Salacious article title aside, this lighting modifier from Godox is amazing and yes, it really is in my top 5 (maybe top 3) best lighting modifiers of all time… but why?
I’ve been shooting in the studio for over 20 years and during that time, I’d like to think I’ve worked with a huge range of modifiers. No, my opinions on certain modifiers don’t always align with everybody else’s, but I do like to give strong reasoning as to why I love or hate certain light shapers and as I discuss the Godox Spotlight here, I aim to do just that, as although this is arguably one of the best modifiers I’ve ever used, that does come with some very strong caveats.
First off, what is the Godoox Spotlight?
In simplistic terms, the Godox Spotlight very tightly controls your light into a focused beam. This beam is similar to a spotlight you may find on stage or at a theatre for example and the modifiers one very distinctive feature is the large glass lens at the front that is responsible for focusing that beam.
There are of course some very obvious benefits to this controlled beam, namely the use of GOBOs (go-betweens) to project shapes and patterns into your scene or onto the subject.
These Gobos have been used for many, many years in cinema and theatre as I mentioned, but they should be used sparingly and in conjunction with other lights for best effects. Whenever you see a gobo being used on set, it’s always coming from one of these very hard-light modifiers.
The Spotlight can also sculpt the light without gobos and due to their very hard and focused light, it’s even possible to create simple slits or slices of light too.
As I mentioned, the control of light that these spotlight modifiers have is due to that lens on the front of them and that’s ultimately what makes these modifiers so unique.
Déjà vu – The Optical Snoots
Several years ago, I wrote a very popular article that discussed some of the creative uses that were possible via modifiers called ‘Optical Snoots’. From here we saw a wave of these modifiers being used, abused, adapted and rebranded, but the look that these optical snoots produce seems very similar to what’s possible with this new Godox Spotlight. So what’s the difference?
If you’re new to photography or even just new to creative lighting and missed the optical snoot boat all those years ago, take a look at my updated article from back then that showcased what was possible. This article is good foundational reading too, as with this current Godox Spotlight review, I’ll skip over certain fundamental elements of hard lighting that are discussed in more detail in my Optical Snoot article here.
Baby Spotlight AKA The Optical Snoot
As I mentioned, the Optical Snoot can do a lot that the Spotlight can do, so why do we even need this Spotlight? I think many photographers forget or simply aren’t aware that the Spotlight has been around far, far longer than the Optical Snoot. Remember that these Spotlights have been used in theatres for generations. Comparatively, the Optical Snoot is a relatively modern adaptation of the Spotlight and that happened primarily due to cost and making that type of hard light accessible to photographers with studio strobes. For example, you can get a usable Optical Snoot for around £100, but the Spotlights are often upwards of £400. Sure, there are always exceptions to this and there are bizarrely rebranded Optical Snoots out there that somehow cost more than a £400 Spotlight!!!! But in general, Optical Snoots are typically cheaper.
So yes, you can usually save a bunch of money by buying an Optical Snoot over a Spotlight, so what do we lose to save that money?
Defining Quality of Light
We’re going to get into the weeds of defining light here for a bit, so I apologise in advance, but I do think this should be fundamental knowledge when it comes to understanding why your images may be stuck looking good when you really want to know how to make them look great.
At the start of this article, I mentioned that my thoughts on lighting modifiers don’t always align with others. If you’ve been here a while, you’ll likely know this already, but it’s no secret that I detest softboxes. I know, crazy right? Jake’s surely being a contrarian for the ‘clicks’, but no, I haven’t painted my nails matte-black just yet and there is actually a very important reason as to why I do everything in my power to never use a softbox, and that’s simply down to ‘quality of light’.
Below is an image of a light being shone through a standard softbox and onto a white wall. Next to it, that same light is instead being shone through a standard beauty dish. I’d urge you to look at the resulting light from each of those modifiers as I hope that goes some way in explaining why softboxes are better suited as ashtrays over lighting modifiers.
If you’re still unsure of what you’re supposed to be looking at, it’s the significant hotspot present from the softbox on the left compared to a far cleaner and more even spread of light from the beauty dish on the right.
Of course, if you’re happy using your softbox, that’s absolutely fine and in their defence, this hotspot diminishes when we move it further away to enlarge that centre bright spot. But the example still stands in that I’m trying to show you what I’m personally looking to avoid. As I said at the start, we want to be looking at taking our shots from good to great and managing elements like hotspots from our lights is one way to do that.
Quality of Light and Spotlights
So now that we know what we’re looking for and after seeing some examples of it relating to soft light, how does that affect the hard lights? Below I’ll show you some similar examples of how some hard light modifiers, including the Godox Spotlight, compare.
On the left, we can see the Godox Spotlight and the resulting light it produces. In the middle we have the Optical Snoot we may already be familiar with and lastly on the right, we have a regular reflector dish with a honeycomb/grid inserted. For reference, these lights are positioned roughly 2 metres from the white-ish wall.
Immediately we can see just how controlled the Godox Spotlight is, as that circle spot is razor sharp with no light going anywhere apart from where it’s supposed to. More importantly, we can see that it’s an extremely even light from edge to edge with no bright centre at all. In contrast to that, we can see the other two modifiers producing a far more gradual pool of light, that seemingly immediately dims from the centre, AKA hot-spotting.
It’s worth noting here that the optical snoot relies on you using a camera lens on the front of it to focus the light, Consequently, the vignetting or hot spotting you see is very dependent on the type of lens you use. Here I’m using a fairly old Nikon 50mm lens that likely vignettes naturally anyway.
Sidebar: You may be looking at the optical snoot versus the regular grid above and be wondering why you’d use the optical snoot over it, after all, they seemingly produce a similar vignette. Remember that the optical snoot is focussing the light with that lens and this results in sharper shadows. This test doesn’t show this aspect particularly well, but if you open up that image and look at the shadows cast on the wall from the stand, you’ll see that the reflector and grid are fuzzy, whereas the optical snoot ones are razor-sharp.
So again, we’re looking for this beautifully ‘clean light’ and this Spotlight does an extremely good job of achieving it. Even from the limited tests I’ve shown you so far, it’s clear that the Spotlight produces some of the hardest-looking light possible, but with this extra knowledge of how clean it is edge-to-edge, this extremely hard-light modifier is far more versatile than you may think.
It’s just a hard light!
As soon as I saw how clean and even the light from this spot was from edge to edge, my brain was immediately struck by how controllable and in turn how versatile this modifier could be. Surely it can do more than shine slices of light and Venetian blind effects across my model.
If you’re curious as to just how diverse this modifier can be, take a look at some of the shots below where I’ve used this Godox Spotlight as either the sole light on set or as a supplemental within a setup.
Click on any of the images below to fit them to your screen.
That’s pretty crazy, right?! Never before have I had a modifier so diverse and adaptable! And we’re not talking about ‘oh, but my softbox can be used with and without a grid to produce different looks’, that’s the sort of weak-sauce marketing tag-lines we’re used to seeing, but this Spotlight can genuinely produce incredibly diverse looks, and bizarrely, it can simultaneously produce some of the hardest light available as well as some of the softest light available! So how is this even possible?
How to think creatively with the Godox Spotlight
Below I will share some of the breakdowns of these setups. I won’t cover them all as this article is already massive enough as is, but I will share a few of the more dramatically different looks we can achieve with this Spotlight.
Keeping it Simple: The Slice of Light
This is the classic and most popular use for a projector/snoot/spotlight that you’ve likely all seen a million times by now, but although a little dated, it’s tough to argue with the results when they look this cool.
Just 2 lights, one of which is the Spotlight and that’s casting that slice of light we see on the model and background. One nice little feature of the Godox Spotlight is the internal blades that you can adjust to create these slices of light. I’m not actually using a Gobo here and instead, I’m simply pushing the external blades together until I get the exact slice I’m happy with.
The second light here is a large softbox and inside that is a coloured gel over the flash tube. – Yes I know I said I hate softboxes and that you shouldn’t use them, but as fill-lights, they do a reasonable job if positioned far enough away, plus I actually didn’t use a softbox here, I used my Rotolight AEOS 2 PRO LED light. I appreciate that not all people have access to larger LED panels like this, hence my showing you a large softbox as an alternative just to keep this simple setup as achievable as possible.
One Light Wonder: L.A. Shadow-Light
I’ve joked for many years about the L.A. ‘shadow-light’ as you’ll often see the City of Angels photographers take a subject to the shadow-side of a building to take a portrait. The incredibly bright and harsh sunlight in L.A. doesn’t make for great portraits on its own, but if you bounce that very hard sunlight off of the prolific mid-grey concrete surrounding you, you can get a very beautiful shot. You’re simply turning an incredibly hard light into an incredibly soft light, and that’s exactly what this setup replicates here with the Spotlight.
Simply place the Godox Spotlight directly behind and above your model and point it straight back at you. Then you position 2 large poly-boards or white V-flats on either side of your camera and let that very hard light bounce off of the large pale surfaces next to you, which will then bounce onto the model.
It quite literally doesn’t get any simpler than a one-light setup, but this is a great look and is flattering on anybody due to the unreliably soft light you’re producing with this bounced technique. Yes, you need to be very mindful of flare into the lens, but if you have space to put the spotlight higher up behind your model, this quickly becomes far less of an issue.
Finally, a good Softbox: Spotlight Softbox
My grumblings surrounding softboxes are never based on build quality, size or even that they’re a pain in the ass to setup, my moaning is purely based on the hotspots of light they produce due to the fact the flash is positioned so close to the diffusion in front, there’s simply no way to avoid that hotspot without modifying that direct light in some way. You saw me show you the beauty dish alternative earlier and that all but eliminates the hotspot by bouncing the flash into a diffusion cone first. With this next simple Spotlight setup, we’ll be modifying the light first via the Spotlight lens, but this setup gives us infinitely more options over the one-size beauty dish.
This is very simple in practice, but all I’m doing is placing a large scrim in front of my model and then shining the Spotlight through it. I’ve adjusted the Spotlight blades to get the size of square that I want, but this is now simply a softbox. More importantly, it’s a beautifully clean and even light coming from that softbox.
Without the flash being mere inches from the diffusion like regular softboxes and the Spotlight lens doing such an incredible job of spreading the light evenly without a hotspot, we’re left with the ability to make any size softbox (up to the size of your scrim or diffusion material – which is not expensive) and no matter the size, we get clean, even lighting edge to edge!
Toplight Anywhere: Bounced Toplight
A very popular lighting technique, especially in cinema, is to have a large soft light directly above your subject. This can be more focused for a dramatic look, but more often than not, the light above is super-soft and is simply bathes the subject beneath in beautifully soft light. That sounds fantastic in principle, but the reality is often very, very different, after all, not everybody has access to 30ft ceilings and cherrypickers to suspend your softboxes. But, once again, the Godox Spotlight offers us an alternative.
The setup itself is simple; position the Spotlight on the floor and angle it directly up to the bounce board above the model. Adjust the blades so that the Spotlight square of light is only hitting the board and then add a fill light if needed. In this image I’m using a folded white V-flat and supporting it above the model with C-stands. This board is now my light source, but look again at how clean and even that bounced light is above the model. Again I’ll say it, but we have no hotspot on that board and again this results in beautifully clean and even light from directly above the model without the need to actually get a light plus modifier suspended above her. In the BTS above you can see the white V-flat to the edge of frame on camera-left, this is for the fill-light to be bounced into it and this helps to open up some of the heavy shadows caused by the very directional top-light.
Lastly, I’m using the large bounce-board here, but you could just as easily use the white ceiling above if it’s low enough and I’ve already done that on several shoots to great effect. The bounce board here just allows you to get a larger square of light directly above thereby making it appear even softer and with a shorter drop-off.
And it doesn’t stop there….
I know I showed you a bunch of example shots at the start of this article, but I’ll leave the lighting setup explanations there for now to keep this article a manageable size. The ones I’ve shown above quickly showcase just how easily this Spotlight can be manipulated to get some very unique looks, but there are so many other creative ways to use this modifier so if anyone is interested, I’m happy to explain some of the other setups in a future article, just let me know.
Here comes the ‘but’
If you’re still here and have read everything I’ve had to say so far, then it should be clear I’m a huge fan of this modifier. But before you all throw money at the screen, there is one very important caveat to all of this that I need to make you aware of, as it wasn’t something I noticed until I’d used it a few times.
This modifier is touted as an S-fit modifier, or to my more mature readers, a Bowens fit. This is great, right? S-fit has long been by far the most popular lighting mount for decades, so to have this modifier available as an S-fit is great for most of you…. or is it?
As many of you know, in the last couple of years I’ve been transitioning from flash to LED. In fact the vast majority of all my shoots this year have all been shot with LED lights alone. This has largely been possible due to the Rotolight lights that are able to still flash if needed, plus they can do so in any of the 16+ million colours available. LEDs are simply bright enough now that I can comfortably shoot with them in most situations. Sure, there are times when I need to shoot at ISO 200 or 400 (I know, crazy right?!), but the huge number of benefits to shooting with LEDs today, far outstrips the minimal concern of shooting at any ISO above 100.
I’m getting there, but essentially using the Rotolight panels is all buttercups-and-rainbows right up until I need a hard-light. Panels produce some gorgeous-looking soft light, but no matter how much you try, you aren’t going to get a snoot attachment for them anytime soon. So to combat this problem, I also own a Godox SZ150R. This light is perfect for all my hard-light needs as it also has the complete RGB spectrum as well as the full Kelvin range and all at the twist of a dial. Sadly, this doesn’t flash and although I’d love a little more juice than the base 150 version, it does a very respectable job. Most importantly though, it’s an S-fit light, meaning all of my old Bowens and S-fit modifiers simply slot on the front. The SZ150R coupled with my Rotolight panels, and I can do everything I used to do with my flashes, just now it’s a lot faster and more convenient.
Now that my LED sermon is out of the way, what’s the issue?
Use any S-fit you like… just as long as it’s this one!
When I received my Godox Spotlight, I simply used it on my Godox SZ150R and of course, everything was fine. It wasn’t until I started to use it on a livestream where I was testing out other S-fit heads that I found out it wasn’t compatible with any of them. Here’s why.
Simply put, the magnifying lens at the back of the Godox Spotlight doesn’t leave a lot of room for the bulb from the light you’re attaching to it. It fits beautifully with the Godox S150R and likely all of their other S-fit LED heads, but I’ve yet to find any other flash heads with a small enough bulb that will also fit.
As you can see, it’s close on a lot of these lights, but due to the nature of the glass flash tube cage on most of them, none will actually allow the Spotlight to be affixed. On one of my older strobes (Lumi 200), I was able to use it without the modelling bulb, but without that, it becomes very tricky to use due to the lens at the front of the Spotlight needing to be focused and without any light to do so, it becomes very difficult to use effectively.
There is also the issue of diffusion and how this Spotlight does such a great job of spreading the light edge-to-edge across its beam with almost no hot-spotting. Yes, the huge purpose-built lens on the front plays a large part in this, but so does the SZ150R diffusion dome. Take a look below to see what I mean.
On the left we have the regular SZ150R as the light source on the Godox Spotlight and on the right, I’m using my old strobe with the modelling bulb removed. So yes, that is flash on the right and ambient on the left, but you can clearly see the dip in light quality thanks to the flash tube shape and lack of diffusion. Using flash would be possible, but the trade-off in light quality across the spot wouldn’t be worth it for me.
I’ve spoken at length to several people online as we tried a variety of ideas to make it work, but ultimately, as it stands right now, using this Spotlight with flash simply isn’t viable in my opinion.
In a pinch, I could manage without a modelling bulb and yes I even purchased mini screw-fit LED bulbs, but they were still too big. In reality though, even if those mini-bulbs did work, I think they would have blocked too much light from the flash as it’s a very tight space at the back of that Spotlight. There were also suggestions to use diffusion gels over the flash tube to soften the light, but I am never okay with having anything sat against or that close to the flash tube like that. Ultimately, this Spotlight was NOT designed for flash. These spotlights have been designed for film and theatre, they are designed for ambient lights like the Godox SZ150R. Remember, we as flash users adapted the Spotlight to make the Optical Snoot all those years ago, so although it is technically possible to use a flash with this, I personally won’t be doing so. I didn’t even feel comfortable firing too many flashes with it attached as it was. Flashes can get notoriously hot if kept in a sealed unit like that and that heat often translates to dark scorch spots on glass which is something I desperately wanted to avoid on the big magnifier in the back of my Spotlight.
Again, this Godox Spotlight was not designed for flash. Yes, it states S-fit on the sales page, but Godox is referring to their ever-growing lineup of S-fit LED heads. This quite literally means it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to S-fit anymore and we need to be more aware of the differences between these LED modifiers as we move forward.
In fact, I think we as photographers will begin seeing more and more of this crossover in the coming years as LEDs become bright enough and in turn, more viable for commercial high-end photography. This was an interesting lesson to learn and as much as I tried to make it work with flash, this Spotlight won’t be doing so to the same quality as the LED head for me.
If you’re an Optical Snoot owner, you’re likely used to changing the size of your spot by simply changing the lens on the front of your snoot. The Godox Spotlight works in a similar way in that you can swap out the lenses, but they are expensive, purpose-built lenses, so it’s best to choose the right lens for your work when initially purchasing your Spotlight.
The initial choices are 36°, 26° and 19°. I was using the 36° and for me, it was an easy choice.
The choice was a simple one for me as the 36° lens casts the biggest spot. That is important to me for a number of reasons, but mainly a larger spot allows me to do more with it in small shooting spaces. If you are planning on using this in small studios or even home studios, the larger spot will simply allow you to cast a larger light without having to move the light too far away.
Of course, the opposite is also true. If you’re planning on using this in a theatre or suspending it from the ceiling of a large studio, the smaller spot may be more controllable for you.
Also, even if you choose a larger lens, you could also reduce the size of the spot via the internal blades anyway, so again, the larger one may give you more flexibility.
Are there any downsides to the 36° option?
The only minor downside that I found on the larger lens, was some slight distortions towards the edges of the projected light. This larger lens likely comes with slightly more hot-spotting than the tighter lenses, plus those tighter lenses will also have less noticeable distortions at the edges.
Plus, this huge lens has an extremely shallow depth of field and consequently, along with the slight bowing, the edges will also be slightly softer if you’ve focused on the centre. You can see in the image above that the corners are slightly blurred compared to the sharp centre.
All of this is extremely minor in my opinion as it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll ever have the Spotlight perfectly parallel to a perfectly flat surface in front of it, nor will I be focusing my camera on the actual projected light either. On top of that, I also rarely use very geometric shapes as you see here, so even if all of the above did happen, you’d likely never see any of it due to the type of light you were projecting. Yes, it’s good to know where the limitations lie, but the larger 36° lens was an easy pick for me.
This Spotlight genuinely is one of the best modifiers I’ve ever used and yes, it really is in my top 5 if not top 3 modifiers of all time. Its near-flawless edge-to-edge illumination with almost no hotspot is extremely powerful for me and my work. With this incredibly clean light I’m able to not only use it as a regular hard-light, but I’m also able to turn it into one of the softest light sources I own and due to how I achieve that via the bounced light, I’m able to achieve that beautifully soft light in extremely small spaces.
The downside is not insignificant though, as if you don’t already own an S-fit LED light, this Spotlight likely won’t fit your current S-fit light. The receiver depth is only ~50mm so check how high your bulb sits first, but again, not many will be shallow enough for this and again I’ll say it, but this modifier was not designed for flash.
If you already have an S-fit LED head that will fit this, the choice is a no-brainer for me as I can’t see how you won’t be using it on nearly every shoot. We’ve all spent a few hundred quid on an off-meta focal length lens before that we barely use, this Spotlight certainly won’t be one of those purchases I assure you. I’m still finding new ways to use this Spotlight that I’ve not had chance to share here yet and with so many lighting possibilities, I can’t go back to not having one now.
If you don’t already have a head that would fit this, but you’re already shooting with LED panels like I am, I’d highly recommend you look at getting at least one S-fit LED head as I have for hard-light modifiers like this. I think we’ll start seeing more and more LED modifier crossovers in the coming years as LEDs are getting brighter and brighter every few months. The LED lighting solutions are just so convenient that it’s all but inevitable at this point.
- Extremely versatile
- Adaptable to many lighting looks
- Very clean and even light edge-to-edge
- Useful for creating soft light in small spaces
- Internal blades allow you to finely define areas of light down to a pinprick of light if needed
- Can only be used effectively with S-fit Godox LEDs
- The wider lenses show some distortion on geometric shapes at the edges
- Larger lenses have a very shallow depth of field that can result is slightly soft corners
- The thing weights a ton! With the 36° lens, it’s about 5.5KG, then you need to hang your light off the back and then you need to attach the entire thing to a light stand. C-Stands are a must for this beast!
About the Author
Jake Hicks is an editorial and fashion photographer who specializes in keeping the skill in the camera, not just on the screen. For more of his work and tutorials, check out his website. Don’t forget to like his Facebook page and follow him on Instagram, too. On Jake’s Facebook page, you can also tune in for a live stream every other Tuesday night. You can also sign up for the Jake Hicks Photography newsletter to receive Jake’s free Top Ten Studio Lighting Tips and Techniques PDF, and be sure to download his free 50-page studio lighting book. This article was also published here and shared with permission.