Parabolic softboxes are all the rage in the lighting world. It seems like you can't check out lighting videos on Youtube without coming across one. But with price points all over the place, I was reluctant to pick one up for fear of spending too much money on a modifier I wouldn't like or use. Then, I came across the budget-priced Selens Parabolic Softbox. With a price of about $100 and good reviews, I was ready to pull the trigger. Here are my thoughts and video review.
There are plenty of varieties of parabolic softboxes out there to choose from, with some offerings from well-regarded brands like Phottix, Wescott, and Elinchrom, among others. But when I came across the Selens 48-inch Parabolic Softbox, I knew this price/review ratio was enough to get me to try one out. I've been using the Photek Softlighter for a long time now, and I love the quality of light it puts out, so I thought it would be a fitting point of comparison for my needs.
Putting It Together
One complaint I've heard over and over about parabolic softboxes is that they are a pain to put together. With a speedring, 16 rods, an internal baffle, and an external diffuser, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it would be a Herculean effort to get all of this together without looking like an amateur on set. I'm happy to report that assembly really wasn't a big deal.
First of all, the rods came pre-inserted into the softbox. That's great since I love nothing less than rooting through a bunch of fabric to try and feed metal rods through.
Next, you insert the exposed ends of the rods into the speedring. This is usually where people throw a fit. Selens made this part easy, though, by color-coding four of the ends of the rods to match four of the holes on the speedring. What this does is provide a reference so you can quickly get the softbox into a tent shape, making insertion of the rest of the rods a breeze.
After inserting the internal baffle (velcro) and external diffuser (more velcro), you're done. All told, it took me almost exactly three minutes to assemble the box from start to finish. Considering I had no instructions and had never done it before, the time required was very low indeed.
The softbox seems to be made of nylon, which is neither good or bad, but the weight of the nylon seems to be pretty light. Again, it's not a bad thing, but if you're really rough on your equipment, I could see having to patch holes or deal with tears in short order. Personally, I don't mind the light weight, and if the softbox is destroyed, I only paid $100 for it. I could replace it four or five times and still be under what I would pay for one of the more expensive alternatives.
Of note in dealing with this softbox and any other parabolic, I'd imagine, is that it becomes very front-heavy when mounted on a light. Just by the nature of its shape, its center of gravity is nowhere near the stand, so sandbags and a sturdy stand are a given. If I were on location, I wouldn't put this thing anywhere near a cheap light stand.
In my totally unscientific way, I'd say that the quality of light and falloff that this modifier puts out are very similar to the Photek. The parabolic gives a slightly more directional light, but there seems to be less of a hot spot as well. That's a nice bonus, especially when dealing with shiny faces! Because the Selens isn't bouncing light at the subject like the Softlighter, you also benefit from about 3/4 of a stop of extra power. When you're outside, every little bit helps.
Here's a quick shot of the Photek Softlighter in studio compared to the Selens Parabolic. As you can see, the results are similar, with the Selens having slightly less hot highlights and putting less light on the backdrop.
What I Liked
Quality of Light
For the money, you really can't get much better. Parabolic umbrellas deliver a large, semi-directional, very soft light that will flatter your subjects.
At a fraction of the cost of some of the more expensive alternatives, I'd be hard-pressed to be persuaded that spending more money is worth it. If it breaks, just get another one.
Ease of assembly
The difficulty of assembling these beasts is definitely overrated. If I can do it in three minutes with no prior experience, it isn't so bad.
What I Disliked
Although cheap to replace, it's still a hassle when a modifier breaks. I don't know for sure how this one will stand the test of time, but I go hard on my equipment, so I can't imagine this will be a "buy once and forget it" type of purchase. The materials are thin, and although that makes the modifier fairly light, it brings sturdiness into question.
Just Go for It
For $100, Selens manages to put together a large, diffuse light that will flatter your subject without breaking the bank. If you're looking to up your lighting game and have need of a large diffuser, this one is definitely a keeper. For me, I'll keep it for the power. Shooting large format film has high requirements when it comes to light, so I need every little bit I can get.
To see the parabolic in action, check out the video. My wife was nice enough to step in as an impromptu model to test the Selens.
Picked up the 47 and 60 inch versions a few months ago. I spent a few days driving myself crazy trying to figure out why it was so much cheaper than offerings from Westcott and other manufacturers. I said to myself there "has to be a reason why it's so cheap. What am I sacrificing?"
In the end it was nothing. It's just as good as the ones that cost 4 times as much, and that really pisses me off. When I stop and think about how badly all these companies price fuck consumers with their wide ass margins. A couple of rods and some nylon. That's it. Cameras, Lenses, accessories, etc. It's all the same. And then people like Selens, Yongnuo or Aputure come out with reasonably price alternatives of equal or better quality, and you realize just how bad you're getting screwed.
There's a huge difference in running a business where you are committing to the R&D required to design and build new product, and provide support to buyers, vs. just going to the factory in China that is building them for company A and buying a bulk order of them with your companies name on them rather than company A's name. Even taking Company A's product and reverse engineering it, then rebuilding it using a bit cheaper build quality and lower QC standards is going to save a ton of money.
That's BS aputure does all their own R and D and still manages to produce high quality at reasonable prices. Often their quality is even better like with their LED panels. I bought one of their field monitors too for less than 300 while the competition with the same features was well north of 600. It's BS that my smartphone with all it does should cost less than a 1080 field monitor that does one thing.
Same with flash heads. Just got the Adorama strobes that do the same shit as profoto B1 at half the cost.
It's competition. These manufacturers get too big for their britches when they thing they're the only player in town offering something. Then when everyone else shows they can produce the same product and do so at a cheaper cost, you realize how bad the original sellers were price gouging.
You can't compare Adorama house brand strobes to Profoto. Sorry, but you just can't. Adorama simply rebadges Chinese made strobes, that are also being rebadged by other companies as well. Aside from build quality issues, there are scaled production issues as well. The same is true with comparing a monitor made for use in film production with a smart phone. A company like Samsung will sell millions of a given model per year; how many of those monitor do you think will be made and sold?
Another thing to keep in mind is the very simple concept of diminishing returns. While it might be fairly inexpensive to achieve a set level of performance, gaining more will get exponentially more expensive. It's like they say in racing, "that last tenth is what costs the most". It might be pretty easy and inexpensive to build a strobe that has no more than 1/2stop variability in output between shots, but the cost to design and build one that puts out the same output, shot after shot with no variability could cost exceptionally more. I've seen the cheaper strobes put head to head with the likes of Bron and Profoto. Where the more expensive units excel is at color and output consistency, as well as build quality.
Of course, if you're happy with what the cheaper alternatives are putting out, then good for you. You can go about your day without having to worry about the cost of the higher end units. Yet, if you think a product is too expensive you do have an alternative, just don't buy it. That's the great thing about a free market, if you don't like the price, just don't pay it. Something else will come along that will be cheaper, assuming there is sufficient demand.
Actually I can compare strobes. I just did. And i'll do it again. "Build Quality?" Please. Just don't drop the damn thing on a concrete floor and it'll be fine. Otherwise it does all the same shit I need it to do. Battery powered, HSS etc. YES the Profoto recharges a bit faster at full power, and yes it has slightly better color consistency, but that's not worth paying double for. I shoot RAW and use a color checker. And Now it seems like every other day, I see an Fstoppers article announcing another new strobe into the market, which should continue to lower prices for everyone.
"if you think a product is too expensive.... just don't buy it." You're absolutely right. And I don't. And when someone else makes it at half or a third of the cost, I'll look like a genius for refusing to get screwed. Your theory on diminishing returns doesn't explain it all. Take Aputure for example. A company that makes powerful, reliable LED panels with exceptional CRI and sells them for a third of the price of what they were selling for two years ago. A now the party's over. The Days of paying 1500 + for top of the line LED panels are over and the other guys have been forced to lower their prices.
The Selens in this article is the perfect example. It's the same exact thing as the westcott Zeppelin. You'd think for almost a tenth of the cost, it'd compromise on something: Durability, assembly etc. But NOPE it's easy as hell to assemble and puts out exactly the type of light a large, deep Octa should. Tells me that westcott are just a bunch of crooks.
>>There's a huge difference in running a business where you are committing to the R&D required to design and build new product
And what R&D do you imagine is in this product???
Can it be used with a speedlight and what type ring would be needed?
I dont use speedlites much, but i imagine this would work fine: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00JS3MINC/ref=pd_aw_sim_421_1?ie=UTF8&ps...
Yes it can, made one for such modifier - http://www.diyphotography.net/how-to-make-a-dual-off-camera-flash-bracke...
I want to try out a parabolic umbrella however, even the cheapest is around $100. I have a Paul C. Buff PLM 86" however, after purchasing the Front Spill and Back Cover accessory, it all together cost almost $100, which is ok for me because of it's size. Why are parabolic umbrellas so expensive compared to most brollyboxes and softboxes? Even the off-brand versions are hard for me to justify cost wise.
I just picked up the Impact 39" deep octa... so far I love it.
$100!!?? *jaw hits floor*
I've been jones'in for one of these for a while, and this even has an available focusing mount too. Now to find a Balcar/PCB speedring for it.
Thanks for the review, and for showing noobs and seasoned pros that there is good gear that doesn't break the budget. Great photos don't require expensive gear, and this is a nice alternative for someone considering adding a new light modifier to their kit, for very little risk.
Great review! It'd be cool to see your review of softbox with this adapter (http://www.selens-online.com/professional-selens-aluminum-hexadecagon-so...)
Very curious of the results!
I would like to see the light quality using the Selens Parabolic Softbox with the Selens Bracket Mount. Im thinking that it will allow you to get rid of the inner baffle making the parabolic more efficient.
Very good review but you need a indirect light to test any parabolic reflector, check this image attached.
Courtesy of parabolix.
When you use a parabolic with any diffuser, you turn it into a softbox and that is why the results are similar to your softlighter, you can't see the full potential and the real purpose of a parabolic if you use diffusers on it.
The Selens isn’t a parabolic reflector. It’s a parabolic softbox. The light source doesn’t reside in the modifier.
Hans sorry but it's and there is focusing rings to it, if you think it's not ok.
I'm using with this adapter https://www.amazon.com/Selens-Extendable-Bracket-Parabolic-Softbox/dp/B0... and the difference to any softbox I eved had is huge.
Oh wow! I had no idea that it could be used in that manner with a separate adapter. So much for thinking that everything needed would come in the package. I stand corrected! Thank you.
You're extremely welcome Hans, it's impossible to know everything that is out there and I'm really glad to help out someway, keep rocking!