Friday, March 5, 2010

What's in the Bag? Westcott 43 inch Compact Convertible Umbrella

Continuing with the “What's in the Bag” series, we now move on from talking about Color and Neutral Density Filters, to a discussing one of my newer favorites, the Westcott 43 inch Compact Convertible Umbrella.

This is the little big umbrella that makes the magic happen anywhere anytime. Its diminutive storage size, just under 15 inches long and about 2 inches in diameter, makes it an easy choice for travel and remote location use. When opened, the 39 inch diameter (Westcott claim 43”) is easily large enough to light a ¾ portrait or a baby with dreamy soft light.

There is a lot to like about this little umbrella and even more when one considers the low price tag. It comes in two flavors, as a standard white shoot-through and as a convertible with removable black cover. Let's take a more detailed look at this and see if you don't agree with me.

Versatility in a Small Package
While I generally use it as a shoot-through umbrella, I bought the convertible model for the added flexibility. You never know when you might need the less feathered light from a bounced umbrella or perhaps need to control spill into the room by putting on the cover and bouncing. The photo above shows the convertible version naked sitting on the cover.

A Small Compromise
You should be aware that in order to create such a compact umbrella, some compromises had to be made in the design, which results in greater frailty compared to a normal umbrella. The handle is hollow so it can collapse into itself, but this means you must be careful not to overtighten a clamp mount lest it crush the handle. The ribs are made to allow a double fold and consequentially are not as sturdy as the straight ribs of a standard umbrella. You can see in this close up that the ribs are hinged about half way up, so there is some extra complexity and less support for the fabric..

Colorific Performance!
I have been using this umbrella for a few months now and am really loving it! It's not just the portability that I like, but this baby is a high octane performer.

In the photo above you can see the results of a quick color test comparing the light in bounce and shoot-through configurations against a bare bulb. The Lastolite white-balance disc was used for a white reference. A custom white balance was set in raw from the bare bulb shot, then used for all three photos. Reading at the center using the Photoshop eyedropper tool, I found no meaningful difference in color. In fact, it was so close it is virtually perfect and clearly the most color neutral light modifier I own. Look at the shadow on the gray background and note how soft the light is. The shoot-through was at around 6-1/2 ft. while the bounce was at around 8 ft., which explains the slightly softer light from the shoot-through.

Efficacy = Real World Results
How about a few photos from this umbrella just to give an idea of what it can do? You may recognize two from my “Lighting with Just One Umbrella” post awhile back. These are all powered using the Vivitar 285HV for flash.

This is one of my favorite photos, great grandfather and great granddaughter. Isn't that lovely light? Nice and soft with gently feathered edges from shooting through the umbrella.

Another grab shot with the flash shooting through the umbrella for effective lighting.

This was a bit more planned. Again the flash is shooting through the umbrella. Not at all bad for a single medium sized light source.

A Small Complaint
My one gripe, which is not unique to this umbrella or manufacturer, is that the diameter is 39 inches, not the 43 inches specified. Even measuring tip to tip around the outside, I can't get more than 41 inches. My take is that manufacturers should rate the diameter straight across, tip to tip. Any other way of specifying the size is just hog wash. It wouldn't hurt to rate the depth too. For that matter they can supply the mathematical function describing the arc of the thing, but let's at least get real about the diameter. Whew, glad to get that off my chest! In spite of this obvious marketing hyperbole, the thing really does work great and offers not just excellent value, but excellent light.

Get One Now!
It's inexpensive, incredibly useful, and a great performer. Setup is as simple as a conventional umbrella, but storage is as small as they come. If you need a portable light setup, and who doesn't, then you need one of these. Click Here to purchase the Westcott Compact Umbrella through Amazon. You can also find it at B&H Photo, Adorama, and probably at your local camera store too, so support your local business or one of these fine online retailers, but do yourself a favor and get one.

More Photos
Bounce configuration with black cover installed, inner view.

Back side with cover installed

Side view with cover installed

Side view with cover removed

Back side with cover removed

Coming Next
More still to come in this series, so keep checking in for new content covering what's in the bag.

Until then...


Click here for the next post in this series
"Photoflex 30 inch Convertible Umbrella"

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