doughnut” hole. This sliding mechanism allows you to set your lens to the desired focal length and then move the camera closer to the front of the flash to prevent vignetting from the black body of the flash itself. It’s sort of like sending your camera into a miniature MRI tube (without the magnets). The designers even put a rubber surface on the platform to prevent both damage to the camera and keep it from slipping. The entire unit can then be mounted to a tripod, a light stand, or even hand held as it’s so light.