The El Cheapo eBay Octabox: Unbelievable Light at a Cheap Price!

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.

Octabox Totally Assembled

Totally Assembled

Octabox - Minus Outer Diffuser

Assembled minus the outer diffuser

Octabox with no diffusion at all

With no diffusion at all

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! :)

Octabox Sample 1

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!

Octabox Sample CloseupNow heres a closeup of the kinda catch light produced by this Godsend at a Godsend price!

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!

Octabox Setup Diagram

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!

David Griffin

About David Griffin

The Prince of Cheap I am a "Jesus Freak" and a DIY photography junkie! I'm also the *second* cheapest man alive... but only 'cause my Dad is the first!

13 thoughts on “The El Cheapo eBay Octabox: Unbelievable Light at a Cheap Price!

  1. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    If anybody wants to know… I use a Shepard Polaris SPD100 flash/ambient light meter. Its great and the cheapest one available that I could find that does both flash and ambient light meter readings! Do a search on and you should find it for about $150.00

  2. Aaron

    How about AlienBee? Their 47″ Octabox is only a little more money and it seems like a more reputable company. Does anyone have any experience with the AlienBees softboxes?

  3. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    The Bee is probably the best value you can get. But lets just face it… some are too broke to even get that! Like I was! :) THe 47″ Octa is awesome in quality… even better than the ebay… the only difference is that the Ebay would probably fit on more than just one brand of flash and its cheap!

  4. Mr. Tracey

    Whats up David,
    It’s ya boy Mr. Tracey again. Everytime I come here I learn something new. You are truly a blessing to the newbie photogs. As usual I have a few questions, here goes:

    1. Is it a standard to have subj 4-5 ft from background for portriats.

    2. In the portriats of the models is there any post work? You have that sanded wood beauty or Orton effect in their skin tones or is that just skill (From you, I wouldn’t doubt it.) But please, if applicable, share your post work ritual to achieve this look with us.

    3. I’m not sure, but most of your setups have on 1-2 lights, Is that all you ever use or is it for buget purposes for use “Broke Folk.” (LOL)

    4. You said you use Gimp alot. Where do you get your plugins, do you compile (make them usable) them yourself, or do you even use the plugins. I run GIMP on windows and in every forum they say it a pain in the but to compile on windows, thats the only bad thing about gimp. If you know a place to get them precomplied please share.

    5. Last but not least (for now) I posted a comment on this somewhere else on one of your blogs but I can’t find it. I asked if you would be bringing the lighting workshop to the Chicago area or is it just something you do locally.

    Once again thanks for all the help and advice. Without you I’d be somewhere else reading a PEEing contest.

    Your #1 Fan,

    Mr. Tracey

  5. stephanie

    Hi David
    IM wondering f you could answer a question for me….

    I want to buy an octabox from Mr. Studio, but I dont know if it will fit my white lighting. He has one that is aprox. five feet, which I want, but just cant tell if it will work on my system. I use white Lightning

    Any thoughts would be great.

  6. K.J. Doyle

    Not to discourage the whole elCheapo movement…it is great to get people started with lighting, I just wanted to add a bit of info to what I saw here.

    I am a guy who started with homemade modifiers and softboxes and shot for many years dealing with and overcoming limitations. I learned by experience (and renting, lol) what really makes the pro stuff different, and what I need and do not need to do my best work. This said, my studio kit today has a wide selection of gear, from lots of el cheapo to a bit of high end, but being a cheapo myself, I promise you when I did spend money…there was a serious reason for it.

    Years ago, shooting a 1200 image catalog on film (single emulsion batch, of course), and blowing the deadline because I had to reshoot images for unacceptable variance in color temp and exact exposure sent me right to the rental house for the pro lighting stuff I could not afford. Pulled it off…made no money on that job, but looking at a large pile of now really identical chromes on my light table…I knew absolutely why the pro stuff costs money. The previous images shot with my elcheapo gear individually looked great…but put a dozen of them on one page and a blind man could tell you they do not match.

    Do you need exact color temp and exposure to shoot great portraits…especially with digital post processing…hell, no…but it is cool to know why and when you do need this stuff.

    In general…pro stuff is really fast & consistent…identical exposure & color temp frame after frame, and the modifiers are generally VERY even illumination, very sturdy, fast to setup and take down and maintain. As an example, I can setup my 7′ Elinchrom OCTA bank from packed to ready in 2 minutes, comes down and folds into a small case just as fast. Open the storage bag, put the OCTA mount on the stand, open and lock with one motion, bayonet the light, power it up, put the front on and shoot.

    Honestly, it takes longer to say it that it does to do it…check it out:

    Contrast that with the video on the Photoflex “octa” and you have to build it each time you use it. I can regularly do 3 and sometimes 4 location shoots in a day…not possible if it takes 30 minutes to complete my lighting plan and another 30 to take it down. Great investment, paid for itself in a dozen jobs..PLUS the light is SO awesome, you gotta see it to believe. If you are doing this for a business, just rent one. I bet like me, you will make plans to buy one soon me, there is a real reason folks called that unit “The Beauty Light”.

    Also, there is a HUGE difference between a direct softbox (no matter the shape) and a Elinchrom OCTA bank…it is not simply shape, or catchlight, as both you and the other guys discussing the Photoflex refer to. The difference in indirect vs direct lighting, meaning the strobe inside the OCTA points the other way.

    In general, a direct softbox has the internal light source pointing into the center of the front panel, at the subject, and it relies on an internal diffuser to spread that light out from being too hot in the center of the box. Very small softboxes (and they are not very soft) have no room for the internal diffuser, therefore have a major hot spot.

    A softbox of this forward-pointing design can never produce as even a light as an indirect source. The original OCTA is a patented Elinchrom design from 1982, and its primary difference from a softbox is that the strobehead is entirely INSIDE the OCTA, and pointing away from the front surface and back into the dead center of the dish. The light then bounces off the back of the dish and is splayed up the eight panels like a satellite transmitter dish onto the front surface of the OCTA. On my 7 foot OCTA there is less than 1/10 of a stop difference in light anywhere on the surface of the system. Even with the Elinchrom direct softboxes, the Rotolux series, they use a deflector over the top of the flash tube to prevent. or greatly lessen the hot spot in the middle. An uneven light source in commercial work is a constant adjustment nightmare…for simple softlight portraits, not such a big deal.

    So the 7′ Elinchrom OCTA bank with an RX600 head and wireless remote control and sync is about $2K, not cheapo fer sure, but less than the latest Nikon or Canon. It is one of the elements that allows me to make great images reliably, and very quickly. The only time I do not use this rig is when I am hurting for room on a location set. The quality of its light is just addictive…makes every subject look great.

    My recommendation to guys starting out, is have a decent camera and some good lenses…but spend your money on your lighting kit…it will return your investment much faster than this years new body. Enjoy!

  7. David GriffinDavid Griffin Post author

    TO K.J. DOYLE:
    Thanks for the insight. I definitely agree that our users should invest in some great lenses its the core tool of our work! I understand your love for your Elinchrom Octa. But our audience typically doesn’t have that kind of money. Problem is, we need to eliminate our excuses and “get ta shootin” K.J.
    I guess you can say that this “Cheap Movement” is a cause for more ingenuity rather than “buy your way out” lighting – thats no cheap swipe at you by the way. I know for sure that your equipment is awesome! I have nothing bad to say about it – but its price. Try my beauty dish complaint I couldnt find one for months at a reasonable price. All I found was a $300+ Mola-Light for example… now for $200 I can find a 28″ beauty dish complete with a grid and a satin diffuser sock! Will I get exact mola quality? Hell no! Do I or my clients really care? Heck no. Do I get great light? Thats the only question we’re concerned with. Nothing is perfect. Cheap equipment is what it is… but try this… have you ever had to compromise because something was there that you couldnt afford? Sure, we all have. When you do “HAVE TO” compromise, you should get the best out of any situation. I for example have a cheap $69 octa-fake and a cheap $169 flash (fake bowens mount japanese something-something), and a good $39 lightstand, $300 Innovatronix Tronix Explorer XT portable powerpack and a great Elinchrom Skyport system (Thats new and at $100 a pop make a great price)a Sony Alpha A700…. My bud on the other hand has a Nikon D300, Profoto system with pocketwizards and much-much more… he begs me to let him into my new private lighting workshop. He says its great equipment but he’da saved a ton with a cheaper alienbee or whitelightening kit had he known what The Prince knows.

    My point… I’m about saving the dollar and getting the most out of whatever you have. We photographers need to think with our heads… not our wallets! Look at David Hobby… My man could kill us in 40 minutes & make a cover of a magazine with just 3 vivitar 285hv’s, lightstands, a Nikon D40x, 2 empty cereal boxes duct tape, an alienbees cybersync wireless trigger system and a single shoot thru umbrella and a rotten potatoe! Why… cause its the “between the ears spending” is what makes him who he is.

    As for pro gear. I say firmly get what you can afford based on what you need. Y get a an ultra expensive ringflash system when you can get the Alienbee Ringflash for less and they damn near do the same job? But hey, if your a non-pro then saving money and getting the most outta what you have should be priority number 1. Just remember though, pros should get pro gear… it sux to hear about “a great one” loosing ’cause his Gadget Infinity wireless triggers died. That’s just plain pitiful! I myself, say truly… if you can afford it… get it… if you cant… CHEAP THE HELL OUT IF IT! NO MORE EXCUSES… NOW GET TA SHOOTIN!

    – David Griffin, The Prince of Cheap

  8. Mr. Tracey

    Well put David. Thats why I’m here in the first place. I just want to enjoy and develope a hobby without starving my family or taking out a $25,000 loan. Why try to save $1500 and mis opertunities when you could have have 95% of what you need $900 ago. I’m like you David, I mean no hard feelings or anything to K.J. but I found your posts googling cheap ________, not expensive__________. Not becuase I don’t want to spend that kind of money, but because I don’t have that kind of money to spend. I get his point about the good lense and desent camera that commandment 1 in Photography. OTOH, not so for for anything else in my opinion.

  9. Lewis

    I am at a dilema with what lens to use for portrait photography in a close area, because I want to turn my living room into a studio. I literally have 16 feet to the muslin. I have a 70-200mm f/2.8 that will get head shots but what if I need a full body shot. I have a 17-40mm f/4 wide angle, 85mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8 II-that’s it. At the 16 foot area there is a wall in the center dividing the dining room area from the living room that is about 3 foot which leaves me 3 feet on either side. Forget the idea or what? I cannot afford another lens right now.

  10. david griffindavid griffin

    Shoot with what you have. DONT QUIT AND FORGET THE IDEA… That would mean you suck! If you are using an APS-C camera use your 50mm for portraits as it is like a 75mm portrait lens. If you have full frame go with the shorter end of your 40-200mm. As for other shots the 17-40 should do great. You have the tools. Dont quit. Hell, ship those canon lenes to me! I’d be glad to get that Canon 5D Mark II to slap all that good glass on!

  11. Gaëtan Charpentier


    Thank you for sharing all those advices, that’s great value!

    Can you let me know if the universal mount modifiers, like this octagon sofbox, can fit a cobra flash like sb-800 for instance ?

    Thanks in advance!

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