Thursday, February 24, 2011

Photek Softlighter II Review

Tried out my new 60" Photek Softlighter II last night. I give it high marks for both functionality as well as ease of use.

First off, it was incredibly quick and easy to deploy. I had already attached the front baffle to the umbrella before going to my shoot. This made attaching the Softlighter to my Novatron 500ws monolight a piece of cake. Not much more effort than attaching any umbrella. (If you consider pulling the flexible "sock" over the monolight's reflector "more effort" at all.)

BTW, if you keep the baffle attached and, when you collapse the Softlighter, you push the baffle into the umbrella's "innards," you can easily slide it into the handy carrying bag they supply with the modifier. They do give you a 2nd smaller bag for the baffle but I found the unit can easily be packed in the larger bag while remaining assembled.

I compare the light quality produced by this modifier as being on a par with my 5' Photoflex Octodome. Both modifiers are octagonally shaped. Both are nearly the same size. (The Sofltlighter, I believe, is a few inches smaller than the the Octa.) The Softlighter is much easier to set-up and break-down than the Octa and stores in a much smaller bag. Weight-wise, the Softlighter is also lighter than the Octodome.

Since the light produced by the Softlighter is reflected rather than direct (as is the case with the Octa and other soft boxes) the Softlighter doesn't produce a hot-spot in the center in spite of the Octodome having both internal and external baffles. Being "hotter" at the center, BTW, isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can be used to good effect depending on how you position and aim the modifier. The same holds true for beauty dishes which also are "hotter" in the center. The Octodome, as with other soft boxes, also keeps the light better confined and more controlled than the Softlighter does but, since I was shooting on a white seamless, that wasn't much of an issue.

My Octodome has eight interchangeable gold and silver panels which is nice for warming or cooling the light output. The Softlighter II doesn't have this feature but I don't see that as a problem. I can easily gel my light source if I want to warm it or cool it.

There's a big price difference between the Softlighter II and my Photoflex Octodome. If you're a guerrilla glamour shooter like I am and money is an object, the Softlighter II, for many reasons including price, ease of use and more, probably qualifies as a "makes more sense" gear acquisition over a Photoflex Octodome and will deliver very similar results. Many of the product pics of the Softlighter II I've seen online are misleading. The umbrella is much deeper than the photos I've seen seem to indicate.

The pretty girl at the top is Allison from last night. I lit Allison with the 60" Softlighter II as my main light. I deployed a 6' LumoPro Lite-Panel, silver side out, on the fill side. Two kickers, each modified with small shoot-thru umbrellas and placed either side from behind, provided accents, rear-fill, and highlights. Very minimal post.

11 comments:

John said...

About storing the modifier inside the 'brella - is there any chance of damaging or causing wear patterns on the modifier? Otherwise, almost sounds too good to be true.

jimmyd said...

@John - I thought about that and, of course, anything is possible. But my instincts tell me it won't be a problem. The Softlighter seems very well constructed both in terms of the shaft and umbrella ribs and other metal components and the fabric and materials also being of high-quality.

asiangirlphotgrapher said...

I travel with this all the time and it is great. It will just fit diagonally in a large suitcase. I use it with my 550ex flashes (hooking up two is the best) and enough light is generated as long as I am shooting indoors and bring the light in close. For an amateur like me, it was the perfect combo of price/convenience/quality.

Bill Giles said...

If I remember correctly, the smaller Softlighters have the gold and silver inserts (gold anyway), but I have never used them.

jimmyd said...

@Bill - I think you're right about that. I'm considering getting the smaller one as well... the 46" model... more for either having someone hand-hold it on an arm or for booming it.

Bill Giles said...

I have never tried to store my softlighters assembled. I never gave it that much thought. I started out with a pair of the 46" softlighters, which allowed me to set up in opposition or in tandem. After I had trouble setting them up in a small room, I got two of the 32" (I think that is the size) Softlighters. I probably use the 60" more than the others. I have a Paul Buff 48" foldable octobox that Is a bit easier to set up and tear down than the Softlighter, but it is a bit bulkier than the Softlighters and only works with PCB products (or Balcar).

jimmyd said...

@Bill - Thanks. I didn't know about the 32" model. Now I'm gonna have to figure out which would be more appropriate (the 32" or the 46") for what I want to do with a smaller one.

jimmyd said...

@Bill - I just bought a pair of these from Amazon. They're Photek knock-offs but the reviews for them are very positive. I mostly want to use them as kickers from behind the models. I currently use small shoot-thru umbrellas but they don't contain the light very well and it bleeds onto my seamless because the room I've been shooting in lately (3 nights a week) isn't wide enough for me to get my backlights far enough away from the 9' seamless. These should work fine and keep the spill off the seamless. They're cheap too! http://www.amazon.com/PBL-Stuido-Reflective-Umbrella-Softbox/dp/B001BSQK8Q

Bill Giles said...

They look pretty similar and it's hard to argue with the price. Some of the Photek items may not be available anymore. I haven't looked.

jimmyd said...

@Bill - That some of the Photek products are not available is what led me to these inexpensive clones. I'll let you know how well constructed and functional they are after I receive them and use them.

EleganceAndChaos said...

I noticed Nick Knight using the smaller version in this video also.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8ag9y_a6VA&feature=related

I noticed that he is using a monolight as opposed to a pack and head system.

I am not a big fan of shooting a model this close in with a wide angle lens due to the perspective distortion and barrel distortion, but I don't get paid the big buck to shoot super models either. :)