Monday, December 12, 2011

Lastolite Trifold Umbrella - World's Most Compact Umbrella



I almost always shoot on-location, which makes portability is a significant issue.  Gear that is portable saves time, effort and money to bring gear to the shoot.  Perhaps more importantly, with compact gear I can bring more equipment with me and have more options when I shoot.

When Lastolite released the Trifold Umbrella, I was intrigued.  It was advertised as 36 inches, large enough to qualify as a versatile medium-sized umbrella, and yet small enough to be used handheld (particularly with the Lastolite Brolly Grip).  It was also described as "ultra compact" when folded, which could mean that it would actually fit it in my backpack, making it unnecessary to bring any other bag.  It seemed the perfect complement to the Brolly Grip.  I went ahead and ordered it and was pleasantly surprised.


MOST COMPACT UMBRELLA

Just how compact is this umbrella?  In the shot above, the umbrella on top, measuring a little more than 11 inches folded is the tiny 19-inch Propet reflective umbrella.  The Lastolite Trifold is the smaller white umbrella on the bottom, measuring just a smidge more than 10 inches, and just an inch longer than the miniscule Strobella (9 inches long, 11.8-inch diameter).

Because the Trifold is so compact, the top compartment of my Slingshot 302AW backpack can fit 3 speedlights plus the Brolly Grip and the Trifold.  If I wanted to bring a lightstand, a 5-section compact stand would fit in the tripod holder of my backpack.

LARGER THAN EXPECTED
The Trifold was also wider than I expected.  Manufacturers describe their umbrella sizes differently -- some measure the top surface of the umbrella, while others measure more conservatively, using the underside distance from  tip to tip, since that's the effective size from the subject's perspective.  The Trifold was measured even more conservatively.  The length from one side (of the octagon) to the opposite side is 35.5 inches.  The underside length from tip to tip, however, is 38.75 inches.  The top surface is actually 43 inches.

This is the neutron star of umbrellas.
19-inch Propet, 25-inch Creative Light, and the "36-inch" Trifold Umbrella
EFFECTIVE SURFACE AREA
When compared to my previous preferred handheld umbrella, the 25-inch Creative Light Translucent, the Trifold appears massive.  It's no wonder -- measuring the effective size to the subject, the area of the 25-inch Creative Light is approximately 483 square inches (each side of the octagon is 10 inches), while the Trifold has an area of about 1086 square inches (each side is 15 inches).

DUAL-LENGTH SHAFT
An interesting feature of the Trifold is that its shaft can be extended to two lengths, either 15.5 inches or 23 inches.  The dual-length shaft makes the Trifold uniquely well-matched for use with the Brolly Grip.  When  used handheld, the shorter length is perfect and makes the umbrella easier to hold.  At 23 inches, the umbrella exerts a little too much leverage and can be tiring to hold with one hand for sustained periods.

On the other hand, when the shorter shaft is used on a light stand, the light stand will press into the umbrella, whereas the 23-inch shaft is just enough for standard use.

OTHER NOTES
Here are other things I noted about the Trifold:
- 10mm shaft: a little wider than the more common 8mm.  Fits the Brolly Grip's larger receptacle.
- Rounded tips: avoid scratching your other gear or yourself (or your kids).
- Rubber tipped shaft: nice touch to help make it a little easier to fold down the umbrella.
- Angular shape: unfortunately, the top surface of the umbrella doesn't curve smoothly like other umbrellas.  Instead, it is angular (as seen in the shot above).
- Zoom Angle: With the shorter shaft, I find that using a diffuser cup (similar to the Sto-Fen Omnibounce) allows me to fill the surface most evenly.  At the same time, the cup sits just barely inside of the umbrella cover, minimizing unnecessary spill.  In the future I plan to test the maximum zoom that will fill the umbrella when used with the fully extended shaft.

SOFTNESS COMPARISON
I was curious to see if this umbrella was noticeably softer than the 25-inch Creative Light translucent when used handheld.  For this test, I placed the Brolly Grip on a lightstand, approximating the position where I would hold the umbrella.  I then took comparison shots between the Trifold (paired with a speedlight and diffuser cup), the 25-inch Creative Light, with the speedlight and built-in diffuser, and the 25-inch Creative Light, with the speedlight at 105mm zoom.


The shadow on the background shows that there is a significant difference between these three setups.  The difference is also clearly shown in the shadows below the chin.  There is also a very noticeable difference in specularity (something I didn't expect).  On the other hand, when we look at the mannequin's face, the shadows of the nose and cheek look almost the same, while there is some difference in the shadows of the lips.

It may also seem that the color temperature in these shots is different but I think it's an optical effect caused by the difference in specularity and not a property of the umbrellas themselves (note the difference even between the two Creative Light shots).

BROLLY GRIP MOD
Before I show some real-world samples, I'd like to mention that I've switched out the thumbscrew on my Brolly Grip with an eBay 1/4-20 to shoe mount adapter.  This allows me to use my SC-29 TTL Cord with the Brolly Grip and I can trigger my flash reliably any way I hold the umbrella.  The only disadvantage is that there is no convenient thumbscrew to facilitate attaching and removing the SC-29.  I leave the SC-29 attached to the Brolly Grip when I keep them in my bag.


SAMPLES
I tried the Trifold and Brolly Grip combo as a handheld umbrella last weekend.  I wanted to give my wife a brief rest so I took both kids to the park.  It was quite challenging to manage both of them, answer our 4-year old's endless questions, prevent our daughter from jumping off the playground structure or running into the pond/lake to catch ducks, while having both hands effectively tied with the camera and Brolly Grip.  Just to make things even more interesting, I had done a 2-button reset on my camera and forgotten to switch my camera back to raw mode.  Argh.  So, all of these are from JPEGs, and except for the black and white one, almost SOOC with very minor editing in Lightroom (to give a more accurate view of the Trifold's results, I also removed vignetting or local adjustments).







UPDATE: more samples here.

DISCLOSURE: I'm not affiliated with Amazon or Lastolite nor am I sponsored by them.  I bought the Brolly Grip and Trifold Umbrella for my own use and am providing this review for informational purposes.  I do have an Amazon Associates account and in this article I've linked to Amazon pages for the products mentioned, which means if you purchase the product I will get an approximately 4% commission (without any additional cost to you and which is a welcome way of supporting this blog).