Interfit Flat Panel Electronic Flash
A Perfect "Fit"

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Their sleek profile doesn't begin to tell the story of these Interfit flat panel lights. The digit-series comprises the largest (13x17" light panel) and most versatile self-contained studio strobes in this group, with a maximum of 1000 ws (left, control interface shown). The cyber-series studio flash (middle) is more modestly configured, and attaches to a stand with a ball head. The battery-powered eFLASH (right) is much smaller yet boasts soft light output and built-in slave syncing in common with the other lights.
Photos © 2003, Jack Neubart, All Rights Reserved

It is rare that I have so much fun using studio strobes. But such was the case with the Interfit cyberFLASH 300 ($449.99) and digitFLASH 1000 ($899.00) lights from Paterson Photographic, rated respectively at 300 and 1000 ws. And the battery-driven eFLASH ($89.99) came into play as an adjunct to the studio lights, while also performing admirably on its own as a hot shoe (or bracket) mounted flash.

To begin, the Interfit lights are different. They're flat, producing anything but a flat light. In fact, the quality of light you get is soft, but not overly so. And because they're no more than 21/2" deep for the largest light and otherwise practically square shaped, they take up little studio space and don't stick out obtrusively (and there are no bowl-shaped reflectors to deal with). What's more, the super-compact cyber-series is especially portable.

I continually shifted the roles of the two Interfit flat panel strobes, but, for the most part, the 300 ws cyberFLASH served as key light, with the eFLASH playing a secondary role, a hairlight, in this instance. Throughout this portrait session, the eFLASH was enveloped in a homemade diffusion screen (made of packing material) to soften the light further. A bounce card softened contrast even more.

The 5400K flash tubes are encased behind a milk-white Plexi-like diffusion surface that produces that beautiful glow. These tubes, in contrast to conventional flash tubes, are linear and arrayed along the length of the housing. Surrounding these linear tubes are modeling lights--also linear. And here, too, there is a difference, because the modeling lights are not halogen or incandescent or flood--but flicker-free fluorescent (daylight by definition).

It Gets Even Better
Because this is a soft light to begin with, there's no need to add a softbox or umbrella for portraits, which speeds up setup. And the inherently larger surface area (and fairly even throw of light) lends these units nicely to applications involving light tents and cocoons when shooting tabletops.

What's more, this built-in softness translates into a more efficient use of the strobe's output, since there is no light loss resulting from add-ons, and the rated output is just that, not something several stops lower. Having said that, the throw of light is more limited than on conventional strobes, so the Interfits are best used within a few feet of the subject.

For this image, the 300 ws cyberFLASH was positioned to the left of camera position (the model's right), as key light while also highlighting the hair, with the eFLASH on the opposite side, as fill. The lighting complemented the soft contours of the model's features. Note how spill light from the cyberFLASH helps to bring out the backdrop.

These studio strobes are self-contained, meaning they are powered directly from an AC outlet without resorting to an external power pack. That also means that all controls are found on the unit. There is also a photocell-mounted front and back, for wireless sync, so it doesn't miss a beat, with an on/off switch to control the optical sensor's operation.

While all models have a ready light, only the more robust digit-series have audible ready signals. The digit units also automatically dump the excess charge when powered down, so you're not surprised with an overexposure (otherwise you have to hit the test button to dump the excess load). Output on strobe and modeling lights is steplessly variable.

The eFLASH does not feature a modeling light, and, except for a photocell, is pretty much bare bones. However, it can be positioned horizontally or vertically and, despite its shape and size, sits very comfortably in a hot shoe.

Since my test kit did not arrive with the accessory grids or barn doors, I made do without. In fact, I preferred it that way, allowing some of the light to spill over onto the background where necessary, or onto the subject as fill. Sometimes I feathered the light, just allowing it to graze the subject after being pointed largely in a different direction. Unfettered, the light normally radiates outward at a 45Þ angle in all directions. That means that a small light can go far even with subjects we might think too large for a light source this size.

The 300 ws cyberFLASH was positioned to the right of the set, as key light, with the eFLASH illuminating the wall from the left, but allowed to spill onto the model's face, simulating a nearby table lamp. The cyberFLASH provides coverage that extends well beyond what would be expected of a letter-size light source.

The Portrait Shoot
For my portraits, I chose to shoot in a beautifully modernized rental studio at Noho Productions in New York City. The first shoot, with Jen, made use of a white seamless backdrop. Because the digitFLASH was too big to tote in the supplied carrying case, I made the most out of the cyberFLASH and eFLASH and found them to be quite versatile. I played around with the positioning of the two lights, relegating one to the role of key light, the other as hair/accent light, then switching them around. And I ended the series by directing the eFLASH at the backdrop, while allowing some of the light to spill onto the model to lower contrast. To soften shadows further, a large white card was used.

When Alicia came in, I posed her seated on a sofa, in front of a brick wall in the studio. Here I kept the lighting simpler, focusing more so on the evanescent poses, with the main light, the cyberFLASH, on the right and the portable eFLASH behind her, aimed at the wall but again spilling some fill light onto her face. A bounce card was positioned to my left, but played a small role. Clearly, the spill from the backlight helped to produce a more subtle contrast. In fact, it simulated the effect of a nearby table lamp. When Alicia changed into a black outfit, complete with black hat, I switched off the backlight, testing how the cyberFLASH alone (as a soft light) could cope with shadows and contrast. It did not disappoint.

The important thing here was to capture the holographic pattern in the toothpaste package. The 1000 ws digitFLASH allowed me to do just that, without harsh contrasts (aided to a minor degree by the cyberFLASH and bounce card). Additional diffusion (in a cocoon/light tent, for example) would have done away with the holographic pattern.

The Tabletop Shoot: Starting Simple
When I bought a tube of Colgate toothpaste, I couldn't help but notice the holographic pattern embedded in the packaging. It would be great to capture that on camera, I thought.

Beginning with a graduated blue sweep backdrop, I positioned the digitFLASH 1000 to the left of the set, at a slightly downward angle, from behind. At first, I tried aiming the cyberFLASH 300 directly at the set from in front, but that produced a second set of shadows. All I wanted was to reduce the shadow on the right. So instead I aimed the smaller flash upward, allowing some of the light to be feathered in the direction of the toothpaste package, aided perhaps by some bounce lighting as well. There was now just one shadow to show depth, without strong contrasts. Output was toned down all the way on both strobes.

Okay. Now, you may have noticed a hot area in the toothbrush packaging. Well, the simplest thing would have been to toss the whole setup inside a light tent, which would resolve the problem--and did. But that also destroyed the holographic pattern in the toothpaste package. And wasn't that what this picture was all about?

One more noteworthy point: I attached the sync cord from the 1000 ws unit to the Minolta DiMAGE A1, without ill effect. According to Paterson Photographic, "The trigger voltage on both the cyberFlash and digitFlash are around 4.5v" which puts them within allowable tolerances. However, before attempting to use your digital camera with these or any studio flash lighting, you are advised to confirm permissible sync voltages with the camera manufacturer so you don't fry the camera.

To eliminate ambient reflections and glaring hot spots, I placed this coffeemaker inside a RedWing Cocoon, with the larger Interfit flat panel studio strobe on the left, the smaller one on the right of the set. Because parts of the cocoon were showing, I added a graduated backdrop digitally.

Adding A RedWing Cocoon
Even with a soft light, reflective surfaces in a tabletop subject are a problem. So for my next tabletop subject--a coffeemaker--I employed a RedWing Cocoon 70. I covered the uppermost apertures of the cocoon with a white paper towel, but would still have to contend with reflections from the lens coming through the front opening--Photoshop retouching took care of that.

The large unit remained on the left, similar to before, but the second unit was now moved to the right, parallel with the set. Again, light output on both strobes was reduced to a minimum.

There was one further problem to contend with. The cocoon was a bit narrow, so that the seams and walls showed in the picture. I also realized that I'd left the blue sweep underneath, and it was reflected in the appliance. So I masked out the coffeemaker, feathering the edges for effect, and added a graduated backdrop with nik Color Efex Pro!, choosing a backdrop that was deep enough to hide unwanted elements--and which ended in blue--to explain away the blue reflections.

The Final Test: An Ice Cream Sundae
Because the modeling lights are cool (remember, they're fluorescent), what better subject was there than fresh ice cream? At least it gave me the excuse to concoct an ice cream sundae (which I would later have to eat), complete with whipped topping.

With the ice cream sundae inside a Photek digital LightHouse, I began with my main light--the 1000 ws digitFLASH, positioned on the left and to the rear. While this light alone would have sufficed, the right side of the picture would have been lifeless, so I added the cyberFLASH as fill.

Again, because I was dealing with reflective surfaces--the dessert glass--I chose to use a diffusion housing. This time I opted for the more spacious Photek digital LightHouse model DLH-24/36, a cocoon-style fabric light tent, which afforded plenty of breathing room for the tall sundae. The LightHouse comes with a fabric sweep, but is also supplied with a milk-white plastic sheet. I chose to work with the plastic, edging it backward so that it formed a sweep (why ruin fabric with dripping ice cream?).

I again left the large Interfit unit in place on the left, and positioned the smaller unit so that it came in on the set from the right front corner. As before, these lights were powered all the way down, and, as with all these pictures, all exposure metering was done strictly with the camera. Interestingly, because the Minolta DiMAGE A1 only stops down to f/11, I found I could use shutter speed to further control the exposure, with the camera syncing at all speeds (in Manual mode). I also bracketed white balance settings, and found that daylight, cloudy, flash, and custom all worked better than auto white balance (which, surprisingly, produced a noticeably cool effect--at least with this camera). I chose the best setting (depending on the situation) and tweaked it further in Photoshop, finding that Auto Color was often sufficient to bring it home.

In this instance, I opted to deal with reflections by placing this ice cream sundae inside a Photek digital LightHouse. To provide better fill, I placed the smaller light more toward the front of the set (on the right corner of the light tent), with the main light again coming in from the left and behind.

I must admit: These lights gave me a taste for more than the ice cream. I finally found what was missing in my studio still life studies: Interfit flat panel lights. And I loved being able to keep my portrait sessions that much simpler, no longer a slave to encumbering softboxes and umbrellas.

Useful Resources
Paterson Photographic--Interfit cyberFLASH/digitFLASH/eFLASH (www.patersonphotographic.com)
Minolta--DiMAGE A1 digital zoom-SLR (www.minoltausa.com)
RTS--RedWing Cocoon light tent (www.rtsphoto.com)
Photek--digital LightHouse light tent (www.photekusa.com)
Noho Productions--12 rental studios, New York City (www.nohoproductions.com)
And a special thanks to New York photographer Rafael Fuchs (www.rafaelfuchs.com) for his invaluable guidance in this project.

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