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Photography

Product Review: Modahaus Table Top Studios

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As a product photographer, I have tried just about every kind of backdrop/table-top/tent system available. Today, I'll be focusing (no pun intended) on the Desktop Studio 216 and Studio Pro 600 table top systems by the fine folks at Modahaus. Although this is a product review, you should be able to gleam a few tips & tricks to help with your own product photography.


What's in the Box?

For a limited time, Modahaus is including a bonus pack of 4 translucent colored backdrops at no additional cost. This is one thing that sets their product apart from other table top systems I've used. Generally, they come with one white backdrop or, at most, a two-sided backdrop with white on one side and either black or blue on the other. Although it does come with an opaque backdrop, I was excited to try out the translucent ones. I have yet to own a table top system that provides both opaque and translucent backdrops, especially in color. Up to this point, I've relied on gels and other lighting tricks to color my backdrops.

First Up - Desktop Studio 216

The 216 is the "baby" of the bunch, it's very compact and probably the lightest and easiest table top studio I've ever used. Here are the specs from the Modahaus website:

  • Unique backdrop support system.
  • 216mm/8.5" wide - small desktop footprint.
  • Translucent AND opaque white backdrops.
  • Bonus pack of 4 translucent coloured backdrops included absolutely FREE, for a limited period.
  • Robust, lightweight, fully portable.
  • Assembled in seconds, flat pack in carry bag.
  • Easy care wipe clean environmentally friendly Polymer.
  • Resistant to water, most oils, greases, chemicals and anti-static.

The packaging is simple and elegant. It's easy to remove, store and transport the product in the provided packaging and it looks like it will hold up to consistent use over time.

All photos ©Shane Parker Photography

In this day and age of little or no product instructions, I was very surprised to see that it actually comes with full color, photo-based instructions!

To be honest, I didn't even have to look at the instructions. Setup was pretty straight forward. Using a simple tab-based locking system, it was clear what was required to get the table top system put together. It literally took less than a minute so I am not going to waste time explaining the processes.

The whole point of these small, compact table top systems is portability. I setup a quick example to see if I could use this system with a single on-camera speedlight combined with ambient light. While using a single 580ex as my key light, I was able to use a side window as my backlight. It worked beautifully when I allowed the ambient light from the side window to shine through the translucent backdrop.

I was able to balance how much backlight was coming through by adjusting FE compensation and shutter speed on the camera (while retaining the aperture I was after). Less power from the speedlight allowed more backlight through while more power over-powered the backlight and showed more of the color in the translucent backdrop. As you can see below, I allowed more backlight on the blue backdrop and less backlight on the pink backdrop.

You can't get any more stripped down and simple than this setup, perfect for a compact road kit.

The Blowout Test

One of the most common types of product shot techniques is blowing out the background. A lot of manufacturers ask for a product-only shot so that it can be used in various types of on-screen and print ads. While there is a bit more to it, the basic premise is to over expose the background by half a stop or a full stop. Other photographers will go higher than that, but I don't like to because it often results in light reflection and spill coming back on the product, causing feathered edges.

However, I didn't use that method for blowing out the background. Because the entire system is translucent, I decided to try a "bottom-up" approach. I literally set the entire table top system on one of my strobes to see if I could over-expose the background that way. I also used a single 580ex as a key light. This is a whole new way of thinking, for me, but it worked very well. This method got rid of the shadows completely, something that takes a little more effort using the old method. For a product-only shot, it makes my life easier not having to worry about using multiple strobes, flags and reflectors to try and get rid of all the shadows and blow out the background.

The Crystal Test

Another test is one that will test how well the system works with crystal/glass and other highly reflective and transparent subjects. For this shot, I decided to use the same bottom-up approach with the strobe directly under the table top studio. I also used the opaque white backdrop as a reflector over the top so that I could keep the simple two-light setup.

It was effective, but I was afraid that I would lose the edges and unique crystal patterns by using an all-white canvas. Typically, you want to use a dark flags to bring out subtleties in glass, crystal and other transparent objects. To show what I'm talking about, I draped the black packaging over the top.

You can really see the difference when placed side-by-side (dark reflector on left, white reflector on right). The one on the left clearly defines the edges of the glass and other subtleties.

This next one shows how I placed the table top system on the strobe.

My brief period spent with the Desktop Studio 216 was a positive one. This table top system is really simple, extremely mobile and very elegant in its design, I can envision using it a lot.

Next Up - Studio Pro 600

If the 216 is the baby of the group, the 600 is the "Big Daddy". Even so, because of the material and engineering of the system, it is still extremely light and easy to transport. Again, the specs from the Modahaus website:

  • Unique backdrop support system.
  • 600mm/23.6" wide
  • Translucent AND opaque white backdrops.
  • Bonus pack of 4 translucent coloured backdrops included absolutely FREE, for a limited period.
  • Robust, lightweight, fully portable.
  • Assembled in seconds, flat pack in carry bag.
  • Easy care wipe clean environmentally friendly Polymer.
  • Resistant to water, most oils, greases, chemicals and anti-static.

The packaging is the same as the 216, just larger. It comes with the same great instructions and setup was easy.

Because the material is the same for both products, I will refrain from reviewing the same things over again for the Studio Pro 600. Clearly, they would result in the same kind of light and reflection properties. Instead, I'll focus on having a little fun with it so you can see what is possible.

Please note, I would not consider any of these product shots as "complete." For example, regarding the watch photos, I would use practices such as removing the battery and placing the watch hands at 10:00 and 2:00, Photoshopping out all defects, etc. But the focus of this review is the backdrop, so I didn't worry about the products too much.

Another important note is that all of these shots are basically straight out of the camera. I didn't Photoshop anything; the only editing was basic things such as white balance and a few levels adjustments here and there. I want you to see what's possible with the backgrounds without using post processing to make things happen. I did bring out a few more strobes though; at most I had three strobes firing to create these images.

Obviously, the main advantage of the 600 is that it is much larger, allowing for larger products.

One really nice thing about using the 600 is that even when working with smaller subjects there is a lot of room to experiment with light. I actually prefer using larger table top systems for the small products I shoot, it allows for a lot of freedom. That is one reason I am not a fan of light boxes and tents, I feel too cramped when I have to work within the four walls of a light box. These open-air table top systems are so much more versatile as long as you watch your reflections.

Let's Get Creative

This is where the Modahaus system really shines. Because the backdrops are translucent, you can mix-n-match to your hearts desire. I came up with some pretty cool combinations.

As you can see, I used a few strobes on these. In particular, I liked using the 580ex to shoot across the background or through it to create some neat color and lighting effects. You can also see how I started layering the backdrops to come up with some creative out of focus areas.

Towards the end I started getting a bit out of hand. If I had the time, I could have spent most the day playing around with combinations.


Wish List

I couldn't find much of anything wrong with the Modahaus table top products. Normally, I would have a "negatives" column towards the end of the review, but this is more of a "wish list" because I don't see them as faults of the product.

  • Dark backdrops. As mentioned earlier, I would like to have darker backdrops along with the light ones. For the translucent/transparent products, it's nice to use darker backdrops as flags to define edges of the products. I often shoot on earth-tones and other colors that aren't so pastel in color. What would be really nice is if Modahaus offered "color packs" for sale separately, that way the photographer could make his own choice.
  • Material longevity. I have no idea how long these will hold up, but I suspect that the tabs will wear out after a lot of use. On one hand, it would be nice to see some sort of light-weight frame system added in the future. On the other hand, that would add cost, weight and maybe complexity to the package, so this is probably a tough call on their part. In the end, the product seems pretty tough and I guess time will tell whether it holds up.

Should I Buy the Modahaus Table Top Studio?

Yes! I find that the product is so versatile (and fun!) to use that it's a no-brainer, especially at this price-point. These packages are very affordable for what they provide: easy-to-use, quick-to-setup with studio-quality results. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of their table top packages, I have enjoyed using them and will continue to do so. I look forward to seeing where they take their products in the future. Check out their site where they have product videos and other info to help you figure out which package is right for you: www.Modahaus.com.

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