My favorite local photo store – Adorama –
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recently sent me one of their email newsletters and this particular one happened to highlight an exciting product from the professional photogra
pher and entrepreneur Gary Fong: Lightsphere.
An innovative flash diffuser, the Lightsphere II Inverted Dome System is claimed to produce results rivaling sophisticated studio-lighting setups at a fraction of the cost while being
portable enough to carry around anywhere. On Gary's website you'll find a number of good videos showing the power of Lightsphere, its variety of applications and performance under different conditions. Gary himself made an appearance at Adorama recently and showcased his product receiving a great response. A member of the staff told me they sold about a hundred of these in a span of 2 hours during and after Gary's visit!
Since I was struggling to get satisfactory results using just my flash, I was very interested in this product and ran out to Adorama to get myself one of these wonders.
. I chose the Lightsphere Cloud version which offers slightly warmer light than the Lightsphere Clear, and since I'm using a Nikon SB 800 flash unit I needed the C1 model. If you're not familiar with the Lightsphere line, you'll find that a few different models are available, each custom designed for a specific set of flash units, so if you decide to get one Book of Ra for yourself make sure you pick the right one. Gary also provides a number of useful Lightsphere accessories which can be purchased separately as well as in combo packs, and which provide a stronger or softer response as well as handy solutions for matching the color of the lit subject to
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the lighting of some common large interiors.
Having read a bit about the Lightsphere prior to getting one I was a little turned off by its price ($49 for the model without accessories) as well as its size and appearance, but decided that the quality of results would make it all worth it. I was also unsure if the material the dome was made from would be flexible (soft) or solid, as this would determine how durable and portable it would be. I was pleased to find that the Lightsphere was smaller than I expected and flexible enough to allow it to be squeezed into the front pocket of my LowePro top-loader photo bag along with my flash. (That said, the fit was very tight and I did not feel comfortable having it stored that way for a long period of time as I worried it would disfigure the shape of the Lightsphere, even if this would not necessarily be permanent.)
Mounting the Lightsphere onto the flash is very simple and using it as Gary recommends (with the flash turned sideways) does seem to be the way to go as it offers the most flexibility. Every Lightsphere ships with a DVD containing videos providing a good introduction and number of practical cases for getting the most out of the unit. I was a little disappointed that most of the videos on the DVD are the same ones which I already saw on Gary's website and would have preferred if additional content was provided, but at the same time I was eager to start shooting and didn't mind turning the DVD off.
The results produced with the Lightsphere were frankly very impressive. The hard shadows are gone and the entire interior is lit pleasantly and evenly. The bright highlights of the subject are greatly minimized although not entirely eliminated but its easy to see how using the Lightsphere appears to emulate a multi light-source setup largely due to the combination of the bounce flash and the multi directional glow of the sphere.
If you're looking to improve the performance of your flash, the Lightsphere is certainly worth a close look. I've used the Sto-Fen style dome diffuser which comes with the Nikon SB 800, custom and built-in bounce cards and was never quite happy with the casino bonus. The Lightsphere certainly glows them all away! That said, my initial concerns about the unit (size, shape and price) did resurface and ultimately led me to decide that the performance of the Lightsphere can be closely matched using a much simpler, more portable and much cheaper home-made alternative. I ended up returning the Lightsphere to the store and focused on making a custom flash diffuser, code named AK49 (since the materials cost about 49 cents). This custom flash diffuser takes only minutes to create and when not in use serves as a flash protector (whether stored or packed in your camera bag). A full review of my AK49 diffuser along with the instructions for building one for yourself is available here.
For photo review of the Lightsphere II Cloud, please visit: http://reviews.gallerama.com/gallery/693