Sunday, July 8, 2012

Testing the DIY Spinlight

Recently, we posted about a DIY alternative to the Black Foamie Thing and Spinlight 360 using a Flashright Pro.  What you see above is yet another such DIY alternative.  This one was posted on the Strobist Flickr forum by photographer David Huy.

Hit the jump to see how I assembled mine, and how it performs against the modified Flashright.

The "DIY Spinlight 360" uses the following parts:

  • Flex mount flash gun adapter.  Variously branded as K-8, Interfit, and Strobies.  There is a specific adapter for the most common flashes.  For example, for the SB-800, the K-8 branded flex-mount adapter is the CA-1 model.  Available on ebay.  Some are white, some are black.  As low as $9.99
  • Honeycomb grid.  This is the matching grid for the flex mount above.  To my knowledge, the grid is the same for all types of flex mount.  Available on ebay (a bit harder to search for because of the variety of names used, including honeycomb, honey-comb, and grid).  As low as $11.99.
  • Optional: dome diffuser.  This is similar to the type of dome used for Gary Fong's lightsphere.  Available on ebay.  As low as $1.99.  I didn't attach a diffuser to mine.
  • black foamie thing (BFT).
I removed the grid on the honeycomb grid accessory, leaving just the outer frame.  Strictly speaking, you don't have to do this, but if you leave the grid on, the grid will eat up a lot of the light.

Removing the grid is not easy.  The grid's frame is held together by three clips, equally spaced apart:

In addition, there are three tabs that fit into three corresponding holes on the other part of the frame.

To disassemble the frame, I held the lip of the frame and pushed against the edges of the honeycomb until the frame started to separate.  Before disassembling the grid, I didn't know about the tabs so I tried to pry one side open, which broke two of the tabs.

Once the frame is separated, you can remove the grid and reassemble the grid's frame.  The frame attaches to the flex mount and rotates.  All you need to do is attach the BFT to the grid, and if you wish, a dome diffuser.

The flex mount itself is mounted to the flash head just by pressure and friction.  It's reasonably secure though I wouldn't dangle my flash by holding on to the flex mount.

How does the DIY Spinlight 360 compare to the Flashright modification?  To me, they have almost identical performance in terms of light pattern and efficiency.  (The DIY Spinlight 360 seems to have a slight edge in efficiency.)

One subtle difference is that when aiming the flash to the rear corner, the Flashright mod may have a slightly lower lighting ratio (i.e. shadows are a bit brighter), possibly because a portion of the dome may not be entirely blocked by the BFT.  In the Flashright shot below, note the thin hard shadow below the jaw line - meaning that a second light source (in addition to the bounce) was illuminating the subject.

Although I haven't tested them in the field, both the DIY Spinlight 360 and the Flashright Mod appear to work very well as replacements for the BFT and Spinlight 360.  If you are choosing between the two, here are some factors to consider:
  • Cost: the DIY Spinlight 360 can be had for about $21.99.  The Flashright Mod costs whatever the Flashright Pro costs (currently around $27 + shipping and handling with the 74PLEASE discount code).  I'm not sure though if the Flashright Pro discount will last.
  • Versatility: the Flashright Mod can be rotated to allow the dome to contribute to the exposure.  I suspect the same is true for the DIY Spinlight if you attach the dome diffuser, but I haven't tested it, and there may be a decrease in efficiency from the diffusion effect of the dome diffuser.   On the other hand, one benefit of the DIY Spinlight is that the flex mount can be used with other accessories that are produced for the flex mount, such as a globe, mini beauty dish, mini softbox, snoot, or barn doors.
  • Compatibility: the Flashright Mod can work with almost any speedlight.  The DIY Spinlight requires you to have the specific flex mount for your flash.  If you have another flash or are borrowing someone else's the flex mount might not fit.
  • Weight: the DIY Spinlight (part of which is made of a dense plastic/rubber) is much heavier than the Flashright Mod.  When the DIY Spinlight is mounted, it will make the flash a bit top heavy.  Sometimes, with a little movement, the flash head might not maintain a tilted angle.
  • Durability: I haven't tested the durability of either the DIY Spinlight or the Flashright Mod, but I think the DIY Spinlight would be more durable because it has a simpler design, and much of the flex mount is made of a plastic/synthetic rubber material.  It is not indestructible though -- its weakest part is likely to be the 4 small plastic clips that hold the grid frame.
  • Portability: the DIY Spinlight is larger than the Flashright Mod and will take up more space in your bag.
  • Speed: the DIY Spinlight is faster to attach and remove compared to the Flashright Mod.  All you need to do is push it on the flash head .  With the Flashright Mod, you need to use a velcro strap.
  • Stability: the DIY Spinlight is a snug fit on my flash but can be knocked off with moderate force.  By contrast, it is hard to remove the Flashright from the speedlight without undoing the velcro strap.
  • Ease of use: both the DIY Spinlight and Flashright Mod are easy to rotate, though I find the Flashright Mod slightly easier to rotate because you're turning a smallish dome compared to a wide ring with the DIY Spinlight 360.
  • Ease of construction:  FWIW, I think the Flashright Mod is easier to make because pulling apart the honeycomb grid for the DIY Spinlight is not easy.  Make sure no kids are around to hear you cussing.
  • Aesthetics: this is totally subjective but I think the Flashright Mod looks more sleek, elegant and high-tech than the DIY Spinlight though the rubber band (if you use one) can detract a bit from its appearance (maybe i'll use a black one).  I imagine the DIY Spinlight could look pretty cool too in black.
I will be switching between the DIY Spinlight and modified Flashright to test them both in the field, and will be updating these posts with my observations. (Note: the product shots for this post were taken with the Flashright mod.)