Lighting comparison: parabolic softbox vs regular Broncolor softbox

When it comes to photography lighting options, parabolic softboxes are often marketed as better than regular softboxes, but more affordable than true parabolic reflectors. But is any of this really true?

In this video, Karl does a side-by-side lighting comparison between a 150cm Parabolic Softbox and 150cm Octabox to see the results. Softboxes and Octaboxes are designed to produce homogenous lighting, with the inner and front diffusion acting to disperse the light and produce a very even overall result. Parabolic lights, on the other hand, focus the light and produce sparkly light with more contrast.

So how do these two opposite effects work together? Quite simply, they don’t. The term ‘parabolic softbox’ is something of a contradiction, and the physics behind these cheap modifiers does not make sense. Nevertheless, Karl puts one to the test to check the results for myself. In the test, Karl demonstrates three comparisons between these modifiers —  with the front and inner diffusion,  with only the inner diffusion,  and with no diffusion — and the results speak for themselves.

Comments

  1. Hi Karl team, could you recommend Para modifiers other than Broncolor’s that have a true parabolic shape? I’m based in Brazil so I’ve tried to find an affordable alternative for that. I found a focusing system adapter for Bowens softboxes so I could use it in a parabolic bowens softbox if it had a true parabolic shape. Also, I’m searching for that video where Karl mentioned a “solar cooker” that was transformed into a parabolic modifier but I couln’t find it again…

    1. Hi Zans, the solar cooker modifier is not like an ordinary parabolic modifier, it’s a different shape and only works from far away. I can’t recommend any Para’s yet that do as good a job, in fact I’ve got a comparison test video coming out soon where I compare two other ‘paras’ against the 133. I have asked any other manufacturers to send me there’s for testing. The best alternative for me is a 70cm silver beauty dish for head shots, sorry but at this time I’ve just not found anything that I’ve tested that works quite the same.

  2. Hi Karl,

    I am coming from more of a glamour background where I’m used to using a very heavy Octabox and a soft box.

    I also like doing fashion but the parabolic umbrellas that you use are out of my price range. Should I go for the generic 150, or do you have any other suggestions?

    1. Hi James, the Octabox 150 is a very versatile modifier but if you’re on a budget I’d also consider a 70cm Silver Beauty Dish and something like a Focus Deep 110 umberella for a bit more punch.

      1. Hello Karl, I am searching BHphotovideo and unable to locate a 70cm Silver Beauty Dish. Where can I locate such instrument?

      2. Hi Karl,

        I will try and go for the Octabox 150, if not then I will definitely get a Focus Deep 110 umbrella.

        Thank you very much for your help.

  3. Thanks Karl for the reply and for anticipating the new upcoming video. A real comparison test is very useful. Broncolor published some video about Staro, but they are not made by you… hence they are quite superficial.
    Anyway I think that a scrim with a bare bulb has some difference:
    1-The scrim has the problem of the light spill around and does not allow to mount a grid to control the light cone in the front
    3 – keeping perpendicular the light respect to the scrim can be difficult
    2- Broncolor designed the Staro soft box using a parabolic shape with a specific curvature and a specific focus point (placed outside the panel): is it just marketing ? Making a simple ray tracing simulation of the reflected light inside the parabolic box, I noticed that with this geometric design, the light is reflected from the parabola to hit uniformly edge-to-edge the internal face of the diffusion panel. The perpex normally should be already able to soften and hide the internal light box shape, but evidently, on this size, it’s not so.

    1. Hi Filippo,
      1. You can reduce light spill on the scrim by using a P70 but remember light spill is only a problem if there are white walls and ceilings. If everything is far away or black then it’s not causing you any problems as there is no uncontrolled light to infiltrate the shadows. A simple box of black polyboards around your model or black velvet would also solve the issue.
      2. I disagree, a simple giraffe boom and it would take a couple of minutes
      3. The parabolic design of the Staro in my opinion is largely pointless and has been put there for aesthetic reasons and is likely a leftover part from the satellite evolution which they no longer make. Don’t get me wrong parabolic reflectors are brilliant reflectors for collimating light and bron make the best but all the properties of them are lost as soon as you put heavy diffusion in front, the light is no longer collimated it is simply diffused with a central hotspot on the Staro. What is behind that diffusion isn’t that important as long as it spreads the light uniformly around. The central hot spot comes from the light facing (and being quite close to) the front acrylic diffusion on the Staro which is why a scrim with a bare bulb facing it and then an Octabox 150 behind the bare bulb studio light also facing the scrim will give the same result on the the subject side. Yes there will be light spill but if you can control that the results would be very similar. Finally I’ve used every bron modifier and as you will see in my new comparison video the Para 133 wins every time for me in most situations, although for hard light beauty I’d probably say the flooter. The Staro though provides a look that reminds me of hollywood soft lighting which is essentially what it is which is a Fresnel shining through diffusion. Again accomplished with a Flooter shining through a LEE 216 scrim frame and adjusting the spread of the beam or the less expensive way I mentioned above with the bare bulb.

  4. What about the Broncolor Satellite Staro that you used also in a Broncolor video with Urs ?
    It’s a parabolic softbox with a Perspex front diffuser and metal frame with a thin curvature that makes it more compact respect to conventional softboxes, but more heavy (10kg !) and more expensive.
    It seems a combination of a circular softbox with a diffused center spot .
    This center spot should be much more contrasted and effective respect to the basic parabolic softboxes you tested. Which is the best application for the usage as main light of the Satellite Staro ?

    1. Hi Filippo, I’m not a fan of the Staro for its price as the same thing can be acheived with a bare bulb head through scrim diffusion material, especially if you cut a round frame. The diffusion on the staro is a little more even but still center weighted because of its enclosed reflector but I’m pretty sure I could create the same relatively easy and cheaper. I guess people also buy it for convenience of the round catchlights too. I’ve got a new video coming early 2021 with more comparisons for you including the Staro. Stay tuned!

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