Someone at Slickforce Studio reached out to me recently about a product designed for toy photographers. It’s an LED light with a stand and softbox, manufactured in a miniature scale suitable for figurines. I was intrigued by the possibilities this might provide, so I accepted their offer to ship me a sample. Slickforce very generously provided two units to play around with.
The Softlight can be broken down into a number of pieces, allowing for a few configurations. The main piece is the softbox which houses the LED, and attaches to the battery pack via a removable cable. You also get a diffuser, the legs of the stand, and two extension poles. With everything assembled, the center of the light is about nine inches high. Or you could attach the light directly to the legs of the stand to light smaller figures like Nendoroids.
You’ll need four AA batteries to power each Softlight. I recommend using 1.5V alkalines instead of rechargeables. When I tried 1.2V NiMH batteries, the light output suffered quite a bit. Unfortunately the diffuser is going to eat up a lot of the light output no matter what. You can remove it but the bare LED light is pretty harsh due to its small size.
My biggest criticism of the Softlight is its brightness. With the diffuser on it’s not much brighter than the ambient light in my room (which is kind of dim already), so to get any meaningful results you’d have to shoot in darkness. The usability of the light will then depend on your camera and how good its live view is. I’d definitely be willing to sacrifice some battery life, or pay a bit more for a version with more/brighter LEDs.
Another potential issue I ran into is the plastic threading on the stand and poles. After screwing and unscrewing them a few times, I saw plastic shavings falling out here and there. So far it hasn’t become a problem, but it is somewhat concerning. For a $20 product it’s really not the end of the world; just be careful when assembling or disassembling it and you should be fine.
My last criticism of the physical product is the lack of positional adjustments you can make. I think at this scale it’s not really a big deal; while it would be nice to have, I don’t really expect it in a miniature light.
Before taking some test shots, I thought of a few different usage scenarios to see how well the Softlight might fill my needs.
If you have a remote shutter release, you can compensate for the lack of brightness with longer exposures. Here I shot a model Ford Mondeo, and it was very convenient to be able to see how the lights would reflect off the car body in real time. Slickforce’s Softlights are mainly advertised as a pre-vis tool. I wasn’t sure how valuable this functionality would be, but after years away from using continuous lighting, I’m reminded of how nice it is to remove some of the guess work from using flash. Obviously you have no control over the brightness of each light, but for this kind of work it’s enough to simply adjust the distance between light and subject.
I also used the Mondeo to test these lights for video. I think in this case you’re best off keeping a good amount of ambient light and using these as fills. Also keep in mind that they have to be pretty close to the subject, so you might need to get purpose-built video lights if you absolutely can’t have them in frame.
The next test I did was with a 1/8 scale figure in a standard cross-lit setup. Again, the advantage of continuous lighting becomes apparent when you want to get the rim light just so. I noticed that the two LEDs had slightly different color casts, although by the time I processed the photos it didn’t seem to make a difference. As for the softness, it’s actually pretty nice! The shadows produced by the Softlight aren’t super soft, but they’re suitable for figures with intricate details or textures like Levi. It’s (unsurprisingly) a sharper look than the one my big softbox produces, but I’m excited about the creative possibilities. And really, it’s quite usable as a no-hassle portrait light.
Another use case I thought up was portable lighting. At cons, I’ll sometimes come across some figure displays that aren’t well lit. You can deal with it by using flash (which can be too harsh) or by upping your exposure (which can cause annoying reflections to get in the way). To test this potential usage I went to one of my display cases and turned off the interior lights. Then I pointed a Softlight at a figure with my left hand while trying to get a handheld shot with my right. I ended up getting something usable at 1/50s, f/2.8, and ISO 3200. After some processing the result was more than passable for convention coverage work.
However, because of the way the battery pack is attached and the overall lack of ruggedness for the product, this probably isn’t the most practical usage scenario. If you really need additional lighting for convention work, an off-camera flash with TTL support is still the best way to go.
The last scenario I thought up was to just have these lights as props. They won’t look right in every situation, but you can definitely use these creatively in your photos. I’ve always liked the look of toy photos with lights in the frame. These are perfectly scaled for all kinds of figures from Nendoroids to figmas to 1/8 and even 1/6 scale.
After test driving two of these Softlights, I ended up excited about the possibilities they can open up. Think of them as less cumbersome desk lamps rather than true miniaturized studio lights. Even with their inherent limitations, I would like to see more products of this type – maybe even a whole ecosystem complete with interchangeable accessories. I know that would cater to an incredibly niche audience, but a man can dream…