Sunday, July 19, 2009

My New Zeus Ring Light

My new toy Zeus "Ring Master" ring light arrived a couple of days ago via UPS. Nothing broken or damaged. Thank you man in brown!

Although "Ring Master" sounds a bit circus-like, many of Paul C. Buff's products have creatively entertaining names: Think "Alien Bees" and "Moon Unit."

Moon Unit, BTW, is also the late Frank Zappa's daughter's given name. Paul C. Buff? A Frank Zappa fan? Possibly. If so, maybe Buff will come out with a Zappa Crappa strobe attachment? Use your imagination to decide how a product named Zappa Crappa would modify the light. I'm guessing the Zappa Crappa modifier would attach with a Dweezil.

Sorry for the detour. I sometimes become a bit ADD impaired.

Back on topic...

I haven't used the Ring Master yet, other than to assemble it and fire off a few pops to insure it works, but I do have some initial reactions. You knew I would, right?

While it's size is about what I expected, the unit is lighter than I thought it would be. That's a good thing for obvious reasons.

The removable attachment bracket is a clever design, enabling photographers to either mount a camera to the ring light, mount it--with or without a camera attached--to a tripod, mount the ring light to a stand or boom, or to hand-hold it with or without a camera on-board.

Build quality, however, is something I'm concerned about. Surprising, since the Ring Master is part of Buff's "Zeus" line, named for Greek mythology's King of all Gods and, by default and according to ancient Greek lore, the strongest and most invincible god chillin' on Mt. Olympus.

Perhaps it's the Ring Master's light weight that causes me to be concerned about its build quality? Some of this product is made of plastic. The chassis and reflector, OTOH, are made of some sort of formed (and painted black) sheet metal. I think it's light-weight aluminum: Al-loo-min-ee-um for any Brits reading the blog. But I'm not 100% sure on that one. (Dammit, Jim! I'm a photographer not a metallurgist!)

To be fair to Buff, build quality tends to be a wait-and-see kind of thing. Something that plays out in time. So, I'll reserve final judgment on this aspect of the product until it's been a contributing member of my overall lighting kit for some time. My gut feeling, however, is that I should handle this tool rather gently, carefully, and with semi-kid gloves.

I should note that my new Ring Master will be well-protected when it's not in use. I acquired a Pelican case the other day, specifically to store my Zeus lighting rig, including the ring light. Everything fits into the case neatly, albeit it's a somewhat tight fit requiring some degree of puzzle-assembling skills.

While the Ring Master's front diffuser offers some protection for the two, half-circle, flash tubes, as well as its eight, miniature, modeling lights, I'm thinking a separate, hard(er) plastic cover would do a better job-- one that snaps onto the outer lip of the reflector.

I'm also a bit concerned with the way the diffuser locks into place. More so since the diffuser, besides doing its diffusing thing, is the only part protecting the tubes and mini-modeling-lights. I'm using the phrase "locks into place" rather lightly because, in my view of things that lock into place, the diffuser doesn't truly and securely lock. The reflector, on the other hand, does lock into place and requires turning a locking mechanism to lock and/or unlock it.

In spite of my wait-and-see reservations regarding the Ring Master's build quality and flash-tube protection, I'm quite excited to put this instrument into play. I recently wrote about my thoughts and expectations for this new-to-me lighting tool. If you missed that, you can read it HERE.

The pretty girl at the top is Selena from some time ago. I mostly like this one because of the impish expression on her face.


Justa_newbie said...

yikes , i was rather intrigued about this ring light, UNTILLLL I read i have to spend 599.99 on a power pack, so i an then spend 299.99 to use this ring light. :-) I'll pass on that . I am looking forward to your reviews though.


Tom said...

Are you going to show us a Photograph, PG or not, with this. I am quite interested.

jimmyd said...


Haven't shot anything with it yet. I just got the freakin' thing! :-)

I'm sure I'll have an opportunity to try it out very soon. Hopefully, this week. I'm looking forward to playing with it. As soon as I do, I'll post a pic or two.

HMetal said...

I have the first version of Buff's ring light, the ABR800, under the Alien Bees product line and it looks like the same physical product. I agree about the build quality, thus I'm very careful when using it, especially in the field. When the unit arrived at my door, the outer plastic reflector was cracked and would not stay on the unit. I taped it with some scotch tape and immediately informed the people at White Lightning. They shipped me a new reflector free of charge and did not ask for the cracked one back. so, I Krazy glued the original one which seems to have fixed it. I keep it as a spare in case I break the replacement during use. I love the ring light but I too wish it were built out of something more sturdy and longer-lasting.

Anonymous said...

Buff worked in the recording industry before getting into lighting. Started Pal studios where I believe he worked with the Surfaris on "Wipeout", And was also a key player in Zappa's carreer ( see the credits for "Freak Out".

Bob said...

I also bought the ABR800 and am disappointed to report mine did not make it. Yes, its dead, Jim.

The build quality could not hold up to the road, or the studio. I finally gave up using it as a ring light and used it as a center / fill light (it worked great for that). I kept it on its own little stand (about 2 ft) until it tipped over and broke into pieces.

In retrospect, a ring light for that price really wasn't going to be build to military specs, was it?

All the best Jimmy!

jimmyd said...


Wow! And I thought I was inventing a semi-clever connection between Buff and Zappa. Truth, indeed, is stranger than fiction.

Check this out:


Yeah, many things of a photo-gear nature tend to break when they're dropped. Few of them are manufactured to military specs. (Pelican cases are an exception.)

Once, about three years ago, one of my Novatron monolights fell off a boom from a height of about ten feet. It hit the concrete floor in my studio-- the floor being covered with seamless paper and nothing else.

While both the flash tube and the modeling light busted into hundreds of little glass pieces, the monolight itself still worked and continues to do so.

momento_mori said...

Hey Jimmy, really looking forward to hearing your opinion on the ring flash. I have the ABR800 and with some TLC (kid gloves) it has existed well on location and studio. It has met with the ground a couple of times and other than a few scratches and dings, it kept on firing. I agree, build quality isn't mil spec but for the money, an assumption of handle with care is the unwritten rule. Besides that, it fires flawlessly every time and I love using it. Hope the Zeus works well for you!

Ken said...

I was hoping it was better build quality than the ABR800, but it sounds like the same plastic deal? :-P
Not good for long term use...the ABR800 had a plastic mount for a lightstand...