Review: Lastolite Hi-Lite Background System

Lastolite Hi-Lite Test Shot

I have been really excited about this product, largely because it looked like it had the potential to be the answer to my prayers. Now, the trouble with really wanting something is that the reality does not always live up to the expectation.

However, the people at Lastolite are obviously conversant with the obscure “Gaz’s Inverse Law of Relative Expectation” which states that (under certain, rare conditions) it is possible for Satisfaction to exceed Expectation, even when Expectation has been set at an unrealistically high level.

I’ve got to be honest, I was more than a little apprehensive about actually reviewing this kit, because I couldn’t see it working well. I have always been a fan of Lastolite products and the idea of (possibly) having to say this one was not so good was a worry. So now I have a dilemma – on the one hand I am excited and desperate to get my hands on this product; on the other hand, I can’t see it being brilliant and I don’t want to have to say so.

My Family

As I was unfamiliar (and (sorry, Lastolite people) not feeling too confident) I decided to do a few family shots so I wouldn’t have to worry about the results too much. After a previous review of the bottletop covers for the Hi-Lite, one of our readers went out and bought one and he sent me some feedback to say he thought it was fantastic, so I’m relying on him not stitching me up!

First Impressions

It’s quite big (I had the 6 x 7ft version). Anyone who is familiar with Lastolite reflectors will already have a reasonable idea of what the product looks like. It’s like two huge reflectors sewn together with panels in-between, making it like a big mattress with all the springs removed. One side is black, the other is a translucent white. The side panels are all fitted with zips to create an opening to insert your studio flash.

One of the major benefits to using the 6 x 7ft version (for me, at least) is that I can finally fit more than two people in the shot. It’s a really useful size (but there is a smaller version available).

The Perceived Issue

This is where I expected it all to go wrong. When you put your studio flash through one of the side panels, the light source is going to create a hot spot where it is so close to the material and a graduated fade across the surface of the background as the light gets further away from the source. It’s obvious. It has to happen. You can see the effect from the modelling light on the flash.

In Practise

Okay, so I took my readings with my trusty old Minolta light meter and set the camera accordingly. I fired off the first test shot and took a quick look at the screen on the back of the camera. Wow! Probably the best studio flash shot I have ever taken! Without really trying! Hot spot? No! Graduation? No!

I have two old Elinchrom 250 lights, one of which I stuck through the side of the Hi-Lite and the other I fitted with a lightbox. Apart from the unexpected evenness of the background light, the other unexpected benefit of using this kit was the wonderful fill-in effect. The background light source was so big and so even that it perfectly complimented the lightbox coming from the front.

I don’t deny that I could have spent a little more time fiddling with the flash outputs to get a better balance; I could have also have experimented with the subject distance from the background to get a better result. However, the result considering how little effort I really put in is simply outstanding. If I have anything negative to say about the experience, it is this: don’t try to use it in a confined space and make sure you have someone to help you get it back in the cover – it’s not easy the first time! Of course, this says more about me than the Hi-Lite!

Summary

I love it. It works brilliantly. I can’t imagine not having one of these for all my portrait work. For years I have told people that the Lastolite reflector was my favourite accessory – that may have changed now.