Some enthusiast-level DSLRs now offer wireless flash control using the built-in pop-up flash, but even if they don’t, then no-name wireless flash controllers can be sourced for as little as £15 from eBay and the like. If you’re interested in exploring the creative applications of off-camera flash, then an umbrella like the Lastolite 8-in-1 is the perfect partner gives you plenty of options.
The umbrella itself is constructed from lightweight but fairly hard-wearing materials. How long it’ll last will of course depend entirely on how much you use it, in what conditions you use it in, and how well you treat it.
From experience, we’ve found the first things to go are usually the plastic connectors that attach the parasols to the spokes of the umbrella frame, usually breaking off. Just be aware that it’s not really designed to withstand being used regularly in high winds. Oh, and unless you’re using the black parasol, it’s not particularly waterproof either!
Ease of use varies between ‘easy’ and ‘a bit fiddly’, depending on which set-up or combination you’re changing from or to. For example, removing the Velcro box panel on the front is easy enough, but it does take a bit of care if you want to get it back on neatly. There’s nothing overly Krypton Factor to concern yourself with though.
While we used our review sample solely with a Nikon SB800 portable flashgun, there’s no reason why the umbrella cannot be used with studio lights, just so long as you have the right attachments.
Speaking of attachments, our only real complaint with the 8-in-1 isn’t with anything Lastolite supplies with the umbrella, but rather what’s not included in the package. Unless you happen to have two pairs of hands, or an assistant on 24-hour standby, you’re going to need a stand with which to hold your umbrella securely in place along with a tilthead mount to attach your flashgun and the umbrella to the stand with, all of which will cost extra.
Lastolite does make a very good four-section metal umbrella stand that costs about £45, with Lastolite tiltheads starting at £17. Unless you already own one this additional cost needs to be factored into the overall price. If you don’t already own an umbrella or a stand but want to shoot professional-looking portraits, then the £150-odd you’re looking at for the full package of umbrella, stand and tilthead mount is well worth it.
If you want to give your portraits that professional edge that’s so difficult to achieve using an unmodified flash, then an umbrella is by far the most cost-effective way forward. Indeed, if you’re a keen portrait photographer then you really owe it to yourself to have one at your disposal. Even if you only ever use one, two or three of these possible combinations, the Lastolite 8-in-1 is something you’ll get great results with. Look after it well and you’ll get a fantastic return on your investment too. Overall, we have no hesitation in strongly recommending it.