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...
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.
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:
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.
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...
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 :)
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: