umbrella vs soft boxes: pros and cons

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by pezuzaine, Jul 3, 2010.

  1. pezuzaine

    pezuzaine TPF Noob!

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    what's the difference between soft boxes and umbrellas? and which would be the better buy as far as having it in the future? i've heard random things here and there like soft boxes obviously produce softer lighting on the subjects and umbrellas harsher. help on this please...

    also where can i get a good studio kit for either or? brand, quality and such and pricing? i have a limited spending allowance right now. possibly a decent one up to $300?

    ~p
     
  2. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Umbrellas cost less, size-for-size, and are typically easier to set up and transport. Umbrellas are self-contained, and you never lose or forget the speed ring or the rods of a softbox--the umbrella is entirely its "own entity" if it is used with a studio flash, which has the umbrella receptacle built in. When using speedlights, you do need to always remember the umbrella swivel mount.

    Umbrellas come in many styles and colors--white refelctive, white shoot-through, gold reflective, silver reflective, convertible, and deep parabolic like the new Paul C. Buff Parabolic Light Modifiers or "PLM" umbrellas which are **SUPER-EFFICIENT** and can light up incredible areas at long distances, with much,much more efficiency than any umbrella I have ever seen, yet which are affordable. Speedotrons Super Silver style silver metallized umbrellas give crisp,beautiful lighting that looks fantastic in B&W.

    Soft boxes from Chimera and Photoflex are high-quality and last a long,long time, but cost more than cheaper brands. There are many CHinese-made boxes sold via eBay for very low,low prices, like $29 to $59; I bought two Chinese cheapies, both smaller 24 inch models, one with a grid and recessed face, the other just recessed face, for only $35 each! And they both do surprisingly good lighting, although the speed rings and the assembly rods are a biatch to work with compared with the quality, better-engineered Photoflex boxes I've used for 20+ years now.

    There is also a wonderful hybrid umbrella/softbox: the Lastolite Umbrella Box, and the Phototeck Softlighter. These are enclosed, reflevting umbrellas with a diffusion face that zips or drawstrings closed, and they have some of the best qualities of both umbrellas and softboxes. Annie Liebovitz loves the Softlighter. I love the Umbrella Box, which you can see a lot of examples from by stopping by the dg28.com web blog, which is Neil Turner's superb resource for on-location lighting using almost exclusively the Lastolite Umbrella Box and Lumedyne battery-powered strobes. I believe that Turner's blog is/was the inspiration for the Strobist blogspot.
     
  3. Dwig

    Dwig TPF Noob!

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    There is quite a range of items of each type, each giving a somewhat different quality of light, so its impossible to give a simple answer that is complete.

    There is one universal difference, though. Umbrellas are very "sloppy" with their light output. They spill a large portion of their light around the studio, whether used as reflective devices or shoot-thru.

    Softboxes, on the other hand, are enclosed. They don't spill a significant amount of light around the studio that isn't aimed in the direction of the subject.

    When working in a small studio, the light spilled by an umbrella will reflect off of the walls and ceiling. Sometimes this out of control light is useful in providing more filll, but it can be very detrimental, especially when it reflects off of anything with a strong color. Softboxes don't pose the problem of letting rogue out of control light scatter around the studio to anywhere near the degree that umbrellas do.
     
  4. Petraio Prime

    Petraio Prime TPF Noob!

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    Umbrellas, even though they have a large surface area and thus produce 'soft' light, are still 'point' sources. This means the light falls off radially from their center. It is difficult to achieve even light over a large area with them. The soft box produces a 'sheet' of light, which I much prefer. The soft box can be masked to produce a 'sliver' of light, which can be very useful. I hate umbrellas.
     
  5. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    HERE is a page where you can choose two different 'VISATEC' light modifiers and compare the resulting images. Other brands will likely have subtle differences, but it can give you a good idea of the characteristics of the light from different modifiers.
     
  6. An72

    An72 TPF Noob!

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    When it comes to lighting, soft boxes can offer you the most control and the most uniform lighting. Multiple shapes are available, ranging from your standard, rectangular or square to octagonal. While the Umbrella is the cheapest lighting modification option, and extremely easy to transport and setup. They produce a soft look, and the light falls nicely onto your background.
     

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