Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop Review

kobre-lightscoop-1Earlier 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.

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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.

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With pop-up flash

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.

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With speedlight

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.

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With Lightscoop, +2 exposure compensation

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With Lightscoop, +1 exposure compensation

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.

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With ambient light

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.

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With pop-up flash

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.

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With speedlight

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.

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With Lightscoop

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.

 

Product Information

Price:$34.95
Manufacturer:Professor Kobre's Lightscoop
Pros:
  • Softens harsh light from pop-up flash to produce well-lighted pictures
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use substitute for a speedlight
Cons:
  • This is not really a con - just a note for those people who skip down to the pros & cons. The Lightscoop doesn't completely eliminate the need for a speedlight, but it isn't designed to be a replacement for it.
Posted in: Camera Gear

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Tyler Puckett November 10, 2009, 2:07 pm

    Great review of a product, with lots of real-world comparisons. Well done!

    I would love to see a comparison of this product and the “warming” one. My guess is there wouldn’t be a huge difference as the light will end up being whatever color the ceiling is (not the reflector), so in the end the only thing the gold color will do is eat some light.

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  • Janet Cloninger November 10, 2009, 4:40 pm

    Thanks, Tyler. If you dig around on the Lightscoop website, you can find one comparison of the regular and the warming lightscoop. I think I found it under “Overview”, and then I selected the “Lightscoop vs. External Flash” option in the left-side frame. And it does say that you should use the Lightscoop with light, neutral-colored ceilings or walls.

    And as an FYI to all, I edited this post to change a word I used to describe light diffusers in the second paragraph. I changed “opaque” to “translucent”. An opaque piece of plastic would block the light, not diffuse it! Sorry about that!

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  • Kevin Stephenson November 10, 2009, 9:01 pm

    Great review of the Lightscoop. I have been considering a speedlight for my D70 but did not want to put out the money for one. Based on your review, I think this will work fine since I would not need it that often. Thanks!

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  • Ken Kobre November 12, 2009, 12:10 pm

    Janet, what a thoughtful, thorough review. Thank you.

    Regarding the warming Lightscoop, the mirror is gold-tinted — not covered with a gel — so there is no light loss other than what occurs naturally when sending the light to a ceiling or wall and back down again.

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  • Janet Cloninger November 12, 2009, 3:43 pm

    @ Ken Kobre Thank you, Professor!

    And thanks for answering Tyler’s question about the warming Lightscoop.

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  • charlotte mac February 10, 2012, 12:17 pm

    Great review and can’t wait to be able to get one (or both!!) just need to know if it will work on a Canon 400D ?? if so my order will be going in Thanks.

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  • Janet Cloninger February 10, 2012, 12:54 pm

    @charlotte mac Thanks. You can find a list of cameras the Lightscoop works with in the rightmost column at Professor Kobre’s website here.

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