When I started photographing people it took me quite some time before I got myself some striplights. It felt not really worth it to invest in bulky equipment that I would most probably never take on location and that would almost exclusively be used for rim lighting.
Well… I was wrong! Indeed there are many different uses for striplights and nowadays you will hardly ever find me shooting in studio without them; still you will hardly ever find me shooting on location WITH them, although I would actually love to. In fact the larger striplights take a lot of space, are tricky to carry around and take time to setup.
What if I told you that the German company THAS-Systems has recently launched a new product that features portable striplight illumination with just a fraction of the size? Pretty sweet, right? This product is called StripTube and although it is certainly neither low-price (a double-set costs approximately 330€ at the time of writing) nor unique (the similar Saberstip has already been tested by LightingRumours and Strobistrip is a lower-price alternative), it does promise premium features (eg. “made-in-Germany” durability) and ease of use (eg. fast setup and compatibility with almost any speedlites or triggers).
The StripTube is basically a plastic tube, 77cm long, 8cm wide and 0.6kg in weight. One side of it is translucent, the other side is black and has a reflector on the inside. You strap a speedlite to the open end of the tube and the light gets reflected inside and comes out diffused through the translucent material. On the exterior part of the black side there is a 24cm long cold-shoe mount (the same you find in a speedlite, just longer and made of plastic) that you use to attach the StripTube to a flash/umbrella holder.
It is also possible to plug two StripTubes into each other, so that you can get a single light source slightly longer than 150cm (you still need one speedlite and one holder per tube).
A carrying case is included in the delivery, complementing a truly portable product.
The StripTubes and their cases
When I first got my review sample (a double-set) I got mixed feelings about it.
What I liked:
- The product feels solid and durable; it certainly doesn’t fear some rough usage, as should be the case with portable equipment. The carrying case is also robust and of good quality
- Once you have setup the straps that are going to hold the speedlite in place, there is hardly any recurring setup required. Just attach the StripTube to the holder, attach the holder to the tripod and voilá you are ready to go!
- The possibility to connect two tubes with each other is nice (although you could as well place the tubes next to each other without the need of any connectors). My striplights are 180cm tall but very bulky, with two StripTubes you get to over 150cm in a breeze
- You can setup the strap holder to fit almost any speedlites and you can attach to them any triggers you like (differently for instance from the Saberstrip, where flash and trigger need to fit inside the tube).
What I did not like:
- Sure, the product is robust and the plastic is thick but it is indeed just plastic… The build quality feels a bit inadequate to the premium price tag
- The mounting system (how to attach the StripTube to a tripod) is not well explained in the instructions manual or on the company’s Website; it is not even clear what kind of flash holder is needed. After some research (in particular there are some very good German-only videos explaining the product made by THAS-Systems and available on YouTube) I figured out that, if you want to be able to place the StripTube at a large variety of angles, you need a multi-section holder like the one shown in the photo here below. Honestly just looking at THAS-Systems’ Website I expected all necessary equipment to be included in the delivery, or at the very least that any of my standard flash holders would be compatible.
On the positive side, by the time you read this review chances are that the product is better explained by THAS-Systems or by their distributors
- You need to balance all the weight of the tube + speedlite + eventual trigger on a tiny spot of the plastic cold-shoe, in order to make sure that the StripTube holds its position at any angle, rather than locking the position with the flash holder. This system feels a bit awkward and unstable at first but is actually effective once you get used to it
- The straps holding the speedlite in place easily get loose, especially if the flash is hanging under the tube. By the way, you need to permanently stick some hook and loop fasteners to your speedlite; if you already have something attached there (e.g. a fastener for a gel holder) this may be an issue
- At the moment there are no accessories available to modify the StripTubes’ light. Things like grids, barn doors or even diffusers would be nice additions to a product that produces pretty hard and difficult to direct light.
Although I cannot say that I like everything in my StripTubes, they definitely feel adequate to their use, especially once you get familiar with them!
Straps holding a speedlite
It should be clear that this is a pretty specific product, with a pretty specific use. A striplight is not exactly a versatile light modifier and the StripTube is even less versatile than that, due to its smaller dimensions and to the harder light it produces. Still there are many cool uses for this product
Where it can be best used
As you would expect, the StripTube is very good as rim or fill light.
As rim, when placed close to the subject it produces a light very similar to the one produced by a larger/softer but farther away striplight. It even generates cool reflections in reflective surfaces and is thus very interesting for lighting not only people but also objects (product photographers, did I get your attention?).
As fill, it can easily bring light to places that would be hard to reach with a bulkier modifier. Due to the shape and dimensions of the StripTube you do not even always need a tripod to hold it. Just lay it somewhere or have an assistant hold it (as said, it is very light) and you will bring light to the trickiest spots!
One StripTube used as rim light
One StripTube placed inside the car as fill
Where else it can be used
If you are fine with hard light you can even use the StripTube as a key light. Sure you will not get the traditional (and easier) soft portrait illumination but we all know that sometimes shadows and highlights are cool. With this product you get a light that is hard but diffused over the length of the tube, perfect for instance for full-body shots.
Of course there are also many creative and less conventional uses for this product and, once you have it, chances are that you will experiment with it a lot. For instance you can have a model hold it in the hands like a neon light, you can create cool shapes and reflections (even in the eyes), generate lens flares or… or… or… Uncommon light modifiers have the nice bonus of stimulating creativity!
One StripLight used as only light
The StripTube’s reflections can be quite cool
Where it cannot be used
“Cannot” is a strong word and there are workarounds and solutions for almost any obstacles, so for instance you can make this modifier’s light softer by diffusing it through textile or you can come up with a DIY grid to make the light more directional. Still there are some uses that the StripTube is simply not meant for.
By this point it should already be clear what these uses are; to put it simply, it is not meant every time a light is needed which is soft (e.g. key light for a classic portrait), wide (e.g. rim light that needs to be placed far from the subject) or directional (eg. key light to generate controlled shadows in an high-contrast portrait).
I would also add that speedlites have of course limited power and the tubes’ plastic absorbs some of that (to give you an idea, a speedlite with a GN of 43 has a maximum output of f/13 at ISO 100 at a distance from the tube of around half a meter), so do not expect a StripTube to be of any real use in bright sunlight.
Finally, if you are a studio photographer you are obviously better off with striplights, which are more versatile and even more convenient… Unless you have space problems or you want to experiment with reflections and other creative uses.
Reflections/Contrast: StripTubes vs Striplights (straight out of camera)
I know many photographers who have never used a striplight and are fine with that. Well, a StripTube is even less versatile that a striplight so I definitely would not recommend it to everybody.
If you like using striplights (like me) and you often wish it would be more convenient to bring them on location, or even if you often have the problem of lighting hard to reach places, then you should take StripTubes into consideration. Sure their uses are limited, but if they meet your needs then there is hardly anything like them!