Westcott recently released its third version of the popular specialist tool, the Eyelighter. If you happen to be a headshot or headshot photographer, there’s no way you haven’t seen it, thought about buying it, or even had it in your cart at some point.
Although I’ve come to love a curved reflector, I’ve always avoided the Westcott version due to price. When the first version came out, it retailed for $299, which seemed like a pretty steep price to pay for what seemed like a gimmick to me at the time.
Over the next few years, several other companies released their own versions of the curved reflector at a lower price, and after trying a few, I settled on the Glow Arclight reflector from Adorama.
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 bargain. With companies like Adorama and Neewer selling fairly reasonable facsimiles at a lower price, Westcott had some serious work to do trying to convince photographers to choose their modifier over the competition.
When I saw that Westcott had released version three, of course I had to click on it and take a look. What I saw surprised me. In developing the latest iteration of the Eyelighter, Westcott seems to have read my mind and solved my two main issues with their product, price and portability. Now, it’s still not a cheap modifier, and it’s still a big pain in a reflector’s ass, but there are some serious improvements on both fronts.
Full disclosure: Westcott provided me with the Eyelighter 3 used in this review.
Better value than before
The full retail price of the Eyelighter has come down over the years from $299 to $199, much more competitive than other curved reflector manufacturers. Even then, what has always given Glow the edge over Westcott for me is the inclusion of additional fabrics.
You see, most of my daily work could be described as standard LinkedIn business portraits and email signatures. A crown of searing light in the lower iris isn’t exactly the style most of my clients crave, so I tend to prefer the white fabric over the silver that’s standard in previous versions of the Eyelighter.
To get white fabric on the Eyelighter 2, you’ll need to shell out $299 and then another $60. That’s why the Glow version won me over. In a really nice change of pace, Westcott not only includes two additional fabric options for the base price of $199 (white and silver/gold), but they’re much easier to change than before. Instead of taking it all apart, you just lay the other fabric on top and secure it with the built-in Velcro strips around the edges.
With the current retail price of $199 and additional fabrics included, the Eyelighter 3 is much better value than before. Still at the top of the price bracket, however, with the Glow Arclight II currently selling for $149 and the Neewer Curved Reflector offered for $99. If direct price were the only consideration, most people might still choose to save a few dollars and go with another brand. But wait, there is one more thing.
Faster setup and failure
I’m going to be really honest here. The difference between $100 and $200 for a curved reflector isn’t that big of a deal to me. Westcott generally has excellent build quality for their products, and I have found their service and support to be very good over the years. I would gladly choose to pay more for something better built, which the company will support, rather than saving a few bucks. So even though they added good value in the new version of the Eyelighter, that alone is not enough to make me click the “buy” button.
The biggest problem with the Eyelighter (or any large curved reflector invented so far) is that it’s a huge PITA to put together and takes up a ton of space. Even if you have a studio and can leave it set up, you might find, due to its size and shape, that it is very difficult to store.
If you’re like most photographers and work more on location, you might come to dread setting up and breaking down a curved reflector. In my experience, it takes about 7-10 minutes to set up and about 5-7 minutes to break down and store properly. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but you might find that you opt for something easier to transport and set up on site after having to do it a few dozen times. And wait until you send one of the tiny little screws holding it together slipping under the break room fridge in the office where you take head shots.
So far I’ve chosen to leave my curved reflector set up in the studio and rarely take it on location, although I like the results I get with it. In version 3, Westcott has redesigned the Eyelighter frame, making it much faster to set up and break down. Their website claims it only takes 2 minutes to set up, which I can confirm after doing it myself several times.
The clever adjustment of 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 two. It’s much faster than sliding the giant silver fabric sock over the half-pipe-sized poles, and you can do it without looking like Chevy Chase tripping over and knocking over all the chairs in the room.
Illuminated portraits with Eyelighter 3
Here are some portraits I made during a few sessions with the Eyelighter:
The last word
The curved reflector is a specialist tool. That is to say, it is not the best solution in all situations. It does do a bit of heavy lifting in the lighting department, though, and those of us who use curved reflectors tend to swear by the results. All in all, I have to say, for the first time since its competitors hit the market, the Eyelighter looks like a great choice.
If you’re a studio photographer and plan to leave it set up (and don’t need to change fabrics often), just about any curved reflector will do the job for you. If you’re a headshot or portrait photographer who likes the look of a curved reflector but needs something more portable, the Eyelighter Three is going to tick all the boxes for you.
Good value for money, excellent build and design quality, and much improved portability are what you can expect from the Eyelighter 3.
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About the Author: Gary Hughes is a professional photographer and educator based in Florida. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitterand YouTube.
Picture credits: All photos, unless otherwise stated, by Gary Hughes.