I stumbled on a new product, or series of products called SpeedLight kits from a new company called. What do they make? Insanely cool light modifier kits at a decent price, the coolest I’ve seen on the market thus far. If McGuyver was in the light modifiers business, I think this is what he’d give us.
I don’t need to be the one to tell you the economy is going down the crapper, and when it comes to buying new gear, my list is getting a good purging. With that in mind, when I find products that aren’t over priced simply because photographers are used to forking out the cash, I get excited. David Hobby is one of my photography heroes. As a Baltimore newspaper photo-journalist, I give him credit for jump-starting the “strobist” movement that now allows photographers to get stunning results with minimal equipment investment, which often involves raiding your kitchen cupboards and tool shed for DIY supplies. To him I also give credit for this products discovery (and maybe even its existence).
With simple light modifiers and a few standard camera strobes (flashes), you can often hang with the best Profoto or Alien Bee setups. Of course those have their place too if you have the money to go there. As other articles on DPS have articulated, one of the first steps to creative lighting is to get the light source away from your camera body. The flexibility one gains is obvious. The second step is learning to control your off-camera light, entering the wide world of light modification. This includes such accessories as grid spots, rings, diffusers, snoots, gels and reflectors just to name a few. Previously these were not typically made for the portable flash units you probably already own. The strobist movement is changing that.
The Prokit 4
At the heart of the SpeedLight’s genius is the 3 fold flexible reflector with snaps along its edges. Put together, two of these reflectors connect to form a small 4-sided box with overhanging tabs with snaps on the sides of a decent sized opening perfect for grids, gels and diffusers. The Prokit 4 comes with 4 of these reflectors (good for two boxes), a nice white diffuser, and a honeycomb grid insert as well. What I love about the SpeedLight kits is that they don’t sacrifice what you gain from using portable flash units in the first place, being portable. Each product conveniently snaps together to form its shape and just as easily disassembles to lie flat and compact as illustrated in the assembled and disassembled photos below.
Also in this kit you’ll notice two snoots with two different grid inserts. With these products, you can have any combination of a bare reflector, reflector with grid, reflector with diffuser, bare snoot, snoot with tight grid, snoot with large grid. But wait there’s more. Once you master what comes in the box, check out the SpeedLight site for white and black barn door add-ons as well as large gel inserts. Below is a video that does a better job than I could in explaining how everything fits together. One side note– with most of these products you’ll want to use a sto-fen type diffuser that snaps on the flash itself to spread the light and fill the inside of the reflectors.
So what happens if you snap three reflectors together instead of just two? You get a cool little hexagon soft box. They’ve conveniently packaged that together as Prokit 6. The advantage of this setup is of course the larger diffused surface area, which, especially when close to your subject, creates a softer light. The flat diffuser that snaps on to the face of this setup even has a semi-porous metallic reflector to avoid having the light concentrated at the center of the box. From my testing, it seemed to work as designed. When I used this up close to the subject, and when I say close, I mean having an assistant holding it as close to the subjects face as I could with out it being in the frame, it created a very flattering, evenly lit look. I’m convinced it will have a permanent place in my bag.
I never like reading reviews that fail to show the product in action. To illustrate what these SpeedLights can do for you even on an extremely bright day, I took them out for a little experimentation. Below you will see two shots. The first is taken with the camera doing all the metering and using Mother Nature as the primary light source. What I don’t like about this image is the flatness of the subject’s features and that the background is brighter than the subject. The lighting isn’t very interesting making the image bland overall. The second image is taken with the square reflector and diffuser attachment stage left with the camera set to manual. With the camera in manual, I now have the ability to under expose my backgrounds, giving the illusion that the picture was shot at dusk or in low light. I can then bounce as much or as little light onto the subject to get the desired skin exposure. No Photoshop processing was done to the final image.
If you have ever had a difficult time getting a good shot of someone with a blue sky and gorgeous fluffy clouds in the background, this same technique applies. Expose for the sky, and then use a flash to brighten the subject. Unmodified however, the small light source on your camera may not be the most flattering, thus the need for these small reflectors. The example I have here is bit over done, but you get the idea. In short, using your flash off camera with even a small diffuser can dramatically improve your outdoor portraits as long as you aren’t too far from your subjects.
Here is another example from the same shoot that shows more of the subject’s body and more background. The final image was de-saturated a bit in post.
In this next example, I brought an R4 along on an engagement session. I discovered that with this new accessory, I could even place the flash on the ground giving the flash enough angle to properly cover the couple while providing a natural looking vignette/spotlight effect. It was fun playing with different light positions, and I have admit that anything I have that the average customer isn’t familiar with gives our photo sessions an extra flare of professionalism. (On the down side, a park ranger came up and asked for a site permit stating that our equipment was too professional looking for average use.)
You don’t have to judge the R4 or the R6 on just my photos though. Here is a list of some flickr users with great results and uses as well. If you end up picking up a set, don’t forget to come back to this article and share your results with us.
After playing with all the different accessories and attachments, I can recommend these products without hesitation. I plan on using them regularly for both indoor studio work, and outdoor shoots as well. That is something I can’t say for much of my gear. So how many kits do you need? Take a look at this behind-the-scenes video of some pros in action using a myriad of every Speedlight product and more strobes than I can count. So the answer is, there probably isn’t a limit beyond your wallet. (BTW, from the looks of it, they have since refined their products which no longer use the yellow flash inserts and have better hexagonal diffusers now as well.) 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The current U.S. distributer is midwest photo exchange. Prices range from $50 up to $125 depending.