If you want to spot a professional photographer at a wedding or bar mitzvah they are usually the ones with a diffuser on their flash unit. Why? Because
softer light almost always makes subjects look better. The purpose of bouncing light off a ceiling or wall or to use a flash diffuser is to create a
larger, softer light source. Aim the flash directly at the subject and you'll usually end up with harsh light on the subject while the rest of the room
becomes dark. By diffusing the light you ultimately create a larger and softer source of light that gently paints your subject with light -
rather than hitting them direct and hard.
There are many styles of flash diffusers on the market. One type is the sliding and folding opaque panel that is integrated into many flash heads.
It can be used in the straight up position to allow most of the flash to bounce off the ceiling while throwing a little back on your subject -
or can be used to cover the flash head to help diffuse a straight-on flash. Other styles take the form of translucent covers (i.e. Stofen
Omni-Bounce) or domes (i.e. Gary Fong Lightsphere) that snap onto the flash head. While these style diffusers provide softer light compared to the harsh flash
they offer no directional control over the light.
I remember walking by the Gary Fong booth about 2 years ago at the PMA trade show and the crowds were huge.
Gary Fong, and helpers, were demonstrating the LightSphere and writing up orders as fast as they could.
If it wasn't so crowded that day I probably would have opened my wallet right then and there. It seems that
photographers are always looking for better ways to light their subject and whenever a new technique comes along
we all want to know more. Enter the new Presslite VerteX™
We were fortunate enough to have had a pre-release version of the VerteX™ in house to test and to decide whether or not the VerteX™ takes
flash diffusion to a whole new level. The following review should help you decide that.
The Presslite VerteX™ is more than just a flash diffuser as it provides a way to not only diffuse but also control
the direction of the light. Two rotating panels sit above the flash head, one side mirrored, the other side white, both
move independently and each can be rotated 360°. These two panels, combined with the swivel / tilt action of your flash
head, allow you virtually limitless control over the light from your flash and can act to simulate the effect of multiple light sources
from just one flash unit.
Out of the Box
The VerteX&trade was shipped from Presslite in a plain looking cardboard box, about the size of two-decks of cards placed
side-by-side. Inside the box were two plastic panels with a pivoting magnetic base, four flexible paper cards (two mirrored
and two plain white) that are each individually wrapped in tissue paper, a plastic panel arm that holds one or both of the panels,
and a large hybrid elastic band that the panel arms attach to and stretches to fit snugly around the top of your flash unit. This heavy
duty elastic band features rubber-like bumpers that ride over the contours of your flash head to help insure that your flash head will not be
Attaching the VerteX™ to your flash head
Overall, setting up the VerteX&trade was pretty straight forward. The trickiest part was trying to attach the panel arms to
the rubberized band. On each of the longest sides of the band are two centered holes designed to accept the connectors of
the panel arm. Press each panel arm into the band until the tiny pinching prongs of the arm go all the way through the hole
in the band. They don't really make much of a 'clicking' sound, but once they're through the band, they won't pop off.
For me, this process was easiest to perform prior to placing the band around the flash head. Once I snapped both panel arms
into place I then stretched the band out using my fingers (per the instructions) - first stretching the length and then the
width. This helps to loosen the band, making it easier to stretch over the flash head.
Once completed, I placed the band along one end of the head and stretched it over the other end. When finished, this band
has a nice snug fit and will not loosen during operation. In fact, the band was designed to stay on the flash and does not
interfere with normal flash operation. The panel arm can swing completely out of the way when not needed. On the Canon 550EX
flash that I used for this test I found that with the band and arm attached, the 550EX was a bit too snug to fit back into its
own protective case. This was not an issue for me since I normally put the flash into a compartment of my backpack without the
sleeve on it, but you may feel differently.
Using the VerteX™ with One Panel
While the VerteX includes two panels, the use of just one panel will suit many lighting situations. Here are some lighting
scenarios that can be accomplished with just one panel. Keep in mind that the possibilities are virtually endless and that
these configurations are here just to provide some examples of what makes the VerteX unique. Remember that each panel has
a white diffusion card on one side and a reflective mirrored card on the other. Typically you would want to use the white
card to diffuse and soften light while using the mirrored side to reflect and redirect a stronger light. As you can see
in example (3) these rules can be broken to create unique effects.
In this one-panel configuration, all front light is blocked by pivoting the single panel to the front of the rotated flash head.
The mirrored side, on the inside of the panel, reflects specular light to the back wall, while the flash head bounces light off
Best used in smaller rooms where the side walls are dark and the only surfaces available to bounce light
off of are the ceiling and back wall.
This configuration bounces light off the ceiling as well as the right wall. The mirrored side of
the panel provides a strong bounce light and helps to control its angle and direction.
This configuration provides a second source of light (ceiling and wall) that helps to shape your subject's face.
Portraits often look best when one side of the face falls into a light shadow while the other side is accurately exposed.
This configuration provides bounce lighting off the ceiling and uses the mirrored side of the panel to direct strong
This creates a spotlight effect on your subject while creating enough fill light (ceiling bounce)
to keep the rest of the frame from getting too dark.
This example is here to remind you that there is no need to remove the VerteX when you just want to use the flash by
itself. Just pivot the panel arm to one side of the flash to move it out of the way.
Using the VerteX™ with Both Panels
After just a few minutes with the one-panel set up you'll quickly understand the control over light that this product gives you.
Using one hand, and without fumbling with attachments, you will quickly be able to send light where you want it.
Adding the second panel will provide addition control by allowing your one flash unit to act like three distinct light sources -
all working together to create studio-quality light on the go!.
In this example the flash head is not twisted and both panels are aimed slightly forward with the white side facing the subject.
The slight tilt allows flash to hit the ceiling above the subject while the two panels diffuse some of the light toward the
subject to help eliminate shadows under the eyes, nose and lips that would normally appear with just a ceiling bounce.
In this example the flash head is twisted sideways with the white side of the front panel facing the subject and the
mirrored side of the rear panel facing a side wall (right side wall in this example).
This configuration bounces soft light toward the subject, stronger light off the ceiling and reflects light toward a
side wall - thus providing the effect of 3 light sources.
In this butterfly configuration the flash head is in its normal position but tilted forward just a bit. This configuration
directs most of the flash toward side walls, using the mirrored side of each panel. A smaller percentage of light will bounce
off the ceiling above the subject.
This configuration works best when the subject is close to a backdrop or wall and you want to eliminate shadows on the back
wall by providing additional side lighting along with ceiling bounce.
This configuration is almost identical to Example 1 except the flash is aimed straight up, allowing the panels to be pivoted
to a greater angle while still aiming toward the subject. This configuration directs and diffuses virtually 100% of the flash
toward the subject and allows for very little ceiling bounce.
This configuration works great when the ceiling is either too high or too dark to use as a surface to bounce light off of.
The white panels help to diffuse light toward the subject to create a softer lighting effect from your flash.
Side by Side (Flash with VerteX - vs - Flash)
The example above shows a portrait shot with the VerteX™ compared to just using your flash in its normal foward
position. I only chose this example to highlight the softer tones that can be acheived when you use diffused light.
In the photograph on the left, I diffused light toward the subject using the white surface of one panel while the other panel was
position vertically (out of the way) to allow additional flash to bounce off the ceiling.
The photograph on the right is not all that bad considering I used direct flash, but there is much less 'shape' to the
face because of flat light and a shadow was cast on the couch behind her head.
Preventing Color Cast
Unlike traditional diffusers which cast light in all directions, the VerteX™ allows you to control the direction of light. Presslite
calls this "Target Bouncing™." The panels allow you to steer light away or block it from hitting the colored surface. The panel can
help redirect the light toward the ceiling or subject with either specular (mirrored surface) or diffused (white surface) light.
Allows Use of Gels / Flash Filters
The VerteX™ sits approximately 1.75" above your flash head, allowing the continued use of gels. Gels are often used by photographers to
make their flash look like an artificial light source. If the room is warmly lit with bulbs, an orange gel could be placed over the flash head
to keep the light consistent and natural looking. The VerteX™ allows you to continue to use these gels and will then provide you the ability
to diffuse or reflect this light.
At this time, the only real improvement I would make to the VerteX would be to create the swivel arm that holds the panel out of a metal instead of
plastic. The plastic arm feels very sturdy and never caused a problem during testing but I could foresee it snapping if I was careless or in a hurry
when placing the flash unit into my bag. If not metal, maybe include a second replacement arm in the package.
In this review I showed just a few of the ways the VerteX can be used to bounce, reflect, and diffuse light.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out a way to create a video that showed the direction of the flash for each configuration,
but to no avail. The flash seemed to overpower the image sensor in the video camera and as a result the screen just showed a big white flash
each time the camera/flash triggered. So I was forced to only use photographs of the different panel/angle configurations while explaining
more about each configuration.
The Presslite VerteX is easily the most configurable bounce / diffuser available and I would consider it a must have if you use an external flash unit.
The retail price of the VerteX™ is $49.95, though it's available through Amazon for less than $40 (updated 5/14/2010).
The VerteX™ also allows you to easily remove or replace the white / mirror cards that slide onto each panel. Each of these cards are held
in place by small tabs (think photo corners). This allows you to experiment with other surfaces (glossy photo paper, colored paper, etc.,).
There are definitely other diffusers on the market as well as a few tutorials on the web that show you how to build your own basic diffuser out of paper. Whether
you use a Stofen Omni-Bounce, Gary Fong Lightsphere, or glossy photo paper you will certainly get better results than just aiming the flash head
toward your subject. However, if you want to be able to simulate a multi-light setup with just one flash, the Presslite VerteX™ is
the only way to go.
Another important feature of the VerteX is flash compatibility. Most flash diffusers are either specific to each flash head or only work with a small selection of similar sized flash heads. The VerteX™ works with virtually any rectangular shaped flash units - no adapters needed.
This wide compatibility allows you to continue using the VerteX even if you upgrade or switch to another flash head.
Below is a list of some popular flash models compatible with the VerteX™.
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