For years photographers have sought broad soft light sources that: enhance skin, reduce the need to have a fill source, and create forgiving areas of soft predictable light coverage. This is what makes large light modifiers the easiest lights to position as well as some of the most desirable to portrait photographers across the globe over.
One of the cooler inventions was the soft box. Simply put, a soft box is a light container usually with a rectangular or square face. Soft boxes were designed to mimic the soft light from windows by diffusing the light through 1 or a more fabric diffusing panels before the light exits the box. Soft boxes are not limited to square shapes either! Tight rectangular ones are commonly known as strip boxes. There are even Octagonal (“stop sign-shaped” for the elementary kids reading) shaped boxes. Octaboxes create a more rounded catch light that appears more natural than would a square or strip box making them more (nowadays) used in certain kinds of photography, like Fashion.
Now take away all diffusion and what do you have? A hard octagonal light source … GREAT FOR BEAUTY IF YOU CAN GET IT UP HIGH ENOUGH OVERHEAD!
Ultimately the Octabox is just an octagon shaped soft box with no appreciable difference in light quality as a soft box or strip box. The exit shape only effects the catch light generated by the tool. Now, I wanted this tool because I got dead tired of Photoshoping every image to give myself a nice rounded catch light. Instead I just decided, “find a cheap one and stop wasting time on the computer.” All I needed to decide now was size! Hmmmm, 4ft! If I can find a 4 footer or larger that’d be great! Thats just enough to cover the average person in soft gentle light! Now I have a target!
My search for a 4 foot octabox at a “Prince of Cheap” price took me right back into my treasure chest – eBay! Before going to my chest I found the: Photoflex Octodome 3 at $269.95 (add to cart for price) from Adorama at regular price was just barely out of my range; however it was 5ft and I needed about 4ft of surface so it wasn’t bad. Could I beat $270 or find a different brand comparable?
On to B&H. There I saw the $1,109.00 price tag for the Elinchrom Octa Light Bank! This was the same as injecting me with the Rage Virus from the movie 28 Weeks Later … great tool but the price is out of the question just for an octagonal shaped catch light!
After 5 more searches not worth mentioning, I was lead back to eBay. First up was Amvona’s ebay auction … sorry, a great company IMHO but they’re auction was just an exercise in frustration. Every time I bid on one – I got outbid in the last 20 seconds of the auction! At least the price and features were similar to the Photoflex so if I could’ve gotten one it would’ve been interesting. Enter eBay seller MR STUDIO 1 to the rescue! A 4ft octabox for only $62.85 with shipping to Los Angeles for a “Buy it now” listing that isn’t timed! Lets add up all the factors… Hmmm its eBay, its a knockoff, its from overseas, but it’s cheap, so I’m compelled to try it out!
Hey, a cool thing about it – is that it’s on a Universal Mount meaning that it would work with more than one flash unit type!
UNIVERSAL MOUNT ALERT! Universal mount items from overseas generally mean that Its pressure fitted with 3 or more screws that screw in and around your equipment for a tight fit that are expected hold it onto your flash. Remember your flash must be at least 5.5 – 7 inches wide in diameter for the universal mount tool to fit.
Heres a look at how the universal mount looks:
Pretty crude but it works fine!
7 Days after the auction and it’s HERE! Now to put it together. Piece-O-Cake! Putting the Octa together is really not much different than most other octaboxes. Heres a shortcut: Check out Bill and Ed’s video of the Photoflex 5ft OctaDome. WHAM! Its practically the same way. Before we keep going, note that it doesn’t have all the frills of the Photoflex like a grid, or gold and silver diffusion panels. This is a bummer, but for $62.85 what did you expect?
After getting it all setup and ready to go on my El Cheapo Britek HS-2000 with a 16 channel Gadget Infinity wireless trigger and my Sony Alpha A100 all mounted up I was ready to get moving. First thing to do is to meter the Octa to see what kind of light I was getting from a large double diffused modifier. My meter (shepherd polaris spd100, a very good meter for only about $150) says ISO 100, F8.0, 125th a second, at 5ft away from my subject. I will admit that I did get a 3/4th stop increase of light output in the center. Was that enough to stop me? Uhhhh… NOT! OK, now that it is set up and metered lets check out some shots. As usual, the very first subject I tested my tools on was my kids! :)
The setup was dirt simple: place the “Octa” at a 30-45 degree angle out in front of my kids and let the large size of the box fill both sides. Also since my little kitchen is covered in hi-gloss white paint I’d have a built in fill reflector for both sides anyway! Smooth natural light! I love it already! Ohh and by the way, I did my daughters hair that Saturday morning!
Below is a session I did recently with the “Octa”. I gave the box a real workout. I bumped it, nearly made it fall, swung it and threw it, and it asked for more! I’m glad to report there were no rips, no tears, no busted hems! The only glaring secret I used was to keep the light close.
Heres how most were setup!
What did you learn? Everything good in the world of photography doesn’t have to have a big name on it to actually work! Now there you have it: great light is great light! I found the gold for a cheap price, and so can you! No more I cant do it – I cant afford it… just ask ebay! NO MORE EXCUSES. NOW GET TA SHOOTIN!