The MagMod basic kit is, to quote the company site: "the simplest, strongest, fastest" speedlight modifier system I could imagine using. The silicone rubber construction and magnetic connection innovation together make this the easiest, most reliable way to use gels and grid spots on my flashes.
Big disclaimer here: I haven't used many other gel or grid products. My only basis for comparison is seeing them, holding them, and watching other photographers use them. Other systems seem frustrating and fragile by comparison.
My justification for buying the MagMod system ("basic kit") is that I wanted to make more images like the one above, where I can more completely control the light, including its color.
"Gels", in photography, are colored pieces of plastic that go between the flash and the subject. They are traditionally flimsy and tiny pieces of plastic with no good way to keep track of them or hold them to the flash. People use tape, hook-and-loop fasteners, and other DIY solutions. Often the gels melt, if they're too close to the flash's burst of light. So I'd never bought any before.
I got some samples with my LumoPro LP180; the first one I tested melted and warped immediately, though the flash was on low power and the gel wasn't touching the fresnel front of the flash. The "gel holder" built into that particular speedlight isn't very secure. A slight breeze will dislodge the gel, and sometimes they fall out on their own.
Though I almost exclusively light my images with flash, I've shied away from buying gels. Until this system was promoted earlier this year, I hadn't heard of a decent flash gel system. The MagMod seemed like it would be the solution I needed.
Worst Things First
Screenshot from MagMod site
(Red arrow is my annotation.)
This is no longer on the site,
as of Aug. 4, 2014
• Slow Shipping Time
The MagMod website (link) says, very near the top: "Ships in 24 Hours". I ordered on Friday evening and expected my package to ship out Saturday (I assumed it wouldn't move on Sunday). But Monday afternoon I was still waiting for the product to ship. My order was still listed as "processing" on their site.
I finally received a shipping confirmation email after more than 68 hours from the time of order.
Update: As of Aug. 4, 2014, the MagMod site no longer has the "ships in 24 hours" promise.
• Ships Via USPS
Additionally, I was disappointed that there were no options listed for shipping when I ordered. When my order finally shipped, it was through USPS (U.S. Postal Service), with which I've always had difficulties compared to UPS or FedEx, though I'm sure it's slightly cheaper for MagMod (who did not charge me for shipping).
• No Labels On Gels
This is a tiny, nitpicky complaint, but the gels were not labeled so you have to guess at which one you're choosing. This is only an issue with the orange ones, since there are four.
Inside the beautiful, minimalistic box of each basic kit were six items: (1) the MagGrip, (2) MagGel, (3) eight gels, (4) MagGrid, (5) bright yellow drawstring bag, and (6) radio transmitter band.
The MagGrip is the main part, which stretches over the head of any speedlight and contains strong magnets to securely hold the other parts.
The MagGel is an empty slot — into which you insert the semi-rigid gels. It has two smaller magnets.
The MagGrid is, well, the grid spot. All of these parts, as well as the radio transmitter band, are made of black, stretchy silicone rubber.
The band has two loops. The larger loop stretches over the head of a speedlight and the smaller loop holds a radio transmitter.
The eight gels, which aren't labeled, include: full CTO, 1/2 CTO, 1/4 CTO, 1/2 blue, 3X ND, 1/2 straw, 1/2 “plusgreen”, and “opal frost diffusion”. Four of those are, to the layperson, “orange”, though of differing strengths. MagMod also sells a “creative gel set”, for $19, which includes red, orange, yellow, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and purple.
There were no instructions in the box, but this system is basically a no-brainer (see How It Works).
As for the gels, they just slide into the MagGel holder, and it pops into place on the MagGrip too. Or in front of the grid. Or behind the grid. Each piece is magnetized, so they can go in any order and be stacked outward. Each MagGel holder will hold up to three gels, if you want to mix-and-match the colors.
Each attachment peels off easily, but won't fall off on its own or from a small bump.
All the MagMod products are built solidly. As always, durability is something that can only be tested with time, but these feel really durable. The stretchy silicone rubber really stretches. The MagGrip has to stretch quite a bit to fit over the heads of my flashes, but once it's there, it's solidly in place.
The magnets in these are strong, as you can see in the image at right. The MagGrip easily held a full-size flash horizontally from my refrigerator — it yanked itself to the fridge surface. I had no qualms about leaving it there while I went to find a camera to make this photo.
Unlike every other flash gel I've ever seen, these gels will be just fine. They're solid sheets of polycarbonate. They won't crinkle or melt. They might scratch a bit, but that won't affect how I use them. The MagGrids can twist and bend in a variety of ways without cracking or breaking — unlike most other grid systems.
One slight issue is that the magnets sometimes come out of their sockets, especially if you stack a MagGel behind a MagGrid. The slightly stronger magnets in the grid will pull out the gel-holder's magnets. They're simple enough to put back in place, but it can be an irritation.
I've experimented with DIY grid spots and "gels" (colored crepe paper taped in front of my flash), and this is much better than that. Normally, the cost ($89 for one basic kit) would have been prohibitive to me, but this time I had the money to spend, so I'm thankful for that.
Having already used the MagMod kit a few times, I'm impressed. I also like that this was a Kickstarter project, begun by photographers looking for a better solution — instead of being dreamed up by a large corporation’s marketing department.
If you already have a gel/grid system that's working for you, there's no reason to switch. But for those of us who were hesitating, this is the answer.