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Review: Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible

by Chris Gampat on 11/07/2010

The Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsibleis a product that has been used on and off again in The Phoblographer’s postings, but one that has never received a full, proper field review. Called by many to be nothing more than a Chinese soupbowl, my tests have proven that if it is, it is one hell of a versatile one. It has been tested at events, part of a wedding and a concert. Let’s dive right in, here is the full field review.

Postings

The Canon 7D and SD4500 IS at a Concert- The collapsible stayed on my Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flashthe entire night while my Canon EOS 7Dtriggered it to go off and create some really nice lighting effects. The effects helped to balance the lighting at the already great Morrison Hotel’s basement.

The Quick Field Test- Lee from FStoppers.com held a get-together a while back and I tested the collapsible on the Canon EOS 5D Mark IIthere.

There is one where I didn’t mention it, and that’s on our Facebook page. Some of the samples from the wedding I shot most recently used the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible.

I’ve also used it at a couple of parties.

How to Use It/Instructional

This is detailed more in this posting for use when the flash is actually attached to the camera. When it is off camera and you’re using wireless infrared transmission, it’s a different story. When using the collapsible, you’ll need to think of it as a blue tinted lightbulb.

Let’s break this down a bit more: back in college I was taught a specific method of how to light for cinematography. Think of your set this way—shut off all of the lights in the room. If you wanted to achieve the perfect and totally intended look to your film, you’d do it by adding one light at a time and trying to figure out what the effects of each light is. Additionally, you’ll need to think about a lot of different factors when doing this. For example, how will a giant softbox look when lighting a kitchen and what kind of details and colors will be accentuated when doing this. Maybe the softbox won’t work, so let’s add a giant floodlight with barn doors to the top and adjust it until it achieves a spotlight look to it.

This is the idea. Now apply this thinking to photography but speed it up to 30 seconds maximum.

Also, keep in mind that you’ve only got one light: this one light can either look like a naked, bare bulb type of look. Alternatively, when the top of the light modifier is pointed towards the subject combined with the light’s strength being dialed down, it can act as a nice soft fill light with blue tints to it.

That’s what using the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible is like.

Photographers looking for a more compact solution to larger softboxes will be very grateful for an item like this. Those that use photojournalistic tactics when shooting will really appreciate the lighter and portable option. Studio photographers may have some use, but in general there are better items out there, such as said softboxes. Wildlife photographers should leave this at home, same with sports. Concert photographers that are allowed to use flash will really, really like this item as lighting can often be very unpredictable and white balancing for a cooler option is usually the chosen route.

Going into this further requires knowledge of how these items can shape light.

Reliability

The Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible has perhaps been the only flash accessory that I’ve wanted to carry with me since I’ve gotten it. Don’t get me wrong, the Orbis was wonderful! But the problem is that it is huge and not extremely portable. If there was an Orbis collapsible of some sort, I’d melt and be in heaven.

Now, I have the original Lightsphere and I really like it. It can give off much warmer tones if you want that look. My personal preferences are warmer tones to show healthier skin when photographing subjects. I understand that they can still require color corrections at time to seem more real to life, but it’s what I like.

A problem with the Lightsphere was that I always felt it would crack in my Domke F2. While it hasn’t, the collapsible has eliminated that fear. It can be stacked into a single pocket of my bags and that gives me more room for other items.

So how does this tie into reliability? This means that I have no need for the strap of the original, the rubber band, and it won’t crack at all. Because of this extra versatility, it wins brownie points in this area over its predecessor. My only peeve is that I wish there was an opaque version to deliver warmer lighting.

Quality

Is the collapsible a high quality product? Sure it is. There are many photographers that say, “It’s a Chinese soupbowl placed onto a flash.” While it’s similar, it isn’t quite the same thing. The quality of light is very different and no Chinese soupbowl can collapse down into a smaller and more portable option.

Additionally, as seen in this posting, the collapsible can be modified into different configurations that can give off different lighting effects.

When a soupbowl can do that, order me the wontons please. In the meantime, the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible is tied with the Orbis for my favorite lighting instrument.

Sample Images

Note that these are the results of the Collapsible in various configurations.

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