In my last post (Of flies and flashes) I noted that I had some ideas for how to put together a diffuser for my new FL-36 flash that would be lightweight, simple to use and produce nice soft lighting for macro photos in the field. I wanted something that would be quick to set-up with the flash mounted directly onto the camera hotshoe. I semi-seriously referred to it as my flash diffuser Mark II.
Well last weekend I sat down and built a diffuser using foamcore, white paper and white duct tape. It is modeled after the LumiQuest Softbox diffuser I discussed in my last post, but the front is angled down to light subjects close to the lens. The working distance for my 35mm macro lens is only 3.5 cm when is focussed to maximum (1:1) magnification, so I needed a diffuser that would effectively light a subject at that distance.
I used foamcore because it is strong, extremely light (it is just Styrofoam covered with paper) and very light reflective. I have included the design and dimensions of the diffuser in the graphics below in case anyone is interested in making a version for themselves. Keep in mind that I designed this diffuser specifically to fit on the FL-36 flash: the dimensions of which are 6.5cm x 4.2cm. This design may need to be modified to fit other flash models.
I cut-out the four sections of the diffuser (two sides, a top and a bottom) with a razor blade. The bottom piece was identical to the top except that it was cut shorter as shown in the diagram. Each piece was cut on the inside surface along the dotted line shown in the diagrams, being careful not to cut the whole way through the foamcore. That allowed the pieces to be folded out to form something of a square based pyramid shape. Then the edges of the pieces were taped together with white duct tape. All of the cut edges were also covered with duct tape. Lastly, a piece of white sketch paper was cut and taped over the wide end of the diffuser.
Structurally, the diffuser worked out very nicely. It is solid but extremely light, and fits snugly on the flash. Set-up is a snap: just slip the flash onto the camera hotshoe, push the diffuser onto the flash and voila! The photos below (taken with my phone) show the diffuser and flash mounted on the camera.
But the real test was of course whether it produced the results I was looking for. The photo at the top of the page, of a rather nice little (unidentified) weevil, was the first picture I took with the diffuser. I couldn’t be happier. You can expect to see plenty more photographs taken with this diffuser in the coming weeks.
There are only two drawbacks to the design. Firstly, the top front edge of the diffuser sticks out well past the front element of the lens. This is actually a good thing in most cases (I think) because it means the background of a picture should be well illuminated too. The drawback is that I can’t use it for aquarium photography or in other situations where there is an obstruction above my photo subject. Secondly, this diffuser would be awkward to pack for travel. It would be nice if it could be folded away when not in use. Maybe that’s a design idea for a flash diffuser Mark III…
The technical stuff:
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Lens: Zuiko 35mm macro
Settings: manual exposure (F11 @ 1/200 sec)
Lighting: Olympus FL-36 flash (on TTL)