Adorama's own Flashpoint brand features products that range from cinematography gear to lighting systems for video and photo and are designed for student photographers and designers on a budget. With few exceptions, the new Flashpoint 180 Portable Monolight and the Glow Grand Softboxes fit that need with flying colors. I put these products to the test in my studio and then handed them off to my friend and colleague, Joe Randeen (3 Penguins Photography) to have a go at testing them as well and I'll be including his comments and images as well in this article.
While I rarely review primarily photographic gear – especially for portrait photography, I found this setup from Adorama's “Flashpoint” and “Glow” series a remarkable value that gives the hobbyist or student photography some real tools to get great soft lighting in a portable kit you can take anywhere. For DSLR shooters, it's equally important to get good still shots and BTS (behind the scenes) images for your video productions – after all, you have in your hands not only a great filmmaking camera, but it shoots remarkable high-res stills!
There are three separate products in this set that I cover, with some input from my colleague, Joe Randeen (he's the one with the cute kids in his shots). The Flashpoint 180 Portable Monolight, the Glow 47″ Grand Softbox and the Glow 71″ Grand Softbox.
Flashpoint 180 Monolight (Battery Powered)
The Flashpoint 180 Monolight is a surprisingly powerful compact portable strobe that you can take anywhere to shoot on location or in the studio. It comes with a dual Sony NP-f960 style battery unit that will give you 700 flashes at the full 180w/s and a fine-adjustable control over a 5-stop control range. I found the charge beeper really helpful when mounted out of sight like far above on a stand with the 71″ Grand Softbox hanging down from it. It has a Bowens compatible reflector mount that accepts a host of accessories such as the Speedrings that come with the Glow softboxes, the Flashpoint beauty dish and many more. It also comes with a reflector, diffuser dome, grip handle, small umbrella, kit bag and a dual-power charger (also works with 220 power overseas).
Both Joe and I found the mount adequate for the flash unit with smaller attachments, but almost useless when mounting the 71″ Grand Softbox on it so you either need additional support to aim it where you want or let it hang from above on a stand or grid. Also, the included umbrella is pretty flimsy, so don't count on it for a lot of use because it won't handle it. Also, the cable from the battery pack is way too short. I could have easily used another 6-8' when I was shooting with the large stand in the studio and actually had to gaff-tape the battery back to the top of the stand. For smaller setups of course, this would be a moot point.
Here are a few different angles of the Flashpoint 180 Monolight with just the Model Light turned on:
- Power (Watt Seconds) 180
- Guide Number 48 with reflector (ISO: 100/m) Or 150gn in feet
- Triggering 10' sync cord included
- Modeling Bulb Base LED daylight balanced
- Dimensions 8″ long
- Weight full kit 7lbs
- Flash-tube Lifetime 25000-30000 pops if the user isn't using full power all the time.
- Power Setting Stepless dial down control 5 stops-down
- Reflector mount Bowens
- Total size w/reflector & stand mount 8″ Refl, with silver interior
- Unit Weight 2.1 lbs. without batteries
- Power Source/s Using Lithium 6000mAh
- Voltage 7.4
- Charger is dual Universal Voltage 100-240V
- 700 pops when using both batteries
Here's an example of Joe shooting directly with the reflector alone in an outdoor setting with his adorable daughter providing the modeling talent. The shot on the left is with no flash, the one on the right is with the reflector on at low power @ approx. 7' from the subject:
Here's another example from Joe shooting through the umbrella with the reflector on low power @ approx. 7' from the subject. The umbrella softens up the light considerably:
Glow 47″ and 71″ Grand Softboxes
These two softboxes are both 16-rod parabolic shaped reflectors that fit the Bowens-style Speedrings, and have removable baffles and come with carrying bags. Only the Glow 47″ Grand Softbox comes with the Speedring included and also has an additional external baffle for further diffusion. The Glow 71″ Grand Softbox only has the internal baffle. Both of these softboxes seem very well constructed and made with quality materials. I would imagine they would hold up to a lot of use over time and both come with a 2-year warranty. Joe's kids provide us an example of both softboxes for scale comparison:
Both softboxes can utilize the same 16-hole Bowen's style Speedring, however, for continual use in the studio you may want to purchase an additional Speedring to leave the 71″ softbox assembled as it's quite a pain to put together by yourself frequently. It's also important to note that while the images on Adorama's website show them mounted on stands, they do not come with stands and only the 47″ softbox comes with the Speedring.
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The Glow 47″ Grand Softbox with Speedring (R Series)
This was a favorite for both Joe and me for all-around versatility, flexibility and portability. For portrait shooting or even product photography, the Glow 47″ Grand Softbox along with the Flashpoint 180 Monolight make for a perfect match in most situations.
What's Included With This Item from the Adorama website:
- Grand 47″ Softbox
- 16 rods
- carrying case
- internal diffusion material
- fitted external removable diffuser
- Bowens type Speedring
Easy to assemble – even with 16 rods, the 47″ softbox can be used with or without the baffles (if you want a broad reflector with little diffusion).
Joe did a quick setup in his garage to test the 47″ softbox and shot a self-portrait with only the single light and a foamcore reflector board off to the one side. Notice how even the lighting on his face is – even with eyeglasses, which is always a big challenge in portrait photography.
The external baffle slips on around the outside rim of the softbox and gives even more diffusion for a softer light – perfect for table-top product and food shooting – especially highly-reflective surfaces.
The Glow 71″ Grand Softbox (R Series)
Okay – this thing is a MONSTER! The Glow 71″ Grand Softbox is just downright huge… but oh what fun we've had shooting with it! It's much too big to be very portable though – without a very large stand, lots of sandbags and extra support for the Monolight (as previously mentioned).
What's Included With This Item from the Adorama website:
- Removable baffle
- 16 rods
- carry bag
- 2 year warranty
Here's what the 71″ Grand Softbox looks like assembled and hanging from an extended stand with both the model light (top) and under flash at about 50% power (bottom):
I tried combining the 71″ Grand Softbox with a Flashpoint 14″ Fluorescent Dimmable Ring Light and triggered by my Canon 580EXII Speedlight with a Gary Fong Lightsphere at 1/64 power to use as a trigger for the Flashpoint 180 Monolight. The result is an amazingly soft and even lighting for seated portraiture with some form of frontal illumination, such as the ring light when positioned directly overhead of the subject like this. The ring light gives an eerie eye light reflection that you either love or hate.
In this example, Joe has his daughter hold a large 7' Flashpoint umbrella that he already had in his gear and put her back toward the afternoon sun to give it a nice glow. The images on the left are with no flash and on the right were shot with the 71' Grand Softbox and the Flashpoint 180 Monolight up full power at about 10 feet away from his subject.
Overall, we both feel that the Flashpoint 180 Monolight and the Glow 47″ Grand Softbox are fully worth the retail price and could see that a good portable kit to take on any location shoot. The Glow 71″ Grand Softbox is probably too big for most casual shots and geared more for assembling and leaving set up in a studio than to take and set up on-location too often. It's huge and really requires an assistant to wrangle and maneuver on a shoot – but the resulting quality of light it produces may be well worth the effort.
Something that both Joe and I noted however, were the design of the rods in the 71″ Grand Softbox are thicker and hollow – they're very stiff but once they bend they don't seem to spring-back to a straight form again. Joe mentioned that they're since they're hollow he is afraid they may snap in half at some point or at minimum, kink like copper tubing under the right force (like being blown-over in a gust of wind). The design of the rods in the 47″ Grand Softbox are more like a car antenna with a thick tip on the end that goes into the Speedring (see photo on Page 1). These are much more “spring-like” in material and always snap back to a straight form when the tension is released.
Jeff Foster is a published author of several how-to books and training videos in the motion graphics, animation and video production industries and is an award-winning video producer and artist. Visit his web site to learn more about his training methods, tips & tricks at PixelPainter.com
Joe Randeen is an accomplished portrait photographer, industrial designer and trainer, with a diverse background in music and art and he serves as an adjunct professor at Vanguard University. You can see more of his photographic work at 3 Penguins Photography