The Impact Soft and Natural 4 Socket 3 Light Kit is a lightweight three-softbox continuous light source for studio shooting. MSRP is $604.90, but it seems to be perpetually discounted at B&H. As I write this it is priced at $348.95. The kit comes with stands, softboxes, heads and bulbs, everything you need to get started shooting portraits except the model and background (oh yeah, and camera and photographer, d’oh).
Ah, there we have a model and a background. Unfortuantely, this kit doesn’t come with a hair stylist.
A three-light studio set-up for under $350? What’s next? Looking at my hospital bill and seeing they only charged me 20 bucks for that 85-dollar Band-Aid ™ they never applied? If you’ve ever priced studio lighting gear you know this is absurdly cheap. So what’s this kit capable of? Let’s put it in the hands of pro Dawn Kish and check out a number of different looks she achieved with it.
When I scratched out “homeless” and wrote in professional photographer, I knew I’d hit rock bottom.
As the frostnip set in, I was wishing these lights got hot like tungsten lamps. As it is, they’re fluorescent lights that get warm but never sizzling.
With a little cleaning up and a bunch of make up this executive portrait landed me a job as Senior Vice President of the Superzoom Review Division at Photography Life.
When I donned this uniform my posture instantly improved – no joke.
Well now that I’ve gone this far.
Disclosure: after the review I got to keep the kit for free – how come it doesn’t feel like free?
Here you see the three boxes at work.
After those shots you can be excused for thinking they were lit with lights that cost ten times as much. So what’s the scoop on this kit?
First off, these are not strobes but continuous fluorescent light sources. This has advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, continuous light is WYSIWYG. You can move the lights fore and aft, adjust the angles and whatnot and always see how the light is modeling on your subject. If you’re new to studio lighting this really helps when it comes to learning how to illuminate subjects. With continuous light you don’t need to sych camera to the lights, allowing you to shoot at any frame rate or with any camera, even a cameraphone. As well, a continuous light source works for video.
I snapped this scary selfie with my iPhone.
On the minus side, you have to control exposure through shutter speed, not flash duration, so if you have moving subjects you want to freeze you’ll likely be cranking the ISO up and dealing with added noise in your files.
“ISO 640? Drop and give me fifty Maggot.” Fortunately today’s cameras handle higher ISOs pretty well.
Each head in the kit uses four fluorescent bulbs balanced to 5000K. The kit comes with 26W bulbs but the heads can handle four 50W bulbs apiece. There are no power adjustments – if you want dimmer or brighter light you have to either move the light closer or further away (which changes the highlight/shadow ratio on your subject, i.e “the look” of the light changes) or unscrew some bulbs. The lights in this kit are not dimmer-compatible.
Here with the lights further away, I had to crank the ISO up to 1250.
When it comes to performance, even though these are single diffuser softboxes (most higher-end softboxes have double diffusers) they produce a very pleasant light as seen in the sample photos. The boxes measure 20”x27.5”, which is appropriate for lighting a head-and-shoulders portrait, maybe even head-and-torso, but not big enough for full-length portraits. The diffuser material is very light, but gives a pleasantly soft light as intended.
Note a bit of light dropoff toward the bottom of this shot – this is about as much of the body as the single main light can illuminate.
The heads are bare-bones – all plastic with just an on-off switch. This keeps the weight and cost down or put another way, makes it feel like a toy. But if you’re not shooting hula-hoop or hacky sack action photos or otherwise knocking them over and beating them up I don’t see why this should dissuade one from owning these.
When you fire these up, it takes time to warm up the fluorescent bulbs. Initially, the light will look very dim but wait a few minutes and it reaches full power and stays consistent until you turn them off.
The softboxes are easier to set up than most, but this is like saying it’s easier to shoot a hole-in-one on a long par three than on a short par four. There’s no speedring for the softbox stays, instead you just stick the four stays into holes in the lighthead and try not to drop one while fiddling the other ones into the softbox. The disadvantage is you can’t spin it from vertical to horizontal orientation or vice versa without reassembly. And what you gain by easier softbox assembly, you lose when it comes to screwing in all four bulbs. It takes me about 14-15 minutes to set up the full kit, depending on how recalcitrant those final stays are. You can reorient the softbox by popping the stays out of the reflective shell, rotating the shell, then working the stays back in – this takes care so you don’t break the fragile bulbs you’re working around. Yes, this is a lightweight portable kit (and comes in a nice carrying bag), but it’s time consuming to erect and breakdown simply because of all the time screwing and unscrewing bulbs. Don’t throw out the bulb boxes because you need to remove the bulbs each time you set up or take down the lights. It is possible, but not recommended, to leave the bulbs in the head and remove the softbox by popping out the stays then sliding the box material back over the head and power cord. However, transporting the heads with bulbs in situ is just asking for a lot of broken bulbs.
The lightstands are flimsy and only extend straight up vertically so you can’t angle the light over your subject. Fortunately they don’t have to support much weight and are easy to reposition. If you want more stability, a single sandbag per stand would be adequate for most purposes. Wind will easily blow these over – but as these need to be plugged in, they’re not designed for outdoor use.
These lights need to be plugged in to a constant AC supply. The power cords are 10-ft long so you’ll likely need to supply extension cords.
The bulbs are standard E26 Edison bases so you can find numerous bulbs with different color temperature that will work with this kit. The bulbs that come with the kit are rated for 10000 hours which translates to being on constantly M-F, 9-5 for 5 years – you’ll burn out before they do.
The biggest weakness of this kit is its weakness. The light is from the 26W bulbs is simply weak and when the softboxes are a good distance away for portrait lighting you’ll find you need a Brady Stand for your subjects if you don’t want to crank your ISO up to noisy levels. Did I just date myself? Unfortunately B&H no longer stocks Brady Stands, those handy posts with neck cradles used to hold subjects still for portraits taken during the Civil War era.
No Brady Stand here, just an ISO of 2000. You’ll also notice a slightly funky white balance here that is easy to correct in post (some perhaps due to surrounding wall color, but it was also apparent when that was blocked out).
I adjusted this from 5000K to 4700K and added +23 tint.
With the stock bulbs this kit is fine for tripod-shot still lifes.
This kit takes up to 50W bulbs. The supplied 26W Eiko bulbs are weak. 40W Eiko bulbs from BH cost $11.95 each. 50W Eiko from elsewhere on the web cost between $17-24/ea. If you want to use this for portraits you might want to swap out the 26W bulbs for 50W bulbs. However, I haven’t tried this to determine if the “quality of light” remains the same.
Bottom line: this kit is lightweight, inexpensive and produces lovely light. However, the stock bulbs are weak for portrait work and there are no power adjustments. For still lifes the included bulbs will work fine. These lights/softboxes are time-consuming to erect, but if you if you have the space to leave them set up, this can be a good beginning kit for lighting small subjects (head and shoulders or smaller). At just under $350, I’d say it’s a decent value for what it does. At the MSRP of $604.90 I’d give it a pass.
Text and photos ©John Sherman except those photos credited to Dawn Kish – those are ©Dawn Kish. Please no reproduction without written permission.
Impact Soft and Natural 4 Socket 3 Light Kit
- Build Quality
- Size and Weight
- Packaging and Manual
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