Thursday, May 6, 2010

Product Review: GFM/Digital Concepts Portable Lighting Studio PS-101

This is a repost of a review I did a couple of years ago but it is still worth checking out for all the painters out there wanting to show off their works. Read it and let me know what you think.

The review starts....NOW!

You just finished it. Hours modding, weeks blending and shading colors for that lifelike look and waiting for the perfect conditions to finally seal the model it is time to show it off. You grab your camera, plop the mini down and begin snapping away only to see all the detail wash away with each click of the shutter. Wouldn't it be nice if you had some sort of photo box to put the model in that would show off all your hard work. You need a light box.

You have a couple of options for light boxes you can either build it or buy it. Building one is simple, grab a box, some white fabric and go to work. One small problem, where do you store it when you are done? So next option, buy one. For this we go to GFM PS-101. The PS-101 is a small portable light box for product photography. It is a complete kit with everything you need to get started. This is great for two reasons. First you get everything in one box so no running around for parts when you want to use it and second the kit is small and stores flat. Really small and really flat, it is 17"x17"x4". At this size it can easily fit anywhere and can travel with you for those trips the game store, event or friends' house.

What is in the Box?
The kit includes a mini tripod, 2 20 watt lights, a reversible blue/gray backdrop and the convertible light box that is also the carrying case. Setup is simple as the box itself is held together using Velcro tabs and only took a few seconds to setup. The lights use a built in tripod but do not support clamping to a table. The reversible backdrop is long enough to give a seamless endless backdrop effect. Lastly the tripod is small and includes a decent adjustable mount.

To test it out I grabbed my cameras and began to snap some pictures. The first thing I noticed was my seamless backdrop had a crease in it that would show up on any pictures I took. This was annoying but expected after all you have to make a few sacrifices to get make everything portable. No big deal though 30 seconds with a hot iron eliminated the crease and I was ready to shoot again. Since ironing out the crease hasn't returned even after being put away in storage for a week.

The light setup was equally easy. Pull the tripod legs out and plug them in. The lights are 20 watt halogen and are a little on the low side. At 20 watts they can have problems completely eliminating shadows so you really have to play with their placement. I ended up settling for a very tight setup to push the shadows away. This may cause problems with tall figures but for most troops this wasn't an issue. The sockets and wiring will handle higher wattage bulbs provided you keep an eye on their temperatures. I switched mine to 30 watt bulbs and can get a solid 20 minute run time before I need to shut them down to cool off.

Next is the mini tripod. First off it is full metal, not what you expect in a low end kit. Most mini tripods will use a metal mounting screw and plastic legs. Being metal I was a little more confident mounting my video camera and SLR to it. The tripod has a ball and set screw pivot that is pretty basic but holds firm. The one issue I did find it only sits at 1 height. This can be a problem if you are trying to get a models eye view. It would have been nice to have a 2 height option with the legs being able to go flat and only raise the camera an inch or so in addition to the 4 inch default height.

Lastly is the light box itself. It is suprisingly roomy. Shooting 16x9 I was able to see both edges of the backdrop. This wasn't an issue at 3x2 or 4x3 resolutions. Even still moving the camera in a couple of inches made a huge difference and I was able to shoot some fairly nice groups. I wouldn't try and shoot a 30 ork unit with it but a dozen or so will fit in a tight group.

Summary Report:

    small package that is highly portable and easy to store
    2 lights included for easier shadow elimination
    metal mini tripod with a decent head
    reversible backdrop for better contrast

    20 watt bulbs a little small and require adjustments to eliminate shadows
    tripod only has 1 level making it hard to get that model's eye view shot
    If I was going to improve the kit the first thing I would change is the tripod to either a shot bag style unit or a 2 position regular one. The shot bag is easier for beginners and gives the best compromise in shot height at just over the head of the average marine. Next I would look into adding higher wattage bulbs and possibly a third lamp to completely eliminate shadows. 20 watts is really the minimum for good shots but the higher wattage will make a huge difference in the photos and allow you to more options for light placement.
Overall it is a pretty good kit and a way to improve your shooting. There is room for improvement but out of the box it is very functional.

On the 40k beer scale I would give it 1.5 beers to make me buy it. So back to the bar.

Sample Shot - Lights on
Sample Shot - Light off

Digital Concepts PS-101 Portable Lighting Studio $39.95


  1. Excellent Review! I am looking in to picking up a decent Camera this Summer to properly showcase my work and as a side project was going to build my own Light Box but this sounds like a much more efficient idea to me. At a Price Point of $40 it's hard to argue with the ease of set-up.

    Now...go do a Camera Review! =)

  2. Hmm just as an update to my earlier comment. This item is not available from to Canadian Residents so I had to go to in order to purchase it.

    And that is where the wheels fell off of the wagon for me. From the cost of the Photo Booth jumps to over $70 before shipping is considered. So I will still be looking at making my own.



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