There are two basic types of softboxes:
a.) recessed-front softboxes:
• Photoflex LiteDome
• Profoto RFI
• Chimera SuperPRO Plus
Recessed-front softboxes have a Velcro-lined front lip, usually about 1.5-2.0″ wide, to be able to attach fabric eggcrates (also known as softgrids). Softgrids don’t change the light quality (except for a small reduction in the effective size of the light source), but act as tiny little flags to prevent the light from spreading too far. Softgrids are useful for restricting light to specific areas, and are most beneficial when used in interior and studio set-ups.
b.) flush-front softboxes:
• Elinchrom Rotalux
• Chimera Pro II-series
• Plume Wafer
According to Elinchrom, “The flush mounted front face provides a wider spread of light than a box with a recessed front.” While that’s true, a recessed-front softbox offers slightly better “feathering” control due to its extended lip.
In addition to recessed/flush-front, there are two additional types of softbox materials construction:
• Lightweight Nylon.
• Temperature-resistant (heavier, canvas-like construction).
The lightweight Nylon-constructed softboxes are designed for strobes only, while the tougher and heavier canvas-like softboxes can accommodate hot lights from 600 to 1,000 Watts, depending on the specific model and manufacturer. Practically speaking, the Nylon-constructed softboxes are much easier to handle and transport, and are my personal preference. Large, temperature-resistant softboxes are very heavy and usually require special mounting brackets to attach to light stands without drooping.
In addition to the various types of softbox constructions, there are four basic components to a softbox:
• Softbox (Nylon or canvas-like material).
• Rods (4-8; constructed of either fiberglas or steel).
• Internal baffle.
• Front diffuser.
In addition to the softbox itself, there are two basic components to a softbox mounting system:
• Speedring insert.
Speedrings are necessary to mount a softbox to your strobe, and not included with most softboxes, and must be bought separately–you need to select the speedring/insert made specifically for your brand of strobe. Speedrings are made by a large number of manufacturers, the largest of them being Chimera, Photoflex and Westcott. Recently, both Profoto and Elinchrom began marketing universal speedrings for select third-party brands of strobes for mounting their softboxes. While the Profoto speedrings aren’t much different in design from others, Elinchrom’s new universal speedrings are the only way to mount an Elinchrom modifier onto a different manufacturer’s strobe because of Elinchrom’s unique speedring design.
the only two speedrings you should consider buying:
There are two clever speedring designs which significantly reduce the time and hassle it takes to build your softbox:
• Bowens Quickring:
• Chimera Quick-Release (QR):
4. special softbox designs:
Additionally, there are two brands of softboxes which have unique speedrings, making their set-up faster and easier than traditional speedrings. These designs make set-up/tear-down significantly faster than with traditional softboxes:
Elinchrom Rotalux softboxes have a unique design which make them easier to set-up. Each pin inserts into a retractable receiver: In the un-tensioned position, they swivel, allowing you to more easily insert the sotbox rods; in second position, they’re “locked” for when the softbox is under tension. Note that Elinchrom speedrings will only fit onto Elinchrom-brand strobes, but since there’s no speedring or special insert to buy, this also further reduces the weight of an already super-light softbox. Note that most of the Elinchrom Rotalux softboxes are of flush-front construction, and will not accommodate the attachment of softgrids (only the 31.5″ x 43″ Rotalux has an available, gridded front-diffuser. Since light-spill isn’t usually an issue outdoors, they’re perfectly suited for exterior applications, but perhaps less desirable for small studio set-ups.
Paul C. Buff foldable softboxes:
PaulC. Buff softboxes have a unique, umbrella-like design, making this brand of softbox the easiest and fastest to set-up. They’re also the least expensive, near the same price points as cheap import brands. Similarly, Paul C. Buff (PCB) softboxes only fit Paul C. Buff-brand monolights, including Alien Bees and Einstien E640 monolights. But, since PCB’s mounting system is also compatible with Balcar accessories, PCB modifiers will also fit Balcar strobes. This design element alone is enough to make those selecting their first strobe systems consider both brands carefully before committing to another brand of strobes.