The Neewer Flat Panel Reflector is a great tool designed for those looking for the benefit of something such as a V-flat or large reflector frame without the bulk of having to haul them around. The Neewer Flat Panel Reflector is basically a 3 foot by 6 foot wind sail that you can use as reflector or flag during virtually any shoot. At $69.99 the Flat Panel Reflector offers fantastic value for an innovative new light modifier to add to your arsenal.
The official product name on Amazon for this handy little toy is the Neewer 35" x 70"/ 90 x 180cm Photo Studio Gold/Silver & Black/White Flat Panel Light Reflector with 360 degree Rotating Holding Bracket and Carrying Bag, which is quite the mouthful but Neewer certainly has covered their bases for as much searchability as possible. In fact, it's how I stumbled upon this product. Initially I didn't even know that it existed and came across it while searching for something else. At first glance, I was immediately intrigued so quickly ordered a couple.
A Portable V-Flat (Minus the V)
I've always loved using V-flats, however I very rarely do because they are such a burden to lug around and set up. For a while, I had a few in my studio but they just ended up taking up so much space while shooting that I often found them frustrating even though I was quite fond of the look that they could create. While yes, the full V shape of a V-flat does come in handy, the vast majority of the time only a single surface of the V-flat is used as a massive white reflector, (or a massive black flag) the second half of the "V" really only provides structural support and gets in the way. The Neewer Flat Panel Reflector provides the benefit of that giant reflective surface without the need for the added space demanded by a full size V-flat. Furthermore, the Neewer Flat Panel Reflector also offers additional reflective surfaces much like many of the smaller, folding, reflectors on the market in the form of a gold and silver option. This allows the Flat Panel Reflector to be more versatile than a traditional V-flat, which would usually only be a single color, or at most two colors.
Neewer has always promoted itself as a company which creates pro gear at a budget price, which, often leading to lower overall quality in their products. The Flat Panel Reflector, despite its very reasonable price, surprised me, I expected the reflector sheets to be made of very cheap, flimsy, material but to my surprise the sheets are actually reasonably thick and made of higher quality fabric than I'd have guessed. The poles are made of, what seems to be good quality aluminum and the mount is also cast in some sort of metal which appears to be designed to last. This set up, does trade sturdiness for portability so I probably still wouldn't be looking to set this thing up during a wind storm but I am a lot more confident in its ability to withstand a bit of wind than I initially thought I would be after initially looking at the product online. Overall the Flat Panel Reflector's build quality is very good for what it is.
My first instinct was to assume that the Flat Panel Reflector would be a pain to set up. Softboxes using a similar tent structure tend to be notorious for this, so much so that I've largely moved to using only umbrella style soft boxes to save myself frustration before every shoot. To my surprise, the Flat Panel Reflector is fairly trivial to set up. The rods mount cleverly within the bracket so that it isn't the usual wrestling match that I've come to expect from soft boxes.
The Flat Panel Reflector, does have one problem that I really wish could be solved (it could easily be, Neewer, take notes!). One of the benefits of such a portable and lightweight system is that it should be very travel friendly. The Flat Panel Reflector has one major weakness, though, in that the rods are too long to fit in a standard suitcase, which means if I want to travel with it I'd need to pay for oversize baggage. This problem could be solved quite easily by replacing the solid rods with the segmented rods that commonly are used for camping tents. Personally, I'd be happy to pay more for a product that could fit into my carry on.
The only other problem I've run into is that when I want to use the Flat Panel Reflector horizontally, close to the ground, to fill in shadows beneath the chin and nose that it is a little too tall when mounted on a standard light stand but too short when mounted on one of my backlight stands. This is a pretty trivial problem, which I've been solving by having my model stand on an apple box but I figured it was worth mentioning.
A Glaring Omission
I imagine that you, just as I did when evaluating this product, initially found that it looks very similar to a standard 5-in-1 reflector, just larger and with its own mount for a light stand. Which it is, only it suffers from being a 4-in-1. I'm not sure why but Neewer opted not to include a diffusion surface for this product, which for me would have been a huge benefit. I'd love to be able to use the Flat Panel Reflector as a scrim to block sunlight or to diffuse light from a flash. Unfortunately, that isn't an option (unless I have something custom made for it, which I'm very much considering).
What I've Been Using It For
My Flat Panel Reflectors primarily have become a big part of my beauty workflow (as you can probably guess from the photos in this review). I love using them as a giant clam shell (or a vertical clam shell) for creating extremely soft light. My favorite setup has been to set two of them up vertically leaving only a tiny gap to stick my lens through so that I'm essentially creating a 6-foot by 6-foot curved wall of light in front of my subject to wrap light around them.
What I Liked
- Great value
- Very portable
- Decent build quality
- Very versatile
What Could Be Improved
- Could be even more portable
- Missing a diffusion fabric option
The Bottom Line
The Neewer Flat Panel Reflector is a great option for anyone looking for a large, portable reflector that offers great value for the price. Like anything, it isn't perfect but I am very happy with mine. Personally, I'd recommend buying two if you plan to get one as having a pair really does a great job at opening up possibilities. Finally, if you do plan on getting one be sure to invest in sand bags, the Neewer Flat Panel Reflector is basically a wind sail so be prepared and be safe.