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Wondering if it's worth upgrading from an older lightsphere?
on March 31, 2010
I am a big fan of Gary Fong's lightsphere diffusion system despite what people may think of him or the stares I get occassionaly when using his product. It's the only lighting accessory that gives me the look I want, for either close range portraits, macro lighting in a pinch, or for use in small to medium rooms. That said, it has been inconvenient storing and carrying this accessory in the field due to its bulk. Lightsphere II solves this do a degree with its semi-malleable structure that allows for some foreceful folding. Not a solution, but one way to overcome its size.
With the release of the lightsphere collapsable, I wondered if this could retire my 2 year old lightsphere II. Was is it time for an upgrade? Yes and no. Read on for my impressions.
First, the bad:
1) The older lightsphere II is actually smaller than the collapsible in its expanded form. The lightsphere II is smaller because it does not need to collapse like an accordion, allowing it to have thinner and fewer walls, giving it a more curved, bell shape. The sphere II is also mostly transluscent, making it feel smaller because it's less visually intrusive than its cloudy big brother.
2) The lightsphere II is fitted to your particular flash model. This is very valuable for me because I never struggle fitting the accessory, as it comes on and off with ease, one handed, and stays on securely. It takes effort and practice to get the collpapsible on and off quickly, requiring me to use both hands while setting the camera on a table. Perhaps it's more an issue of technique and practice, but it's important to note I never initially had this problem with the lightsphere II. This is a double edged sword however as the sphere II can't fit on various sized speedlites, so if you need it to fit across various sizes, you will have to overlook the fit issue.
3) Light loss is greater on the collapsable compared to the lightsphere II. I estimate it to be around 1-2 stops of light, most likely due to the cloudy material vs. clear on the lightsphere II. While I understand its the nature of the beast using a diffuser, it's light I never could afford to give up when I used the lightsphere II.
4) The lightsphere collapsible is made from a material that is not only more flexible than the lightsphere II, but also stickier for some reason. It's not by any means going to stick to an object or your hands, but I noticed lint sticking to its surfaces having stored it in my cargo pocket. Nothing a quick rinse in a water faucet wouldn't fix, but lint never found its way onto my lightsphere II when carried in the same "linty" pocket.
5) I paid $39.99 for the lightsphere II 2 years ago. At [...], the collapsible is not going to break the bank, but I'm not neccessarily *getting* 50% more by *paying* 50% more if you get my drift. It's arguable however, how much the collapsible feature and one-size-fits-all approach are worth to each individual.
Now, the Good:
1) Same, even, wrap-around light as the lightsphere II. As long as you understand the limitations of light loss with the collapsible, you will essentially get the same, beautiful effect you are used to with other lightspheres. The cloudy material seems to give softer light for close portrait work and was a nice surprise I will surely take advantage of.
2) When collapsed, it folds into a disc about 1 1/2 inches thick. Although easier to store in the bottom of a bag or in a mesh pocket outside your backpack, I still don't like the fact it's noticeable larger in diamter than the sphere II. However a "can of tuna" is always easier to carry around than a tupperware bowl ;) Note: This collapsible factor will probably be THE reason why folks should look to upgrade or choose this product over previous lightspheres.
In conclusion, I am pleased with the lightsphere collapsible's performance, but having a real hard time with of ease of use and dissappointed with light loss. It's not letting me do anything I couldn't before with my old sphere, and frankly, I'm dissappointed about needing two hands to install the diffuser instead of one. However, I don't want to minimize the fact its easier to carry along to a shoot, making this a must buy for those who prize portability but still need soft, diffused light the sphere is capable of in a pinch. Given how much I use Gary Fong's diffuser and how well it performs at diffusing light, the lightsphere collapsible will serve as a compliment to my lightsphere II, rather than a replacement. Both have a permanent place in my gear bag and will see use for years to come.
After over a year of regular use of both the Lighsphere II and the collapsible, my opinion of the collapsible has grown more favorable in regards to use. I've come to appreciate it's firm grip as I've found it's much easier to gel the speedlite in the way it fits over the flash head. The portability has been a great benefit as it now travels with me "just in case" when I don't know what my indoor lighting conditions will be like.
My only negative comment is the yellow tint the collapsible has acquired. Thorough washing does not seem to remove the color cast and no longer shares the same color temperature of my Lightsphere II. This is unexpected and makes color balancing between the 2 spheres quite cumbersome. I would like to point out I may be in the minority of those using multiple lightspheres to accomplish different looks.