Monday, June 20, 2011

Flash Series - Part 7: LumiQuest Softbox III - Off Camera Review

LumiQuest Softbox III

Welcome to a new post in the flash series of posts, today I will attempt to review the Lumiquest Softbox III and how it performs in real world scenarios, Mic has already covered the larger Fotodiox 8x12 here, and now it's time to see how the smaller one will do. Hit the jump for the full treatment.

BACKGROUND
 
A little bit of history first, my soft light modifiers prior to the SB III were a shoot-through umbrella, a reflective umbrella and a softbox like umbrella (a shoot-through with a reflective back cover). My typical shooting scenario is a family gathering or a trip outdoors, and I usually choose one lens only for the whole event, if I'm shooting indoors I'll add one of my flashes and my DIY gel kit and that's it. It is not practical f
or me to carry a light stand and an umbrella, of course there are times when I take them with me, but that's like 5% of the time. By the way, Mic has found a very good handheld umbrella here, although I believe he will look like an alien carrying it. :-D


So when I first saw David Hobby's post about the SB III, I was excited because it is small enough to carry and use hand held, and it won't require a light stand, that's how I arrived at the decision that I want one.

SETUP

It comes with with two velcro sets, one of them is attached to your speedlite of choice, this set consists of four small pieces, two long ones for the long sides of your flash head and two short ones for the short sides, when installed this way I find that the SB III is very secure and doesn't need the extra velcro strap that ships with it. The extra velcro is one long piece that sticks to the outside of the SB III after it is secured to the flash for extra security, but I didn't need it. Unlike the Fotodiox 8x12 softbox that Mic reviewed, the SB III are made of hard material that makes it easier to setup quickly.

Velcro straps provided with the SB III, I chose the 580EX because it is powerful and has HSS (compared to the 430EX)

This is the velcro on the SB III, it is powerful enough to provide a secure setup
 
One drawback to the velcro stuff is that you will have to stick velcro to your expensive flash (which I don't like) and won't be able to use it with other flashes unless I stick more velcro on them. I tried setting it up on my 430EX without velcro just using a speedstrap, but it wasn't firm enough, and it didn't help either that the 430EX's head was quite small. In the sample pictures below you will see how it looks attached to the 430EX. But before this here are a couple more pictures of the SB III mounted to the 580EX.

SB III mounted and ready, top view

SB III mounted and ready, side view, that's how I use it in macro/product shots

The SB III internal sides are made of a white reflective material, and the front diffuser has an extra diffusion area in the middle to reduce hotspots.

EXAMPLE - PRODUCT SHOT

You have seen this example before, I used it in my first post in the flash series. I wanted to shoot both the 580EX and 580EX II and didn't want light spill on the background, so I used the 430EX with the SB III and made use of some homemade cardboard reflectors, no ambient light in the final shot. Flash was on manual mode and triggered using the camera's built-in popup flash.

SB III mounted to a 430EX using a speed strap only, no internal velcro

End result of the photo above

EXAMPLE - SB III AS FILL LIGHT

In this example I was shooting in the same day I mentioned in the previous flash series post, the sun was overhead with no clouds. I wanted to show how the SB III worked as a fill light, I shot in aperture priority mode. The SB III was mounted to the 580EX which was fired using the camera's built-in popup flash, TTL mode, 0 FEC. The flash was hand held by one of my friends.

Ambient only, 85mm, f/5, 1/200s, ISO 200

Same as above but with the 580EX firing in TTL mode, much more detail available in the eyes

EXAMPLE - SB III AS MAIN LIGHT + AMBIENT

I have to raise the hat for Canon here (I wonder if Nikon is the same), one famous use for off camera lighting is to underexpose the background by one or two stops then add your lights, this is usually done using the camera in manual mode to check the background exposure first, then reducing it by using the shutter speed, the aperture or the ISO.

In my case I was using aperture priority mode, I dialed in a negative one exposure compensation (i.e. I told the camera to reduce it's calculated exposure by one stop) and used the flash in TTL mode. The system was intelligent enough to use enough flash power to correctly expose my subjects, it was as simple as that, Av mode, -1 EC, Flash on TTL. I'm starting to understand Joe McNally's TTL addiction.

Once again the flash was held by a friend to the camera left and not so close my subjects (wanted unform lighting, inverse square law), I expected the light falling on them to be harder than this, but I really like the quality I am seeing, definitely didn't expect it to be that good. By the way, this was the first time for me to test the SB III.

SB III camera left

100% crop to illustrate the catch lights, can you see that faint dot in the center? That's my popup flash signalling the 580EX

EXAMPLE - SB III AS MAIN LIGHT + ZERO AMBIENT

Finally I took this lone shot at home, I put the camera on a tripod and turned the swivel LCD to face me, then I held the SB III to the left of my face (not so close) and remotely triggered the camera. The flash was on TTL mode, but I have setup the camera in manual mode to kill the ambient.

Yours truly, sorry for the sad look, I was home alone that night

The sharp eyed readers will notice that the background is lit uniformly while my face is not, that's because I was using an 85mm lens (135mm equivalent) which has a narrow field of view, i.e. showing a small part of the wall behind me, and it also compresses the picture, i.e. showing the background to be closer to me than it actually is. From the background's PoV, the SB III was far enough to light the area behind me uniformly. The long focal length is also the reason why my head is chopped from the top and the bottom, the camera was as far away from me as it can get, almost touching the opposite wall of the room, the 85mm on a crop sensor is way tight for indoor use.

CONCLUSION

I really like the SB III and don't regret buying it, thanks to David's review. Build quality is great, it is small enough to carry all the time, yet large enough to light one or two people without hard shadows. I am looking forward to using it more especially outdoors in sunlight where it really shines. It will probably be my most used light modifier.

We are near the end of the flash series, I have two or three more posts, the largest one will be about the 24" Lastolite Ezybox that I got two weeks back, the other two will be short fun short about various accessories and really cheap Chinese studio strobes. I will resume regular posts and fit in the remaining flash series posts when I have tested the Ezybox long enough.


RELATED POSTS:

World's Largest On-Camera Softbox: the Fotodiox 8x12
Flash Series - Part 1: Canon Speedlites Chat (580EX II vs 580EX vs 430EX)
Flash Series - Part 2: Home Made (DIY) Gels & Gel Holder
Flash Series - Part 3: Rogue Grid Review
Flash Series - Part 4: Triggering Your Hotshoe Flashes + eBay RF Trigger
Flash Series - Part 5: Remote Adjustment Radio Triggers
Flash Series - Part 6: Use Flash in Daylight? Really?