the orbis arm

[singlepic id=67 w=480 h=360 mode=web20 float=]

When I purchased the Orbis ring flash last summer one thing was immediately clear: it needed a way to stay attached to the camera without the need for constant handholding. There was already an accessory in the works promising to do just that. A few weeks ago it finally started shipping.

From the official site: The orbis™ arm is a compact and lightweight mounting bracket designed to work with the orbis™ ring flash and most of your favourite SLR flashes, cameras and lenses. Built from 6061 aircraft grade aluminium and finished in a smooth powdered silver, the arm extends the possibilities of your orbis™, giving you the freedom to shoot on-lens for longer!

So does it work as advertised? It does, but there are a couple of caveats.

the good and... less good

The good?  The build. The Orbis Arm is really well-made - it feels sturdy, it's simple to use and it looks professional. You easily adjust it's length to fit both your lens and your flash unit using two big screws that allow the arm to extend up or down. Once tightened the Arm doesn't budge. There are pieces of rubber at every point of contact, preventing the wear and tare of metal against metal and making for a much sturdier grip. Using the built-in tripod sockets, you can use any standard flash bracket to secure your speedlight.

So what's the problem? It's still a pretty big piece of plastic hanging off the top of your flash head. Which means no matter how sturdy the Arm is, the weak link is between the flash and the Orbis itself. Case in point: when I first tried the Arm I  -stupidly - pointed my camera to the floor resulting in the flash head tilting forward, sending the Orbis flying and crashing with a loud bang! The fact that my Orbis is still intact is certainly a testament to its sturdiness. Now to be clear the manual does say you need to put on your lens hood after inserting the lens in the unit, which would've prevented my flying adventure. But no matter what you do, it still feels a little shaky and a lot of it depends on your combination of lens, speedlight and hood. And it still makes it hard to access the focus or zoom ring.

the quick and dirty solution

To make my life easier (and less nerve-racking) I decided to use an old SB-600 as my permanent ring flash. Since I'm either using the Orbis as subtle fill or very close-up, the 600 has quite enough power for the job. I added a velcro strap to attach the Orbis and flash head to the Arm: this prevents the flash from tilting down and solidifies the setup. The rig is set for my 17-50mm lens, which is what I'll be using the Orbis with most of the time. So now I have a ringflash rig that I can use on-camera, handheld or on a tripod as shown in the pics below.

[nggallery id=11]

is it worth it?

It is. If you own an Orbis it's a no brainer, even taking my exceptions into account. It certainly beats handholding the speedlight and Orbis which I always found a little unnerving. And I still stand by my opinion that it's a much better solution than the comparable Ray Flash that forces you to buy a unit for a predetermined camera and flash combo*. That, to me, is a potential waste of money.

At $59 the Orbis Arm pretty much eliminates the problem it was meant to solve. Just watch out for flying debris ;-)

* While the Orbis works with most lenses and speedlights, it doesn't work with everything. Case in point: my Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 is just too big, even without the lens hood.