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Friday, 05 January 2007 00:00

Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe

Lastolite have recently launched the Ezybox - Hotshoe which is a collapsible softbox that you can use with a speedlite turning your battery operated flashgun into a studio light, albeit a small one. If you have used flash you will know how harsh it can be and a softbox does just what it sounds like, it softens the light to give more pleasing results which is useful for most kinds of photography from still life to macro, portraits and small groups etc.

Having been given some money at Christmas I ordered one of these from Warehouse Express which arrived today and here are a few test shots I made with it. The Lastolite Ezybox - Hotshoe comes in a bag like those that come with reflectors and like the reflectors the Ezybox quickly folds out into a square shape. Once this has been done you have to attach the white diffuser to the front of the softbox which is attached via velcro. After this has been done it's simply a case of attaching the supplied speed ring to the adjustable bracket which allows the Ezybox to be used with any size flashgun. Once you have done this you simply attach your flashgun into the hotshoe mount on the bracket and then it's just a case of attaching the whole assembly to a lighting stand.

ezyboxThe bracket that comes with the Ezybox is designed primarily to attach to a lighting stand but the thumb screw that holds the hotshoe onto the bracket also has a screw thread on the other side that allows you to attach it to a normal tripod head. However I doubt that this will work for large tripod heads like the Manfrotto 029 as the quick release plate on this head would hit the mount that should be attached to a lighting stand. I managed to attach the Ezybox to a Manfrotto 222 head without any problems and as long as the plate on your tripod head isn't too large you shouldn't have too many problems. At worse the lighting stand attachment is only held on with an allen key and so could be removed if your plate is too large.

Once assembled you can adjust the horizontal and vertical position of your flashgun via thumb screws on the bracket so that the head fits just inside the Ezybox which means you still have access to the controls on the back of your speedlite if you wish to use it in manual mode. I felt that the build quality was a little flimsy as there was a little movement in the bracket even when tightened fully but I suspect that the use of an additional washer (not supplied) would improve this significantly. My main concern was over the way that the bracket assembly attaches to the softbox itself as it's only held on by the edges of the softbox itself, in other words it's not fixed in anyway. This is fine for indoor use - I easily moved it around on my tripod without it moving or feeling loose but even though Lastolite say that it can be used outdoors I can't help but feel that one gust of wind would send it flying down the street. Only time will tell on this.

So how does it perform?

no_flash.jpg

To test how effective the Ezybox is I took a series of shots using different types of flash. All the shots were taken using my Canon EOS-30D with a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG at 28mm, f/4.5, 1/100th, ISO 800 shot in RAW but processed entirely flat as per the camera settings.

This first shot was taken without using any flash at all.

Result: Although the exposure is okay the lighting is very flat and boring.

on_board.jpgThis next shot was using the on board flash and to be fair it hasn't done too bad a job although it has blown the highlights in a couple of places and a dark shadow is evident behind the wooden bowl. In the full size version I can also see that some of the flash has caused a couple of nasty reflections in the glass which is a bit distracting.

Result: Okay, better than no flash at all but lacking any finesse

sigma_flash.jpgFor the next shot I swapped the on board flash for my Sigma EF 500 Super DG. As Speedlite's are much more powerful than an on board flash it's perhaps not surprising to see that the flash over exposed this shot and blown most of the highlights resulting in that 'caught in the headlights' look so often associated with flash and causing more severe shadow behind the wooden bowl. To be fair I could have used flash exposure compensation to bring the power of the flash down a bit but for the purposes of this test I wanted to use exactly the same settings for each shot.

Result: Over exposed and very harsh look to the shot.

bounce.jpgNext I bounced my flashgun off the ceiling whilst using all the same settings as before. This has resulted in an image that is evenly lit and devoid of any nasty shadows that direct flash had caused. Looking at the full size image I can see that none of the highlights have been burnt out and there are quite nice catch lights on the bottles which add a little detail.

Result: Very good. Even exposure with no blown highlights with a little 'sparkle' to give detail.

stofen.jpgFor the next shot I used my Stofen diffuser. I tend to almost always use my flash with the Stofen fitted as generally this gives very nice results without the 'caught in the headlights' look of direct and undiffused flash. In this shot there is lots of 'life' in the bottles although the white labels have been blown and the background is evenly lit but again due to the fact that the flash wasn't bounced the dark shadow behind the wooden bowl has returned. Again I could have used Flash Exposure Compensation to control the power of the flash, bounced it or used the flash off camera so that the shadow fell behind the bottles and bowl but for the purposes of this test I wanted to keep as much the same as possible between each shot.

Result: Nice detail in the bottles but blown highlights and lighting is generally still quite harsh.

ezybox.jpg

For the final shot I used the Lastolite Ezybox - Hotshoe mounted on my tripod just to the left of me using my flash sync cord to ensure that TTL metering was also used. The final result, I think, is very pleasing with no blown highlights yet nice detail in the bottles giving a more natural feel to the image. It would be fair to say that this shot does suffer from some shadow in the top right corner, this is partly due to the bottles but also probably partly due to the fact that the Ezybox is diffusing the limited power of the speedlite causing some fall off. Personally I actually quite like this effect but it may not suit all subjects but this could easily be fixed by using a reflector on the right to bounce some of the light back into the shadow which probably would have produced a better image anyway.

Result: Nicely exposed image with no blown highlights and nice detail with catch lights.

Summary: I wouldn't say that the Ezybox is an essential purchase but I'm very glad I have it and can see it coming in very useful in a number of situations. The quality of the light it produces is very gentle which brings out the details in your subject without blowing the highlights and with the additional use of a reflector or a second flashgun creates a very reasonable mini studio set-up.


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