There are probably a thousand different flash-diffusing accessories out there that claim to transform your DSLR Speedlite’s sickly beam of photons into one that’s more soft’n'dreamy. Problem is, many portable diffusers are tricky to use, don’t work well, or both.
But the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible ($60), though it looks a little too much like a flash’s top hat, is surprisingly effective at softly lighting all that surrounds it.
Having owned several previous versions of the Lightsphere (LS), I can say that I love how compact Mr. Fong’s current model is. Older iterations take up a lot of camera bag space, and I was always hunting for a place to put them. This new LS Collapsible folds so flat that even in my smaller bags I never found it hard to stash.
Also different is the way it attaches to your speedlite. The LS Collapsible slides on more easily than previous versions, and that’s nice, because previous LS’s required rubber bands and velcro and patience—putting them on took minutes, not seconds. This current attachment method, though not as secure, is much faster, and when you’re running around shooting, faster is always better.
But here’s the meat and potatoes of the matter: the Gary Fong Lightsphere is one of the best portable flash diffusers I’ve used. Is it going to make your light perfect? No, it’s not an Octobank, but it is a world better than using your speedlite in the nude. The LS was built to cover your nearby-subjects with a soft cloud of diffuse light, and it does that well.
Back to the fit again; the LS Collapsible is held in place by rubber fins in the collar that slide over your speedlite. But these fins are made of plastic, and plastic wears. My concern is that, in time, those fins won’t be able to maintain a sturdy hold. Using velcro on the other models was annoying, but at least you never had to worry about a secure fit.
And speaking of fit, I found the LS didn’t work quite right on my SB-600 flash. It fit fine as long as my flash head wasn’t bent, but the LS Collapsible is more pudgy then its brethren, and when attached to my SB-600, it didn’t allow me to bend and lock flash head in its 90-degree position. That’s a big whoops in my book, especially because one of Lightsphere’s touted features is how easily it let’s you shoot in both portrait and landscape mode. I can’t use this LS in portrait mode with my SB-600, at least not without an extra hand keeping my flash pointed upwards.
So, would I recommend the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible? If you often find yourself shooting hectic indoor events with your flash mounted atop your DSLR, I say yes — that’s exactly what the LS is built for. But if that’s not you, and you’re more just looking for a general lighting accessory, I’d say there are other light modifiers out there that would be more useful for those purposes, like umbrellas or soft boxes.