Unlike a ring flash which is both more powerful as well as allowing for variable light output, LED Macro ring lights have tended to be lower powered and offered far less light output control, thus requiring them being placed very close to the subject. This I found to be a distinct advantage when photographing subjects such as small flowers, where my requirement was for a delicate fill in light to help lighten the shadows. The constant light source was a great help in identifying areas exhibiting any specular highlights, even before taking the shot, allowing for a slight change in position which would eliminate or at the very least reduce them.
In a few short years the situation has changed with the advent of newer and more powerful LED’s, and due to their increased brightness and lower power requirements, LED’s have now replaced conventional flash tubes in mobile phones and even digital cameras. Having used LED light panels in a studio environment, the ability to change the colour temperature of the light, having a constant light source which emits no heat as well as offering a short flash like duration, which can be adjusted to provide a continuous light source, has distinct advantages. Prices however used to be an issue, but that has now changed with small and low priced units on the market suitable for anyone to experiment with, especially when undertaking close up photography in the field.
The two down sides I have come across is that if the LED’s are being used in flash mode, then the identification of specular highlights could again become an issue, unless the camera was on a tripod, in which case the LED’s could be set to continuous mode, problem areas identified, and corrected for, then the LED’s reset to flash mode for the shot. The second, and potentially more significant down side is the thought of having to replace all my expensive, flash tube, flash equipment with the new technology LED’s!!!
However, with starting prices at around £30 for a small LED flash / continual ring light kit, I am about to dip my toe in the water, I just hope I don’t fall in above my neck.
All taken at ISO 200, f16, White balance set to ‘Daylight’, RAW format using a Canon 100mm f2.8 IS Macro on a 5DMkII body and LED ring light.