[Review] FlashBender Diffusion Panel, FlashBender, and Rogue Universal Lighting Filter Kit
For the photographer who likes to travel light, it has always been a challenge to find flash modifiers that are both effective and easy to use on the go. ExpoImaging has long been making accessories, but their recently released Rogue diffusion panels for their popular FlashBenders will be a welcome addition to any strobist’s kit.
ExpoImaging, makers of the Rogue line of light modifiers, had generously sent us a few of their products to test and review: The FlashBender, which is a foldable and bendable modifier which works alone as a large bounce card, flag, or snoot, the new small diffusion panel that is designed to work in tandem with the FlashBender to act as a softbox, and their gel system, dubbed the Universal Lighting Filter Kit.
I’m going to jump right in and get down to the meaty details. If you’d like to learn about the tech specs, measurements and numbers, there is a very helpful FAQ on Rouge’s site that has all of those details for you to check out, which is located here.
Part One: Flashbender and Small Diffusion Panel
I’ll be the first to admit that, as a male, I am not a manual-reading type. I’ll crack open a box, and immediately start trying to get the product to work by mashing things together until it, well, works. Computers, cameras, accessories, you name it. I’m glad to say that as soon as I opened the packaging, getting the FlashBender set up was a breeze. Installation is intuitive, and setup is quick. There is a heavy-duty rubber and Nylon collar that wraps around the flash head and snaps together via a set of thumb-snaps that are adjustable to various flash head sizes (I used the FlashBender on Vivitar, Canon, and Nikon flashes without incident). This collared design is one of the better designs I’ve seen when it comes to small-flash accessories: it is both rugged and grippy. Once attached, the FlashBender isn’t going anywhere, which I expect will be appreciated by event shooters and wedding shooters who are looking for soft light on the go.
While at first glance the FlashBender may appear to be just a beefed up bounce card, it’s actually more akin to a Swiss army knife of light modifiers. Built into each FlashBender are malleable rods which allow you to bend the aptly-named FlashBender to your will. You can bend the panel forward to throw some more light on your subject, or bend it into a snoot, which fastens together with Velcro tabs on opposite ends, or mold it into the shape of your choice and use it as a flag for complicated lighting setups to keep flare out of the lens or ensure that light is only sent in the direction of your choice.
Though the FlashBender is a solid product on it’s own, Rogue wasn’t content to sit on their laurels. They recently released a line of diffusion panels, pictured below, that attach to the FlashBender, effectively turning it into a light-weight softbox, which makes this versatile little light modifier even more capable.
Part Two: Universal Lighting Filter Kit
When it comes to gels, there are a lot of options out there. What I find most annoying about many gel kits is the fact that you need to apply Velcro to your flashes, which leaves a sticky residue, and the Velcro makes every attempt to stay stuck inside your bag when you go to remove your lights. Rogue has come up with a rather genius solution that I haven’t seen utilized elsewhere: a large rubber band-esque ring in conjunction with tabbed gels that slip right over the flash head, covering the entire light source evenly and easily. It just plain works, and it works quickly.
A nice touch is the color and f-stop loss that each filter incurs printed right on the gel for easy identification and flash power adjustment.
But let’s see some photos!
For the review, we used a three light setup: a bare speedlight as a rimlight at the model’s seven o’clock, a bare speedlight with the Universal Lighting Filter kit behind the model pointed into the backdrop, and a speedlight with the Flashbender and Diffuser Panel attached as the keylight at the model’s one o’clock.
In my test, the first thing that stood out was the quality of light that came out of the little diffusion panel and FlashBender combo. Myself and fellow commercial photographer Rick Rose, who’s help I enlisted for this review, were both blown away at the results we were getting from the modifier. To me, it appeared to be a sort of hybrid beauty dish/softbox style of light with soft-edged shadows, but there was a hard light quality to the specular highlights which we both found appealing. Check out how our model’s hair lights up: while there is a bare flash to the model’s seven o’clock for a rim light, the FlashBender with the diffuser panel did an amazing job of adding texture and depth to the hair and clothing of the model.
There were a few small gripes that I had, though most of them can be attributed to my preferences. I would have liked the diffusion panel to be a little bit sturdier. While the built quality was wonderful, I felt like the front panel (note that this is not the FlashBender itself that I’m referring to) had trouble keeping shape after moving it around from stand to stand. My other small nitpick is in the distribution of gels in the filter set. I would have liked to see multiple color correction gels, rather than a single of each. Oftentimes I find myself correcting two or three flashes and would prefer not to have to buy more than one set of gels to handle this. So, for example, rather than 5 color correction gels and 25 cinematic gels, maybe 10 color correction gels (2 of each) and 20 cinematic gels would be more appropriate. But this is just for my style of shooting, and may not be the best solution for you.
For a Strobist-style shooter on a budget, event or wedding photographer, or any shooter who is always on the move and is looking for a quick, simple modifier to soften light with minimal fuss, I’d heartily recommend the FlashBender with the Small Diffusion Panel accessory. The quality of light is much more appealing than many similar modifiers that I have seen in the same price range. The build quality is superb and I could see this product lasting a long time in my gear bag, which is not the most forgiving environment. The fact that it works on multiple systems with no fuss is icing on the cake.
I also would have no issue recommending the Rogue Universal Lighting Filter Kit, either. Just be sure that the distribution of gels meshes with your shooting style. This is a great little kit to get your toes wet with gels – simple, no fuss, and works as advertised. I especially appreciated the ease of use here, and the included filter storage wallet is a nice touch in an era where it seems every accessory requires me to fork over more cash.
Pricing and Availability
All of ExpoImaging’s Rogue products are available at local dealers around the world, though if you are interested in purchasing online, The FlashBender is available for $34.95, while the add-on Small Diffusion Panel will set you back $19.95 at B+H. Lastly, the Universal Lighting Filter Kit is alsoavailable at B+H for $29.95. For more information and tech specs, head over to www.expoimaging.com.