Impact Reversible Muslin Background Review

This is a review of the Impact Reversible Muslin Background. When I’m shooting portraits in the studio or on location, I sometimes want to use a backdrop that is not a seamless paper. Why? Seamless can be too uniform in color and also difficult to transport. I have always wondered what it would be like to shoot some portraits on a muslin background with subtle color variations, so I decided to grab one of these made by Impact and try it out.

Impact Reversible Muslin Background

I chose the Dawn/Deep Sea Blue color combination, but there are other colors available.

1) Product Specifications

- Two-Sided Color for Flexibility of Use
- Suitable for Video / Still Photography
- 100% High-Quality Cotton Material
- Helps Absorb Light/Minimizes Reflections
- Seamless / One-Piece Fabric
- Five Eyelets on Top for Hanging
- 4″ Rod Pocket
- Includes Carry Bag
- Size: 10’x12’ (3.0×3.7 m)

2) Packaging and Field Use

This background comes, as advertised, in it’s own carrying bag. Unfortunately, a seam on the bag tore before I was ever even able to photograph it, making the carrying bag useless. Fortunately, the background is small and light enough that I’ll be able to pack it in another bag if I ever need to take it with me on location, but it is still concerning that it won’t be protected while not in use.

OK, so now that that’s out of the way, we can just forget about the bag. The background is quite lightweight compared to other fabric backdrops I’ve used (like those from drop It MODERN), so it’s very easy to handle and setup. My backdrop system uses a rod that goes through the rod pocket, so I didn’t get to use the eyelets, but they feel like they are installed very securely.

Once I had the background set up I noticed it had quite a few wrinkles from being folded. These don’t smooth out once it’s hung up. A few thoughts ran through my head: Will they look good in a photograph? Will they detract from the image? If I defocus them enough will they just blend into the rest of the background? I also noticed some spots that almost looked like they were bleached. They had a light pink/purple color to them. How would these photograph? There’s only one way to find out.

Impact Reversible Muslin Background

3) Samples

As you can see in the following images, depending on your aperture and your distance from the subject or backdrop, the look of the background can vary greatly. It can range from a subtle variation of light and color to a somewhat wrinkly-looking backdrop.

I chose to shoot the majority of my test shots with natural light so that I would be able to control my aperture and defocus the background. Furthermore, I really only prefered the photos I took that were tighter portraits since they further defocused the background. Personally, I’m pretty sure that the only way I will use this background is for natural light portraits. I just don’t care for the look of the background with the folds and wrinkles in it. Of course, I could probably steam them out, but I’m too lazy for that.

I read a review that cautioned about using the background with a light source behind it, as it allows light to pass through. Indeed, some light will come through the fabric, but if you’re shooting at typical settings for studio lighting (1/200, f/8, ISO 200) you probably won’t see any light coming through unless sunlight is falling directly on the fabric.

Here are some sample images that my patient and cooperative studio mate Tess agreed to pose for.

These first three photos were shot on the light background at f/2.8, f/2.0 and f/1.4, respectively:
Impact Reversible Muslin Background - 2 - 2.8

Impact Reversible Muslin Background - 3 - 2.0

Impact Reversible Muslin Background - 4 - 1.4

These next two photos show a bigger crease in the light side of the background. You can also see the pink/purple spots on the left side of the images. They were shot at f/1.4 and f/2.8, respectively:
Impact Reversible Muslin Background - 6 - 1.4

Impact Reversible Muslin Background - 7 - 2.8

These next three photos were shot on the dark side of the background at f/1.4, f/2.0 and f/2.8, respectively:
Impact Reversible Muslin Background - 8 - 1.4

Impact Reversible Muslin Background - 9 - 2.0

Impact Reversible Muslin Background - 10 - 2.8

I wouldn’t consider this a proper review without at least testing this background with studio lighting. I was surprised how much light this background absorbs. It hardly showed up at at all when I relied on the spill from my key light to light it. I had to put a background light on it to get it to appear. In this image, my background light was about one stop brighter than my key light and had a 20-degree grid on it. Personally, I don’t prefer the look of this background when shooting at f/8, so I’ll stick to natural light and wide apertures. This image was shot at f/8 on the dark side.

Impact Reversible Muslin Background

Finally, this image shows how I would love to use this background. It was shot with the light side of the background somewhat bunched across the top and pooled on the floor. Tess was seated. This image was shot at f/2.0.

Impact Reversible Muslin Background

4) Summary

For a little more than the price of a large roll of seamless paper, this reversible muslin background is a great piece of gear to have. It is lightweight, portable and offers a variety of different looks. Some people might have the initial impression of “cheesy senior photo background”, but with a shallow depth of field and some nice light, it is anything but cheesy. If you do a lot of natural light studio work and want to get away from seamless paper, I highly recommend one of these backgrounds.

5) Pricing and Where to Buy

The Impact Reversible Muslin Background is regularly priced at $83.95 and is available at B&H Photo Video.

Impact Reversible Muslin Background Review4.0833333333333John Bosley2013-05-11 12:37:54This is a review of the Impact Reversible Muslin Background. When I’m shooting portraits in the studio or on location, I sometimes want to use a bac…
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Comments

  1. Hi John,
    Thank you for this review.
    I’m looking for a new setup for a small/light studio and I might get some of those backgrounds.

    The photos you took are really nice. I do think that 2.8 is the limit cause the background does distract after.

    What camera/lens did you use ?

    Why would you only use it with natural light ? It does seem like a big handicap if you should only use it that way.
    You could shoot at iso 100 and block out the natural light source in order to open up the diaf no ?

    Cheers from France
    Duncan D

    • Hi Duncan,
      Thanks for reading! I used my D800 and 85mm f/1.4 G for all of the portraits.

      I guess I should clarify and say that I’d only use the backdrop with a continuous light source, not necessarily just natural light. It’s not a matter of the ambient light affecting my strobes. Since most cameras are unable to sync with strobes at shutter speeds faster than 1/250 of a second, it’s very difficult to shoot with strobes at apertures as wide as f/2.8 and wider. If I could shoot at f/2 with my strobes I would, but unfortunately I can’t.

      Hope this helps!
      John

  2. I have a very similar type of backdrop, though I think it’s made by a different company. To get around the folded creases I actually went the opposite way and twist up my backdrop when I put it away. This way the whole background gets a pattern of wrinkles and the square folds soon are no longer noticeable. Much easier to go with the wrinkles than try to get it and keep it smooth.

    • That sounds like something I need to try, Anthony. I’d much rather deal with wrinkles than creases as well. Thanks for the tip!

  3. 5
    ) Barry

    Greetings John,

    After your review, I’m not sure if muslin is right for me. I would like to try something other than seamless paper though. For me, strobes would be the best way to go. I think you would find the strobes to work better for you with a few adjustments. ND filters come in handy if the strobes are too bright at the lowest setting. A 4-stop ND filter, for example, would let you use an aperture of f/2 instead of f8. Another alternative is a larger soft box that can be moved further away. Other options to blur the background more would be to use a 200 mm focal length (instead of 85) and increase the distance between the subject and background, 6 to 10 feet works good for me.

    • Hi Barry,

      Thanks for the suggestions. Indeed, an ND filter would allow me to shoot at wider apertures. I try to avoid using any kind of filter on my lenses, but might give an ND filter a shot just to try it out. I could also definitely use a 200mm lens and move my subject farther from the backdrop to get a nice blur. All great suggestions! Hope you find a backdrop that works for you.

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