Sunday, February 3, 2008

Review: Lambency Flash Diffuser

Finally, the day has arrived for a review of the Lambency Flash Diffuser which I purchased at the beginning of January. I haven't had a lot of time to work with it, but I've got plenty of experience and information to share. I'm pretty proud of this post; to my knowledge this is the only independent review of the Lambency diffuser on the net.

And for under $20, this diffuser is a steal... literally. The idea was stolen from Gary Fong, and while I'm not proud of supporting such blatant product theft, the price is right. The purchase post talks a bit more about that. I do recommend purchasing Gary Fong's LightSphere if you are able: while I haven't tested it, I have to assume it is better made, will be delivered faster, and includes a how-to DVD (I think, I didn't see confirmation on some parts of the web site).

But, this review is about the Lambency flash diffuser, so lets get to it...

Ordering and Delivery:

As mentioned in the previous post, I purchased SKU 7385 from DealExtreme for $16.82 including shipping. Since DealExtreme ships from Hong Kong, my order on Jan 7th was finally delivered on February 1st, a full 25 days later. Obviously, if you need a diffuser in a hurry, don't go for something overseas... And you could get it to move faster, but the shipping would cost you more than the diffuser!

I've also noticed a lot of lambency diffusers floating around on eBay, ranging in cost from $13 and up (including shipping). I've put a small search box below so you can check current prices (mouse over the price to see the shipping cost):

Another thing which makes ordering challenging is getting the right size. It seems like each seller has a different sizing guide which makes it difficult to know exactly which one to get (especially since I have a Sunpak 383 which is rarely listed). It turns out the side of the box has a sizing guide, so if in doubt, cross reference this guide to the seller listing to verify the correct size.

Gotta love the "Minonlta" option...

Physical Characteristics:

The diffuser and two domes (white and gold) come wrapped in thin plastic bags inside the box shown at the top of this post. That's it, no instructions of any kind, nothing else.

The domes and diffuser came in excellent condition (as shown below with the white dome in place). The domes are hard plastic while the diffuser is a soft, rubbery vinyl.

I've got to warn you now, the vinyl STINKS. This, coming from the guy who couldn't smell his own stinky sneakers (moldy the recent rain) which his wife wouldn't let him keep in the house, means the smell is quite strong. At first, I couldn't quite place the smell, but my wife described it as body odor. Only after doing a bit of research on vinyl, did I remember what it reminds me of: shower curtains.

And it turns out that vinyl outgassing is indeed harmful. So, please, keep the lambency diffuser away from children and in an airtight bag when in the house. Hopefully it will lose the smell over time, but remember that manufacturers overseas aren't held to the same toxicity standards that American manufacturers are. Allowing your toddler to play with this diffuser could be fatal (probably not, but why risk it?).

The diffuser attaches to your flash via friction. The base of the flash has numerous fingers (ridges) which grip tightly on your flash head (assuming you have the right size). If you accidentally buy a diffuser that is too small, you could probably cut the fingers down to size. If you buy one too large, you'll most likely be out of luck.

Placed on the camera (as shown below), the diffuser plus flash makes a combination that's VERY tall. The diffuser itself is quite heavy and was able to push my Sunpak 383's head over when I tilted the camera forward (to chimp). The extra weight could conceivably snap your flash foot or bend your flash shoe if you aren't careful. In actual use, it was pretty stable, but a bit awkward. Make sure you firmly tighten the flash to the shoe to avoid the flash falling off while in use.


All along, my biggest question has been, "How does this flash modifier actually modify the light?" Once I got it in my hands, my first priority was to get an idea of the distribution of light leaving the unit, which is information I will now share with you, dear reader.

To map the light distribution, I made use of a bare white wall in my bedroom. The first step was to place the flash against the wall, pointing up, and fire it at 1/16th power. With my 20D set on manual at 1/250s, ISO 100, and f/8, I took a number of images of the light projected on to the wall with different variations of diffusers. Each image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

Vertical Light Distribution

As you can see, the bare flash produces a bright cone of light directly in front of the flash head (as expected). The diffuser with no cone constricts the light a bit, but does throw a little more light in all directions. And with the dome installed, two cones of light are created: one wide cone above the dome, and a lighter wide cone below the head. Note the band of darkness in the plane of the cone.

Also, comparing the white cone to the gold cone, there is only a change in light color, although the outside of the upwards cone is colored less gold than the inside. I don't expect this will be enough of a color difference to notice in practice.

Next, keeping the flash close to the wall (about a foot or two away), I tried the flash with and without the white dome:

Horizontal Light Distribution (Close Range)

In this specific case, since the flash was closer the highlights saturated the sensor so I dropped the exposure by one stop. You can see that the cone causes a significant drop in the exposure directly in front of the flash; this light is then reflected behind and around the diffuser. It isn't obvious from this image, but the resulting light is significantly more diffuse also.

Horizontal Light Distribution (Far Range)

Moving the light back from the wall by about 6 feet, the most interesting thing happens -- the bare flash and the diffuser without the cone produce a similar distribution of light yet the diffuser with the cone produces a much lower light output. The output from the cone is much more diffuse and much wider (notice the light reflected from the mirror). The end result is a much more diffuse spread of light around the room.

So, obviously, the dome is designed to throw light in all directions, not just up into the ceiling (when the diffuser is pointing up). Maybe the softness of light claim made by Fong is due to the increased number of angles that light is pumped into the scene, almost a bare-bulb effect, but with a little more control and more ceiling bounce. Obviously, this kind of light isn't useful for all situations, but it can be very useful in an indoor environment when you are shooting people.

Likewise, aiming the diffuser forward should give improved light compared to the bare flash because it will be approximately six times the area. I haven't tested this very much and more experimentation will be needed to determine when to face the diffuser up and when to face it forward. I expect a close ceiling means aim it up to get the bounce.

Also, this isn't usually mentioned, but I think the lambency flash diffuser would be great for off-camera macro lighting to give very soft light. I'll have to try that too...

Real-World Results:

I got the diffuser on Friday night and didn't have a chance to really use it until the family went bowling on Saturday afternoon. In some cases, the bowling alley is perfect for on-camera flash (horrible lighting, most of the time the bowlers are in a darker area than the pins, etc). As a result of my experience, I have a few observations:
  • It stays on really well (once you get it on). The initial fit is tight and tough to get on quickly, but once it's on, it stays on.
  • The unit is heavy; be careful of the diffuser pushing the flash head down and putting undo stress on your flash shoe.
  • The amber/gold dome is very useful when shooting people indoors. Otherwise, the lighting makes the skin a little too cold (or green). But warming it up with the amber dome works wonders.
  • In dynamic situations it is difficult to balance ambient and a manual flash. It was a heck of a lot easier to use my 20D's flash with E-TTL to let it set the flash balance automatically. But I'm a trooper, so I slapped the Sunpak 383 on the camera and stuck with it.
  • The gold/amber dome works better given the warmish/green ambient.
  • The unit is large enough to attract some attention :)
Really, I don't feel like I have enough experience with the thing to really compare it to other techniques. As mentioned, I had a lot of trouble getting the balance right with the motion going on. Paired with an E-TTL speedlite (or the equivalent through-the-lens system from another manufacturer), the Lambency diffuser can be a really effective way to improve the qu

Another thing I noticed was the distinct drop in light intensity in the plane of the dome. For instance, notice the drop in brightness near my son's head in the image below:

But I did get some good shots, here are a few:


Red_Label said...

Thanks for the great review Sean! I've been wondering about this diffuser for a while now and think that I'll go ahead and purchase one based on your review. I already have the OmniBounce for my Sony HVL-56AM flash, but it's still pretty harsh and I would prefer something closer to studio umbrellas. Thanks again!

Sean said...

Red_label, they are so cheap that you really have no reason not to buy one.

Just remember that, like any lighting modifier, there will be times the lambency diffuser will help your images and times you'd rather have something else.

I'm still trying to figure out when it works and when it doesn't...

The Shtes! said...

Maybe, to prevent the flash head from being pulled down (during chimping :P), you can do what Gary Fong tends to do - when the flash is upright he swivels the head. I suspect the weight issue might be the same with Fong's Lightsphere.

BTW - has the diffuser's smell lessened in the time you've had it?

Sean said...

Yeah, as far as the weight, I just need to figure out how to balance the thing or keep a hold on it as I move it around. Part of the blame is on my Sunpak though, I think it has loosened up a bit more than I'd like with use.

And yeah, the smell is still there. It doesn't really bother me, but it definitely is noticeable every time I get it out!

Stein-Henry said...

Thanks for the review. I just purchased one from ebay (hongkong) just cost me $2.90 and $7.8 for shipping. I just dont know how many years of waiting for its arrival.

Anonymous said...

Dude.. I owe you one.. Thanks for posting that list of which model you need to buy.. because Deal Extreme didn't really list out my SB-24.. and I almost bought the P1 model thinking it would fit my flash.. Whew..

Pete said...

Wow, thanks for the post. I almost bought the GFong version, but got it on ebay from the listing you put and saved some $$$. It's shipping from the U.S. too! Yes!!!

linkdelight said...

Great review, the lambency flash diffuser is a neccessory stuff to own for creating a diffuse flash lighting, is not heavy to carry. There are many cheap but have good effect editions in the market to save you money.

Anonymous said...

I've just received and am experimenting with the Lambency kit, which now includes all the colored domes. The odor by the way seems to be gone. I know the odor you are referring to; many products made in China and even in many parts of Asia have a similar odor. Perhaps it is a tropical manufacturing phenomenon that is difficult to avoid in this manufacturing/storage environment.

I already had the Gary Fong Cloudsphere, but this one is the Lightsphere clone. I think the Lambency product is better made, fits better and so far is delivering better results. I'm using mine on the Canon 580EX II. I agree with the previous poster who says this concept works well, but not in all situations.

Anonymous said...

Ok, the Lambency stinks.. but what about the original Gary Fong? just to know, for sure my wife and a colleague's one wouldn't be so happy to have such item in the house if it's so "smelling".

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for the Lambency kit for a while now and i cannot find it anywhere in internet...if someone of you could lend me a hand in finding it I would be grateful....

my email is

thank you!!

Sean said...

By the look of it, the Lambency diffusers are no longer on the market. I suspect that whatever company in China was manufacturing them stopped doing so...

The Gary Fong models are still out there of course, but seem to have gone up in price!

Russell Phillippe said...

Not true - still available on bestofferbuy:

Sean said...

Nice find, Russell!

Anonymous said...

You can still get the Lambency Diffuser on Ebay no worries! I owned a Gary Fong, I liked it but it was the universal and they dont offer the fitted ones for my flash the Sony HVL-F42AM any more, Hell if you go on Gary Fong they dont offer any fitted ones except the colapsible ones. they look like crap! I am going with the Lambency P2!

Harry said...

Lambency: made in China.
Gary Fong: made in USA.

Anonymous said...

I purchased mine from Meritline on Jan 8th. I recieved it on Jan 22nd.
Very mild odor.
Mine fit a little loose on my Promaster 5200. I just jammed 4 of those round soft plastic rings you get on the top of a CD/DVD spindle and it stayed on great. The Promaster locks tightly to any position so it will hold well.

I purchased my daughter the universal Fong unit a year earlier.
It seems a little heavy on her Metz 58. She has to shoot P-TTL because the Auto mode of the Metz gets screwed up by light coming back at the flash sensor.

Resort Homes Magazine said...

Your review has helped me understand how this diffuser projects light. I do real estate photography so seeing the flash tests against the wall proved to be very informative for me.
I have the Fong Dome and I like it in some situations. My guess is that I'll have to buy a Lambency to compare it to my Fong.