First let me preface this review by saying I’m not an event guy. I rarely shoot events, I don’t do weddings, and hardly any grip and grins anymore. One of the reasons I don’t do events is that I HATE the look of on camera flash. That harsh, in your face, flattened look drives me crazy. With that said, I recently agreed to shoot an event for a regular client of mine. This is a good client for me and she promised it would be a low key event, and she was in a jam so of course I’ll help her out. It goes without saying that I want to do the job right so I began looking into ways to soften and modify that flash. (FYI, the party was at night, on a dinner cruise. Think lots of glass and mood lighting.)
In the past I’d tried the Lumiquest but that’s not soft enough. I’ve also used small softboxes that attach to the flash head but those block the AF assist on the flash. Since it’s dark in the room I’ll need that AF assist to focus. Casting about for a new solution I remember hearing good things about Gary Fong’s modifiers but if I remember correctly those are fairly expensive. As I said, I don’t shoot a lot of events so spending a lot on a piece of gear that will primarily live in my bag doesn’t sound like a solid plan.
Enter the LightSpere Universal (LSU in Garyfongspeak) It retails for about 50 bucks, and can work with any moderately sized flash. I have a 430ex (Canon) so it seemed to be worth the effort. It comes in two varieties, cloud and half cloud. I opted for the cloud variety as I generally like softer light. The softer light of the cloud model comes at a price of a greater loss of light. Quick informal tests showed that using the LSU resulted in about a 2 stop loss of light from my flash versus shooting direct. This is about what I would expect from bouncing off of an 8 ft ceiling. The guide number on my flash dropped from 80 (f/8 at 10 ft, iso100) to about 43 (f/4 1/3 at 10 ft, iso 100.)
Samples… The below samples show initial tests I shot with the kids in the kitchen. These were shot at 1/125, f/8, iso 400 at a distance of about 10 feet. Flash set to eTTL.
You’ll notice that the lightsphere is right between direct and bounce in terms of softness. It also tends to warm things up in relation to the direct flash. In this particular room that will be because the ceiling is a warm white (which most are.) If you’ll look closely you’ll see that the lightsphere and direct shots also have some bounce back off of the wall behind, which is to be expected since the light source is at camera, whereas the bounce shot has none since the light source is actually the ceiling.
The lightsphere fits pretty well on the flash head and is secured by a velcro cinch strap. It also includes what is basically a heavy duty rubber band to further tighten the modifier onto the flash. The unit itself is very lightweight. I was initially worried about the weight of the thing pulling my flash head down when I have it tilted up, or rotated in the case of vertical shots, but that hasn’t been an issue yet. The unit has a removable dome top to allow for access to the flash head (great for taping on gels) and one could shoot without the dome top for a harsher light. These domes are also interchangeable with others available from the company (they sell an amber dome as well as what they call the chrome dome.) The lightsphere also takes up a good deal of space in the camera bag as it does not collapse or fold in any way. Count on it taking up as much space as a large lens.
Bottom line… I’ll keep it and probably use anytime I put the flash on the camera. It’s not perfect for every occasion, but I think for as often as I shoot with on camera flash it will work great.