Battle of the Round Modifiers

Does the shape really matter? Does diffusion help?

When you think of modifiers for your photo studio lights, what comes to mind first? Softboxes? Octaboxes? What about umbrellas? I will be at WPPI 2018 next week presenting about keeping it simple in the Interfit Photographic booth. I will be there on Monday afternoon at 1:30 and will primarily be talking about working with umbrellas. Think simple and inexpensive.

Yes, softboxes and octaboxes are everybody's favorites. But back in the "good old days" when I got started umbrellas were the go-to modifier. Some photographers were starting to build their own softboxes out of wood or foamcore, but there weren't any commercially mass produced boxes. Over the years it seems that umbrellas have fallen out of favor or have become 2nd class or even 3rd class options for modifying lights.

Like most everyone else, I've been using rectangular and roundish boxes for the past few years. But I have also maintained my relationship with one set of umbrellas, the Photek Softlighters in three sizes, 36-inch, 46-inch, and 60-inch. If I could only have one modifier, it would be the 60-inch Photek Softlighter. But having only one modifier is a scary fantasy notion, so let's not think of that any more.

How different are they from each other?

While preparing for my presentation I started thinking of the differences between the various modifiers. Do they really make that big a difference in comparison to their prices and their ease of set up and use? So I set up my tripod, and a remote shutter release this morning then started a series of selfies with a variety of round(ish) light modifiers. I grabbed these seven items and got to work: Westcott Apollo Orb, 36-inch Photek Softlighter, 41-inch silver metallic umbrella, 46-inch Photek Softlighter, 41-inch white satin umbrella, a 43-inch white shoot-through umbrella, and a 36-inch Paul C. Buff folding octabox (modified with a Bowens S-mount speedring). I mounted each of these in succession on an Interfit Honey Badger and you can see the results below. Use the slider over on the right side of the photos to drag left to reveal which modifier was used for each image. Each row is different modifier or different arrangement of the modifier with the full frame on the left and a close in crop on the face on the right to better see the catchlights in the eyes. Can you identify each modifier before dragging the slider?

I metered each modifier setup to read f/7.1 and kept the camera (Canon EOS 6D with Canon 100mm f/2 lens) on the "Daylight" white balance. As you can see, some of the modifiers have a strong influence on the color. The shoot-through umbrella was quite blue--maybe it doesn't have a UV coating? The Buff 36-inch octa was quite warm. The rest of the modifiers were much closer in color to each other.

Comparing the Photek Softlighter with and without diffusion

I was especially interested in seeing the comparison between the 46-inch Photek Softlighter on its own (without the diffusion panel), with the diffusion panel, and with 2 layers of diffusion panel. So here is that comparison. What do you think?

The image on the left below is the Softlighter with one layer of diffusion. The image on the right has two diffusion panels layered over each other.

So, how did you do on identifying each of the modifiers? Let me know in the comments here or join my lighting group on Facebook.