Westcott recently released its third version of the popular specialist tool, the Eyelighter. You are likely to have seen the Eyelighter, if you’re a portrait or headshot photographer.
Although I have come to love a curved reflector, I have always avoided the Westcott version because of the price point. When the version one was released, it was retailing at $299, which seemed a pretty steep price to pay for what seemed to me at the time to be a gimmick.
Over the years, many other companies produced curved reflectors at lower prices. After trying several, I finally settled on Adorama’s Glow Arclight.
At the time, it was $100 less than the Eyelighter and included two additional fabric colors (white and gold/silver), so it seemed like a good deal. With companies like Adorama and Neewer selling pretty reasonable facsimiles at a lower price point, Westcott had some serious work to do in trying to convince photographers to pick their modifier over the competition.
HTML3_ When I found out that Westcott had published version 3, I was compelled to go over there and have a closer look. What I saw surprised me. In developing the newest iteration of the Eyelighter, Westcott appears to have read my mind and addressed my two main problems with their product, the price, and the portability. Now it’s still not a cheap modifier, and it’s still a big, unwieldy pain in the arse of a reflector, but there are some serious improvements on both fronts.
Full disclosure: Westcott provided me with the Eyelighter 3 used for the purpose of this review.
A Better Value Than Before
The full retail price of the Eyelighter has come down over the years from $299 to $199, much more competitive with other curvy reflector producers. Even then, the thing that always gave Glow the edge over Westcott for me was the inclusion of the additional fabrics.
You see, most day-to-day tasks can be described as standard business headshots and signatures for LinkedIn. A burning hot corona of light in the lower iris isn’t exactly the style most of my clients are craving, so I tend to favor the white fabric over the silver that is standard in previous versions of the Eyelighter.
To get white fabric on the Eyelighter 2, you would have to plunk down $299 and then an additional $60. The Glow model won my heart. In a very nice change of pace, Westcott not only includes two additional fabric options for the base price of $199 (white and silver/gold), but they are much easier to change out than they used to be. You don’t have to take the entire thing apart. Instead, just place the second fabric on top of the first and attach the Velcro strips at the ends.
With the current retail now at $199 and the extra fabrics included, the Eyelighter 3 is a much better value than it used to be. Still at the top of the price range, though, with the Glow Arclight II currently selling for $149, and the Neewer curved reflector on offer for $99. If the straight-up price were the only consideration, most people might still opt to save a few bucks and go with another brand. There’s more.
Faster Setup and Breakdown
I’m gonna be really honest, here. The difference between $100 and $200 for a curved reflector isn’t that big of a deal for me. Westcott products are generally of high quality. I’ve found their support and service to be excellent over the years. I will happily choose paying more for something that’s better built, that the company will stand behind, over saving a few bucks. Even though the Eyelighter has some great value, it’s not enough to convince me to click “Buy”.
The biggest issue with the Eyelighter or any other large, curved reflector so far is its difficulty in assembly and taking up too much space. It can be difficult to store, even if your studio is big enough.
If you are like most photographers and work more on location, you might just come to dread the setup and breakdown of a curved reflector. My experience is that it takes about 7-10 minutes to set up and about 5-7 to break down and store properly. Doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but you might discover that you opt for something easier to transport and set up when on location after you have to do it a few dozen times. Wait until one of those tiny screws that hold it all is lost under your office breakroom fridge.
So far I’ve decided to keep my curved reflector in the studio. I rarely use it outside of the studio, even though it produces great results. In the version 3, Westcott has redesigned the frame of the Eyelighter making it a much faster setup and breakdown. Their website claims that it only takes 2 minutes to set up, which I can confirm after having done it myself a couple of times.
The clever adjustment to the design not only includes no tiny screws to lose, but the support poles connect the center of the frame instead of each other, allowing you to assemble the reflector in halves. This is a lot quicker than putting the huge silver socks of fabric on top of the small-sized poles. And it doesn’t look like Chevy Chase, who was fumbling around the entire room.
Portraits Lit with the Eyelighter 3
Here are some portraits I shot over a couple of sessions using the Eyelighter:
The Final Word
The curved reflector is a specialist’s tool. It’s certainly not the right solution for every situation. However, it does a lot of work in lighting, which is why those who use curved reflectors swear by its results. Taking everything into consideration, I would have to say that, for the first time since its competitors hit the market, the Eyelighter is looking like a great choice.
If you are a studio photographer and plan to leave it set up (and you don’t need to switch fabrics often), pretty much any curved reflector will do the job for you. If you are a headshot or portrait photographer who loves the look of a curved reflector but need something more portable, the Eyelighter three is going to tick all the boxes for you.
Good value, great build quality and design, and much-improved portability are what you can expect out of the Eyelighter 3.
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Image credits: All photos, unless otherwise noted, by Gary Hughes.