Saturday, February 11, 2012
Westcott Apollo Orb vs. Photek Softlighter II
Just got the new Westcott 43" Apollo Orb octabox for speedlights and I have to say it is one sweet light mod. Since there are already several good reviews of the Orb out there, instead of doing a review of just of the Orb, I decided to do a comparison of the Orb with its closest competitor, the Photek Softlighter II. Both are really nice lighting modifiers and while they have many similarities, there are a few noticeable differences as well. Let's check 'em out...
First off, in looking at the two side by side (please note, the pics are NOT to scale), you'll notice that the Orb is significantly deeper than the Softlighter but the Softlighter is actually an inch or so bigger in diameter. The Orb's face is 43" while the Softlighter is 46". The only benefit I can see from having a deeper box is that you might be able to get a better selection of different sized lights inside of it, but since the construction of the two are different, that doesn't appear to be the case because the Softlighter takes the light on the front of the box while the Orb takes it on the inside, thus any light seems to work with both equally well. I also thought that maybe the quality of light would be different due to the depth of the Orb over the Softlighter, but after shooting with both, I really couldn't see that much of a noticeable difference, however, maybe you can.
In the portraits below, you can see the effect of both mods on the subject. Both portraits were taken at f/5.6 @ 1/250 sec ISO 200 and the face of each modifier is the same distance from the subject (roughly 36 inches) and angled the same way. Both modifiers create a really nice, soft wrapping light, but the Orb appears to be much more efficient (uses less light) than the Softlighter.
Also note that while I tried my best to keep all of the parameters the same, you might notice different results in your own testing. There could be a fluctuation of about 1/3 stop either way, but for the purpose of this post, you can get a pretty good idea from the settings I used.
Now let's check out the differences in build quality and functionality. Both mods are built on umbrella platforms meaning that they will fold down just like a shoot through umbrella and pack away nicely in almost any light bag. Both are roughly 36 inches when folded down, but the Softlighter comes with its own carrying bag and the Orb does not (no biggie). Also, the Softlighter appears to be more rugged and sturdy than the Orb. The arms of the Softlighter are a bit thicker than the Orb which makes it seem more rigid and less likely to break however, for me the Orb sets up much easier than the Softlighter. To put the screen on the Softlighter, you have to slide it over your light and stand first, then mount the umbrella section and attach the screen to it. With the Orb, you just slide the unit over your light and attach the diffusion. I personally don't like having to fiddle with the "sock" on the diffusion screen of the Softlighter. If you are using more than one speedlight or a bigger light like a monobloc you have to fiddle with it a little more to get it set up. The Apollo seems easier to use in that regard... just my opinion though!
come up with various mods to allow you to tilt this softbox to any angle you want. Perhaps though the easiest way is to just use a boom arm.
Westcott also has a pretty cool video about how to get the most tilt using the Apollo line of softboxes with just a few extra pieces of gear, check it out below...
So in conclusion, which mod is better? Well, hopefully you can get enough info from this post to judge for yourself, but both are equally useful mods and are priced right. However, if I had to pick just one, I believe I would go with the Apollo Orb because of two critical reasons. Since I use primarily speedlights, the efficiency thing for me is a big deal. I'll take any extra stops of light I can get so I don't have to maximize the power settings on my flashes and can also get my batteries to last longer. Secondly, (and this is really just a personal opinion), I feel that the Apollo Orb is a little easier to setup and use than the Softlighter which, when you don't have a lot of time to set up and shoot your subject, every little minute helps!
DISCLAIMER: I alluded to this earlier, but just to make clear, I didn't use a light meter to do these tests, and that is because I rarely use a light meter these days because I find that relying on my LCD and histograms is almost just as effective and enables me to not have to carry around another piece of equipment. So the terms I use of "proper" exposure and a "good" exposure are really relative to what you would define as "proper" or "good". Everyone has a different perception so these tests are really based toward my own personal preferences.
Hope this comparison helps any of you who are trying to decide on which of these mods would better suit your shooting style, but if anyone has any questions about these mods that I didn't address in the post, then please ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.
See you next time!