Gadgets to make the output from a portable flash gun more flattering are always in demand and one of the more recent is the much hyped Lightsphere from Gary Fong. Peter Bargh sees if it's as good as the creator would have us believe.
The original Lightsphere was created in 2004 by successful business man and professional photography Gary Fong.
There are now two Lightspheres - Clear and Cloud. The light from the Clear one is cooler and has more contrast than the Cloud. The advantage of the Clear is that you have minimal light loss, so your flash can be used at greater distances, making it good for photojournalism, action and lighting larger areas.
The Lightsphere Cloud, which we will test, creates a softer and more diffused light that's also warmer, making it ideal for portrait photography, close-ups and small group shots.
The Lightsphere seems to be just a small part of this entrepreneur's business, but in the flash accessory world it's rather big - physically speaking
While most of the popular gadgets from the likes of Stofen and Lumiquest take up very little room in the gadget bag, the Lightsphere is a whopper. When I first saw one mounted on a flash head I laughed. The first impression was that it looked like the bottom of one of those huge 1.5 litre supermarket pop bottles. Blue Peter eat your heart out! With a diameter of 11.5cm and height of 10cm you can't slip this into a pocket. Although the plastic material it's made of is flexible, so you could squash it to slip into a space in the camera bag and there's no chance of cracking it, like you could with an Omnibounce.
The Lightsphere has a ridged rectangular aperture at the base that slips over the head of your flashgun. It stays in place by friction so you have to get one that matches the dimensions of your flash. There are several sizes available.
There's a chart on Gary's site that suggests which one you need for a wide variety of flashguns.
We used size 1 on a Pentax 280T flash (not listed). It fits, but the grip isn't fantastic which means if you knock it the Lightsphere falls off. Thankfully it just bounces when it hits the floor. I have Velcro on my flash used in conjunction with a Lumiquest bouncer which is all around the flash tube. This extra thickness make the Lightsphere more secure.
One thing with the Lightsphere Cloud that some photographers will find a problem is that most of the flash goes upwards to be bounced and the cloudy nature of the plastic diffuses the remaining light. So you may get wonderful soft light, but it does reduces the distance you can shoot. To overcome this Gary developed an accessory that slips into the Lightsphere called the Chrome Dome. This has a reduced size aperture at the top to concentrate the light hitting the ceiling and a chrome-plated kicker panel to direct light forward. This combination doubles the power and efficiency of the flash, but as you'll see later in the results makes the shadows more harsh. It also adds another £40 on to the bill.
I've yet to use a flash diffuser that I could really hold my hand up and say that it delivers results as good as studio flash. Gary has a video on his site that demonstrates that the Lightsphere is as good. So that's the challenge.
I asked Rachael to stand in front of a neutral background. She was positioned close to the background so the shadow from direct flash would be more obvious. This is a typical scenario for shots taken indoors where shadows and harsh light spoil otherwise decent photos.
I first took a photograph using direct flash - a Pentax 280T mounted on an *ist D digital camera. The camera was set to aperture-priority at f/4 and the flash to the f/4 auto setting.
Then I did the same, but rotated the flash head 90deg so it bounced off the white ceiling.
Next I attached the Cloud Lightsphere with the flash in the same 90deg position.
Then I added the Chrome Dome and finally I took a shot using the same model, but a new background and a single studio flash head fitted with a softbox
- Judge for yourself.
Photo taken using the camera and flash on auto at f/4. Direct flash
Photo taken using the flash without sphere bounced off the ceiling
Photo taken with the Lightsphere added.
Photo taken with th Chrome Dome added
Shot taken with one studio light and softbox
|I'm torn between the studio shot, flash bounced direct and the version using the Lightsphere without the Dome.
Of course portable flash is about being portable and the Lightsphere also comes into its own when used on location. Here you have a situation where you don't have the benefit of mains power to use studio flash or a ceiling to bounce flash off. In such scenarios the Lightsphere works amazingly well by creating a sunlight style light without the use of reflectors or other tricks.
The above three shots show Ben photographed with just available light (left) with the Lightsphere (middle) and with the Lightsphere and Chrome Dome attached (right). Notice how warm and natural looking the flash shots are. The Chrome Dome does gives that extra oomph, but I prefer the Dome free central shot.
It's big, it's bulky, it's relatively expensive, but it works, and I was surprised. Having seen the video of the item being totally oversold by Mr Fong I didn't expect anything near as good. The light is very good. I don't really think anyone's going to replace studio lighting because of this, but it's far better than any flash diffuser I've used and gives the next best thing to studio light. The Lightsphere is a good option for those who have a Speedlite or similar flash and don't want to go to the expense or have space needed for studio work. It's also an ideal purchase for location/press photographers who need a better light from their flash in outdoor scenarios.
So it's down to price. It's £50 for the Cloud Lightsphere and another £40 for the Chrome Dome. Both for £50 would be far more realistic deal. I passed the Chrome Dome around several colleagues and asked them to guess the price - £5 to £10 were the replies. It feels cheap and looks cheap. Our advice buy the Lightsphere and give the Dome a wide berth.
Cloud Lightsphere hard to break.
Creates soft, pleasing results.
Fits a range of flashguns.
Chrome Dome quite fragile.
Reduces flash range significantly.