The Gary Fong Puffer ($22) has one function: diffuse your popup flash’s harsh light, making it softer, more eye-pleasing, and eminently more usable. It mostly delivers on that promise, but will it cure my distain for actually using popup flash? Doubtful.
The problem with pretty much all flashes is that they’re very directional — like a spotlight. This means all your light rays are firing in the same direction, but also being reflected back to you from that same direction. That can create all sorts of problems, like shiny skin, red eyes, and harsh shadows. This is especially true of small flashes, since those are generally used closer to your subject.
The way to fix that “harsh light” issue is to diffuse it, meaning, pass your light beam through a filter which scatters it into millions of directions. Photographers call this kind of “beam redirecting,” diffusing.
Diffusers create a much more soft, pleasant light, because now your light source is reflected back to your camera from a myriad of varied angles, and not just one.
That concludes our lighting lesson for they day, back to the Puffer.
The Puffer is so simple to use, you’ll have more trouble getting its package open than putting it on your DSLR. I had my Puffer assembled and sitting atop my camera in less than 10 seconds. It just slides into your camera’s hot shoe, and poof, it’s ready to go.
And in my tests, the Puffer was quite effective. I found it made my camera’s popup flash light much softer, and dare I say, actually usable. The sickly cast of light my DSLR flash normally spews definitely looked better, as skin reflections were minimized, as were gross shadows.
The Puffer also did something I wasn’t expecting: it softened the flash’s color temperature a bit. Normal flash fires with a blueish hue, but shot through the Puffer, my popup flash looked more warm and natural. That’s a nice little extra.
As with any flash diffusing system, some of your flash will get eaten by the Puffer, and that light loss means two things.
One, you’ll need to increase your flash’s power in many shots to get the illumination you need. And increased flash power means draining your DSLR’s battery faster. I’m tearing up.
Two. Because your flash will be less powerful using the Puffer (since all diffusers cause light loss), you won’t be able to be as far away from your subject while maintaining the illumination you may need. This could mean no full body shots, or no photos where you’re not right in front of your subject.
If you’re running around with a small DSLR and you find you often use your popup flash, I would definitely recommend the Gary Fong Puffer. It works well, is easy to carry and use, and will definitely improve the light from your DSLR’s popup prowess. But don’t expect any lighting miracles here — your popup flash will forever be that: just a popup flash.