Light Scoop (Original) Softens Built-In Flash (Test Labs)
[Editor's Note: This article was created for our legacy website very early in our magazine's history. Unfortunately, some of the sample photos that accompanied this article have been lost. However, the content has been preserved. We apologize for the inconvenience.]
A few weeks ago, I shared with you that I happened upon a product called Light Scoop, thanks to Wired Magazine's Gadget Lab. Well, the makers of Light Scoop were nice enough to send me a one to evaluate and review for Shutter Photo. The light scoop (pictured at right) is basically a mirror in a frame that snaps into your hot-shoe clip on the top of your SLR camera. It is available in two different ways: standard and warming, the latter of which has a gold cast to the mirror. The idea is that it reflects the light up at the ceiling, much like you would with a off-camera flash, and softens the impact of the flash.
The Light Scoop comes with a brief instruction manual and a velvet bag for safe keeping. The scoop itself is made of dense plastic with a mirror embedded on the inside of the main face. When you receive the light scoop, the mirror is protected by a thin plastic film. Allegedly, the film has little or no impact on the Light Scoop's performance, but we did not test that claim. I removed my film. The Light Scoop is a lot bigger than I had expected – about 4″ x 3″ x 3″ – but it's the perfect size for my camera, a Nikon D80. While mounted to my camera, the built-in-flash was able to fully close and pop-up without hindrance. It barely added any weight to the camera, and thus did not send the camera off balance. As for the build quality: This thing is sturdy. The plastic is quite dense, and while the sides will flex slightly if squeezed, it appears as thought it would take a pretty good beating. Even the clip that fits into the hot-shoe appears to be quite durable.
So that's how it's made and what you can expect of it's build quality. Now, lets get into how it functions. But first, let's discuss it's purpose…
Cameras have gotten better of the years, but they still are not as good as the human eye. Low light conditions that are typical of indoor spaces often require the use of a flash, be it on camera or off. Off camera flashes can do an incredible job illuminating your subject without creating any harsh lines or blown-out regions – but they are expensive, starting at around 5 times the price of the Light Scoop. On camera flashes are nearly free (well, they come with the camera, so it's at least not an added expense). But they are not without their generous helping of problems.
For discussion purposes, I took several self portraits. Sorry I have to subject you to my likeness – but my photogenic children wouldn't sit still long enough for a good test. Anyhow…the first portrait – featuring my best deer-in-the-headlights look – exhibits some of the poor qualities of on-camera flashes: Blown out areas (forehead, ears and cheek bone) and harsh shadows (behind me, under the chin and around my nose) and an overall ghostly appearance. Though not exhibited in this shot, red-eye is also common. These problems can be exaggerated with fair skin tones. Note that I did not do any post-processing on this image – or any image in this article.
Light Scoop In Action
The instructions called for 800 ISO with a really wide aperture. The purpose of both of these settings is to increase the light sensitivity and increase the amount of light getting into the lens. A good portion of the light is lost in the reflection off the ceiling (or wall), so these settings make sense. But I've never been one to follow rules. I found the use of ISO 400 and an aperture two and a half stops closed (f/4 on this particular lens) to work quite well. The instructions also recommend manual mode, but I did find Aperture Priority Mode to work quite well also. The results, as you can see to the right, are quite impressive. The light is bounced off the ceiling and it illuminates my face quite well as well as the scene. Shadows are soft and no blown-out areas are noted. This is most noticeable in and around my ear – no overly bright spots, and it still has definition. Note that there is also no shadow directly behind me. The shadows under my chin are still fairly dark, but are still significantly softer than the first shot. In general, this is a much better photo than the standard flash.
But not all is perfect.
While the Light Scoop is leaps and bounds ahead of a standard flash, it still has its limitations. For starters, the Light Scoop is designed for indoor use. If you don't have a wall or a ceiling in close proximity to the camera, the Light Scoop will only serve to blind nearby wildlife. I imagine it would be possible to use a portable reflector to redirect the light where you need it, but it might be difficult to bounce it just right. Besides, I haven't tested this theory, so don't quote me unless my hypothesis is correct. The other aspect of the Light Scoop that is less than favorable is that the majority of the light is now coming from above – potentially leaving your subject with raccoon eyes. This effect is exaggerated the closer the subject is to the camera (see the shot below).
In this particular shot, I was only sitting about 4 feet from the camera. I predict that a good portion of the light ended up behind me and the rest ended up on my cheek bones and forehead. Based on my own experiments, I feel that it is best if you keep your subject a good 6-8 feet away – farther for ceilings higher than 10 feet – due to the angle of the reflector glass. I would consider this a minor setback, however. After all, even with an off-camera flash bouncing off the ceiling, the racoon eyes effect is still a potential problem. You just need to be aware – as always – the source of your light. Besides, this type of effect is easily fixable in post-processing just by tweaking your highlight/shadows or by tweaking your center point in the photo levels. Remember, these are unedited photos.
So is the Light Scoop the perfect tool for everyone? Absolutely not. But lets take it for what it's worth. It is not intended to be a replacement for an external flash. It is intended to improve your on-camera flash. For many, it will be all you need to make your photos look leaps and bounds better. For many, it will help you to postpone the need to spend money on a good external flash – and $34.95* (USD, pricing as of November, 2009), it will certainly serve that purpose. I would even hypothesize that many casual photographers will prefer the Light Scoop over a more complicated external flash system – especially consumers who primarily capture family functions, parties and so on. For that matter, even more advanced photographers might prefer to travel with a Light Scoop instead of their more bulky and more costly external flashes. And I imagine that there are a number of people out there, the tinkerers and the do-it-yourselfers, that may even find a dozen or so uses for this device that are beyond its intended purpose. A friend already suggested that it might great as a fill-flash used in conjunction with your external flash. I have also considered tinkering with some different colored gels, either directly on the mirror or just above it, to get some cool color effects.
The Light Scoop certainly has its place in this world of photography, and I would certainly recommend it for any casual photographer. It is simple to use, it's durable, it significantly improves the look of your artificially lighted shots and aside from its shortcomings, it produces some decent photos. Now those of you who are more serious about artificial lighting and are more technical with your camera gear, this isn't going to be the gadget for you. But it is a great tool that is worth some consideration, especially for those of you with tighter budgets.
The Light Scoop comes two different ways: Standard and Warming – the latter of which has a gold cast to the mirror to give your shots a warmer appearence. Note, all of my test shots were created with the standard Light Scoop. The Light Scoop is compatible with the following cameras (it simply clicks into the hot shoe):
- Canon 7D, 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, Rebel XTi, XSi, 400, 450, XT, XTi, T1i, XS, 350, 1000D
- Fuji FinePix Pro
- Nikon D40, D40x, D50, D60, D70, D70s, D80, D90, D100, D200, D300, D700, D3000, D5000
- Olympus E420, E520, E3, E620
- Pentax K10D, K100D, K20D, K200D
- Sigma SD14
Note that I was also informed by the manufacturer that a version of the Light Scoop – which will fit all Sony cameras with a pop-up flash – will start shipping in December.
For more information, visit the offical website: Light Scoop (lightscoop.com)
* Update: Please note that we originally mis-quoted the price of the Light Scoop. Normal price for the Light Scoop is $34.95 as noted herein. We appologize for any confusion we may have caused.