Lightform panels vs. homemade

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by sc21, Sep 11, 2003.

  1. I’ve been reading up on this site about portraits, and tried out the
    recommendations for a homemade light panel/diffuser. It worked
    great – never thought one could get good portrait lighting with
    midday sun (especially with a polarized blue sky behind the
    subject). And this with two wooden stakes and an old bed sheet.

    So I’ve been checking them out at B&H, and my question is, what’s the
    difference between using a plain sheet wrapped round PVC and a same-
    sized panel from Lightform or Chimera? What’s the difference in the
    material, and how would I see a difference? (Lightform has both a
    translucent and a white panel, while I was using white sheets to work
    as both diffusers and reflectors.)

    Also, Chimera makes aluminum frames that cost over twice as much as
    Lightforms, and their panels also cost twice as much – are they worth

  2. The manufactured panels/fabrics are more convenient in terms of set-up when on location than homemade versions. The fabric from Lightform or Chimers also blocks less light than a bedsheet yet still provides good difusion.

    The aluminum frames such as Scrim Jims etc are much sturdier than the PVC frames. They also have velcro on their entire perimeter whoich holds the fabric more securely than just the corner straps on the PVC frames.
  3. Hi Steve,

    I made a panel out of pvc. I then purchased a lightform P22 translucent reflector to put over it. It has elastic on all corners to go over the frame. It would be best to buy the reflector then build the panel to fit it as the size, 42x78, doesn't tell the whole story.

    My PVC frame has rip-chord through it to make so it can be assembled and deassembled easy and it stays together. I glued the corner pieces and made feet for it too.

    I originally started by clamping rip-stop nylon over the frame. However, the premade lightform isn't too much more than buying the nylon.
  4. The PVC frame, or any frame is for holding and directing the reflection. If the
    material is white, the reflection angle is not as critical as if it were silver. So, given
    this, you need to ask yourself how it will be held: by a stand? by a person? leaning
    against a chair?

    These questions will determine your needs. The PVC frame bends in the middle.
    Therefore, the aluminum frames are tighter. However, the tightest and lightest frame
    is a Sunbounce or Matthews. The Sunbounce is lightest, and can be held or attached
    or can lean against a chair.

    Photographers like slick equipment. PVC is not slick, not impressive, but if enough
    pieces are put together, including stress pieces, it can be made to be functional.

    But here is an alternative that I found that is cheap, functional:

    search on for:

    "TRAVEL PACK COT" or "deluxe big cot"

    These cots can be used as an aluminum frame to wrap your bedsheet or silver
    reflective material around. So where is the silver reflective material?

    search on for:


    The company is at The material is a silver mylar vinyl canvas used to contain

    The cot can be purchased for about $30. The original Sunbounce frame with material
    is around $300. The cot is nearly identical to the Sunbounce frame.

    The sunbounce frame pulls on the fabric to make it flat. There is not bowing in the
    middle as you would have with PVC (unless you add a cross-bar to stress it). It will be
    lighter than PVC and sets up faster. You can also use it as a cot!

    Put grommets through the bedsheet/silver mylar fhi018. Put 1/4" bungee cords
    through the grommets to attach it to the cot. Wrap the bedsheet around the
    aluminum poles (it looks like a stretcher) and hook them together in a creative way.

    This particular cot does not have a center section which folds. Nearly all of them fold
    in the middle. You want the one which does not fold in the middle.

    Go to or maybe There is a
    California sunbounce and a German sunbounce i believe. Take a look at their

    Using Flexfills or a lightdisc will do the job, too. However, somebody has to be
    around to hold it. That is the difference.

    Using a foamcore panel works, too. However, the bedsheet is milder and softer on
    skin tones due to the weave. But how will you get it into your car?

    So, I think you see the choices. Professionals want good-looking, impressive
    equipment that breaks down FAST. It should be wind resistant, if possible.

    Only Matthews makes heavy weight wind resistant panels that breakdown and are
    impressive. These are the standard in Hollywood.

    So, figure out how many features you want.

    Timber Borcherding timberborcherding
  5. There is only one California Sunbounce and it is a German company!

    And read this book:
  6. Thanks all. I did check out Sunbounce the other night and made a couple of sketches of how they used their diffusers.

    I also like the idea of the cot - good for a break after a long shoot. In the same way, I can probably salvage a reflector out out of the parts of an old lawn chair.

    What it all comes down to is just how far I want to get into portrait work. Quality gear that will stand up over time (and to the wind) is always great, but for now I think I'll stick with homemade gear, which will always be good for family and friends. Once I get more experience with it, I'll know more of how much I want to invest in quality diffusers.

    I was just wondering if the texture/color/weight of the custom panels would show that much of a difference compared to a regular sheet - if there was something I'd be missing besides the convenience and stability of custom frames.
  7. The white panel fabric seems to be slightly glossy. However, if the panel fabric gets
    dirty, and it will with use, you can't throw it in the machine: the other side usually
    has a silver material sprayed to it. A bedsheet, however, can be bleached and
    laundered. You are missing nothing to use the bedsheet.

    By the way, in fashion, the underside of the subject is often illuminated with a
    reflector. That bedsheet will work alittle, but fhi018 is perfect to lay on the ground.
    I recommend purchasing at least 3 yards of it long, that's 9 feet. I use 15 ft. pieces to
    make a "lake" of reflectivity in front of the subject.

    When doing a search for travel pack cot, use the advanced preferences search and
    search it as a complete string.

    I recently purchased a Sunbounce frame for $10 used, my luck!

    Any cot, even the ones that fold, can be used.
  8. I just spent time shooting portraits in California and bought before hand a new Sunbounce
    Pro frame with a Zebra fabric, and a Sun Swatter to have a portable overhead translucent
    panel to get rid of the harsh mid day sun. So I've tried using the plastic frames and the
    pop up inexpensive reflectors and it's all junk. I saw an article by Rolando Gomez about
    Sunbounce and it made me want to quit throwing money away and buy something that
    was going to last me more than a couple of weeks. As you will find out, in the wind or
    breeze none of your cheap stuff will hold up, it all collapses and then what do you do?
    Sorry folks, can't take your picture, my reflector just broke ... no I'm over that. So I bought
    this Sunbounce Pro and not only did it do the job, but the images look so much better
    than anything I used before. Yeah I spent some money, but it was money well spent
    because I was able to keep working, and did not have an equipment failure. Now I want to
    go back and buy the Sunbounce Mini. That was the only thing I was lacking. You can try to
    make things, but it was far cheaper to purchase than a strobe pack.
  9. Is there a web site that shows all the different light panels or is there a list someone might have that they would like to share?

  10. Hi guys, I've used homemade PVC light panels for years commercially and found it the most flexible in terms of controlling raw strobes. When Dean Collins introduced the basic concepts of using these and also showing us how to make them, it revolutionized photography in the early eighties. If you can find the first set of "Finelight Series" . Dean details how to build these as well as the supports that you can build for these.

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