Earlier in October, Julie posted an article about an accessory for some 35 mm and digital SLR cameras called Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop. The Lightscoop works with cameras that have a pop-up flash, and it is designed to re-direct the harsh, direct light to the ceiling (or to a light-colored wall when the camera is rotated to a vertical position) to wash the entire scene with a softer, more even light. Our Nikon D80 is one of the cameras that the Lightscoop works with. We really like the Nikon, and we’ve taken some great pictures with it – except when a flash is needed. Like all pop-up flashes, the one on the Nikon has a limited field of illumination with a bright, harsh center. We tend to have a lot of red-eye in our pictures and washed out subjects floating in a dark background using the pop-up flash. When I heard The Gadgeteer was getting a Lightscoop for review, I asked Julie if I could give it a try. I was hoping that we could get some much more natural-looking pictures using the Lightscoop with the Nikon.
The Lightscoop is not promoted as a replacement for a speedlight nor for professional lighting setups. It is not a light diffuser, which uses translucent plastic to soften the harsh light of the pop-up. It attaches to the hot-shoe, but it doesn’t draw any power from it. The Lightscoop places a mirror directly into the path of the pop-up flash. The light is redirected up to the ceiling and bounces around the room to provide soft, indirect lighting. The Lightscoop works with the following cameras:
- Canon 7D, 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, Rebel XTi, XSi, 400, 450, XT, XTi, T1i, XS, 350, 1000D
- Fuji FinePix Pro
- Nikon D40, D40x, D50, D60, D70, D70s, D80, D90, D100, D200, D300, D700, D5000
- Olympus E420, E520, E3, E620
- Pentax K10D, K100D, K20D, K200D
- Sigma SD14
The Lightscoop comes in two models: Standard and Warming. Standard uses a normal mirror to redirect the light. The Warming model has a gold-colored mirror, which produces a warmer picture without having to use a filter. I received the Standard model. The Lightscoop came with a velveteen storage bag, a brochure with instructions and example photos, and an instruction leaflet that stores easily in your camera bag.
When we bought our Nikon D80, we decided we would just make do with the pop-up since we had just invested so much in the camera and lens. Pictures taken with the pop-up flash were disappointing. We looked like a bunch of vampires, with pale, washed out skin tones and red, glowing eyes. The Nikon is infinitely adjustable, so it is possible to set everything up manually to get good pictures in most any conditions, but that doesn’t lend itself to getting good, quick candid shots. We eventually got a speedlight, with a head that can be adjusted to various angles, including up to the ceiling to wash the area with soft light. The speedlight has more power, but it causes problems of its own and it isn’t as convenient as the pop-up. It also adds a bit of weight to a camera which is already very heavy when using our 18-135 mm lens.
When we take quick candids, we typically use the Nikon in fully automatic mode – like a point-and-shoot camera. In our dark house, the camera usually uses the pop-up flash even in daylight. Here is an example of a picture of my daughter using the pop-up flash with the camera in fully automatic mode. You can see the lighting is harsh, with a bright glare on the wood behind her head.
The next picture is Rachel in the same position and pose, taken with the speedlight directed at the ceiling. Our ceiling is only eight feet, and the speedlight is very strong. The light is more diffuse, and there is no harsh glare on the furniture behind her, but everything seems over-bright and a little over-exposed.
I didn’t use the automatic setting with the Lightscoop. Instead, I followed the directions on the included setup sheet. I installed the Lightscoop to the front of the camera. I set the camera to manual mode, exposure meter to spot metering, ISO to 800, and the shutter speed to 1/200th. The instructions said to set the lens to the widest aperture, which was f1.8 for our 35mm prime lens. The instructions say to turn the flash on and set the flash exposure compensation to +1 or +2. I tried both of those compensations to see which works best with our camera. With +2, Rachel’s face is lighted better than with the speedlight, but I think it’s a little bright. I decided I prefer the +1 setting. The picture is a little darker, but it has a soft, almost ethereal look that I really like.
I think it works great for portraits. Of course, I’m not using the automatic setting, but it’s almost like automatic. You set up the camera once, and you don’t have to make adjustments for every photo you take. I like the way it makes people look, but how does it work with objects?
I used a pottery bonsai tree as my next test subject. The tree has a very textured trunk and a smooth top. The glaze has a brown color with beautiful metallic copper-colored areas. These details are easily seen with the eye, but they don’t photograph well. The first picture was taken in ambient light (no flash) in our brightly lighted, bright white kitchen. A lot of the trunk is in shadow, and the glaze colors are muted. Everything has a red cast from the artificial lighting in the kitchen.
Next is the tree using the pop-up flash. The trunk is more evenly lighted, but the tree top is so reflective that you can’t see the nuances in the glaze colors.
The speedlight is far too much light in the already light kitchen. It seems to deaden the colors and makes the glaze appear matte. The trunk is again in shadow.
Using the Lightscoop, I get a picture that is most like what my eye sees when I look at the bonsai. The trunk is well-lighted and the texture is visible. The top is shiny, but not glaring, and you can see the brown and metallic copper of the glaze. The extra light from the flash whitens the over-all lighting, compensating for the reddish cast of the halogen lighting in the kitchen.
The Lightscoop is a great addition to my camera equipment. It works beautifully to redirect and soften the light from my Nikon’s pop-up flash. With the Lightscoop, my pictures look more like what my eye sees. Portraits don’t look like mugshots, with a washed out person in the center and nothing much visible in the background. I get well-lighted subjects and backgrounds over a larger area than with the pop-up flash alone. It won’t replace my speedlight in situations where I want to take pictures of a roomful of people at once, because the pop-up flash simply doesn’t have enough power for that situation. But for $34.95, Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop is a wonderful tool for taking beautifully lighted, intimate pictures.