3 macro ring flashes compared – Olympus, Sigma and Canon

Written by Gary on August 2nd, 2011

I have Olympus, Panasonic and Canon cameras and like using ring flashes not only for macro work but as a shadowless fill light for general use such as portraits – but note, they are not large enough to be beauty lights for portraits!

I now have all 3 of these macro ring flashes and offer some points of comparison.

Clearly, if you want TTL flash you need to use the flash that matches your camera, but as Canon, Olympus and Panasonic have similar flash hotshoes physically, you can use either of these in manual flash mode on either camera EXCEPT the Sigma flash will ONLY fire if it is mounted on a Canon – a very annoying design.

If you want the easiest to use flash, with easily the best manual flash control, and a true ring flash – then the Olympus wins out – just need to work out how you will mount it on your lens if it is not designed for it.

All of these ring flashes could have been designed much better:

  • the Canon should have had a larger internal diameter for more versatility, and it is not really a full ring flash but for most purposes, this is splitting hairs. BUT the BIGGEST issue is that it’s manual flash mode only allows changing of output in 1EV increments – this is disastrous when  you have a set magnification and thus flash to subject distance, an optimised aperture for your subject and you need to give just a little less or more flash!
  • the Sigma has a nice large internal diameter and can be fitted to many lenses but it can only be used on a Canon camera, and remote TTL slave flash must be a Sigma flash – very disappointing on both issues. Manual flash output increments as for Canon – very disappointing!
  • the Olympus should be MUCH smaller, especially now we have Micro Four Thirds cameras, and they need to make adapters so it can fit to a 72mm filter thread – for many lenses it needs to be hand held!

Interestingly, Olympus, always the innovator has brought out a cute little twin light for macro flash on its Pen cameras – very cheap and fun to use but only for macro use.

Metz do have a 15 MS-1 ring flash slave unit but this requires a master TTL flash to function – see here.

If you have a Canon 580EX or Olympus FL-50 flash, and want TTL ring flash on the cheap, you can get an off-camera TTL flash cord (the Canon will work for both Canon and Olympus even in TTL), plus the Orbis Ring Flash adapter – this can even be used on the Olympus ZD 7-14mm ultrawide zoom –  see here and here.

Nikon don’t make a true ring flash for their system, but have taken a different approach to macro flash which is quite interesting – a ring which attaches to most lenses up to 77mm filter thread, upon which you mount up to 8 wireless compact macro SB-R200 flashes which are then controlled via TTL by the camera’s flash, of if there is none, a Nikon flash mounted on the camera. This gives a cost effective, versatile macro flash system without any need for a large controller unit (if your camera has inbuilt flash), but although it can simulate a ring flash, you won’t get circular catchlights as with the Olympus ring flash.

Olympus Ring flash SRF-11 Canon MR-14EX Sigma EM-140 DG for Canon
TTL flash Olympus, Panasonic Four Thirdsand Micro Four Thirds – note Panasonic cameras are not TTL compatiblewith legacy lenses! Canon EOS cameras Canon EOS cameras
Remote TTL master No Canon flashes. Auto with 1group; Manual with 3 groups; Yes for Sigma flashes only
manual flash output increments awesome: 1/3rd EV terrible: 1 EV terrible: 1 EV
Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 radio flash Manual flash only Remote TTL or  manual Manual flash only
Main controller can power TwinFlash too Yes No, separate twin flash unit No twin flash available
Flash type True ring flash two almost half rings NOT a ring just 2 twins mounted
lens mount type Bayonet, need adapter for ZD50mm f/2.0 macro. Only fits a couple of lenses including the ZD 35mm macro lens.Note the original ZD 50-200mm lens did allow attachment of this ring flash but the later SWD version of this lens does not allow it to attach! Click on, adapters for filterthreads 52-72mm Click on, adapters for filterthreads 52-72mm
Internal diameter of ring 70mm 57mm – major issue with 72mmfilter thread lenses such as the 135mm f/2.0 but said to be compatible with the 180mm f/3.5 macro. 72mm – adequate for EF 135mmf/2.0 lens
main controller size very large reasonably compact large
 manual flash usage  Olympus, Panasonic and Canon cameras without adapters   Olympus, Panasonic and Canon cameras without adapters  Canon cameras only!

Ring flash

Panasonic GH-1 with Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro, flash adapter and Olympus Ring Flash. The hand grip on the GH-1 is very handy here.

Sigma EM-140 DG macro flash

Sigma EM-140 DG ring flash – more details on the Sigma flash here.


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