Gary Fong is Wrong
8) *This is a photo geek post.* Proceed with Caution 8)
So I stumbled across Gary Fong’s recently uploaded video “Off-Camera Flash comparison of Lightsphere vs. Umbrella”. Essentially, Gary Fong is stating that using a light sphere is more optimal than using an umbrella as an off camera flash light modifier. Watch the video and check it out for yourself.
OK, I thought to myself, I have the lightsphere collapsible in my strobist kit. It’s at the bottom of the pile. I’m still trying to find some good uses for it. This setup, if it was true, would be super handy for outdoor flash work. Umbrellas & soft boxes DO become kites in the wind, which is really embarrassing and damaging to equipment when light stands blow over. So after watching the video, I needed to see if what he said was true: does the lightsphere do a better job than an umbrella for off camera flash work. I grabbed my quasi willing assistant Phoebe and set out to validate the Fong.
We’re watching for 1 thing really when talking about pleasing portrait light: the transition from light to dark. How soft is that transition? How contrasty is the progression? Are there mid tones in the shadows or is it just white and black? The more contrasty it is, the harsher the light. For portraits the name of the game is soft, nice transitions. This only happens when the light source is BIGGER relative to the subject. Relative size creates diffusion and more pleasing light.
Camera & Flash Settings: ISO 200 f/5, 5.6 & 7.1 (changed to expose properly for each light mod) 1/250 50mm WB: Cloudy; SB-900 at 1/4 power camera left just outside the frame, no gels, typical Rembrandt light pattern.
First thing I did was setup my SB-900 on a stand with my 45″ photo flex umbrella in the shoot thru setup, which is my goto light mod for portraits. Fong doesn’t evaluate this but I thought it prudent. A 45″ umbrella compared to Phoebe is pretty big. Here’s the shot in that setup:
Next was to see how the Lightsphere compared. You immediately notice how much the lightsphere warms up the image, I’d guestimate giving you almost 1/4 CTO, which is a bonus and something I normally do anyways. But you also notice how much more contrasty that shadow transition is. In fact, it’s darn near edgy. It doesn’t wrap nicely like the umbrella did. Why? Because the lightsphere is small compared to Phoebe. It’s roughly 1/4 the size of her head!
Finally, I did the bounce umbrella setup but with an added twist. I put on a foggy transparent shower curtain for added diffusion. The effect is more like a soft box or a photek soft lighter. And you can see how much more wrapping and soft the light is. It’s pure glorious! The transition from light to dark is very pleasing.
Conclusion: Fong is Wrong. There’s no way I would ever replace an umbrella with a lightsphere unless I wanted a more edgy look. The quality of light simply cannot be better from a source that is about the size of a softball vs. something 45″ around. Relative size is what makes light soft – not diffusion. I would say that Gary Fong is trying to maximize the use of the lightsphere and hence sell more units, but as an off camera light mod, it’s definitely not as pleasing as an umbrella in my mind and CANNOT replace them for portrait work. However, they definitely won’t tip over like an umbrella on location in the wind and they do give added warm up benefit to the colour temperature. But, I could buy 4 umbrellas for the cost of one lightsphere. 8)