Gary Fong Collapsible Lightsphere: A Review

The Gary Fong Collapsible Lightsphere attached to my Canon 580EX strobe. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

The Gary Fong Collapsible Lightsphere attached to my Canon 580EX strobe. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

I’ve always liked to keep lighting and lighting accessories as simple as possible. This doesn’t mean things can’t get complicated at times—but not unnecessarily so. In the case of my current small strobe—the Canon 580EX—it has a built-in wide angle diffuser AND a built-in bounce card.  I’ve always found that this rig, combined with an off-camera strobe cord, can do most things I need a small strobe to do. But then I was asked to review Gary Fong’s Collapsible Lightsphere. Curious about the device, I said okay.

It’s Big

The first thing you’ll notice when you open up the box will be how BIG this thing is! It’s huge, but that ends up being part of why it’s effective. The whole device is semi-transparent and made of a squishy, soft type of rubber. It mounts right down over the head of a Canon or Nikon small flash with no additional attachments, a fact that I liked. Getting it on my Canon flash head took a bit of doing but once on it stayed on.

Here's the Lightsphere attached to one of my cameras in its 'straight-up- mode, perfect for soft bounce flash situations. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Here’s the Lightsphere attached to one of my cameras in its ‘straight-up- mode, perfect for soft bounce flash situations. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

The unit comes with a rigid cupped white dome which mounts onto the top/front, over the end of the fully extended tube. This also took a bit of fooling with to get properly fastened in place, mainly because the rest of the Lightsphere is so flexible. Once on, you have the option of shooting with the whole thing in ‘bounce’ mode—with the Lightsphere pointed straight up—or with your strobe cranked 90 degrees to its normal ‘straight stobe’ orientation. I found the entire thing made my camera feel extremely top-heavy when mounted directly onto my camera’s hotshoe.

I decided to give this product a real test—outdoors as a fill flash unit in midday sun. This is one of my least favorite shooting situations and I wanted to see how the Lightsphere would handle it. I put my strobe on regular TTL flash—no special adjustments. ISO was set at 200 and I used my Canon 70-200 f2.8 zoom left on Auto White Balance. These were ‘default’settings in my mind and I wanted to see how this combo would perform.

The Lightsphere did a great job with this tough backlit situation. Canon 70-200 @ 105mm, 1/160th sec @f 6.3, ISO 200, TTL flash pointed right at the subject. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

The Lightsphere did a great job with this tough backlit situation. Canon 70-200 @ 105mm, 1/160th sec @f 6.3, ISO 200, TTL flash pointed right at the subject. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

The only word for my results: flawless. This is a GREAT product for this tough situation. I found that the Lightsphere warmed up the light a few hundred degrees Kelvin but this was pleasing in its effect.

Fill flash with the Lightsphere, pointed directly at the subject. ISO 200, 1/160th sec @f6.3, auto white balance on the camera and regular TTL on the strobe. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Fill flash with the Lightsphere, pointed directly at the subject. ISO 200, 1/160th sec @f6.3, auto white balance on the camera and regular TTL on the strobe. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

I shot several different situationson two different days. Once when my flash hadn’t recyled adequately and the natural light of the moment was exposed provided a compelling case for the Lightsphere:

My strobe misfired during this session, providing me with a good 'before/after' comparison of what the Lightsphere provides: warm, soft light, nicely balanced with the existing daylight. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

My strobe misfired during this session, providing me with a good ‘before/after’ comparison of what the Lightsphere provides: warm, soft light, nicely balanced with the existing daylight. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Overall Impressions

I think the Lightsphere delivers what it promises: beautiful, soft light. Adding an off-camera strobe cord is critical to really take advantage of the device since getting your light off lens axis is almost always a good idea.

Cons

The thing is BIG. The Lightsphere is billed as a ‘collapsible’ device since it is possible to smush it down on itself while still on your strobe—but only if you remove the rigid cupped dome piece. Since the dome is tricky to get on and off,  I don’t think I would be trying to do this during the course of a shooting situation. It also makes your camera very front/top heavy when it is attached to your hotshoe.

My one other gripe: lack of adequate instructions! I even contacted the company to see if maybe they had been inadvertently left out of my demo model’s box, and was referred to a Vimeo video that goes over the use of the device. This vid was actually pretty informative, but a simple card with directions in the box would have been less frustrating.

But these are minor points. I liked the Lightsphere for the performance it delivered. If you’re in the market for a small flash diffuser, you should consider Gary Fong’s product.

[Note:  Gary Fong also has a website with lots of additonal video of the Lightsphere in action. If you’re curious about the device and want to see more, this isn’t a bad place to start.]

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: Equipment

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

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