Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Softbox Umbrellas from Steve Kaeser

Two 40" softbox umbrellas from

I picked these up a little while ago and have been meaning to write a review for a while but haven't had a chance.

I'll start by saying that I love softboxes, especially ones that I can use my speedlights in. Last summer (or was it the summer before?) I took the plunge and picked up the 28" Westcott Apollo softbox for speedlights after watching the Onelight Workshop DVD. Since then I've almost totally abandoned my umbrellas ;)

Obviously I was quite stoked to come across these softbox umbrellas while surfing the web, at the time of purchase you could get 2 for a measly $29.95 on sale. Unfortunately their site only listed UPS for shipping and living in Canada I've been gouged all too often by UPS's exorbitant brokerage fees. I decided to email the company and see if they'd ship USPS instead, to my delight they said they would and they sent me an invoice. They wanted$25 for USPS shipping ($5 less than UPS) and while I thought that was a little steep for a $30 item I realized the box was probably oversized so there wasn't much I could do. Fast forward a few weeks and UPS knocks on my door, no that was not a typo they still shipped UPS! I ended up getting charged another $20 for brokerage even though I went out of my way to get a USPS quote! So now I've paid $45 for shipping on a $30 item. Not pleased with this I emailed the company and have yet to get a response (about a month ago at time of writing). Thats the end of my rant, I'll get on with my review and sample images now. I just couldn't in good conscience write a review of this product without explaining some of the extenuating circumstances.

On with the review!
IMG_1073 blue w red vignette Levels n Lines
Shot with a 580EXII in Steve Kaeser Softbox Umbrella

The umbrellas came with nice carrying bags for the umbrellas, an extra that I wasn't really expecting for such a low priced item. My next surprise was the build quality which was in fact quite good! I've bought some cheap umbrellas in the past and regretted it when they nearly fell apart in my hands, these however I see sticking around for quite some time.

I couldn't wait to test them out so I arranged a quick test shoot with a girl I had actually just done a shoot with the week prior. Like the previous shoot we just did it in her apartment using a nice large section of blank white wall as a backdrop. Since the area we were shooting in was relatively small I opted to just use a single softbox umbrella.

Initial impressions:
Right off the bat I noticed that there was a lot more spill with these than with my Westcott Apollo, I'm not sure if it was due to the larger surface area or the fact that the Steve Kaeser boxes don't have a recessed panel like the Apollo. If you put a gun to my head I'd say it was probably the lack of recessed panel. This does limit you a little if you're working in a small environment but its definitely not a dealbreaker.

IMG_0967 subdued

One thing I had read on some forums was that light distribution was not equal across the whole umbrella. I really didn't find this to be that much of an issue, if there was a hotspot at the center I didn't notice it very much at all. I found the quality of light to be on par with my Westcott. As you can see from the shots my 580EXII didn't seem to have any problems filling the softbox.

I've yet to try them out with my studio strobes but would imagine they would work pretty well. I would imagine the region blocked by the head might be a little darker but I'd have to see whether it is negligible or not. The nice thing is that you don't have to go out and buy a specific speedring to use them with your equipment.

The breakdown:

  • Cheap (provided you don't have the shipping hassles I did)
  • Well built
  • Fairly even light (some sticklers might disaggree)
  • Versatile in that either speedlights or monoblocks can be used
  • Diffusion panel is not recessed and results in spill
  • Diffusion panel is not removable for cleaning etc

For the price you'd be crazy not to have at least one f these in your bag. They're as small and portable as a regular umbrella yet give you the effects of a softbox. I still like my Westcott better but when you think you could get 8 of these for the same price I'd say start with a set of these instead.

If there were ever a rev 2.0 made I'd suggest making this unit convertible so it could be used as a shoot through as well, if they also made the diffusion panel removable it could then also be used as a reflective umbrella making it one of the most versatile pieces of gear ever!

A few parting shots ;)

IMG_1273 red

IMG_1298 blue


v01d said...

cool! I'm just considering a starting kit off ebay items and I was between this umbrella softbox and a real softbox. I noticed that for speedlights, some unusually expensive speedring adapters are needed. And for the softboxes that do not require it, the motion is quite limited.
This is why I really liked this umbrella softboxes and I couldn't find any review. Your pictures demonstrate that (besides you knowing your stuff) they can produce nice results.

As for the recessed border, I'm thinking that this could be easilly modded, right? Just use some fabric and attach it somehow. I will try it when I buy this.
Also, other negative comments where about the shaft poking the model: this can also be fixed by cutting the shaft and making it re-attachable with a screw or something similar.

jphphotography said...

Keep in mind the spill from these is quite bad. As for modding them to add a recess, it's beyond my abilities but you might have more luck. I'd think that having the fabric stay rigid and keep form would be pretty tough since the only thing to anchor to is the edge, none of the umbrella "spines" extend passed this edge.

Regarding the umbrella shaft, you're correct, that would be possible. A trick to go along with that is pressing a wooden pencil into the shaft to give it stability, you may want to do that before you cut so that you don't accidentally collapse the shaft during the cutting process.

If you get these and do any mods be sure to post a followup!

Good luck

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