Sunday, January 15, 2017

Light Blaster initial thoughts

The first time I saw a review for the Light Blaster I have to admit I was more than a little intrigued. If you haven't seen or heard of this nifty little gadget yet here's a quick rundown.

The unit itself is a plastic housing that allows you to insert a speedlight into one end and attach a lens onto the other. A standard 2x2 inch 35mm projection slide is inserted in between the two via a special slide carrier. When the flash is triggered the image on the slide is projected on whatever the unit is aimed at.

The downside to the Light Blaster is the price. Starting at $100 for what people would consider a simple plastic shell with a lens mounting ring, the Blaster has a few other accessories that will drive the price up. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on what side of the coin your personal philosophy is on) there is a less expensive clone version of the Blaster made in China by Hpsum. At about $60 it's still pricey but a $40 savings is $40 that can go to something else.

Since the unit is designed to utilize a camera lens for projection, you do not need to sacrifice one of your better lenses to it. In my case I already had a used Tamron lens with a bad focus drive motor that was irreparable. Because of that issue the lens sat on a shelf collecting dust. Little did I realize it would come in handy for this purpose.

There are also plenty of used lenses on the market that can be purchased for pennies on the dollar for this. The unit itself comes standard with a Canon mount. For Nikon user, they do sell an adapter ring. Might as well forego the adapter and buy a cheap used Canon lens dedicated to the projector.

Obviously you will also need a speedlight. They do sell an adapter that will allow you to mount the projector to a studio flash as well. It's a nice option considering the light power available from a bigger flash.

Even more obviously, you also have to have some kind of slide to project through this. Light Blaster sells gobos and slides in add on kits but the designer in me likes the idea of making my own. I'll be discussing that in a more detailed article later.

The easiest way I found to use this is to attach it onto a light duty stand. You can see the small ballhead in this image. Attachment is with a standard 1/4 20 thread on the bottom of the unit. The unit can also be used handheld by attaching an additional hand piece.

Of course, with every new piece of gear that comes out you'll get opposing camps about how practical or needed it is. In this case there are some legitimate arguments for why bother to use this. One of the biggest being that if you wanted to change the background you can simply do it in photoshop.

On the surface this may seem like a convincing argument until you realize there are distinct differences in the results. For one, a projected image does not replace a background, like swapping it in photoshop would. It wraps the surface with the projected image. Trying to replicate that look in photoshop would take time and lots of skill. Not that it can't be done, but who wants to spend unneeded time editing.

I feel this is a wrong expectation on the use of the projector. It's not about replacing a background but rather augmenting it. Think of it as adding flavor or texture to an otherwise mundane background. If you think about the history of cinematic and theatrical lighting, gobos (aka cucoloris or cookies) have been a main staple for many decades. The principal reason for using this technique is to break up boring light in order to add mood, drama or movement to a scene. Properly used, the Light Blaster will do the same thing with much finer control in a smaller unit.

Another common argument is, why not just use a standard slide projector to achieve the same results? After all, a slide projector is designed specifically for projecting an image onto a flat surface. There are two big drawbacks to that argument, size and lumens. A slide projector is big and clumsy making fine adjustments tricky and image sizing and focusing awkward at best.

Another argument of Light Blaster over a screen projector is resolution. If image quality of the projected image is important, then projecting from a slide is a hands down winner. Depending on the image and the projection contrast, using a screen projector can result in visible lines (or pixilation) in the projected image.  Something that may not be favorable.

With the Light Blaster you have the advantage and flexibility of a camera lens to adjust both size (wide angle zooms) and blur (focus) of the projected image. A speedlight also puts out a brighter light than most projectors do and because projectors are hot lights, they generate heat and the cooling fan can be rather noisy.

The appealing thing about this whole projector idea, to me, is the ability to use custom created slides. As I mentioned, there are pre-made slides and gobos available but not really liking the majority of them I decided to make my own. After all, what's the sense of being a graphic artist and not using that ability?

These last two images are from two sample slides I ordered. The first is of a traditional gobo star pattern and the second is to mimic a more traditional classic backdrop. Both these test images were taken against a white brick wall. As you can see, the texture of the wall is still evident in both images. I plan on having a whole lot more slides made and I'll post my findings in a future article.

I hope this info is helpful and if you have any questions about the Light Blaster feel free to post them in the comments section below.

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