Sunday, May 27, 2012

Phottix Easy-Up Softbox Review

(Edit:  It would appear that this softbox by Phottix is no longer available in the U.S., so the only option to get one of these may be via EBay.  Otherwise, the Apollo 24" softbox is nearly identical, although it costs a little more.)

There's a new kid in town!

Are you in the market for a softbox for your speedlights but not sure what to buy?  With all of the choices out their nowadays it can be a bit daunting because over the last few years the market has been flooded with all types of modifiers for speedlights with every kind of design, feature and price tag you can imagine.  However I have to say, after experimenting with many of these new products, I think I may have found a new favorite!

Let me introduce you to the new, Phottix Easy-Up Softbox, made by a company that is already producing a lot of cool photography tools at very affordable prices!  The Phottix Easy-Up softbox is a 28" softbox built on an umbrella frame that folds down just like any standard umbrella which takes minimal room in just about any gear bag.  It produces a directional, soft quality of light, that comes with a front diffusion panel and also (perhaps my favorite detail) an included egg-crate grid!

The Phottix Easy-Up is a reflective softbox meaning that your flash actually faces towards the back of the softbox filling it with light before being channeled out the front diffusion.  This allows the light to marinade around in the box completely filling it with light which prevents hot spots on the diffusion face.  This softbox also mounts on any standard umbrella swivel adapter as you can see in this detail shot.  Any umbrella adapter will work but I also prefer to use Frio coldshoes on all of my adapters for an extra secure fit.

The Phottix Easy-Up also has a recessed front which helps to make the light more directional and if that isn't enough control, it also comes with an egg crate grid for maximum shape and control of the light!  Most softboxes on the market don't come with grids so this is a very welcome addition.  Not only can it be hard to find grids for some softboxes, but sometimes the grid themselves can cost as much as the softbox itself!  The included grid simply velcros in to the recessed front right over the diffusion face.

So how about the quality of light from the Phottix?  Well I have to say after initial testing and also using it on two assignments already, I'm very impressed!  It produces a really nice, rich quality of light with little specularity on your subjects.  Also, by having the recessed front, its very easy to feather the softbox away from your subject so that you can create a more wrapping light with a noticeable edge.  The size of this softbox also makes it perfect for portraits, headshots, 3/4 poses and can even be used for full-length poses albeit with a little fall off of light.

The Phottix also appears to be a rather efficient light modifier barely using a stop of light with the diffusion fabric on with no noticeable color casting.  In this series of photos you can see the quality of light it produces by noticing the highlight to shadow transfer areas, the minimal lack of specular reflections and also how using the grid can really create a more dramatic look.

In this first portrait, the softbox is to camera left and approximately 3 feet away from my lovely model.  All of these portraits were taken with the same settings of f/5.6 at 1/250 sec ISO 200 with my flash power dialed in at 1/8 power.  As always, you can click on any photo for a larger view!

For this next portrait, I used all of the same settings but attached the grid to the softbox.  Notice on the camera left side of her arm how it appears darker and also on the camera right side of her, the fall of light is more noticeable.  Another detail to notice is that the background is a tad darker from the first photo.  The included grid really helps to channel the light more and create a slightly more dramatic feel.  My model is about 2 feet away from the white, paper background so you would think that the grid wouldn't make that much difference on the background but it does.  Also, all of these photos are straight out of camera with only rotating and resizing for the web.

I thought it might be a little difficult to notice the difference in using the grid and not using the grid in the tighter portraits above so I did some full length portraits which should make the difference much more apparent.  In this first portrait the grid is not being used and you can see that it lights the model fairly evenly with a noticeable fall off of light down the body.  Granted my model is a tad bit shorter than most so results would be different with a "full sized model". :)

However, in this next portrait you can really see what a difference using the grid makes ...and also what a crappy condition my background is in lol!  The light falls off much more rapidly and really creates a more dramatic feel with much less light on the background.

Now I do have only one small complaint about this softbox and others similar to it, but there are plenty of work-a rounds as you can find in this post.  In order to mount this softbox to a light stand, you have to run the stand up through a zippered slot in the bottom of the softbox.  Because of this design, you get very limited mobility when try to tilt the softbox up or down.  If you're using an assistant then this isn't so much of a problem as they can tilt the softbox for you, but if you're shooting by yourself, as many of us often do, this can be a frustrating problem when it comes to getting the softbox in the exact position you need.

So my solution to this is to use a boom arm, or in my case, a spare reflector holder I had lying around.  Using a boom arm, or a reflector holder enables you to tilt the softbox in any manner you see fit and gives you much more flexibility in creating different angles of light.  However, if you decide to go this route, be sure to use sand bags or another type of weight on your stand because the added boom arm (or reflector holder) tends to throw the center of balance off and can cause your whole rig to come crashing to the ground, especially outside!  A little bit of wind or a clumsy photographer can cause a costly accident.  Actually, the best ethic is to always use something to weigh down your light stands or simply have someone hold them for you.

Ok, if you've made it this far, I have probably saved the best detail about this softbox for last.  The Phottix Easy-Up Umbrella Softbox is literally half the price of its next closest competitor and that's including the grid!!!  HALF THE PRICE!  That is a steal if you are in the market for one of these, so much so that you may want to run out and get two or three!

Hopefully this review was helpful and if anyone has any questions, just give me a shout!  Now time to go play with this thing... see you next time!