Flash diffusers are essential in a photographer’s arsenal to avoid the otherwise harsh direct light produced by most standalone flash units. Sure, you can sometimes bounce a bare flash off a wall or ceiling to soften it, but that’s not always possible. Dark or strange colored walls, high ceilings, or shooting outdoors are all instances when this isn’t useful. And the last thing you want is to use the flash on its own, which produces a ghastly overexposed startling look to your subjects. Ouch. That effect is rarely appealing or flattering.
In comes a flash diffuser, which gives photographers utmost control over their lighting. A flash diffuser is a style of modifier that diffuses the light source, softening its effect. So you can light subjects with a flattering light with gradual transitions. And these cost-effective accessories can go a long way in creating natural-looking light sidestepping the harshness and shadows normally present. But, there are many aspects to consider when it comes to flash diffusers ranging from their compatibility, the type, diffusion material, and size. With that, we’ve compiled a brief guide outlining the factors to look into when considering flash diffusers. And we’ll also cover the best flash diffusers on the present market.
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5 – RoundFlash Magnetic Ring Flash
RoundFlash’s Magnetic Ring Flash Diffuser is a universal modifier ready to fit most camera and flash combinations. And rather than attaching to the flash like most traditional modifiers, RoundFlash has opted to create an enormous ring flash instead. Measuring 17-inches in diameter, it wraps around the entire camera using the hot shoe. Doing so greatly amplifies the size of the flash unit. And it turns a traditional speedlite into a fully functional ring flash, producing smooth and even lighting without hotspots. And it effectively creates a shadowless fill light in the process. Yet, at only 12 oz, the kit is ultralight and folds up neatly for storage. As such, it’s a must for photographers wanting to light portraits with the infamous lighting effect only a ring light provides. But, it’s also an excellent option for product or macro photographers wanting a simple yet large format option.
4 – MagMod Starter Kit
MagMod’s Starter Kit is an all-in-one solution aimed to improve your flash photography. This kit includes three items, their MagGrip, MagSphere, and MagGrid. The MagSphere is a dome diffuser that diffuses the harsh lighting from the flash unit into a soft omnidirectional glow. While the MagGrid is a grid spot that focuses the light from the flash into a 40º beam pattern, great for adding an accent light. And it’s an excellent tool to add precise light into the scene with minimal spill. You can also stack multiple MagGrids to create a tighter 20 or 15º beam angle, if desired. Both of these accessories connect to the MagGrip, which is a base plate of sorts. The grip attaches directly to most flash heads and links to other accessories magnetically, creating a seamless, modular system. And all of the accessories are simple to use and hassle-free. Yet, together, they only weigh 553g (1.2 lbs), so it’s unlikely to add much bulk to the flash or your setup. As such, this kit is a must for photographers wanting something flexible but robust and straightforward to use.
3 – Altura Photo Softbox Diffuser
Altura’s Universal Softbox is their top-selling diffused softbox for shoe-mounted flash units. They offer this diffuser in three sizes ranging from 5 to 8 inches wide, so you have flexibility in how much diffusion occurs. But each model uses an integrated hook and loop fastener strap to attach them to most flash heads. They also collapse for easy storing in the included storage pouch. But, when attached, they produce even lighting by using a two-layered diffusion. And doing so softens the harshness of the bare flash unit. However, the advantage is that the 8-inch model offers excellent distribution, given its extended shaft. And this modifier is a must for photographers wanting a simple and affordable means to improve their lighting.
2 – Gary Fong Lightsphere
Gary Fong’s Lightsphere is a long-standing classic modifier for improving flash photography. The Lightsphere is a translucent dome modifier that diffuses the flash omnidirectionally. But, it also features vertical rings, ensuring even illumination and minimizing power loss. So much so it can light up an entire small room, eliminating many unwanted shadows with a soft light in the process. In addition, it connects to most flash units using a velcro strap for a snug fit. And it’s a must for photographers wanting a simple system ready to capture group shots.
1 – Rogue FlashBender
Rogue’s FlashBender, now on its third generation, continues refining this class-leading modifier. The FlashBender comes in five variations, including reflectors, softboxes, and a complete lighting system. The Large Soft Box Kit, in particular, offers the best versatility. It measures 11-inch in size and attaches to most flash units using a quick release buckle and attachment strap. And, it collapses and folds neatly for easy traveling, saving valuable space. But, with such a large size, it produces soft directional light. And a light that you can mold and shape to conserve precious battery life, rather than scattering it unnecessarily. You can also use the FlashBender as a large shapeable reflector, perfect for bouncing the light onto a ceiling. Or great for off-camera flash photography as a gobo or snoot. As such, it’s a must for photographers wanting a more powerful tool that outdoes most traditional diffusers, especially outdoors. But a tool that also offers more flexibility and directionality to boot.
What to look for in Flash Diffusers
There are many styles of flash diffusers. But the most common are domes, reflectors, and softboxes.
Domes resemble translucent bowls that fit over the flash head. When the flash fires, it hits the interior surface, illuminating the dome then diffusing and scattering the light.
Reflectors attach to the rear of the flash unit and bounce the light to diffuse it. And they deliver a similar result as bouncing light from a wall or ceiling. But, the light produced is stronger and more color-accurate since the surface is consistent, and the light doesn’t have to travel as far.
Lastly, the softbox attaches to the flash unit directly. And it uses a large translucent material that directs the flash to diffuse the light. These deliver soft and even lighting that’s flattering for most subjects. And they’re ideal for portraits and macro photography.
Each of these styles has its benefits. Some offer wider spreads of light, while others are more focused. And not all are inconspicuous or quick to set up. So you’ll want to think about how you plan on using the flash beforehand.
Amount of Diffusion
The type of diffusion will determine how you’ll end up using the flash. Usually, the more diffused the light, the better it looks. But, adding more diffusion material weakens the power of your flash. So it’s essential that you find flash modifiers that strike a good balance between a soft output with the right intensity.
Not all flash modifiers use a one size fits all design. And some models only work with particular manufacturers. So it’s important to double-check that the flash diffuser supports your specific make and model.
You’ll want a flash diffuser that offers enough diffusion to light your desired subject. Of course, the larger the diffuser, the softer the light. But, large diffusers are more inconvenient to travel with and challenging to set up. And they’ll require a more powerful flash unit to produce the same amount of light produced by a smaller diffuser. And this translates into shorting ranges and limited exposures since you’ll have to use full power flashes in some cases. So you’ll want to ensure the size of the diffuser is only as large as need be. And consider avoiding unnecessarily large diffusers.