Parabolix 40 parabolic reflector review

Parabolix's 40-inch (102cm) focusable reflector is designed as a "workhorse" for portraiture, fashion and beauty photography. Is it any good?

Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato

Let me start this review by telling you that I am addicted to flash photography and to light modifiers. Over the years I bought all kinds of them: from octaboxes to reflectors, from beauty dishes to striplights, there is hardly a modifier that you will not find in my studio.

There had always been one that I was missing though: a “proper” parabolic reflector. Sure, I did own some deep softboxes and deep umbrellas, but I was just recently thinking about getting me a parabolic reflector.

Needless to say: when Parabolix kindly provided their 40″ (102cm) reflector, I got very excited at the idea of testing it out. I hope you are as much excited at the idea of finding out how my experience with this product has been!

Parabolix
The Parabolix reflector is available in several different sizes

Features

You are probably aware of the characteristics of a parabolic reflector, which make it one of the most sought-after modifiers for people photography. In a nutshell, these are the features that should make the Parabolix (and other similar reflectors) a state-of-the-art lighting product:

  • Indirect light. A reflected light spreads evenly, giving you smooth transitions, rich skin details and no hotspots.
  • Focusability. By changing the position of the flash within the reflector, you can get a variety of different light qualities, from hard/focused to soft/diffused.
  • High quality. The reflector is built to last and to give you high-quality light.
  • Efficiency. The silver reflective surface and the reflector’s shape mean that the flash output is used optimally.
  • Portability. The reflector is easy to fold and to transport.

Among these points, the first two (indirect and focusable light) are for sure the most appealing ones. Any silver umbrella can give you indirect light but only a parabolic reflector can give you an indirect light that goes all the way from soft/diffused to hard/focused!

No need to say that state-of-the-art lighting equipment typically also has state-of-the-art price tags 😉 At the time of writing, the smallest Parabolix reflector (51cm) will cost you 750USD and the largest one (140cm) will cost you 980USD; add to that taxes and, if you live outside of the USA, shipping. And these are actually discounted prices that you get only if you buy in one go everything needed in order to use the reflector (more about this in a minute). Additional accessories (grid, diffusion screens, scrim and flag) cost extra.

This may sound like a lot of money, especially if you consider that you can buy a “normal” reflector for way less than 100USD, but these are actually competitive prices if you compare them to those of similar products from other brands!

The Parabolix is a reflector that, “on paper”, should give you top-notch light for a competitive price, albeit a price that is nevertheless on the premium side. So let’s see if the product really is as good as advertised!

Parabolix 40
The opened Parabolix 40
Parabolix 40 folded
The Parabolix 40 folded, together with bag and everything needed to use it

First impressions

What I liked
  • The reflector makes a very good-quality impression
  • It is quite fast to set up, especially considering its size
  • You can get a variety of compatible reflector modifiers
  • It can be used with any studio lights (or even speedlites)
  • The carrying bag is handy and durable

I have used many different light modifiers, including premium price ones, and the Parabolix is definitely among the best-quality ones: all parts feel very solid, durable and well-built. The only piece that to me felt a little bit less “premium” is the universal strobe adapter (you can get dedicated strobe adapters for most brands or a universal one, which is also recommended for monolights); not that it feels shaky or anything, it just feels a bit “cheaper” than the rest.

Setup time is for me one of the most important characteristics of a modifier. You can have the best product in the world, if it is a pain to setup you will probably hardly ever use it (or at least that is the case for me)! Well, the Parabolix is fast to setup: it will take you around one minute (or even less) to assemble and around the same time to breakdown. This is quite impressive if you consider the size of the reflector (102cm wide and 69cm deep) and how solid it feels once assembled!

One thing that sometimes annoys me with light modifiers is that you cannot find compatible grids and diffusion screens. This is not the case here: there are a variety of different accessories (a grid, two different diffusion screens, a scrim and even a flag) that you can get together with the reflector and that let you tweak your light.

Once folded, the reflector is just 90cm long and fits perfectly in the nice carrying case you get with it (complete with shoulder strap). There is even enough space left for mount, adapter and a couple modifiers.

What could have been better
  • You get different parts that need to be assembled every time you want to set up the reflector
  • Although setup and breakdown are fast, they could be faster and easier

Getting this reflector ready is a bit laborious and the setup involves assembling a few different parts. If you want to get an idea about how setup (and breakdown) looks like, you can have a look at this video. Basically there are two activities involved here: putting all pieces together (or taking them apart) and opening the reflector (or closing it down).

Putting all pieces together is quite straight-forward: you need to insert the focusing mount in the (opened) reflector and then the flash adapter in the mount, exactly in this order.

Opening the reflector implies tightening each of 16 support rods, which are attached to the speed ring. You need to rotate and lock them into position, task that is not difficult but that does require some force, especially the first times you do it (and unlocking the rods requires even more force). Once you have done this, you still need to secure each rod using velcro tabs; these tabs are in my opinion the least durable element of the reflector, but only time can tell if this really can become a problem.

Although the setup does not take long, and although I would not even definite it difficult, it is for sure not the easiest one either. If you apply the right amount of force the locking/unlocking of the rods is easy (and gets easier with time); I just wish there was no need to secure/loosen 16 Velcro tabs every time and that it was possible to keep the mount attached to the flash adapter (the adapter is wider than the reflector’s speedring and hence needs to be detached every time the mount is inserted in or extracted from the reflector).

The Parabolix and its accessories are excellent in quality and portability but could be a bit easier to assemble (and disassemble).

Parabolix modifiers
Several reflector modifiers are available
Parabolix Velcro tabs
The Velcro tabs may be the weakest part

In the field

What I liked
  • The light quality is excellent
  • Thanks to the focusable light, I hardly ever need to use any other modifiers
  • Its efficiency means less strain on the flash
  • Together with the modifiers, it leaves hardly any tweaking wishes unsatisfied
  • It provides easy-to-achieve control

Well, what should I say here… I am very much into lighting and the Parabolix gives me excellent-quality light! But I guess you would like to have more details than this, so I will respect your wish 😉

Why is the light so good? Simply put, a lot of modifiers will give you either a soft light that is “boring” (cause it is too diffused) or a hard light that is “tricky” (cause it is tough on the skin). This is for sure an over-simplification and modifiers are typically somewhere between these two extremes, but the Parabolix is quite unique: it can give you a soft/diffused light that is still “punchy” and a hard/focused light that is still easy on the skin. The light is very even and creates smooth transitions between highlights and shadows, with no hotspots.

Is the difference in terms of light quality so big compared to other modifiers? Well, “yes and no”!

Let’s put it this way: if you are one who cares a lot about lighting and about the details in your images, then you will definitely notice the difference; beauty and fashion photographers you know I am talking to you :). If you do not care too much about lighting and care way more about the overall image “mood” rather than about the details, then you will probably not appreciate the difference much.

Before the Parabolix, I used to swap modifiers very frequently during a shoot, cause I wanted to have different lighting looks. Besides the obvious fact that in order to do this you need to have many modifiers with you (which can be problematic when shooting on location), this constant swapping does get annoying and does take your focus away from the most important thing: your subject! At the moment I mostly use just the Parabolix: from beauty to fashion, from portraits to lingerie, I can do everything with it. The only tweaks needed are moving the flash within the reflector (which can by the way require some force, especially when using heavy monolights) or attaching reflector modifiers (for even more light tweaking).

As a comparison, the modifier that comes closer to the Parabolix in terms of light-quality is probably a silver umbrella (which is indeed a silver reflector, exactly like the Parabolix), but with some major differences:

  • Umbrellas are made to produce diffused light and it is way harder to control the light direction/focus with them than with the Parabolix. If you want to light a large group of people then you may actually prefer a silver umbrella, but if you want to direct your light then the Parabolix is what you need.
  • Although you can move the flash closer to and away from the umbrella, the results in terms of changes in light hardness are rather small. The Parabolix lets you move the flash way more and the resulting changes are also way bigger.
  • Umbrellas produce hotspots. This of course depends also on the type of umbrella (and on its depth) but, in general, the brightest light is at the center. This may not sound like a big deal, but in practice it means that you typically have to move the umbrella away from your subject, making the light more uniform but also harder to control, and have to place the umbrella quite high above the subjects, cause you do not want the brightest light to reach their feet (if you are not into their shoes, that is ;)).

With the Parabolix you can work closer both to the subject and to the floor, cause the light is uniform across the whole source (if you have ever tried to work with a large umbrella inside a low-ceiling room then you probably already ordered a Parabolix by now ;))

  • Although the indirect light produced by a silver umbrella can also be smooth, the light of the Parabolix is still smoother and richer… This is at least the case with the umbrellas I tried but, to be fair, I do not exclude that there are silver umbrellas out there that can give you a light as smooth and as rich.
  • As far as I know (please do correct me if I am wrong) you cannot modify umbrellas with a grid. It would not be hard to build such a grid yourself (or to use one from a similar-sized modifier) but I have not seen a dedicated one yet. Parabolix as said offers a compatible grid.

So, if you asked me if in my opinion the price difference compared to a silver umbrella is justified (you could find a decent 100cm silver umbrella for less than 50USD), my answer would be positive. But that’s cause I am into lighting and I mostly shoot fashion… I cannot say that the price difference is justified also in your case!

One thing that more or less all silver reflectors have in common is the efficiency in terms of limited “loss” of light. Silver reflects most of the flash’s light and this means you do not need such a powerful flash. Or, if you do have a powerful flash, you can still benefit from faster recycle times (and longer battery duration, if you are working with a battery).

The parabolic curvature of the Parabolix actually makes it even more efficient, and it is supposed to work well even with speedlites (I have not tried this).

As a final consideration here, you may have heard that using parabolic reflectors is difficult cause, on top of the “normal” variables (position, modifiers, light output…), you also need to adjust the position of the flash inside the reflector. For sure you need to be careful using the Parabolix, cause small changes in the variables can have big impacts on your light, but moving the flash inside the reflector is not complicated, cause the light is nice at any position, even at the extreme ones. And, in case of doubt, you can just use an intermediate position as a starting point!

What could have been better
  • Especially when used with monolights, the reflector is quite unstable on top of a light stand and is best used together with a sandbag/counterweight
  • The use of any reflector modifier limits the possibility to move the flash

One of the first things you will notice with this reflector is that it is bulky and quite heavy (for the 102cm one, all parts together weight around 5kg). You will also immediately notice that it can get unstable on top of a light stand: indeed the flash head can move all the way to the outside of the reflector negatively affecting the center of gravity. This effect is obviously stronger with heavy flash heads (like monolights) and you will need a solid stand and probably a counterweight too. Don’t ask how one of my most compact light stands coped with this… It just does not look the same as before 😉

I actually planned to use this reflector also on location but this is quite tricky. On location indoors it does work (if you have enough room and if you are willing to transport the counterweight) but outdoors it needs an assistant who makes sure that it doesn’t fall over (being so deep, the reflector is also very sensitive to wind).

Another smaller issue is that when you place a modifier on the reflector you can obviously not move the flash anymore past the modifier itself. The problem is bigger with bigger (longer) flashes but this is for sure not a knock-out criteria.

The Parabolix became one of my go-to modifiers, because of its excellent light quality and versatility. Sure, it is not a reflector that will work well in all situations and the light quality does comes at a cost, but if you are into lighting then I believe you will appreciate it as much as I do!

Parabolix positions
The flash can be moved inside the reflector, from a hard/focused setting (above) to a soft/diffused setting (below)
Parabolix lighting comparison
Hard/focused light (left) vs soft/diffused light (right). The Parabolix is placed camera left

Conclusion

The Parabolix is for sure an excellent product… but do you really need one?

It is difficult to give a general answer to that question and I do invite you to carefully read this review, but I will try to make it easy here:

  • If you are very much into lighting, you own several different modifiers and you like to use many of them cause you enjoy different lighting looks, then the Parabolix will probably be worth its price for you, although you may find it difficult to use on location (depending also on the size you get).
  • If you do like lighting but do not worry much about it, using the same modifiers all the time and hardly seeing any differences among them, then you should probably not spend your money on the Parabolix (although it may even be what makes you fall in love with lighting…).
  • If you have never even heard about a parabolic reflector then you are probably not much into lighting and this product would hardly bring you any benefits. Which is perfectly fine, do not get me wrong: everyone has got the own style and preferences and we do not all need to be obsessed with light!

About me, I am quite obsessed with light, I love my Parabolix and consider its price tag very reasonable, especially seeing how much similar products cost (good-quality lighting equipment can be expensive, do I need to tell you that? ;))

By the way, what I would like to do next is compare the Parabolix with those similar products!

You can purchase the Parabolix reflectors at parabolixlight.com

Some images I lit with the Parabolix 40

Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato
This image is straight out of the camera.
Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato
This image is straight out of the camera.

Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato

Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato

Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato

Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato

Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato

Image lit with the Parabolix 40. By Francesco Rizzato

Francesco Rizzato
I am a people and fashion photographer based in Munich, Germany. You can find more information about me or contact me through my website.
francescorizzato.com
  • Class A

    At that price, no thank you.

    Of course parabolic light modifiers are awesome and tend to be more expensive than your typical garden-variety modifier, but the Parabolix is the most expensive, I’ve ever seen.

    For comparison, the Godox Parabolic Softbox (90cm, 16 rods) is just $99. The Selens Parabolic Softbox (120cm, 16 rods) is just $100.

    • Series

      Yes but you’re missing the point, those aren’t parabolic reflectors, they’re just deep softboxes which is what most people should be looking at.

      If you’re looking for something of this type then the alternative is a Broncolor Para 88 kit which would cost you $3,273 making the Parabolix relatively good value by comparison.

      Stop thinking about this in terms of value, this is a tool for a professional to make their living, if you need it then you’re probably earning enough to warrant the purchase, if not then it’s probably the wrong tool for you.

      • Class A

        What do you mean by “just deep softboxes”? The point is that these modifiers also

        a) support a variable-sized light source. Just add an adjustment rod like the Cheetah Chopstick or a DIY solution.

        b) very effectively make use of a bare bulb light source.

        The modifiers I offered for comparison do not include an adjustment rod, and prices are therefore not directly comparable. The idea was to point out that the additional of an adjustment rod does not explain the difference in price.

        In terms of a complete solution, the Broncolor makes the Parabolix look cheap, but why not compare to a CononMark parabolic modifier including adjustment rod that is available for $360?

        BTW, a “professional” may as well choose to take two or three quick to set up modifiers with them, instead of one adjustable one that takes time to set up. It all depends, and professionals don’t always have the most expensive equipment. On the contrary. My argument is not about affordability but about product margins. It is well-known that a screw that costs $0.05 in a hardware store, sells for $0.50 in a photography store. In my view, Broncolor prices are not a reflection of what it costs to produce the equipment at low volumes, but what photographers were prepared to pay.

        • Maya

          They’re “just deep softboxes” because they aren’t shaped at all like a paraboloid (the 3D equivalent to a parabola). A paraboloid is very precisely defined mathematically and 95% of modifiers labelled “parabolic”, such as deep umbrellas, simply are nowhere near the ideal shape (BTW it isn’t about depth. A paraboloid can be very, very shallow). It’s a marketing lie. Neither one of them will provide a set of light characteristics that’s similar to a Bron / Briese para.

          Now of course it doesn’t make them bad modifiers. Personally my feeling is that people over-buy into anything parabolic. A deep soft box can prove to be just the right tool for the job.

          • Class A

            For sure, not everything that calls itself “parabolic” does precisely adhere to the parabolic shape constraints. However, that typically does not matter.

            The real benefit of a parabolic light modifier with an adjustment rod is that one can dynamically change the apparent size of the light source (through a simple adjustment instead of changing modifiers). Obviously, only a pure paraboloid has a focal point which defines the location of the flash tube that will result in all beams leaving the modifier in one direction (in parallels). While this is also an interesting feature of a parabolic light modifier, I challenge you to show me one application where the existence of such focal point is critical.

            I’m not denying that the actual shape of the modifier can influence the look of photo due to the distribution of the light, but I hope you won’t deny that all that is by far dominated by the apparent size of the modifier. Hence, the ability of a modifier to apparently change its size (through using a variable placement of the flash tube and a suitable curvature of the modifier) is by far more important than strict adherence to a parabolic shape.

          • Maya

            “The real benefit of a parabolic light modifier with an adjustment rod is that one can dynamically change the apparent size of the light source (through a simple adjustment instead of changing modifiers).”
            Well, not really. The real benefit of a parabolic modifier… is, as you yourself put it, having “a focal point which defines the location of the flash tube that will result in all beams leaving the modifier in one direction”.
            There are some applications where that’s an interesting characteristic. It reduces beam angle and increases efficiency. With some really “hardcore” parabolic modifiers, such as Broncolor’s satellite, it helps in re-creating a light similar to the sun in a smaller studio setting (instead of having a single point like source with diverging shadows, it mimics a single point light source that’s much further away, with parallel shadows – but that can also be achieved via other means). Fabric indirect reflectors obviously can’t exactly match a perfect, shiny paraboloid so the effect is less pronounced, but to some capacity it still is there. A more subtle but in my opinion way more important advantage is that since the parabolic shape helps in reducing beam angle, one can then intentionally use a slightly more scattering silver material instead of a shiny, mirror-like one to improve the illumination evenness of indirect silver reflectors (when looking into them), which helps in reducing the occurence of multiple, stepped shadows, without giving up beam angle tightness compared to a less well shaped indirect reflector with a harder, shiner silver material.
            Some of the light characteristics that Broncolor paras are often used for aren’t relying on their parabolic-ness. The “ring of light”, in their defocused position, for example, could theoretically be achieved with other, non parabolic reflectors. The problem is that most of them aren’t quite as convincing at this job than the 88 and 133. The latter two have 24 sides and a slightly scattering silver material which helps in preventing the ring of light from looking like a set of 16 small point size sources, which creates multiple, stepped shadows.
            Personally I don’t need a high end Bron / Briese / etc. para, but one of my most used modifier is a Paul Buff PLM soft silver, and the reason it’s great is that it combines a shape that’s as close as it gets to a paraboloid for a regular umbrella (nowhere near as good as Bron’s paras though), with a slightly scattering material. The result is a modifier that’s reasonably directional, but that, contrary to all other quite directional silver umbrellas, doesn’t exhibit multiple, stepped shadows (and a bicycle wheel illumination pattern when you look into them). Basically, here, the pseudo-parabolic shape gives the designers the opportunity to use a less directional, more scattering material without too much compromise in terms of beam angle.

        • Series

          What Maya said lines up with my own view on the matter, I was not suggesting those softboxes are in any way shape or form bad but they’re just a different type of modifier and a direct comparison is to miss the point that they work differently even if they appear similar. The Parabolix is aimed at someone considering the Broncolor not the Cheetah, $1k isn’t really a problem in that comparison.

          A professional can do whatever they want, if they’re getting paid they’re doing something right and it’s their business what works for them whether that’s a $50 softbox or a $5000 reflector but my point was there’s no real reason to consider a 4 figure modifier if your work isn’t going to pay for it regardless of its qualities.

          • Class A

            All the mentioned light modifiers that support dynamic adjustments of the apparent light size “work the same” to practically all intents and purposes. A claim to the contrary would require a proof that deviations from a pure parabolic shape actually result in significant visual differences.

            I don’t care whether a product is “aimed at” an even more expensive product. I only care whether I feel the price/value ratio is reasonable. Yes, a professional can do “whatever they want”, but typically professionals are far more efficient than enthusiasts. A professional knows what counts and won’t spend more money than necessary whereas an enthusiast can even enjoy spending a lot because they sometimes feel they are elevated to a “pro standard” just because they spent astronomical sums. A good professional will not spend more than necessary, just like a good horse won’t jump higher than required. An enthusiast, on the other hand, will easily spend $4000 on a camera they don’t make a single cent with. For such enthusiasts, it also can make sense to consider a “4 figure modifier” even if their work isn’t going to pay for it. Again, this is not about whether the product is affordable or not. It is about whether it is reasonably priced. I just think it isn’t. We should probably agree to disagree on that.

            BTW, I’m not saying that the Parabolix cannot be the right choice for some. Ergonomics, durability, dealer support, etc. can all play a big role and suggest that it is wiser to invest more rather than trying to save money initially. I just doubt that other choices don’t make more sense for certain people (who want essentially the same lighting flexibility from a single modifier, just from an alternative brand).

          • Series

            To be blunt no one besides you cares what you feel is reasonable.

            A reflector is not the same as a camera, there are a vanishingly small number of people who would consider owning one as an enthusiast compared to a high end camera, it makes little sense to compare the two.

            Ignoring all else, those efficient professionals you mention do seem to be buying those Parabolix and Broncolor products despite their price so either they’re horribly mistaken or you haven’t properly considered their reasons for doing so.

  • mafan

    Not sure how the modifier works with “any” studio light because of the different light distribution.