Fotodiox Flapjack–Soft Light That’s Hard to Beat

The Gist

Fotodiox’s FlapJack does one thing and does it well: smooth, soft, buttery light. I love its novel design and thin profile. Photometrics look good and output is sufficient for this style of light. While it doesn’t have a long throw (again, built for one purpose) and it’s a bit heavier than I’d hoped, used as a dedicated soft light this product gives great results.

Soft light thin profile

Google any lighting tutorial and you’ll quickly learn your options for creating “soft” light:

  1. Get a massive light
  2. Get your light real close to your subject
  3. Bounce your light against a larger surface (e.g. a wall) which then becomes your light
  4. Add diffusion–preferably near the subject

Soft light is flattering, easy to work with, and brainless to a degree. Sure you might be adjusting your softbox to get that “feathered” edge of the light where you want it, or playing with distance from subject to light to play with falloff. But in short, just getting a nice big light source off axis from the camera and close to your subject works in a good number of scenarios. This reductionist lighting tip would get me crucified in some circles, but showing people how easy and flattering soft lighting is–particularly for people–can be a quick way to a great result.

Notice how every point in my list above relates to the apparent size of the light? Now, what if you can’t get your light close to your subject due to the light’s physical size or heat? What if you don’t have a white wall to bounce from? What if your 5-in-1 reflector blew away in the wind and you didn’t bother fetching it because its zipper was broken anyway and Amazon Prime will get you another replacement in two days? Enter El Flapjack.

The Flapjack comes in an 18″ and 30″ variety. It’s a big round disc of a light with perimeter vents that remove the need for a fan. The 18″ pivots on a standard yoke with the 30″ derives position-ability via a very robust ball mount.

But the special feature here is that this circular light’s LEDs are stationed around its perimeter, pointing into, rather than behind the diffuse material. That means the lovely while material that forms the substance of your FlapJack’s face effectively becomes one massive beautiful light. Much more flattering than a million tiny LEDs. What you lose in output and throw with this method, you gain in a beautiful soft radiant light that makes me want to marry it. Notice in the second picture the V-mount to Sony adapter that means I can carry heaps of only one kind of battery with me if I want to put the light in a tough spot and leave four batteries running it.

I love the fact that this is a purpose-built light with no need to add any sort of modifier. I just set up the light and shoot. And it’s thin profile (and weight–more on that below) means it’s much less a wind-catcher than something like a soft box. It fits in the studio without taking up a lot of space or requiring any modifier-related setup time.

A blessing of LED technology, these lights are both battery powered. The 18″ has two Sony NP-F battery slots plus a V-mount and the 30″ has two V-mounts. It is not necessary to have two batteries mounted to run the lights. The battery indicator on the back does a bit of a dance as it updates its display according to your current power level.

In the field

Despite the “STUDIO XL” moniker branded on the back of the 30″, I lugged this thing to our beautiful, rose-laden location early one morning to test its field performance. Unfortunately I was trying to beat the sun up on nearly the longest day of the year. As I’ve mentioned, this light sacrifices output for light quality so this is not the type of light you’d be using to try to compete with the sun. The location had been pre-scouted and the plan was to shoot quickly in the early, reflected, light of dawn, before the sun peaked over the mountain and hit us directly. We’d then test to see how the Flapjack help up once the sun came up behind and rim-lit our model.

In the ambience of dawn the Flapjack did just what I wanted. You can see here it has no problem lighting the subject with nice soft light, even at a bit of a distance. See with and without. Also see the sun fast-approaching in the background.

With the Flapjack warming up the broad side of the model’s face and a speedlight behind to give a bit of separation from the (screen) right side we get this.

Unfortunately the punctuality of the model meant we didn’t get much shot before that line of light creeping up on us in the last shot arrived, but the Flapjack worked just as expected. Once the sun was high enough that the light simply couldn’t compete, I used the Flapjack as a nice 30″ reflector to bounce the light back in the subject’s face. I left the light on, but the reflected light of the sun was doing far more than the FlapJack in this case.

There are a couple things one can do to help tame the sun. We put a 5-in-1 reflector between the sun and model both to decrease the sun’s intensity and to soften the edge light. I’ve recently been paying a lot more attention to the softness of rim lights and in this case I wanted a nice soft edge. This helps give the Flapjack a fighting chance.

It’s a lot to ask from a 120 Watt LED however so some additional reinforcements go a long way. Another good alternative to the 5-in-1, applying the same principle in a different way, is to use fog. I like the “fog in a can” for its portability and it can help diffuse a strong sunny backlight. You’ll see a speedlight coming from the other side as well. This time the speedlight isn’t rim lighting; it’s bouncing off the Flapjack to increase the latter’s intensity. With the fog cutting the sun down and the speedlight amping up the Flapjack I get more light on the subject than I need. If you’re curious about the stand, I’ve been using Triad Orbit’s stands lately and for stuff like micro-managing the position of a speedlight they are perfect.

In the case of this shot we went full-bore fog for stylistic effect. Without the fog diffusing the sun the rim light here would have been so intense and hard it would be distracting and totally alter the intended mood of this pensive princess…and her, um beetle?

We drove to another location where we could test the Flapjack in shade. Its broad white disc works great to catch and reflect ambient light which, in conjunction with the light output from the Flapjack itself, works perfectly for a bit of “broad-side” fill. Again, the ambient light intensity will determine how close you have to get the Flapjack. Even the little 18″ model was enough to give the little boost I was looking for here.

And with only one assistant sometimes you must pick your battles. In this case I use the fog to soften the rim light and bring it forward to fill the face while my assistant runs behind the model (camera right) to hold the speedlight. See the nice edge separation now on the (screen right) edge of the model’s hair?

The bicolor-ability of the Flapjack meant I could use the sun to key the short side of the model’s face while I warmed up the Flapjack for the fill like we’d done before. Again, in the shade even the 18″ Flapjack was plenty to not overpower the key light but to add just enough ambience to counter some of the reflected green light of the foliage.

And why not add some bees if we’ve already got beetles and butterflies? These little fellows were buzzing about the roses so I shot a bunch of them for some quick Photoshopping. The beetle I found dead behind some equipment shelving at my studio so he also got the Fotodiox Flapjack treatment.

In the studio

We had an apparel shoot I thought I’d use to test the Flapjack in the studio. The 30″ is clearly designed for studio use with its DMX controls and significantly heavier weight. The light worked just as expected in the studio. I don’t often shoot with continuous lights for still photography. Their color rendition just isn’t anywhere near that of a Xenon bulb in a speedlight or a strobe. But these checked out well enough that I decided to risk it and I’m pretty happy with the results. I was using this shoot as a training session for another photographer at the same time and working with continuous lights makes teaching so much easier because changes made to the light are visible without requiring a shutter trigger.

But shooting just product shots on white isn’t fun with such a soft light as this! I decided to grab a couple moodier shots to see how the Flapjack handled. Look at those perfectly round catchlights!

This is one of my favorite things about the Flapjack. I compared it to another light in a relatively similar class bracket, the Aputure COB 120 with Aputure’s “Light Dome” attached. Now I think the Aputure is a great value, and I’ve looked at that light in detail here, but you can see from the photo of both lights side by side, in terms of catchlights it’s no match for the smooth, circular orb of awesomeness that is the Flapjack.

Los Numbers

Everyone knows I’m something of a snob when it comes to the color rendition of LEDs. How does the Flapjack stack up? You can see the results of both the 30″ and 18″ Flapjack below, tested at 3200K and 5600K. Output is about what you’d expect for the power draw and style of the lights and color rendering is great with R12 coming in a little under where I’d like to see it but still acceptable. I found these lights to look very good to the eye and they mix well with each other and with daylight. Again, comparing to the Aputure, I’ve found Aputure’s lights to be inconsistent with each other and oftern-times on the green side. The new magenta filter in the COB 300 series should hopefully help remedy this.

I averaged about 1750 lux at one meter on the 30″ at 5600K and slightly lower at 3200K with an average reading of around 1580 lux. CRI and TLCI numbers are good, easily averaging in the high nineties.

For the 18″ I get about 850 lux at a meter at 5600K and around 832 lux at 3200K. Interestingly enough, the maximum output (over 900 lux) is to be had at around 3700K so if you really need the most out of this light that could be worth knowing. I didn’t notice an appreciable difference in white balance across the power range and the minimum output (at 10%) is around 45 lux on the 18″ if you’re interested.

The 30″ has a maximum draw of just under 130 watts.

What’s not to like?

Any downsides? What comes to mind immediately is weight. In my heart of hearts I was hoping this would weigh no more than a its namesake, a 100% whole wheat golden-griddled pancake. It’s a lot heavier than a pancake. Though Fotodiox’s site claims around 18 lbs. (see photo below) the 30″ Flapjack is closer to double that (no exaggeration).

A rollable LED is also easier to transport. Even though the Flapjack is thin, it’s not bendable, so moving it about does require a sizable footprint. You can see in the video above the box the FlapJack comes in.

I doubt many will care, but the off-axis visibility of the rear LCD, while great from side to side, suffers to the extreme when viewed from above.

The beam angle is quite broad, enough that I find myself wanting a grid or egg crate. From what I could find online, Fotodiox doesn’t currently make one.

Conclusion

Many people looking at this are probably going to be comparing it to something like Aputure’s COB lights which I reference earlier. I have purchased both flavors of Aputure’s COB lights and Fotodiox’s Flapjacks because I see them as separate tools. The Aputure design is all about versatility with its Bowens mount. The Flapjack is designed to excel at soft light. Their max power draw is similar (Aputure actually draws a bit more) and their output is similar if you compare the Aputure with the Light Dome. Cost between the two, with the Light Dome, also isn’t terribly disparate. While the Light Dome is massive in comparison to the Flapjack, the big benefit of the Aputure is that you can choose to omit it and get a lot of output and throw with a standard Bowens reflector. Also keep in mind, the Aputure does not offer the bicolor option in a single fixture. With the Flapjack you get a single fixture that matches the Aputure’s output with the option of choosing any color temperature between 3200K and 5600k. Pretty impressive on the Flapjack side.

I love the thin profile of the Flapjack–there’s just nothing like it. I’ve spent good money on ‘foldable’ ‘fabric’ LEDs and light panels (the only other lights of comparable depth) but they require so much diffusion. That diffusion generally needs to be either excessively thick or far away from the lights, which mitigates the portability and profile factor. While I’m a little disappointed at the weight of the 30″ Flapjack I’m not at all sad to use it abundantly in my studio and keep the 18″ on hand for the field.

I guarantee Fotodiox has heard complaints that this light isn’t “bright enough” or “doesn’t have enough throw”. I think you’re using the light for the wrong purpose if that’s the case. As I’ve belabored, the distance of the light from the subject largely determines the light’s softness. A broader light source simply hits the subject from more angles making it very difficult to get strong shadows or intense specularity. This light with its diffusion built in is designed to be placed very near the subject, and for that, it’s output will be sufficient in a huge number of shooting scenarios. I’m as happy with the Fotodiox Flapjack as I am with the edible ones. A better compliment I couldn’t give.