A Tabletop Lighting System Sampler; We Work With The Lowel Ego, Interfit Pop-Up Light Tent, Sharpics D-Flector, Samigon Internet Photo Studio Pro, And Sunpak eBox Page 2

Throughout, I worked with a Canon EOS 5D and 24-105mm IS lens (at telephoto focal lengths to avoid wide angle distortion), disabling Image Stabilization while the camera was on my trusty old Bogen tripod, and setting focus manually for shot-to-shot consistency. I made my exposures at f/5.6, varying shutter speed so I could have tighter control over depth of field--I didn't want the surrounding backdrop to come into sharp focus, even if that meant blurring out a part of the subject (when reproduced as a smaller size image, that blur will be negligible). I tried to work at ISO 100, but ended up shooting most pictures at ISO 400 to avoid excessively long exposures.

Sunpak Lighthouse - Tungsten WB
Sunpak Lighthouse - Setup
(Setup shots) You can see that lighting this aquarium ornament required an individual approach with each tabletop system. Of course, the easiest way to light this would be to use the copy stand approach, with one light on either side and angled at 45Þ to the subject. But this would likely result in double shadows. The more painstaking methods used involved cutting back some of the light on one side using vellum or the translucent Ego bounce card, if not modifying both lights, adding a bounce card for fill, and variously positioning the lights for some modeling.

Here's what I found:
Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Light System plus Ego-sweep (under $200/kit). The complete Ego tabletop solution consists of what are essentially two light banks, each with two spiral fluorescent bulbs, plus two corrugated-plastic self-standing reflector panels, a self-standing backdrop support with clips, and a set of seamless papers in a variety of colors. It's fairly easy to put together and set up, and very easy to use. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed working with this system. The reflector panels are especially handy, since they are translucent enough to serve as scrims to block out excessive light.

In fact, they proved so handy I used them with other tabletop sets as well. (Lowel-Light Mfg.) Sharpics D-Flector Portable Photo Studio DF-20 with Compact Studio Light Kit LKT-92 (under $250 complete). When I saw the D-Flector at PMA and popped an on-camera flash at a toy car, I was impressed by the lack of shadows, expecting the same when it was part of an integrated system. The reflective silver backdrop didn't do as well when sidelighting was employed with the lights that came in the kit, although it did better than most backdrops to soak up the shadows. Each light sports a fairly wide-dispersal reflector (dish), so you might consider using blackwrap (commercially known as Cinefoil, available at pro photo shops) to better control the light spread with some subjects (use this metal foil around the dish to form a snoot of sorts). (Sharpics.)

Sunpak eBox Portable Photo Studio ($65). This is the most portable tabletop lighting system in the bunch, and very smartly designed. To all outward appearances, it's a black nylon portfolio case. The case opens to reveal flaps that fold out to form a cube with a reversible fabric backdrop. The portfolio-style case carries two tungsten lights in outside pockets. There's also a tabletop tripod for point-and-shooters (in another outside pocket), not for use with an SLR. This tent is the perfect size for small items, although it had little trouble dealing with something as large as the aquarium ornament. While tungsten lighting is not my favorite, these tiny lights make this a tidy solution, especially for someone crafting jewelry at home for online sales. I wouldn't use it to photograph an ice cream sundae or other perishables. (ToCAD America.)

Interfit 24" Pop-Up Light Tent with Three-Bulb Cool-lite Kit ($299/kit). Pop-up tents open quickly and fold down to practically nothing. But the lights are another story--they are massive compared with other lights in this group, making them more of a full-time studio solution, especially when you add the stands (included). That said, these lights are equally suited for use in studio portraiture. They also come with a diffusion cap as an immediate and practical means of reducing output and softening the light. The kits can actually be configured differently--you might want a five-bulb system for more power if you like to work with smaller f/stops. Available in several sizes, the pop-up tent comes with a removable blue backdrop and a pull-away front flap with a slit--poke the lens through the slit, or, to avoid the white nylon reflecting in shiny objects, remove the flap. I found it easier to work with the tent wide-open in front, although I did have to drape some black fabric around the lens to cut back on reflections. (Interfit Photographic.)

Samigon Internet Photo Studio Pro (under $500). This system evolved from the more modest Internet Photo Studio and is a big step up. I'd tested the earlier model sometime back and when Argraph developed a more robust sibling, I eagerly sought it out. It's a rather clever system, beginning with a light box (the kind used for viewing slides) as the base. But here is where it gets interesting. The kit comes with two light heads that attach to extending arms (reaching as high as 2 ft), and these arms attach along the sides, front, or back of the metal-walled light box with industrial-strength magnets at their base (the magnetic field appears fairly well shielded, but I would avoid holding these magnets too close to electronic components or magnetic media). An integral component is a background support over which you drape any background material, from seamless paper to fabric (such as black velvet) or vinyl, extending this material over the front lip of the light box. Black brackets front and back secure the sliding Plexiglas sheet. Because the black might show through some background materials, I removed it from the rear of the box, where the background support stood--three screws hold it in place. You need to be careful when adjusting the lights, as they loosen easily--be sure to tighten them regularly, especially the base. Aside from that, setup and operation were simple. (Argraph.)

Sharpics Setup