The Flash Modifier Market
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While the Ultimate Light Box is my flash modifier of choice, the other six modifiers I tested aren't without their strengths.
Because the ULB comes with loads of attachments (translucent and black boxes, dome, cover, color and softening ﬁlters, and ﬂags) and an excellent adapter, I've included prices for similar packages when possible.
$37.99 for the modifier only
Flexi Bounce is a recent arrival from Pro Kit. It's inexpensive, folds flat, and has built-in silvered reflector panels. It spreads light nicely and is a solid performer. The Velcro bands that are not glued to the flash head don't make for very firm attachment, but I'm told the system is evolving for the better soon. The biggest plus is the sister products, which inexpensively turn small portable battery powered flash heads into studio performers. It's great for the photographer without a studio or anyone typically working in tight or varied locations. I can't wait to try their honeycomb snoots, hexagonal reflector, and rectangular units with barn doors, even.
$114.95 for the basic kit
The size of a small plastic bowl, Lightshpere II is a great light spreader. Gary Fong is certainly responsible for much of the evolution of small flash modifiers. We all laughed how the first model looked like bubble gum on steroids. The current clear version outperforms the translucent ones, which for my typical purposes are usually too soft. Lightshpere II has a reasonably secure attachment with a rubber band, flanges, and a Velcro strap. With this unit, I first began to formulate by current directional bounce technique by turning the flash head anywhere but at the subject and leaving the cap off. Lightshpere II remains middle-of-the road dependable in most situations at a middle cost.
$26.95 for the modifier only
Lumiquest's Mini SoftBox folds down to fit a shirt pocket. Size and cost are its best features. At the typical candid snap distance of 6-7', Gary's portrait shows an unmistakable hot spot, not spreading as evenly as other modifiers over the wide-angle scene. Even so, it preformed better than I expected and is still a big step up from no modifier at all. This unit attaches with permanent Velcro tabs and really works only pointed direct on.
$27.95 for the modifier only
Promax 80-20 by Lumiquest was a pioneer in broadening the effective light source, and the pierced design approached the idea of two directions of light. Its included reflecting accessory panels intensify, diffuse or warm the light quality. It folds flat, but needs permanent Velcro™ on the flash head. Over time all Velcro™ glued onto plastic gets sticky and messy and must be renewed. When the top is closed with a reflector, you can't orient it properly for a vertical shot; you have to take it off camera.
$19.95 for the modifier only
The old and inexpensive stand-by, Sto-Fen is really just a softened bare bulb head -- small, quick, easy. Green and amber domes available at an extra charge to mesh with fluorescent and incandescent ambient lighting. Though it does perhaps fall off a bit too easily, it takes up little camera bag space and installs with no time or effort. It remains a valuable contender; in fact, this simple unit is still my fallback solution.
$129.95 for the complete system
The Whaletail Reporter attaches reasonably well, like the Lightsphere II; it's also similar in size and shape and includes amber and silver reflector flaps, but it's a lot more expensive. Working best close-up like with the still life, it loses output volume quickly with distance. Low output was a benefit in the museum situation of my tests, but it was a failure for lighting the speaker. In spite of turning the flash head and moving the flaps, in my typical PR and event scenarios, my results are just plain soft, flat light.
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