Rogue FlashBenders Review

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ExpoImaging, the makers of the ExpoDisc White Balance Filter we reviewed back in February, has a new line of products targeted at strobists:  The Rogue FlashBenders.  The line consists of three products:  A Large Positional Reflector, a Small Positional Reflector and a Bendable Bounce Card/Flag.  Each of these is designed to fasten to your external flash units (strobes) as a means to control the light.  We have seen many of these products in the past, but none are as versatile as the Rogue FlashBenders.  While each FlashBender serves a slightly different purpose, each product features one very unique concept:  they are bendable.  Each features one or more positionable rods (one for the card/flag, two in the small reflector and three in the large reflector) so that you can shape the Flashbender in any position that you want.  After reading about this on ExpoImaging’s site, we just had to try out the product line for ourselves.  ExpoImaging was kind enough to provide a sample of each product for the purpose of our review.

When I first started using the Rogue FlashBenders, my initial goal was to familiarize myself with the product so that I can get down to the serious testing.  But then I got carried away and next thing I knew, I had burned a whole evening, some of the morning and about 400 photos of myself (I am the most accommodating model I know – sorry if you were looking for pretty people).  Needless to say, these things are fun to play with.  But I knew I had to get down to business and set up some reasonable tests to really see what these things could do.  So I scheduled another session (with myself) so that I could focus on reviewing the product….and the same thing happened.  Several sessions later, I was finally able to start jotting things down about what I liked and what few things I didn’t like about each product.  I finally have a good grasp as to the power each one of these FlashBenders can provide.

In short – the system is incredibly powerful and very beneficial to anyone’s photography kit.  This is perhaps one of the most enjoyable light modification systems I’ve used to date.  And for the record – I was previously a fan of Honl’s product line.  In my opinion, the Rogue Flashbenders are better for two reasons:  The Strap and the versatility.  Now the purpose of this review is not to compare the two product lines – but there are a few areas where such discussions are unavoidable.  Otherwise, I am going to clearly outline the benefits of the system and all of the features that are beneficial to you.

System Design

Left to Right: Small Positionable Reflector, Large Positionable Reflector (back) and Bendable Bounce Card/Flag (photo courtesy of ExpoImaging)

As I mentioned, the system is currently divided into three specific products:

  • Large Positionable Reflector – 10″ x 11″ (254mm x 280mm), three bendable rods, velcro fastener strap, velcro squares on edges of reflector (for snooting, more on that later)
  • Small Positionable Reflector – 10″ x 7″ (254mm x 178mm), two bendable rods, velcro fastener strap, velcro squares on edges of reflector (for snooting)
  • Bendable Bounce Card or Flag – 5″ x 9″ (127mm x 228mm), one bendable rod at the center line, velcro fastener strap, removable flag piece (black, non-reflective)

All of the FlashBenders feature a reflective surface that does not change the color temperature of the light.  These surfaces can be wiped with a damp cloth for easy cleaning without hindering the lifespan of the product.  The fastener straps are elastic with a small square of velcro which accommodates most (if not all) shoe-mounted strobes.  The fastener straps are also built-in, unlike Honl’s system, so that there are no straps to lose and so you don’t need extra straps to use each.  There’s also not too much velcro to get stuck on things in your bag.  Finally, each one of these is durable and built really well.  Trust me on this last part, the small positionable reflector has traveled a lot with me in my (over-filled) camera bag over the past month, and it shows no sign of wear.

Why Bend?

View directly into the FlashBender during flash fire. One corner is bent inward.

I will admit that my first time playing with the large reflector, the question that popped into my head – almost immediately – was:  “Why does it need to bend so much?”  My experience with light modifiers led me astray.  Light bounces all over the place, after all, and bending the reflector does not have as significant of an impact as you would expect.  But therein was the flaw in my reasoning:  I was focusing on a quantitative aesthetic.  The truth is that a non-bendable reflector will get you most of the way.  You’ll get the redirected light, you’ll soften the light and end up with a pretty good image.  But a bendable modifier allows you to feather out the light, or block a small portion of the light simply by bending the corners or even a whole edge how you’d like.  Bend the edge away from the subject, and the light softens – especially at the edge of the light.  Bend the edges towards the subject, and you can focus the light.

But aside from modifying the light that’s present, I also found a few outside-the-box scenarios just by playing around – and I’m sure there are more yet to be discovered.  For example, I discovered one way to mimic the effect of a small strip light by bending an upper corner of the large reflector so that it lies in front of the opposite lower corner – the reflector is now somewhat triangular shaped from the front.  But rotate the flash 90 degrees and tilt the unit away from the subject, and you are throwing light fairly narrow (comparatively speaking) and vertical.  The same effect can be done with the medium reflector by fastening it so that the middle of the reflector aligns with a short edge of the flash, then fold both wings over the long edges of the flash.  You can also angle the flash away from the subject and use one wing as a Gobo (“go between” – something between the flash and the subject) to prevent light from hitting one portion of the scene, or to achieve some indirect lighting effects.  The effect is not unlike a “barn door” on a studio frame light.

I’ve also found that you can use each modifier combined with another (or, I would assume, more than one of a specific type).  Because of the elastic and velcro fasteners, I experimented with a few shots to have the bounce flag on one side of the strobe, and used the large modifier on the other fastened around the card’s fastener.  Aimed properly, I was able to create a nice halo effect around the subject without getting too much light on the subject itself.

With the small and large reflectors, you also have the option to snoot the reflectors.  A snoot is basically a tunnel for the light to travel.  You would use a snoot to prevent the light from spreading too wide – to focus the light, if it were.  Now in my opinion, the large reflector works well as a snoot.  However, the small reflector is just a tiny bit too short to be useful as a snoot.  The problem is that with such a reflective surface inside, the light spreads more than you may like.  If it were longer, this might not be much of an issue.  But the small reflector just isn’t long enough to yield any serious control.  There is a simple solution to this issue, however.  Mount the reflector backwards so that the dark side is facing in and you eliminate a lot of the chaotic light.  I should note that the FlashBenders were not designed to be mounted backwards.  There is no rubbery surface on the back side to keep the reflectors in place – so you may have to adjust from time to time.  But this little hack helps you to get the most out of the snoot method of control.

Possibly one of my favorite undocumented uses for the FlashBenders is for macro  and close-up photography.  If you move the flash off-camera, you can set up a reflective dome.  I like to do this best with the large reflector as it is large enough to spread the light around small objects without noticeable shadows.  This method has proven to be quite effective.  It’s not perfect – but works well if you don’t have a ring flash, or if you don’t feel like carrying it around.  The shot shown here is illuminated in such a manner.  Had this been lighted with my on-camera flash, the lens could have cast a shadow on the subject (which happens to be the label on one of the FlashBenders).  A bare-bulb flash would have yielded harsh lighting, and that label would have had a nasty shadow around it.  A flash with a simple diffuser works well, but you lose a lot of the light.  Shooting with the FlashBender as a dome, I was able to pick up some shutter speed – even enough to allow a hand-held capture.

Final Thoughts

A self portrait using the large reflector.

The FashBenders have proven to be quite useful to me.  The durability, simplicity and versatility of their design has done well to fill several needs with my work.  I am always a fan of versatility – single-purpose tools are a waste of money.  As I’ve discussed above, the FlashBenders have yielded a great number of lighting scenarios.  I’m quite happy with that aspect.

I’m also happy with the overall design of the products.  The bending aspect is of course a beneficial element – one that I found much more useful than I would have thought – but the materials and quality that went into the FlashBenders cannot be overlooked.  I am quite appreciative of the simple – but incredibly effective – elastic and velcro fastening system.  I also need to mention again that these things are quite durable.

But as I indicated, not all things are perfect.  We do wish that there was a more effective way to mount the reflectors backwards so that we could snoot through the non-reflective surface.  And we also wish that the black surface on the bounce card were more like a flap so that it was never entirely detachable and easy to lose.  For that matter, if the card were reverse-mountable, that black surface might not even be necessary.  But in the big scheme of things, these are both very minor issues – certainly not design flaws.

Finally, I must once again praise the company behind these products:  ExpoImaging.  If you remember back when we reviewed their ExpoDisc, I initially had some troubles getting it to work under incandescent lighting.  The company’s first thought was to run an in-depth evaluation of the exact filter I used to see if perhaps something was missed in their quality control process.  In the end, the issue turned out to be user error (mine), but ExpoImaging and I went back and forth several times to pinpoint the problem.  One could say that there was biased as I was reviewing their product.  But in speaking with the individuals I worked with, I never got that idea.  In my dealings with the company, both with the ExpoDisc and with the Rouge FlashBenders, I always got a great feeling of pride.  They take a lot of pride in their products, and I really think it shows.

So bottom line question:  Would I recommend the Rogue FlashBenders?  Absolutely.  I would say that the most useful of the three was definitely the large reflector.  It is my favorite of the lot and has the most uses.  That third bar really makes a big difference with what can be done with it.  The bounce/flag would be my second favorite.  The small reflector serves its purpose for those of you who travel or carry your stuff with you always.  It folds up nicely to fit in most camera bags.  But if you’re not of the traveling mind, or if you don’t intend to carry your modifiers with you always, then you can probably bypass the small reflector.

So all in all, there’s very little that we could say bad about the Rogue FlashBenders.  Even the very few flaws that we did find are nominal at best.  So it’s safe to say that we love the FlashBenders.  You will see each of these and the kit in our Amazon storefront

Things We Liked

  • One-piece design (for reflectors) – no parts to be lost.
  • Multi-purpose design:
    • Bounce card doubles as a Flag (with detachable black surface) and is bendable to more light control.
    • Small reflector can be used as a bounce, a small gobo and is bendable with two positioning rods for more control.  Mount it backwards and it can be used as a flag.
    • Large reflector can be used as a bounce, a large gobo and is bendable using three positioning rods.  Mount it backwards, and it can be used as a flag.
  • Limited use of velcro – will not stick to random things in your bag.
  • Elastic fasteners – fits a number of flash shapes and sizes.  It even permits you to mount around other light modifiers, such as grids or small diffusers.

Things We Didn’t Like

  • The bounce card’s detachable black surface can be completely removed – and lost.  For those who are careful with their gear, this is a minor concern.
  • We wish we could mount the benders backwards more effectively (note, the benders are not designed to do this at all).

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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