Review: Gary Fong Collapsible Lightsphere

Posted on November 26, 2011

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Gary Fong replaced his older light sphere product with a newer and revised product. For those of you who don’t know about Gary Fong, his products are one of the standards that many photographers use. He burst onto the market with a product that supposedly didn’t need a flash bracket, was modular, and also softened shadows so they weren’t black lines. The first product worked great as a bulb diffuser. Since then, he has revised his product into a new product and adding a new feature: being collapsible.

I have shot with the new collapsible products a few times, and wanted to give people an idea of my experiences and thoughts about the product. One thing I have referred to in past blog entries is softening the light that you use – this is one of the devices that are used to do this. I will describe three uses of the lightsphere in this entry.

The first thing that one sees with this product is the three parts and cheat sheet. The light sphere, white ring, and dome. The light sphere is the main part of the product and is what fits on the flash through friction. When not in use, it is designed to be collapsed around the nose of the flash. Because of its design, it is a universal fit and should fit about almost any flash. The dome fits on the top of the light sphere, and can be used with the curve pointing in or out. The ring is an optionally usable product and only needed if you have any of the light sphere add-on products. Don’t lose this ring. Finally, there is a cryptic cheat sheet on how to use the product. If you are like most people, the cheat sheet won’t mean much of anything to you until you use the product, watch a few of the Gary Fong instructional videos on You Tube, or finish reading this post. If you buy this product, spend a few minutes at their website and be sure to click on the “videos” tab.

The first thing you do is assemble the light sphere according to your use. I will cover a few different ways of using the lightsphere: inside, outside, and as a fill device. The dome is also close enough to be used as a grey source for setting your white balance. If you aren’t familiar with this, please see my blog on how to set your white balance.

Inside, you will want to almost always shoot without the regular dome installed. This allows the most light to bounce off the ceilings and illuminate around your subject. Contrary to the previous lightspheres, the collapsible light-sphere product should always be used on a flash bracket (even though Gary Fong recommends that you don’t). If you don’t, when you shoot in a vertical frame, the shadow will always be to the right or left of your subjects. The good news is that the shadows, when present, are well diffused and not too obnoxious. Gary Fong recommends always shooting in program mode. The ISO should be set at 800, and I personally think it is a little bit on the high side. Gary Fong says that most cameras sold within the past few years should be fine shooting at this high of an ISO and noise shouldn’t be a problem. The flash should be set on TTL – this setting lets the camera determine the best exposure and shutter speed for the best image. If you have put any correction on the flash or to the program mode, that should be set back to no adjustment. Make sure you are in a multi-point metering mode. Point the light sphere to the ceiling and you are ready to shoot. I didn’t like the results. I switched the camera to manual exposure mode, setting the lowest possible shutter speed for the action, and the aperture to properly expose the image. I retook the image, and everything looked really good. After shooting several images, I reviewed what I captured. All images with the flash over the lens looked excellent. The images with the flash slightly to one side, the image had slight shadows to one side of the subject. The closer to the subject that the shadow get, the more defined and dark it is.

Outside, you should put the dome on the lightsphere with the arc pointing away from the camera (center further away from flash than the edges). Turn the flash down like you would use a flash normally pointing the top of the light sphere at your subject, and use the same settings as you would inside. This supposedly gives you better lighting because of the strongest possible light available. My testing with this shows that it gives a decent amount of light and also softens it enough to make it look like a flash wasn’t used. I was impressed with how much the light was softened and the spread of light

Once in a while, you will need a fill flash device. The light sphere can perform this task. You do this by inserting the dome upside down on the light sphere (the sides are further away than the center of the dome). Again, the flash is pointed at your subject. Beware that being too close or trying to shoot too many people will cause a light fall off on the outer edges when doing this.

My conclusion is that the Gary Fong Collapsible Lightsphere is an excellent diffuser, and ranks as one of the better flash diffusers available. It really softens the light is produces. The one complaint is that the images that you create tend to be under exposed and contain if used as directed, and if set to make proper exposures, you end up with slight but diffused shadows. The under exposure is easy to correct in post production and the noise created at 800 ISO can be easily removed with either Neat Image or Noise Ninja. For the money spent on this product, it provides an inexpensive alternative to using an Expodisc to set your custom white balance close to what it should be, too.

Edit: I have used the chrome dome top with it now, too, and the shadows are more pronounced (less diffused) while ambient light goes down with it installed. This is to be expected as it reduces the amount of light exiting the top, and has a reflector that bounces more light out the front.

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