Sunday, July 1, 2012

FlashRight Pro as Spinlight 360 Substitute (Part 1)

In this post, we'll discuss the Flashright Pro, a flash modifier by Peter Gregg, who catapulted into fame with A Better Bounce Card.  The Flashright Pro touts several features:
  • lightweight, compact design
  • directional: instead of sending light everywhere (such as in a dome diffuser), it sends light toward a direction 
  • rotates 360 degrees
  • diffuser
The Flashright Pro is intended to serve two primary functions: to direct bounced flash and to illuminate the subject with diffused light.  There is second version of the Flashright Pro, the Flashright Pro Extreme, that has a slot to accommodate 'ratio disks,' which are diffusers with varying sizes of holes.  The idea is to allow the photographer to control the proportion of light used as bounce flash and as diffused light.

The Flashright Pro was recently relaunched with a significant discount.  With its more practical price, I decided to get one, not for its original intended purpose, but as a substitute for Neil van Niekerk's black foamie thing (BFT) and the useful but expensive Spinlight 360.


The first function of the Flashright Pro is great.  Bouncing flash from a specific direction rather than in all directions is a good idea, in my opinion.  Doing so will get you soft directional light, not just soft light.  Directional light is more interesting than perfectly even, soft light.  Not to mention it will save your batteries as well. 

However, I am less excited about the second function of the Flashright Pro -- sending diffused light to the subject.  Illuminating the subject using a small diffused light source is not particularly useful because as I have repeatedly demonstrated, diffusion DOES NOT soften light.  AT ALLSee here.  That's why when I saw the Flashright Pro design, I was not the slightest bit interested.  I knew it would create hard shadows.  When I saw the $99 price, I was even less interested.


My favorite modifier for on-camera flash is still Neil van Niekerk's black foamie thing.  When bouncing flash, I use either the BFT or I use my hand as a flag (to block the direct light from the flash from reaching the subject). 

The problem with the BFT is that it falls off very easily.  Recently, while shooting for a client, I couldn't count the number of times it fell off.  The BFT can't be strapped tightly to the flash either because it needs to be able to rotate around the flash freely.

The BFT has since been updated as the Spinlight 360.  The Spinlight 360 attaches to a speedlight securely, while allowing a flag to be rotated easily.  The only problem with the Spinlight 360 is the cost, which is $129 for the basic version.  Even with Neil's code for a $20 discount, it's still a very high price for a very simple piece of plastic.

Note: Neil did not create the Spinlight 360.  Someone else used the idea for Neil's BFT and turned it into the Spinlight 360.


I didn't feel comfortable buying the Spinlight 360 but I really liked the idea and kept thinking of possible substitutes for it.  Then one day, I got an email talking about the relaunch of the Flashright Pro.  There was nothing different in the design as far as I could see, but one thing they changed was the price.  From $99, they dropped it to around $27 + shipping and handling.  That seemed like a very realistic price to me.  As I thought about buying one, I noticed that the Flashright Pro could function as a Spinlight 360 substitute.  The Flashright Pro's head could rotate 360 degrees just like the Spinlight.  If I attached a black foamie thing to it, it might function just like the Spinlight 360, at a far more affordable price.

[As an aside, there is a bit of irony here.  I could be wrong but I sort of recall that Neil conceived of the BFT idea from Peter Gregg's A Better Bounce Card.  So, I found it a little amusing that years later, Peter Gregg's Flashright might be repurposed as a substitute for the Spinlight 360.]

Anyway, I ordered a Flashright Pro, dreams of a cheaper Spinlight dancing in my head.  Ordering the FR was not super smooth.  I didn't get an order confirmation for several days.  And after one week, I called them up - just got voicemail.  I emailed them and it turned out that they hadn't even shipped my order.  Grrrr.  It took another few days before they shipped my order and finally, I got my order.

The Flashright Pro arrived in a padded envelope, without a box or any fancy packaging.  The instructions were printed with inkjet using a very tiny font to occupy only 1/4th of an 8x11.5 page (perhaps to save ink).  I was surprised at how plain the packaging was.  I've seen cheap eBay lighting accessories with fancier packaging. :)

The Flashright Pro itself seemed to have ok build quality.  It looks much more polished than what you might expect from the very plain packaging.  I don't know how exactly to describe the plastic, but it's not the soft, dirt-cheap kind such as those used in some cheap light modifiers.  Neither is it the hard kind of plastic used in speedlights.  It's not fragile, but if dropped on a hard surface, it looks like it would crack.  (Then again, it did survive being mailed from Illinois to California without any damage.)

The Flashright Pro's components
The Flashright Pro is attached to the flash with a supplied velcro strap.  If you look at the above picture closely, you'll see that there is a piece of rubber foam where the velcro strap is attached.  This helps strap the velcro tightly around the flash.

There is only one size of Flashright, so it had to be made large enough to fit a large flash head such as that of the Canon 580EXII.  With a small flash head like that of the SB800, the Flashright is a bit off-center.  In my tests, this off-centered position did not appear to affect the efficiency of the Flashright, producing identical output either off-center or centered (using spacers that I inserted).

I started testing the Flashright Pro by testing the light quality of several configurations:
  • Flashright only, with the flash head aimed forward, while the diffuser is rotated to face upward.
  • Flashright only, with the flash head tilted at around a 45 degree angle, while the diffuser is rotated to face upward.
  • Flashright only, with the flash head in vertical position.
  • Flashright with black foamie thing covering the opaque side of the diffuser ("FR + BFT dark").
  • Flashright with black foamie thing covering the diffuser side ("FR + BFT light").
  • Black foamie thing only.

I tested the different configurations by aiming them above the subject, to a corner (camera right), to a wall on camera right, and to the rear camera right corner.  All shots were on TTL.  BTW, if you're wondering how I can aim my SB-800 to the rear right corner, it's because I did the head modification.

Here are the results:

In my opinion, the result that looks best is the black foamie thing.  However, the Flashright with BFT on the opaque side appears similar, except that in the right wall shot and rear corner shot, there is a visible hard shadow cast by the diffuser dome.

The Flashright used by itself is not bad in my view, at least when the flash head is tilted so that most of the light is shielded from directly hitting the subject.  The hard shadow cast by the dome is even more visible compared to the FR with BFT, but the dome is also acting as a fill light, bringing up the shadow detail.  I would not mind using it if I didn't have the BFT with me.

I also tested the efficiency of the configurations by using manual flash.  I aimed the flash above the subject and used 1/2 power (ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/250).

I was surprised to find that the most efficient modifier was the BFT.  I was also surprised that the Flashright with BFT combination was far less efficient than the BFT.

I was not satisfied with using the Flashright with the BFT because it was using too much power, diffusing the flash in all directions, which is really unnecessary when bouncing flash.  After some tinkering, I found that it was pretty easy to remove the dome and the diffuser.  See the video below:

Note that the two halves of the Flashright's frame are held together by tabs.
One of the tabs (note: the small screwdriver is NOT needed to disassemble the flashright)
There are 5 tabs, and they are not evenly spaced.  There is a part where there is a larger gap between tabs.  That part corresponds to the part of the lower frame that is above where the strap is attached.  To reassemble, just align the tabs and snap the frame together.

I tested two modifications of the Flashright Pro.  The first modification I tested was to use the opaque part of the dome.

I just removed the clear dome and the diffusion disk.  With this mod, the partial dome is very loose.  To remedy this looseness, I wound a few loops of twist tie to serve as a kind of gasket between the partial dome and the FR frame.  You can see part of the twist tie in the shot above.  I then attached a BFT to the partial dome (in my case I used velcro tape).

The second modification I tested was to use the clear dome instead of the opaque partial dome.  With this mod, the dome fits the FR frame perfectly just like an unmodified FR.  I attached the BFT to the dome using an elastic band for friction and the infamous Neil van Niekerk hair band, which BFT fans will recognize.

I tested these modifications against the BFT using the same protocol I had done for the earlier tests.

I was pleased to find that both modifications produced lighting patterns that were very similar to those of the BFT.  In terms of efficiency, the BFT was still the most efficient configuration, but both modifications were not far behind from the BFT.

I was a bit surprised that the 2nd modification performed as well as it did both in terms of lighting pattern and efficiency.  I thought that the dome would act as a diffuser that would waste a lot of light.  Now that I knew that it did not have any noticeable disadvantage, I preferred the 2nd mod because it doesn't need any kind of spacer between the dome and the frame to rotate properly.  Moreover, compared to the first mod, the 2nd mod does have one advantage: if I choose to, I can partially expose the diffuser dome to lift shadows (albeit creating a hard shadow of its own).

In the shot on the left, I aimed the flash to the left, and I rotated the BFT to completely block the dome.  The result is that the shadows are very soft, because the subject is illuminated purely by bounced light (a very large light source). 

In the shot on the right, I aimed the flash at the same direction, but this time I rotated the BFT so that the dome would be partially visible to the subject.  In the result, we can see that there are two shadows: a soft shadow from bounced light, and a hard shadow from the dome (most visible below the jawline).  On the other hand, the soft part of the shadow is brighter compared to that of the first shot.

Because the 2nd mod appears to be more versatile, I've decided to keep my Flashright in that configuration.  I have yet to test either mod in real life shots, but so far, the Flashright Pro looks like a promising substitute for the Spinlight 360.  As regular readers of our blog know, we pride ourselves in real world testing of equipment.  I will indeed post real world test results in a followup to this post.

Meanwhile, if you would like to order the Flashright Pro, you can buy it direct from their website.  Try these codes 74PLEASE or GIMME73PLEASE to get the new [lower] pricing.  If you would like to buy a Spinlight 360 instead, check out their website.  Neil's $20 discount code is NEILVN20.   Note: we are not affiliated with Peter Gregg, ColorRight, FlashRight, Neil van Niekerk, or Spinlight 360.  Nor do we get any commission out of those sales (we do have a lilliputian Amazon Affiliates account).  Instead, the best ways you can support our blog are by telling your friends about our blog, sharing our posts in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, etc.) and photo-related forums, and subscribing to our feeds or via email.  Links to share and/or subscribe are on the right side of the page and at the bottom of each post.  (If you do subscribe via email, FYI we won't share your email address with 3rd parties.)  We also appreciate feedback via comments or email.  Thanks for your support!

EDIT: 7/20/12 - the current discount code for Flashright is SAVE75
EDIT: 8/7/12 - the link for getting the Flashright for $25.99 is

Testing Neil's Bounce Technique
Black Foamie Thing on Video
Testing the DIY Spinlight