DigitalCameraReview.com
Gary Fong Micro Four Thirds Puffer Launched, Reviewed
by DCR Staff -  5/11/2011

By Jerry Jackson and Allison Johnson

Gary Fong, maker of unconventional flash accessories, announces today the Micro Four Thirds Puffer. This flash diffuser is designed especially for the compact Olympus PEN and Panasonic GF cameras with pop-up flash units.

Gary Fong Micro Four Thirds Puffer

The Micro Four Thirds Puffer, like its full-size counterparts, is designed to diffuse the often harsh, direct light from the camera's built-in flash unit. In theory, this produces better portraits and a more even distribution of light across a scene. For more on external flash accessories, take a look at our DCR Workshop on the subject.

Gary Fong Micro Four Thirds Puffer

We've had a few weeks to spend with an early production Micro Four Thirds Puffer unit - just enough time to put together a brief review. Click through to the next page for a full analysis of the Gary Fong Micro Four Thirds Puffer.

The new Gary Fong Puffer for Olympus Pen cameras is a simple flash diffuser for your camera's built-in flash. The Puffer comes in two parts: a black plastic frame that fits in your camera's hot shoe and the "Puffer" diffusion panel that attaches to the black plastic frame. As Mr. Fong explains on his website, the Puffer is intended to greatly soften the quality of light.

Gary Fong Micro Four Thirds Puffer

The website product page goes on to say, "The Puffer is great for portraits, grabshots of people and closeups of objects (great for eBay photos!) It packs completely flat for convenient storage in your camera bag (or pocket!) and has eight different mounting positions for the perfect fit for any popup flash camera."

In truth, the Puffer is simply a piece of plastic diffusion material placed in front of your camera's flash. It reduces the strength of the flash and, as a result, does indeed "soften" the light by reducing the strength of highlights created by the flash.

As you can see in the quick snapshot portraits below, the Puffer softens the light coming from the pop-up flash on the Olympus E-PL1, but it also darkens the overall exposure since the flash output is being reduced by the Puffer's diffusion panel. Is this "great for portraits" as the manufacturer claims? Well, that's a matter of opinion, but with or without the Puffer we're still talking about direct on-camera flash... which is rarely attractive lighting for portraits.


Standard Portrait

Puffer Portrait

The images of my hand show that the Puffer also warms skin tones (again, a side effect of reducing the light output from the flash) which is also a good thing for portraits. However, the sample photo of my hand also illustrates another problem with the Puffer: The diffuser isn't big enough to block the full output of the flash, so if you use a wide angle lens you will see undiffused light either above or below the Puffer (depending on the position of the Puffer on the mounting frame).


Standard

Puffer

Since Mr. Fong points out that the Puffer is "great for eBay photos" I took a series of photos in a light tent with a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens. As you can see in the wide angle shots, the lens barrel blocks part of the light output from the pop-up flash, but in the Puffer shot you can also see where the undiffused light shows up under the edge of the Puffer. Again, if you adjust the position of the Puffer so it covers the lower area of the flash then the undiffused light shows up above the flash rather than below. This is pretty annoying when you're using the Puffer with a wide angle lens. Happily, the Puffer works fine with telephoto lenses.


Standard Telephoto

Telephoto with Puffer

Wide Angle with Puffer

Pure Perfection or Puffery?
At the end of the day, the Gary Fong Puffer does most of what it claims to do (with a few disclaimers). Like it or not, there's only so much that you can do to improve the light coming from a pop-up flash. In some cases the Puffer indeed makes your photos look "better" (less harsh highlights from your flash, softer skin tones and softer shadows) but if you don't understand the limits of this little flash accessory it can also make your photos look worse.

Pricing and availability
The Gary Fong Micro Four Thirds Puffer will be available Monday, May 16 for a retail price of 21.95.