If you're using a hotshoe-mounted flashgun, chances are you've thought about picking up some of the best flash diffusers. Being able to control and modify your light is a critical component of making a pleasing image, especially when you're shooting portraiture or still life, and diffusers and softboxes are one of the most cost-effective methods of doing this.
"Flash diffuser" is a pretty general term, and there are plenty of different types of flash accessory that create different effects. The most popular and frequently used type of diffuser is the softbox, which is quite literally a box used to soften light. These can take the form of a rigid diffusion dome or a pop-up fabric softbox; in both cases, the principle is that by diffusing the light through a translucent material, you can take the harsh edges off it and avoid getting the kind of shiny highlights and harsh shadows you would see if you fired an unmodified flashgun directly at your subject. This is key to flattering portrait light.
Alternatively, there's a snoot or honeycomb attachment, which will concentrate light into a tight beam, eliminating spill light. This is useful if you want to create a strong light on a specific aspect of an image, such as a portrait subject's hair.
Many light kits will also contain coloured gels, which allow to you give a photo a warm or cool feel. This is especially useful in tandem with an off-camera flashgun, allowing you to give a splash of colour to a boring white backdrop without also giving your subject the same warm or cool glow.
There are plenty more simple tricks. Something as straightforward as flat white card can be used to bounce light onto a subject, while a black card can be used to shield other elements in a composition from the light.
You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to flashgun modifiers, but if you're just starting out, many manufacturers include a selection of modifiers in one, cost-effective kit, so you can easily experiment with different lighting effects for maximum versatility.
We've made our picks of the best around right now in this guide. We've been sure to include a range of kits and devices at a range of price points, so you should be able to find the flash diffusers that are right for you...
FlashBender modifiers are famed for their bendable construction that lets one fabric panel transform from a flat reflector to a curved bounce card, or even a snoot when rolled into a tube. Add the included diffusion sheet and the panel becomes a tall, shallow softbox, which works reasonably well due to your flashgun being pointed upward in this config, which already softens its burst.
This kit also includes a second mini FlashBender panel and diffuser, which comes in handy as the large panel can sometimes feel a bit unwieldy and make your camera feel somewhat top-heavy. For even more creative effects, fit the 3-in-1 honeycomb grid modifier to get a more focused light beam. You’ll also find twenty colored gel inserts to go with it, plus an additional gel set that’ll fit neatly over a bare flash.
All the modifiers attached quickly and securely, while these revised FlashBender 2 reflector panels are 20-30% lighter than the original design. Build quality isn’t quite up there with the polished MagMod system, but it’s not far off, while the clever, adaptable design makes this kit very enjoyable to use and encourages creativity.
Despite being one of the cheapest flashgun modifier kits you can buy, Hähnel’s offering does give you plenty to play with. There’s a compact softbox to take the edge off shadows, plus a honeycomb grid and a roll-up snoot to concentrate light into a tighter beam for more dramatic lighting effects. Several gels are included to add a splash of color, and you get a small panel that can double as a reflector or a bounce card.
Each accessory fixes to your flashgun using a simple but fairly effective Velcro strap system, and Hähnel rounds the kit off with a useful adjustable bracket to attach your flashgun to a tripod or light stand.
Though the modifiers can be useful, lasting appeal is limited. The softbox is too small and barely softens a flash burst, you only get seven gel colors, and the honeycomb attachment is very basic. Though the kit’s pricing is low enough to reflect the mediocre build quality, we still don’t reckon this kit is good value as the modifier selection and design rarely enhances your photos. At least the light stand bracket is worth having.
Is it a drum? Is it a spare wheel? It's big enough to be either, but it's best fitted to your camera. When it comes to light softening, bigger tends to be better. At a massive 45cm wide, the RoundFlash will dwarf even the largest DSLR, but thanks to fabric construction, it’s only about 220 grams and it folds into an easily portable pouch.
Set-up is a breeze with a pop-up design that just requires you to quickly snap five magnetic rods into place and strap your flashgun into the back. A simple web of elastic cords secures the RoundFlash to your lens, but avoid wide-angle or short prime optics as vignetting can be noticeable. No biggie though, as ring flashes are best suited to portrait prime lenses with a focal length between 70mm and 105mm.
There isn’t much room to access zoom or focus rings either, but the payoff is light so soft and shadowless that it can give a dedicated ring flash a run for its money. Just remember to crank up your flashgun's power to compensate for the hefty three-stop light reduction.
Want to liven up your portraiture with beautiful backdrops? There's no need to splash out on multiple backdrop rolls or pop-up panels - Just slot the Light Blaster onto your flashgun and it’ll project any pattern, image or scene from a 35mm slide onto a plain surface. Alternatively, you can also purchase packs of transparencies with different themes like wings or landscapes.
But the beauty of this system over similar gobo projectors is you can mount a lens on the front of the Light Blaster to control the focus and spread of the projected image. Unfortunately the Light Blaster’s built-in mount is for Canon EF-mount lenses only, but an optional Nikon F-mount adaptor is available for a small added cost.
It’s also worth remembering that no transparencies are included with the projector, which given this is just a simple plastic shell of the blaster itself does make the price seem a little high. Even so, this is still a great way to bring portrait shots to life.
Lastolite’s Strobo range contains numerous flashgun modifiers that can attach to two universal mounts: a bracket design for use with an off-camera flash, and a mount that clamps directly to your flashgun’s head. This kit includes the latter, and it attaches quickly and securely via a Velcro strap. Inside the mount are magnets which make it a cinch to apply individual modifiers.
The attachment design isn’t quite the neatest on the market, but it's secure and we found it very easy to fit to our Nikon SB-910 test flash. What’s more, since each modifier contains a second set of magnets, multiple modifiers can easily be stacked for custom effects.
9mm and 6mm grid modifiers are included, as are a pair of gel mounts, plus a dozen gels including warming, cooling and color effect filters, along with a 2-stop ND filter and a frosting filter. The combination is great for focusing and tinting accent lights, but you’ll need to splash out on extra Strobo modifiers to really maximise the versatility of this kit, and it’s a pity there are no available attachments to soften light.
The MagMod Octa Pro Kit may look like it's designed for professionals only (especially when you look at the price tag), but it has actually been engineered to be very easy to use. The kit uses a magnetic base for quick setup: the MagMod MagRing, a lightweight universal speedlight mount that can be used with one or two speedlights (though this requires a separately sold grip, mind you) or attached to the MagMod MagShoe for handheld use or stand mounting.
The kit includes the MagBox 24 Octa FocusDiffuser, which uses a combination of grid and lens to modify the spread of the light beam, limiting spill light and allowing you to send your light precisely where you need it. Also included is the MagMod MagBox 24 Octa Softbox, which boasts an impressively even light output and is compatible with the majority of major lighting brands. Plus, you also get a correction gel set, as well as a handy carrying case.
As mentioned, all this doesn't come cheap. But if you're going to need a lot of high-quality lighting modification in a professional setting, it's an excellent buy.
Calumet’s kit consists of a diffuser for softening light, a snoot for focusing it, and a compact beauty dish for flattering portraiture.
The elliptical diffusion dome is a rigid plastic design that’s bulky compared to flat-pack alternatives and blocks around 3 stops of light, which is a lot, but the Calumet’s dome does produce excellent light softness.
The corrugated snoot is also bulky, and while its metal construction enhances durability and heat-resistance, this is one modifier that could really benefit from having a collapsible design without compromising functionality. At least two honeycomb end caps are included to create an even tighter beam.
For optimal portrait lighting, the 150mm metal beauty dish does a decent job of softening light while still preserving some catchlight sparkle. Gold and silver reflector discs add a subtle warm or cool tone, and further effects can be had from the red, yellow, blue, and diffusion covers. There’s also a trio of plug-in honeycomb grids that’ll control the dish’s light spread. But, like everything in this kit, it’s a bulky design best suited to a home studio rather than location shooting.
This extensive kit contains a 23cm conical-shaped collapsible softbox, large and small roll-up snoots to focus light, a bounce card, a flag for keeping light out of part of your composition, 6mm and 3mm grid attachments, plus three packs of gels for color correction, creative effects, and autumn tints. A filter storage pouch, four flashgun attachment straps, and a carry bag make up the remaining included items.
The relatively large softbox is very good at diffusing light and works well outdoors where bouncing your flash isn’t an option. The other modifiers also work well and attach easily to your flashgun, though the grids don’t hold particularly securely. Most items are lightweight and pack flat for on-the-go versatility.
However, this is still mostly just a fabric and Velcro affair, and though you get plenty of kit, there are only actually seven individual modifiers, plus gels, with the rest being extras of dubious value. This, combined with the fairly simple design and construction makes the pricing seem high and tough to justify.
Also consider the Honl Creative Lighting Kit also available which includes the Speed Strap, a 10 piece filter Kit, a 5 inch gold/silver Snoot and a 1/4 inch grid, a gobo to bounce the light, and a tutorial DVD.