Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Product Review: Square Perfect Light Tent

Those of you that follow me on 365Project know that I became the proud owner of a light tent last month as a birthday gift and that I have been using it a lot. A lot. Many of you were asking for more specifics, so I wanted to include a more formal product review about it.

High Key Flower Bouquet | Boost Your Photography
Bright, high key flowers photographed on white background in 30-inch light tent cube.

This is part of a mini series about light tents in general. The foldable DIY light tent directions are here, and the next two posts: How to Use a Light Tent for Small Product Photography and Compare Light Tents: DIY vs. Kit are now up over on Digital Photography School.

Product Review of the Square Perfect SP500 Light Tent Kit

The full name of the light tent is the Square Perfect SP500 Platinum Photo Studio in a Box, and it currently retails on Amazon for around $140 USD, originally priced at $350. There are also other versions by Square Perfect with different sizes or models of tents, such as the Premium Studio with only the larger light tent for $70 USD. You can also buy just the light tent cubes alone in various sizes: 60-inch cube48-inch cube, 12-inch cube, etc.

Square Perfect SP500 Platinum Photo Studio in a Box Light Tent | Boost Your Photography

The Square Perfect SP500 Platinum Photo Studio in a Box contains two different light tent cubes, as well as lights and accessories. The complete contents are

  • 1 12-inch light tent cube
  • 1 30-inch light tent cube
  • 1 camera tripod
  • 8 fabric color backgrounds (white, black, red, and blue - one set for each light tent; larger backgrounds not pictured above)
  • 2 lights with adjustable stands
  • 2 30W / 5400K daylight fluorescent spiral bulbs
  • 1 canvas carrying case (approx 18 x 24 x 7 inches)

Unpacking and Initial Impressions

The light tents were easy to unpack, and I was able to start using them right away. Folding the tents back down into the flattened shapes they came in is a little more difficult, and many Amazon reviewers suggested searching for YouTube videos to get the hang of it. I have been storing mine open and unfolded for the time being, but if you are short on space, refolding is possible with a little practice.

Roll, Do Not Fold Fabric Backgrounds | Boost Your Photography

The fabric backgrounds come folded up inside the carrying case. I highly recommend that you take the time to unfold and iron them before trying to shoot with them. The wrinkles and shadows from the folds will be visible in your images and require unnecessary post-processing work. I ironed mine gently on both the front and the back using a low setting. For long-term storage, save the cardboard tube from a roll of wrapping paper (or paper towels for the smaller backgrounds) and carefully roll up the backgrounds. This should eliminate the need for constant ironing. (I have not had to iron mine again since that first time.) Keep a small lint roller on hand too, to remove any visible lint, dust, whathaveyou that might accumulate while shooting.

Setting Up and Shooting with the Light Tents

I have found myself using the larger 30-inch cube for the majority of my light tent shots, but I did do substantial initial shots with the 12-inch cube in order to compare it to my DIY version for the forthcoming DPS article. I have had the best success using both sizes of cubes elevated on a coffee/end table. This allows me to set up the lights in the middle of the light tent and also allows me to more easily use my full-size tripod.

Square Perfect Light Tent Set-Up | Boost Your Photography
30-inch light tent cube for a white product-style photograph
Speaking of tripods, after my first attempt, I have not used the tripod that came with the kit except for when I wanted to take setup shots showing my DSLR camera on a tripod. The attachment base that screws into your camera body is thin and flimsy, and I could not get the screw to tighten or stay tightened. The legs are very thin and seem unstable, and the tripod sticks and is difficult to get back closed. Most photographers already have a tripod, so this is not really a concern about the product. 

My other complaint about the kit is with the smaller cube: the bottom is not perfectly flat (likely a result of how long it was stored in its folded-up state prior to being purchased). I ended up putting a small book in the bottom, underneath the backgrounds, in order to keep my subjects level. The lip on the smaller light tent is also a bit high, but the book raised the bottom up enough to avoid having the lip show up when shooting. 

Issues with Small Light Tent Cube | Boost Your Photography

The 30-inch tent is a great size for shooting a wide range of subjects and sizes of subjects. I have shot everything from an entire vase of flowers down to a small, few inches high statuette. I even used the side of the light tent as a white backdrop to shoot a profile selfie shot. (No, I did not need to stick my head inside the tent.)

The lights that come with the kit work extremely well. I have been able to shoot in the evenings using just the light from the two lamps, as well as in the middle of the day with some ambient light already in the room. The light stands are adjustable up and down from a height of 20 inches up to 32 inches, and the light hoods themselves are also adjustable and can be angled up and down to further direct the light. When the 30-inch cube is placed on my 18-inch high IKEA end table, the lights extend up exactly into the middle of the tent.
Purse Product Shot using Light Tent | Boost Your Photography
Example shot of the purse (no yellow tones)
The daylight color temperature of the lights (rated at 5500 Kelvins) is a very useful feature. This allows you to shoot on Auto or Daylight white balance, and the whites stay white. Common indoor fluorescent and halogen lights impart a yellowish glow that requires more work or post-processing but many of my shots with these lights could be used straight out of the camera.

Example Shots Using the Light Tent Kit

Here are a few example shots to show you what kinds of results the light tents are capable of producing.

Low Key Wolf Photograph | Boost Your Photography
Low key photograph of wolf statue, using only one light and the light tent
Chinese Mirror Photographed in Light Tent | Boost Your Photography
Chinese mirror, photographed on red paper in white light tent
Macro Bubbles on a Feather | Boost Your Photography
Macro bubbles photographed in light tent on white background.
See more in Product Review: close up lens
Same feather as above, shown inside the light tent to provide a sense of scale.
Sandwich Food Photography | Boost Your Photography
Tasty sandwich photographed on a wooden tray, inside the light tent

Final Verdict

Overall, I am extremely happy with the Square Perfect SP500 Platinum Photo Studio in a Box. It has provided any easy way for me to shoot indoors and solved the problem of always hating how little quality light there is at night in my apartment! I have used it for white-background product-style photographs, black-background low key shots, food photographs, and even for a variety of macro and close-up photographs, some of which I used simple pieces of scrapbooking paper for backgrounds (read more in Macro Fakery: background creation.)

While I received mine as a birthday gift, I think you receive a lot of value for the price. (The bulbs alone constitute $30-40 of the total price, as replacement daylight-balanced light bulbs are listed online for $15-20 USD each.) The two sizes of the light tent cubes and four different colors of fabric backgrounds provide a wide variety of set-ups for different situations.

If you are looking for a way to shoot consistently high-quality shots of smaller items, and especially if you are trying to shoot product shots for eBay or an Etsy store, then I definitely recommend getting a light tent. You will save yourself endless hassle and post-processing "correcting" with a minimum of set-up and fuss.

What do you think?  Do you own a light tent?  Any comments about yours I might have missed?

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