Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ringlight/Flash …. and that pesky focus assist lamp

My Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ringlight/Flash arrived this week and I have to say, I think it is easily one of the best value photographic equipment purchases I ever made.  It has revolutionized my capabilities for macro shooting. It’s also great for taking any kind of moderate close-up photos, like those I need for my online sales items.

This device cost me something like $55 AUD, delivered!  Hardly a major investment among camera equipment.  Yet it is the single biggest game changer I’ve come across.  Would I recommend that you get yourself one?  You bet!  For such a modest outlay, it has an amazing range of capabilities and facilities.  It comes with a set of adapter rings that allow you to fit it to the filter ring of any size lens, from 49-77 mm.  It has variable light output between 1/4 and full output. It can light one side or the other of your subject, or both together.  It can operate as a constant lamp for making videos or as a flash (with twice the light output) for still photography.  It has a focus assist capability, i.e. the lamp will light when you half depress your shutter button, to assist with auto focus.  The lamp itself can be mounted to the filter ring of your lens, so as to encircle the lens, or it can be mounted on the hotshoe of your camera, just like a regular flash unit.  In short, the makers have thought of just about everything and then built it at a modest cost, out of all proportion to its value.  How can you go wrong?

However, this article isn’t actually intended as a review of the Aputure Amaran Halo LED Ringlight/Flash.  If you’d like to see a very excellent video review of the unit, there are several on youtube.  This article is about one small aspect of the operation of the unit, that I think will be important to some macro shooters.

THAT PESKY FOCUS-ASSIST LAMP

As I’ve indicated, the unit has a focus assist facility, in that the lamp is illuminated when you part depress the shutter button.  This is really excellent for still photography and for stationary subjects.  Not quite so hot though, if you are trying to sneak up on a nervous insect or other small critter.  You get in close, squeeze the shutter button for focus … and your subject is bathed in a blinding glare, before you’ve actually taken the shot!  By the time you press that shutter button all the way, your subject will be long gone.

I was astonished to read a post on a question/answer forum on Aputure’s site, where someone asked if this pre-focus lamp can be turned off.  The short, sharp and shiny response was ……. No!  This didn’t seem very satisfactory to me because (no doubt like the person asking the question) I was thinking about photographing small active creatures, using the flash.  So I did a little experimenting and I can assure you that it is indeed possible …. and easy …. to circumvent the pre-focus lamp by several methods.

My cameras are Canon DSLR’s (a 5DII and a 7D) but I’m certain that the same methods will work with other brands of camera. Starting with the simplest and easiest (and zero cost) option then …… here’s what you can do.

1.   Cover the additional pin connectors on your hotshoe

If you look at the hotshoe on your camera, you’ll see that it is comprised of a surrounding metal plate, a large, central contact, and a number of smaller contacts at the back

It’s those four little contacts that you see clustered behind the main contact, that actually control the focus-assist function of the ringflash.  Simply applying a small square of gaffer tape (or similar) to cover those four contacts will disable the focus-assist function altogether, without affecting the flash, or its use as a constant video lamp.

What is important is that you don’t cover any other section of the hotshoe;  just those additional contacts at the back.  Obviously, the tape can be removed anytime and the unit’s normal capabilities restored.

2.     Use the Sync port on your camera

For anyone who doesn’t like the idea of putting gooey tape on their hotshoe, there are a couple of other possibilities, requiring additional equipment.  The first is to use the PC Sync port on your camera, together with a cable and an auxiliary hotshoe.

The PC Sync port is the upper round connector that you see here.  Its purpose is to allow the connection of external flash devices.  The important point to grasp is that it only provides a simple connection with no TTL facilities ….. exactly what we need.

This is an auxiliary hotshoe that has two sync ports on the side, allowing it to be connected to other devices.  You mount the Ringflash’s control unit onto the auxiliary hotshoe and connect the hotshoe to the camera’s sync port, using an appropriate cable. You will need some method of mounting this setup to your camera, of course.  Mine looks like this.

The Ringflash’s control unit has been mounted to the auxiliary hotshoe which has been set up on a simple grip, mounted to the camera tripod plate.  A sync cable connects the auxiliary hotshoe to the camera’s sync port.

An auxiliary hotshoe can be had on Ebay or similar online shopping sites for just a few dollars and a 30cm (1 foot) sync cable will set you back about $1.  Any auxiliary grip that you already have will probably provide a ‘cold shoe’ for mounting such a setup.

3.     Use a wireless trigger/receiver setup

The third possibility is to use a wireless, radio controlled flash trigger.

This involves mounting a trigger unit to your camera’s hotshoe and a receiver unit to the hotshoe mount of the ringflash’s control unit.

Here you can see the radio trigger unit mounted to the camera’s hotshoe.  The receiver unit is mounted to a base plate that I borrowed from a large flash unit and the ringflash control unit is in turn mounted onto the hotshoe of the wireless receiver.

These particular wirelss trigger and receiver units are Fotga brand ones and are available online for around $10 AUD each.  Anybody who is remotely serious about creative use of flash should seriously consider investing in a couple of triggers and a few receiver units.  I use mine all the time and they are the bomb!

So there you go …. three methods of deactivating the focus-assist function of your Aputure Amaran Halo Ringlight/Ringflash.  So now you can sneak up on those flighty critters with at least a sporting chance of capturing that standout shot … without frightening them away with that pesky focus assist lamp.

I don’t know why anyone would bother with anything less straight forward and cheap, than whacking a bit of tape on their camera hotshoe.  But I know some folks are pretty anal about their equipment and a bit of glue from the tape might be regarded as unthinkable.  The other options are both very minimal, in terms of extra cost but also work effectively.

I hope this will be of some help to those who have purchased, or are maybe considering buying this outstanding and great value ringlamp/ringflash.

Cheers,

Andrew Caddle 20170308

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