40" generic UmbrellaBoxes.

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     I love the softness of a large softbox for glamour work. However, shooting primarily with speedlites, and other small battery powered flashes, standard softboxes aren't really a viable option, without investing in sometimes expensive standard softboxes and pricey speedrings.

      I saw some 'umbrella softboxes' while perusing Amazon and the eBays, and thought I'd pick them up, and check them out... at $27 for two, I couldn't pass them up.







     Now don't automatically assume an "OMG, $13.50 each!? I love them!" from me... I love bargains, and love being able to produce the images that I want with inexpensive gear, but I won't shoot with junk. If it doesn't meet my standards, it won't be making its way into my kit. Let's see how these stack up.



First Impression:
     For the price, I was half expecting them to show up dented, with the shaft bent at a weird angle, but they showed up new and shiny. There's no way you can mistake these for professional, or even mid-grade modifiers, they're lightweight, and the umbrella backing feels a little cheap, but the main shaft, and the ridges are quite firm, and can take some abuse (they can, read on) There's a drawstring opening in the middle of the diffusion panel, with a 6" zipper, to make inserting larger flashes, and making adjustments a little easier while mounted. All in all, cheaply made, but feels solid enough to take a year or two of regular use and keep working.

Light Loss:
     For many modifiers, it's important to take into consideration how much light the modifier 'eats.' I tested out my Sunpak 622 Super (in the image above) on a stand, about 9 feet from my fiancée ( I just stepped it out, I'm not concerned about actual output of my flash, just the light loss when shot through the modifier at the same distance.) So at 9' I blinded her with f/22... I may be sleeping on the couch. With the modifier in place, she was only slightly blinded with f/11.2 (1.8 stops of light lost) take into account, that the light went an additional 2 feet, 1 each to the reflective backing of the umbrella, and then to the diffusion panel. But in practical use, it's just less than 2 stops of power lost at the same distance. This is a bit more than pricier modifiers. I have softboxes that vary between 1.2 and 1.75 or so, and I'm comfortable with the idea of a modifier eating 1.5-2 stops of light, it's a fact of life, and this isn't too much of a loss to fret over.

Color Shift:
     I tested the white balance shift of the diffusion fabric using four different lights. Photogenic Powerlight 320ws strobe, Sunpak 622 super, Metz 60 CT-2, and YN460II speedlite. Each light had their own minor shift around 5600, but the modifier shifted to the warm side for the same amount for each. Each light was warmer about 550K (6200 being the average.) Pop on a 1/4 CTB gel, and we're good to go to match daylight, or gel accordingly (or just correctly white balance if you're using modifiers that shift similarly) for indoor work. Both umbrellas shifted the same. 

Final Verdict:
     These have a spot in my kit. I've been shooting a lot more glamour sets for publications recently, and having something on hand for big, soft light is always welcome. During my first two shoots with them, the weather was unfriendly, and blew them around quite a bit. They held together fantastically, and even one one did manage to catch a giant wind gust and tip over, the internal ribs did not bend (unlike many of my mid-grade umbrellas) though I may have just gotten lucky. 

Overall, they're big, soft, easy as hell to set up, and cheap as dirt.Hell, $27 is my girl's weekly chai latte budget... If you're lacking in the 'big soft modifier' department, pick one (or two) up and check them out.

If you want some of your own, search amazon and ebay for "Umbrella Box" 33"-56" varieties are available. I got mine from Amazon, under the brand: LimoStudios.

Happy Shooting.

3 comments:

On December 10, 2011 at 7:20 PM , Unknown said...

Be sure and check out the Photek Softlighter II umbrella diffuser http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/690335-REG/Photek_HSD_4000K_Softlighter_Hot_Shoe_Diffuser.html

It comes in sizes up to 60", albeit the largest size is too big for most speed lights. The 48" works extremely well, and the quality of light is nothing less than superb. In fact, when I used to shoot with it a lot, I'd get frequent inquiries from other photographers about what type of modifier I was using to produce such soft, creamy light. The 60" really requires a studio strobe. At that point, one might as well simply utilize a 60" softbox.

 
On December 10, 2011 at 11:43 PM , Photography on a Budget said...

These modifiers are budget versions of the Photek Softlighters. I'm a big fan of the Softlighters, they're fantastic, and wanted to check out some inexpensive alternatives.

 
On June 24, 2012 at 6:26 AM , mqMarkS said...

Thanks so much for your youtube videos and this blog. Both are an enormous help to me!

Regards

Mark

Sydney, Australia