Sundisc 60cm portable softbox review

The Sundisc is a low-profile "ultra-portable softbox reflector" created from a crowd-funding project. Is it any good?

Sundisc

The 60cm Sundisc from Approach Studios is touted as an “ultra portable softbox reflector”, and it was this tagline that caught my eye when I spotted the Kickstarter campaign in June this year.

Hmmm, it looked pretty portable and compact in their promo video, and it kinda got me hooked. I decided I would give it a punt during the first couple of seconds of the video. Not really sure what happened between that moment and placing my pledge, because I managed to talk myself into going for the twin pack. I consoled myself by telling my wife the minimum order quantity was two. *cough*

We’ll skip the bit where I waited, although I will say the updates from the team were regular and very informative. Kudos! And then a grey plastic wrapped pack arrived. Erm…. isn’t that a little small for two softboxes? I held my breath as I opened the pack.

Sundisc

Sundisc

Nope, definitely two, although one pictured above. They are each similar in size to a folded 22” reflector disc, which is around 9” in diameter when packed. It immediately struck me that I can replace the 22” reflector I cart everywhere in my camera bag for food photography, and I’ll always have a softbox available without taking up additional space in my kit bag.

Sundisc

And once I’d unfolded the first Sundisc, the quality of the reflective material was obvious. It was much superior to the silver and gold reflector it would replace. The panel has a zip that almost fully encircles it, allowing it to be turned inside out to switch from a silver internal surface, to gold.

Sundisc

Sundisc

The quality of materials extends to the YKK-branded zip. I’ve seen good quality zips let down by poor stitching previously, so it tends to be something I look for. Nothing to be found, it’s all extremely good quality work. Which brings me to the diffusion panel. It’s funny how running your hand behind a diffusion panel kinda gives you an idea as to what you will get from a unit. I’ve had some boxes with rough fabric diffusion panels, and unable to see any indication as to where my hand is. Consequently, they ate light far more than they should have done. The panel on the Sundisc on the other hand, is silky smooth with a reassuring amount of translucency.

Sundisc

Sundisc

Inserting the speedlight isn’t hard work, although the elastic sleeve is certainly reassuringly tight. The above image has the zip undone to show the seating of the speedlight head. You will notice I’ve turned the head by 90°. Originally, I had the head at standard upright position, but found the locking mechanism on my speedlight didn’t particularly like the weight of the Sundisc, and constantly capitulated, letting the Sundisc swing forward to a horizontal position.

Considering the Sundisc weighs little more than four feathers and three frozen peas, I’m of the conclusion my speedlight kinda sucks. Anyway, it was easier to wring the speedlight’s neck, than go dig out another speedlight. That said, I’d likely stick with this configuration anyway, as there was no movement at all, even if the speedlight were mounted on a stand adaptor, and tipped to a horizontal angle.

Sundisc

The access hole for the speedlight is quite generous, and this is the ace up the sleeve. The hole is the exact size to accommodate one of those speedlight brackets used with folding softboxes. Now, those brackets vary in price and quality, right from the pressed steel jobs found “free” inside cereal packets, through to the still cheap, nylon, rock-solid adaptors made famous by Godox. This is a far more stable system for attaching the Sundisc, and allows the speedlight to hang lower down, giving full access to the buttons and panel for adjustment.

Sundisc

Sundisc

Sundisc

Of course, if you are using a speedlight with remotely adjustable settings via the transmitter, then having the controls partially obstructed by the Sundisc panel isn’t an issue. Personally, I found the positive locking of the adaptor, and the firm grip of the Sundisc to the adaptor to be very reassuring. Plus, I have a real mix of speedlights, with some having remote adjustment, and some purely manual “set ‘n’ forget”. (The forget bit applies to me, as I often forget what I set it to, and have to go back to check!).

In Use

Okay, I couldn’t wait to try them out, and cajoled a fellow photographer, Damien McGlade, into playing patsy. I set the two panels in a simple cross-light setup. Both speedlights were at 1/8th output.

Sundisc
Olympus E-M1 mkII 1/125th sec ISO200 12-40mm f2.8 @ f13

Sundisc

I really like the diffusion of the light, and it certainly seems softer than other 60cm speedlight softboxes I’ve used. I’m assuming that’s down to the fact the speedlight isn’t directed at the subject, as it fires across the Sundisc, with the interior bouncing the light effectively before exiting through the front diffusion panel. It certainly seems to punch above its weight when compared to other 60cm folding softboxes.

Bearing in mind, I bought these because I was inquisitive to find out how well they work, I’ve since taken them along to client shoots, and they’ve settled in with my other equipment really nicely.

Sundisc

To be honest, speedlights are not my weapon of choice, as I use Elinchrom ELB400 units for almost all my location work. Whilst on a client shoot, I found myself staring at the back end of a folding 80×80cm softbox, idly wishing I could have used a Sundisc with the ELB400. At that point, it dawned on me that the 80x80cm softbox was anchored to the EL adaptor I was using on the ELB400 head, by a, Elinchrom speedring for folding softboxes. The same can be found in various fittings, such as “S” fit and others.

Sundisc

Sundisc

This means the Sundisc can be used with location kits and studio heads. The above images show an ELB400 Action head in place, and of course, this opens up a much wider range of application. For this reason, I have one Sundisc permanently in my camera bag, and the second one is permanently in my location lighting case.

Considering I bought these because I thought they may be worth a punt, I’ve found them to be an excellent investment.

  • Mark Astmann

    Thank for the review Micheal. It was very helpful. – Is there a way and were you able to experiment by placing the flash head fully inside the Sundisc with the strobe pointed towards the back reflective surface, instead of shooting straight up? If you can do that, you should be able to get a little extra light out of it, and the light you do get should wrap nicely around your subject.

    • Michael – Visual Pursuit

      It is pretty much the same as the Aurora Speedbounce or the fstoppers flashdisc. You get a hotspot at the tip of the flash with a falloff to the perimeter. That is actually nicer for catchlights and specular highlights, compared to a flat and even reflection.

    • Too narrow a space within the product. TBH, I found the light distribution to be quite even, and well illustrated on the food shot

  • Photone Photography

    It looks like that it is the same “futile” F-stopper concept—just with the difference of a flash attachment. If you look at the result there is obvious specular highlights caused by the uneven surface illumination. Very artificial illumination. A bare flash set to wide-angle with a diffusion flap would give a better illumination quality (small surface, but an evenly distributed light source). I don’t know, why does someone take a not-working idea (by F-stoppers) and reproduce it with a slight modification. No need to be a marketing genius.

    • Well, I personally found the product to be far better than a bare flash. It’ll be idea for transatlantic jobs and is certainly worth my money.

    • Bob Keene

      I’ve been using the Sundisc for about three months. I have to say this isn’t a “futile” anything. The quality of light is amazing given the footprint of the device. I wish I had bought into the “2 pack”, as I’m probably going to purchase another Sundisc. For portability and quality, it’s a fine piece. (I do a lot of corporate portraiture/headshots and the ease of carry and set up is a high point) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ba817877cbfa5895864fd325a8a0c81678ffdde9792135214451a79a0be02633.jpg

      • Photone Photography

        Of course. It depends on one’s photography, and where one finds the satisfaction of result. My judgement is based on what I have seen in the posted image and the images posted as the result of F-stopper disc. Good luck, and enjoy it.

        • alberto cabrera

          I could see what you are referring too Photone. But you can say the same thing about all the modifiers that use a similar concept when using it with a speedlight. I don’t think it’s futile, light is light no matter the source. How the light source is used is up to the photographer.

  • Bakersfield

    A colleague of mine signed on early to the Kickstarter plan and got one of these.
    He recently brought it over for a “play date”, so to speak. He’s been using it successfully with that same adapter you mentioned. It seems to be a little more finicky than a simple umbrella setup but the results are quite nice. I agree that the light quality is softer, and more pleasing than any softbox I’ve used with speedlights. The Sundisc may not be perfect, but in my opinion is seriously worth considering.

    • I’ve been using them since I wrote the review, and I find they are becoming my go to box for a lot of shoots.
      Not really what I was expecting.

      • Bakersfield

        That’s interesting…the same friend I mentioned has been using it that same way, as primary modifier. He’s only got one of them, fwiw.
        I really like the results he’s shown me but have been reluctant to get on board since I have an array of modifiers already which don’t get a ton of use.
        One potential issue he noticed is that it’s tricky to use in some positions (like horizontal) since the “box” is a bit flimsy and flops over. That stand adapter is helpful of course.
        Overall, from what little I’ve seen of it, I’d say it’s a good purchase.

        • It was supposed to be for an ultra compact kit, and yet I do find I reach for the Sundisc frequently.

      • Bakersfield

        Oh, and thanks for the in-depth review.

  • Adriano To’Agui

    The idea did not start at FStoppers, it started way back in China where FStoppers get it from…

    • alberto cabrera

      Here’s the original patent to the design. US8678601B2 Collapsible light modifier for portable flash.

      Inventor Robert Lee MorrisPatrick Haskell Hall
      Original Assignee Robert Lee MorrisPatrick Haskell Hall
      Priority date 2011-11-18

      You can look it up through Google.