Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Lastolite Umbrellabox vs. Shoot-thru

I routinely use a shoot-thru umbrella for portrait work, given I work on location for much of the portrait work I do. When I occasionally do something with a bit more time and looking for better quality of light, I like to use the Lastolite Umbrella Box. However, it's interesting to know how much of a difference the more expensive and slower to setup umbrella box actually makes.

First of all, a look at the two in action side by side. The Lastolite Umbrella Box is a touch larger than the Portaflash White Diffuser Brolly, but in practice it makes little difference a lot of the time because you can get it in closer to the subject.

Comparing the two, you can see that at the same power, the Lastolite Umbrella Box loses a lot of light compared to the shoot-thru umbrella. The umbrella box actually has a white interior rather than silver, so that's one of the big losses on top of the diffusion material. That said, it does give a great quality of light.

Lastolite Umbrella Box:

Portaflash White Diffuser Brolly:

Now for a little comparison for portrait work. I grabbed a rather good looking subject for this exercise. Firstly, the umbrella box. You'll notice that the control of the light on the background is pretty good. You've got the background going to black on the left, showing how much control you have with it. It is also not too harsh on the edge of light, so if you do want to light the background the way I have, you'll have a nice fall-off on the background.

You can see how I positioned the umbrella boxfor this shot.

Now for the Portaflash White Diffuser Brolly. As expected, there's a lot more light spill in all directions. If you look carefully at the left hand side, you'll now see a light switch on the rear wall which is showing up, but which was hidden in the previous image.

Here's a shot of the overall scene. Note the flare from the umbrella in this wide angle shot. That's a lot of spill, so it's something to note...the umbrella isn't actually stopping the direct source of light causing flare. Just something to be aware of!

So what's the diffence? Well, the first is that the umbrella boxuses up a lot of light, so if you're using small flashes, this can become an issue. Of course, with studio flashes, that's not so much of an issue given the extra power.

What's the benefit? Well, the quality of light is marginally better, but given you can get the shoot-thru brolly in nice and close, while still being out of the shot, you can still get pretty good soft light. There are also no sharp highlights with the Lastolite Umbrella Box, so if your subject has reflective surfaces, you'll find it better.

Another major benefit, as I showed here, is how much better control you have over the direction of the light. This means you can direct the umbrella boxsuch that the background is left dark, meaning you can control it better even in small spaces. This also has the benefit of meaning flare isn't nearly as much of an issue as it is with the shoot-thru brolly.

What about the shoot-thru brolly? Well it's cheap and fast to setup anywhere. It gives good quality light for the price (almost as good as the Lastolite Umbrella Box), and will easily become your mainstay for portrait work in most situations. Also, because it's just diffusing the light, rather than an additional bounce, it doesn't lose nearly as much light. The shoot-thru nature also makes it possible to control the size of the source by zooming in the flashgun, or moving it closer such that you choke the light. You can see an example of this in the previous entry.


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. I assume the outside of the Umbrellabox is black to stop light from going through?


Johan said...

Thanks for showing the differences.
I was looking for a portable softbox (Lastolite, Alzo Digital, Chimera) but they are all rather expensive. This in opposite of an (white) umbrella. So I kept using umbrella's.


n506 said...

Nas: The umbrellabox is black backed with a white reflective interior. Just an ordinary white reflective umbrella but with the addition of a diffused front which further softens the light reflected by the umbrella.

Johan: They are quite expensive, considering in some places you can get a full softbox for less. That said, if you want "almost" softbox quality of light, with the portability of an umbrella, the Umbrellabox is pretty excellent. Gives beautiful smooth catchlights in the eyes when doing tight headshots too. I personally find it nicer than the square softbox look. Kinda more like an octobox.

Anonymous said...

When using the shoot-thru was the strobe zoomed in at all? Does zooming make much difference?

What about the position of the strobe along the umbrella handle? I guess closer in would lessen the spill right?


n506 said...

Anonymous: The strobe was near the end of the umbrella handle. It was at the 24mm setting.

You're correct that moving the umbrella closer to the flash will choke the umbrella more. Similar to zooming the flash.

You can see what zooming does in my previous entry which specifically addresses the very question you ask.