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As far as image results go, what is the difference between a hard plastic diffuser and a soft material diffuser?

Also, as far as usability goes, does one last longer and/or create fewer problems than the other?

I will be buying a flash soon and wanted to get all the trimmings while I visit the store because it’s not as easy for me to get to the city anymore.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Looking at the pictures those two items will actually have very different effects on the light.

The Omni-bounce pictured above will send light out in every direction. This means it will bounce off the walls behind you, in front of you and to the sides etc. this light will then bounce again off the walls filling in shadows and giving you a very soft even lighting. However by sending light out in all directions it gets spread out so the intensity of the light drops off.

This mini softbox sends light out mostly forwards due to the opaque black sides. This will give you a harder look (though still a little softer than direct flash). The light will be more concentrated than with the omni-bounce so it will go further.

The effect is most pronounced in a confined space. If there are no walls or ceiling nearby to radiate the second bounce of the omnibounce then you wont really see a difference. In fact the omnibounce is only really useful in confined spaces, in a big room it will spread out your light too much.

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2  
Matt's pretty much got it covered, but a bit of amplification: The Omnibounce will provide a good approximation of "bare bulb" lighting (that should be a better search term for applications and techniques). If you are going to get a direct diffuser, then for the sake of all that you may hold sacred, go for something considerably larger than what's pictured here -- that device will sap power from your flash without appreciably softening anything. Lumiquest (among others) makes several devices (softboxes and "bounce cards") that are much larger and more effective. –  user2719 Jan 10 '11 at 21:23

As for usability, both will last long enough so that their price (per use?) is negligible. I have both and found the hard type to be much more convenient in terms of usage. You just snap it on your flash and forget it there. As cheap as these things are, don't bother to buy the "brand" name - go for one of the many the cheap replacements.

** the one reservation I have with my last recommendation is that a cheap one may change the color temperature of the flash in a way that the "brand" name does not - but I haven't encountered this problem.

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The relative hardness of the plastic has little to do with the end result. The difference between diffusers is due to the amount of light that is let through, as well as the size and shape of the diffuser.

The soft material diffuser that you listed is convenient because it can easily be folded up and stuck in a pocket, where as the Stofen (hard) diffusers, while small, can't easily fit in your pocket. Another (dis)advantage of the soft diffusers is they typically require velcro to attach to your flash, securing it in place, but requiring semi permanent velcro.

In terms of general use, both diffusers produce about the same diffusing effect: they diffuse the light of the flash, which results in softer light. Shadows and highlights have much softer edges. As Matt's answer points out, the omnibounce changes your strobe into an omni directional light source (like the sun, or a light bulb). The folding diffuser is a directional diffuser restricting the light to a specific direction.

The Stofen diffuser is highly regarded, given it's functionality to cost. If you have the DIY inclination, consider building your own diffuser using several items found at home.

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I cant have a $300 flash with wax paper over it. And for ten dollars I can spring for the actual thing. Also, the velcro is a turn off, good thing you mentioned it. –  kacalapy Jan 10 '11 at 18:42
    
@Alan look at the pictures, the two diffusers will have quite different effects, the softbox one is more directional, sending light out forward whereas the omnibounce acts more like a bulb and radiates in all directions! –  Matt Grum Jan 10 '11 at 19:01
    
True, however both diffuse light, sorry that my answer did not make it clear that the shape of the size of the diffuser determine the effect of the diffuser, that the hardness of the plastic has nothing to do with how the light is diffused. –  Alan Jan 10 '11 at 19:08
    
@Alan - Velcro speed-straps are very easy to make or buy and eliminate any need for permanent attachment to the flash. –  John Cavan Jan 10 '11 at 19:16
    
@kacalapy: why exactly can't you have a $300 flash with wax paper over it? Will it catch fire? –  mattdm Jan 10 '11 at 19:24

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