- Shapes and diffuses flashgun light
- Easy to use
- Hugely flexible
- Needs to be looked after
- Not suitable for use in windy conditions
- No stand or attachments supplied
- Review Price: £96.99
- White/Silver bounce
- White/Silver umbrella box
- Shoot-through box (softbox)
- Shoot-through box with square mask
A decent umbrella is one of those essential items of kit that should be at the top of every aspiring portrait photographer’s wish-list.
That’s because while using fill-flash is a great way of getting your subject to pop, trying to achieve this with just a flashgun on its own can all too often lead to harsh directional light that leaves dark shadows on and behind your subject, resulting in portraits that are less than flattering.
Bringing an umbrella into the equation, however, gives you much more control over the type of light your flashgun produces, allowing you to bathe your subjects in a soft, diffused light.
Retailing for around £100, the Lastotlite 8-in-1 Umbrella is a flexible light modification accessory that not only offers the traditional shoot-thru and white bounce options, but a whole host of other light modifications besides.
Inside the bag you’ll find the metallic umbrella frame itself, along with a set of white, silver and black parasols that can be combined in eight different ways to modify the flashgun’s light, each of which has its own subtle characteristics.
The first of these is the classic white bounce set-up that produces soft, even light across the target area with a gradual fall-off around the edges. You can control how intensely focused or widely spread the light is simply by moving it along the stem of the umbrella; moving it back spreads the light wider, while moving it closer focuses the light. If it offers them then you can also use the zoom controls on your flashgun to concentrate or widen the beam of light it produces too.
From the white bounce, you can swap the white parasol for a silver-lined one instead. Using this set-up, your flash will produce a slightly cooler and more secular light that results in sharper edges and greater contrast than the white bounce does – silver bounce being popular for fashion shoots.
Still using the bounce set-up in either silver or white, it’s also possible to attach an additional white or black parasol (both supplied as part of the overall package) to the open face of the umbrella using the Velcro fasteners that run around the rim. Zip this attachment up with your flashgun sealed inside, and you’re left with an umbrella box that produces even softer light than the basic bounce.
Those are the bounce options. Of course, it’s also possible to turn the umbrella the other way round. In this set-up, and with the flashgun facing your subject from behind the white parasol, the umbrella can be employed as a classic shoot-thru. This creates a particularly wide field of diffused light that’s stronger than bounced-light and therefore handy for lighting up larger areas. Again, you can control how intensely focused or widely spread the light is by moving your flash, or by adjusting its zoom controls.
And there’s more. Sticking with the forward facing shoot-thru set-up you can attach the black cover and then remove the front panel to turn your umbrella into a shoot-thru with a square mask. Essentially, this mimics the effects of a softbox, even more so if you then attach the supplementary white or black back-panel to respectively limit or prevent any spill from the back.
We think you’ll agree that that’s quite a lot of flexibility. But even if you only ever use one, two or three of these possible combinations, the 8-in-1 remains exceptionally good value and something you’ll get great results with.
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.
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