Nimbus Cloud Dome Horizontal Kit
$149 www.clouddome.com

The Nimbus Cloud Dome is a plastic bell-shaped light diffuser designed to allow you to capture evenly-lit images of small objects using a smartphone. 

The Nimbus Cloud Dome is available on its own for $79 or as part of the Nimbus Cloud Dome Horizontal kit, which is what I recieved for this review. The Horizontal Kit includes the Nimbus Dome Photography Base and Nimbus Cradle for holding the apparatus horizontally. All three pieces are constructed of a high impact, non-yellowing, crack-resistant translucent plastic. Most of my testing was done in the upright configuration, as pictured above.

The top of the Nimbus Cloud Dome is equipped with a trio of spools that hold a thick elastic band. This elastic band securely pins a smartphone in place - I used an Apple iPhone 4 for this review. There's a small hole in the middle of the Nimbus Cloud Dome's top, which is where the phone's camera lens should be positioned. In order to make certain the phone was positioned correctly, I had to power the Camera application on and nudge the phone about until no portion of the plastic was obscuring the lens. Once situated, the phone stays put thanks to the elastic band.

The Nimbus Cloud Dome, pictured with the Photography Base. The Nimbus Cloud Dome Horizontal kit includes the Dome, Photography Base and Cradle.

The Nimbus Dome Photography Base is a must-have if you plan on taking serious pictures. It provides a white uniform background for images, but also accommodates external lighting for spotlight and backlight effects. Spotlighting is acheived by adding a light under the cutout hole on the bottom of the Nimbus Cloud Photography Base, while various backlighting effects can be added by placing a light in the base's shelf portion. A mirror panel on the inside of the base's bottom level helps to reflect and spread light evenly. The legs of the base are height-adjustable to help vary the intensity of the lighting underneath.

As for size, the Nimbus Cloud Dome is 5" high by 7" in diameter. The Photography Base is 8" x 8" x 3.25". The Nimbus Cloud Dome and Photography Base each come with their own carry satchels, and can consolidate into one bag for easy transport. The Nimbus Cradle enables the Nimbus Cloud Dome to be mounted horizontally for shots of products like necklaces and earrings, and can also fit into the larger bag with the Nimbus Cloud Dome and Photography Base.

Now how about lighting quality? There are many videos of the Nimbus Cloud Dome in action, and they all make it look so easy to attain professional shots. Well, once I figured out the optimal configuration, I was able to capture some impressive images. However, this was not a plug-and-play experience. I had to experiment multiple times with different external lighting sources in order to happen upon the luminance sweet spot. I tried indoor ambient light, outdoor ambient light and dual softbox studio lights before determining that the best results came from outdoor ambient light on an overcast day. Very rarely, I was able to achieve decent results with indoor ambient lighting, as long as it was bright enough.

Without iPhone HDR, under Nimbus Cloud Dome in outdoor ambient lighting. With iPhone HDR, under Nimbus Cloud Dome in outdoor ambient lighting and touched up in Photoshop.
Without Nimbus Cloud Dome in outdoor ambient lighting. With Nimbus Cloud Dome in outdoor ambient lighting, touched up in Photoshop.

The softboxes yielded a rather warm color cast, and needed a temperature adjustment in Photoshop while the indoor ambient light was too dark and would need a brightness adjustment.

One of the Nimbus Cloud Dome's main selling points is that the company claims no editing is necessary. I'm here to tell you that's a bit of a stretch. First off, I enabled HDR mode on the iPhone 4, which produced the best results in most situations. I then had to crop and do a little Shadows/Highlights work before an Unsharp Mask in Photoshop in order to get the results I wanted. So, editing is necessary, although it should be noted that my iPhone 4, unlike the newer 4S and 5, does display color-shift issues in some situations, and it isn't unusual to see magenta/green color casts in areas of plain neutral tone. 

With Nimbus Cloud Dome, iPhone 4 HDR, in indoor ambient lighting. With Nimbus Cloud Dome, iPhone 4 HDR, in indoor ambient lighting, touched up in Photoshop.
With Nimbus Cloud Dome, iPhone 4 HDR, in indoor ambient lighting. With Nimbus Cloud Dome, iPhone 4 HDR, in indoor ambient lighting, touched up in Photoshop.

Summing Up

The Nimbus Cloud Dome does succeed in providing even light, which is its primary purpose. Shots taken without the Nimbus Cloud Dome were riddled with reflections, shadows and uneven lighting. Artistic background paper and dramatic backlighting can be added, courtesy of the Photography Base. I recommend using very cool temperature LED lights if you plan on lighting the Nimbus Cloud Dome externally or from underneath the Photography Base.

Overall, I was impressed with the performance of the Nimbus Cloud Dome after I got the kit dialed in. However, certainly with the iPhone 4 that I used for this test, I found that it was necessary to do a bit of tinkering to find the ideal lighting setup. Also, while the price may seem a little steep for a smartphone accessory, it's very cheap for a portable studio setup, and produces good enough results for web display and online auctions. Avid eBayers, online jewelry store clerks, Craigslisters and any other sellers or retailers who deal with small items should take note.  

What we like: Impressive and evenly-lit images, simple to use once configured properly, travel friendly (miniature studio in a bag), a huge variety of lighting and background possibilities abound.

What we don't like: Lots of trial and error runs needed to achieve ideal lighting, requires Photoshop editing for optimal results (although this is partly a consequence of smartphone image capture).


Mike Perlman is a freelance photographer and writer, based in Bar Harbor, Maine. After a spell reviewing camcorders at Camcorderinfo.com, Mike moved to infoSync World as the Senior Photography Editor, before taking up a role at TechnoBuffalo.com as the head of the Photography department. These days, Mike runs his own photography business and contributes to dpreview between shoots.