Fstoppers Reviews the Sundisc Softbox

Fstoppers Reviews the Sundisc Softbox

When is a softbox not a softbox? When it's a Sundisc. Here's a long-term review of a multi-talented light modifier that packs down to the size of a pack of small tortillas.

The Problem

I'm always on the lookout for portable camera gear. There is something immensely satisfying about squeezing photographic equipment in the smallest space possible yet still achieving above-the-bar results. In fact, I've written about how to optimize your gear for traveling only with cabin baggage, as well putting together a tiny strobe-based lighting kit. In the latter article, one of the areas I briefly covered was light modifiers. In order to achieve that soft, delicious, oh-so-flattering, buttery light — light that envelopes the face, wrapping it in swathes of gentle and delicate tones — the general principle is close and big. That is, get in as close to your subject as you can with as big a modifier as you can. Of course, the bigger you go, the more diffuse the light becomes, which means gradually increasing amounts of light power.

The key point is that the size of the light source relative to the subject needs to be as big as possible. For example, while the sun is large, it is distant, which makes it relatively small. It's also bright, which when combined with a small relative size, produces hard light and harsh photos. A strobe in a studio is not too dissimilar. Much closer, but much smaller, again producing hard light. What we need is a diffuser to make the effective light source bigger. On a cloudy day, the sky does this for sunlight. For artificial light, we have modifiers like softboxes.

The Solution

The problem for photographers is that big things tend not to travel well! The earlier review used the Lastolite Ezybox for illustration, which is quite a good light modifier for travel but still remains small when compared to a studio softbox. The obvious solution to the problem is to use a popup frame with a diffuser. This is where the Swedish Sundisc comes in.

There are several popup-type products; the simplest is the reflector, something which nearly all photographers have. Why not put two reflectors (gold and white) back-to-back and sandwich a strobe in between? This was Sundisc's idea, and it makes for a great product. It packs down small, yet when fully open, it creates a moderately sized diffuser. The light is much softer than other travel light modifiers, and it can double as a reversible gold/white reflector to boot. Manufactured to a 60 cm open size and weighing a svelte 400 g, it packs down to a portable 22x5 cm. Be warned: if you've owned a popup reflector, then you'll know that it'll smack you in the face if you open it without due care and attention! The hardest part will be remembering how to fold it back into its accompanying carry case. There is a hole at the bottom of the panel which has an elastic for a strobe, or it can take a Bowen's mount.


Enough about the specifications. The key aspect of any review is how well it performs, so I'll split this part into three areas: quality of light, usability, and durability.

First up, quality of light. Any diffusion panel needs to be big, spread the light evenly, and diffuse it effectively. Size is obviously a balancing act when you have anything designed to pack down small. Sundisc has picked a compromise, and the travel diameter of 22 cm, springing up to a useful 60 cm is good. The material used to diffuse the light is on a par with anything else I've used, no better or worse. Where the Sundisc compromises is how it spreads the light across the panel. By placing the strobe at the bottom (rather than at the back), the light gradually dims up the panel, a result of that pesky inverse power law. Is this noticeable in practice? Not really, but if you look closely, you may be able to see delicate feathering depending upon your light power and distance to subject.

In terms of usability, the Sundisc is as practical in application as any reflector. It pops up once you've uncoiled it. There is a small hole at the bottom you can slide the strobe into, securing it in place with elastic. This is sufficient for the purposes of keeping the two in place, and if you've got an assistant with you, then they can hold it in place. However, it does suffer from the same problem as any light modifier, namely one of stability.

Anything that is tall, top-heavy, and on a small base has the potential to fall over. This is actually a twofold problem for the Sundisc. Firstly, there is the general issue of toppling a portable light stand, particularly if you are outside, where weight, wind, and uneven ground all conspire to wreck even the simplest of lighting setups. Secondly, because it straps to the end of the strobe, there can be a tendency for "head creep," where the flash head will rotate down, particularly when you tilt the Sundisc toward your subject. There is no easy solution, and if you are on your own, you need a little patience.

What I Liked

Sundisc has taken a two-in-one approach to produce both a softbox and reflector in one, taking advantage of the portability of popup reflectors to produce a clever diffuser. It will never match what you have in the studio, but it isn't intended to. For the size, it packs a hefty creative punch that could just be what you need in your toolbox for those times when you have to pack small but create the perception of big lights. The design approach is simple but surprisingly effective. It's small, it produces pleasant-enough light; in short, it does what it says on the tin. I haven't mentioned price: this comes in at 550 kr or about $60. You'll be hard-pressed to find too many light modifiers cheaper than this!

What Could Be Improved

I've mentioned the potential for grading in the light given that the strobe sits at the bottom of the panel. I think you'd be hard-pressed to see this in practice, but obviously, the orientation is different than a traditional softbox or umbrella. Of more frustration (when using a strobe) was the tendency for the strobe head to rotate down. When running and gunning on your own, this can make you a little tense! It is, to be fair, as much to do with the strobe head as the design of the Sundisc. Some strobes will likely have a much stiffer action to them, in which case, this won't be a problem.

Final Thoughts

The Sundisc is one of those products where you say to yourself "why didn't I think of that?" It's an obvious solution for a highly portable light modifier that can create a good diffusion panel, ideally suited to traveling lightweight. You won't find much at this size and price point that will produce moderately flattering portraits. All in all, the Sundisc strikes a fine balance: it is sufficiently good for regular use, but not of industrial quality. Recommended.

Mike Smith's picture

Mike Smith is a professional wedding and portrait photographer and writer based in London, UK.

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Anyone else find it hilarious that one of the ads on this post is for the Fstoppers version of basically the same darn thing?

The Fstoppers Flash Disc came out about 5-6 years prior to the Sundisc, 2013/14 as opposed to 2018/19. Plus the Flash Disc is smaller, around about 12" when opened up and the Sundisc is 24". IIRC the Sundisc did their kickstarter in 2018 and shipped in 2019.

I have the Sundisc from the kickstarter, have used it a couple of times, and sad to say, I'm not really impressed and have since packed it away.

I did something similar but with a pair of reflectors. some wire and Velcro. Albeit was for a different style of light, a Quadra head and borrowed the idea from the HiLite backgrounds you can get. The added advantage for me was the reflectors could be a softbox or a reflector as needed.

Nobody likes the "chin-strap effect" from strobe flashguns -- so no one with a strobe flash should be without a light modifier.

Can I suggest that before you pay anything for one - take a look at a test "FLASH DIFFUSERS - which one is best?" by Riley Photos - be sure to watch closely at 10.35 when a surprise light modifier appears !
----- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdokK-Qvrcs

If you are stuck away from home with just a "Pop-up" on-camera flash - then watch the prolific Andrew from Beyond Photograpy reveal the winner in his test - at 6.18
"DIY Pop-Up Flash Diffusers Challenge" ----- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yayb56A5rao

The "winners" in both videos have been picture savers for me many times and the sum total cost = zero !

best wishes to you all - Paul in the UK

I purchased a Sundisc way back around 2017-18? And loved it! However, it suffered from durability issues- the little “sticks” that hold the two panels apart; one of these started poking through its little compartment which kind of compromised the product. But great light- especially using a strobe!