Thursday, 15 March 2018

Rogue Flashbender 2 Portable Lighting Kit Review

Every now and again I'm lucky enough to be sent equipment for testing or review, and the latest bit of kit I've had is the Flashbender 2 Portable Lighting Kit, part of the range of Rogue lighting modifiers made by ExpoImaging, and sold by ColorConfidence, a Birmingham based company selling and distributing colour calibration hardware, colour-accurate monitors, and various lighting gear.

The Portable Lighting Kit is a great introduction to the Rogue range, as it has a variety of useful items, from simple colour gels to modify the colour of the flash output, to softboxes and grids to modify the lighting and directionality of the flash they're attached to.  These are brand-agnostic accessories, they'll quite happily fit whatever make of flash you're using, from the major brands such as Canon and Nikon, to anything from Nissin, Metz, Pentax, Olympus etc.  By my measurements, as long as the circumference of your flash head is between 19.5cm and 25cm I can't see any reason these modifiers wouldn't fit, although Rogue suggest 8" - 9.5", which is about 20cm to 24cm. 

So what's included in the box?  We get a large and a small reflector, with accompanying diffusers to convert these to softboxes.  These reflectors can also be rolled to make snoots, allowing you to really control the direction of the light, and they have adjustable rods in them to allow you to bend and position them as required.  There's also the 3-in-1 flash grid, a honeycomb grid that gives you further control of the direction and spread of the light from your flash.  It's a '3-in-1' because there are two honeycomb inserts, one giving you a 45 degree spread of light, one giving you a 25 degree spread, and you can combine them to give a 16 degree angle, very directional, and you can see a clear circle of light on a wall if you fire it straight at that.

There are also two sets of coloured gels in the kit, one to fit the 3-in-1 grid, and another that simply slips into a rubber band that circles your flash head, so these can be used on their own, or with the reflectors/softboxes.  There are 20 gels in each set, offering simple colour-correction such as warming or cooling to match the ambient light, as well as more 'creative' colours such as purples, blues, and greens.  Each set comes in its own pouch, with dividers and labels so it's easy to find the required colour.

Before I get on to the use of these, I have to comment on the build quality, which is simply superb.  I can see these getting daily use for some time before showing any signs of wear, so they are a great investment for long term use, and unlike some accessories I've owned, they won't get suffer at all from just living in your camera bag, ready for when you need them.

This kit is undoubtedly aimed primarily at portrait and event shooters, giving them the tools they need to modify the lighting in a small studio or on location, to produce the effects they're after.  Rogue also produce larger reflectors and softboxes if required.  However, that's not really what I do, so although I did use the small reflector to take shots at my daughter's birthday party, and it did a fantastic job of throwing some of the flash back towards the subjects whilst most was used to bounce off the ceiling, I thought I'd see how the kit faired with some flower and macro shots.  I'm all for saving you money, and if this kit can do a good turn in a variety of situations, it could mean that there's no need to invest in dedicated macro flash set-ups, with their use limited to just close-ups.  I've used a mini-softbox on a speedlight for my macro photography for years, with good results, so as long as the Flashbender 2 kit gives as good as, if not better, lighting than that, I'd say it was a good option for the photographer that doesn't exclusively shoot macro, and might want something that'll happily turn its hand to all sorts of lighting situations.

My initial thought then was to see how the large reflector compared to my own softbox.  When it comes to macro photography and flash, many people think of ring-flash, but the downside to that kind of light is there can be a significant light fall-off on the background, making it unnaturally dark compared to the subject.  My use of a softbox stemmed from wishing to avoid this effect, and it does so really quite well, helping to spread the lightsource out, and being positioned above the subject more, it can often give the impression of a cloudy day's lighting.  Downsides include not being effective if you're shooting portrait format with the flash on the hotshoe, as the light is now coming from the side, and looks a lot less natural.  My softbox, as it spends the majority of the time folded up in my bag, often reverts to this shape once it's on the flash, and can take quite a bit of effort to get it back into shape.

Using the Flashbender 2 Large Reflector showed two main differences.  The area of reflected light is bigger than my  softbox, so helps to spread the light more, and it also works okay in portrait format, as you can bend the reflector into position over your subject, maybe not quite as effectively as if you're shooting landscape, but it does work.  Now, I'm not using the flash head and reflector in its conventional, bounced flash with fill-in, shooting straight up position.  I'm fitting the reflector, and leaving the flash head pointing forward.  The reflector then arches right over the subject, and really helps to spread the light out onto and beyond the subject.  I also tried angling the flash up at about 45 degrees, and this gave a softer, less direct flash look.  Both results were preferable to my softbox, the lighting on the background was more consistent with that on the subject, even if that was subtly so.  The rods that allow you to position the reflector make it much more flexible too, rather than just the one 'look', you can have many, depending on what you're aiming to achieve.  By the way, I found the 'rubber band' used to attached the gels to your flash head really useful to keep in place all the time.  My Metz flashgun tapers slightly, getting narrower nearer the front of the flash, and without the band in place sometimes the reflector would slide off.

No Flash

Large Reflector
Large Reflector, 45 degree angle

Mosses Eye View
Moving on to flowers, I started with some Snowdrops that were sitting in a shady spot, with lighting that was a little drab.  I decided it could do with a lift, and I wanted to replicate the look of winter sunlight backlighting the flowers.  I chose the 3-in-1 grid, using both grids to give me the most directional light, and slipped in a couple of warming filters to give me the colour contrast I was after.  Resting the flashgun on the low wall behind and to the side of the flowers, I was hoping it would give that weak, late-afternoon sunlit look.  I think it did a good job!  Like anything of this nature, there was some experimentation with position, flash power etc, but that's all part of the fun.  I used the X-rite ColourChecker Passport to ensure the ambient light was accounted for with my white balance, and the warmth was then added with the filtered flash.

Ambient Light Only
ColorChecker Passport used to set White Balance

Flash using warming gels in 3-in-1 Grid
Grid showing colour of Gels
Flash Set-up, using Rogue 3-in-1 Grid
Flash Set-up
Using Pop-up flash to trigger Flashgun

Lastly, I tried using the large softbox to lift the lighting on some flower portraits, giving the otherwise flat lighting a little more contrast and direction.  Again, it's subtle, but often that's what we want, and it's certainly more controllable than a lot of other solutions.  I even used the softbox as a pure white background, simply holding it up behind a single flower, again it worked well, with good, even lighting.

Ambient Light
Flashbender 2 Large Softbox
Flashbender 2 Softbox below Flowers
Large Softbox behind subject

The beauty of a kit like this is these are just some of the shots you could take with them, and it would be at home in an event photographers bag just as happily as a nature photographer's like me.  I do the odd event and wedding shoot, and this kit would be ideal, but I spend more time using flash for mosses, flowers, and grasshoppers, and it undoubtedly does a very good job with these too.  At £149.95 it's not a cheap option, but bearing in mind the range of jobs and effects it's good for, as well as its impeccable build-quality, it's actually very good value.

If you're looking for a good all-rounder, get yourself a Flashbender 2 Portable Lighting Kit!