Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella review

A lot of brands have been putting out shallow parabolic type umbrellas lately, in sizes ranging from a standard 43″ to a whopping 83″+. Westcott is no exception, and are currently selling three different versions of 7′ Parabolic Umbrella in silver, white reflective and white translucent. We were sent the white reflective model to review.

Strictly speaking, the “parabolic” shape offers no advantage on any except the silver lined umbrellas, since white material reflects incident light in all directions. Silver material would favour reflecting light where the angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence. That’s physics. The reason the white umbrellas are still parabolic will be to cut manufacturing costs having already made the silver model (and there is no disadvantage to using a parabolic shape either).

Now, seven feet might sound pretty big. It is. Over two metres. How tall are you? The umbrella is not actually measured diametrically, but instead around the arc, so you’ll probably find it isn’t actually taller than you, but might come close. You will quickly discover that the size of this brolly is the number one determining factor in whether you buy it or not. If you’re brave enough to take this monster outside, it can block out the sun and then be lit to fill in its own shadow.

Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella filling in its own shadow

The Westcott 7′ comes in a soft carrying case which does the job perfectly. The whole unit weighs not much, so you can throw it over your shoulder on the way to a shoot. To open the umbrella itself, find somewhere spacious and let it fall open pointing at the floor. The fibreglass ribs are far less prone to breakage compared with traditional metal ones, but the shaft is still made of metal and has a certain amount of give to it. We are assured that the shaft flexing is normal. Everything else feels sturdy but the bending shaft can be unnerving at first.

Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella shaft

With certain Bowens lights you’ll also find the weight of the umbrella will lever the back of the shaft against your flash head. However, this is more a weakness of Bowens’ quirky umbrella mounting system than anything else. Ideally you should use the parabolic with a bare bulb flash but in Bowens’s case the umbrella mount is on a reflector.

Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella on a Bowens Gemini GM400

If you don’t have a big studio and want to shoot indoors, the white model will quickly spread light everywhere in the room and not leave you with much control. Of course, as a general fill light this might be what you want, as positioning isn’t crucial. Using the umbrella directly behind the camera can give a shadowless effect, or make short work of a large group photograph.

On-axis lighting with the Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella

A group photograph taken using the Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella

With enough indoor space, you can easily move the umbrella off to one side for modelling with dark shadows on the opposite side. No fill lighting or reflectors were added to the following photograph, but there is some detail in the shadows. However, I needed a very large space which you might not find in a typical home studio. Another trade-off is that the below photograph required three flashes on a bracket to illuminate the modifier fully. Generally you should use studio lights to reap the benefits.

An indoor portrait taken with the Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella

If you’re looking for soft light then the Westcott 7′ provides it in spades. For tight portraits and headshots it’s a simple task to create beautiful lighting with just one flash. The following photographs were taken on a rare calm day in the North of England when we dared risk putting the umbrella outside. One CononMark DD400s flash was used, with the sun(!) behind.

Headshot taken with the Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella outdoors

Headshot taken with the Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella outdoors

Headshot taken with the Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella outdoors

Outdoor Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella set up

Though the above setup shot shows no ballast being used, we are young rebellious risk-takers and highly recommend you don’t follow our example. Instead, weigh down your stand with something big and heavy like an Innovatronix Explorer XT SE. Without it, taking photographs outdoors in windy Edinburgh, such as below, would have been unthinkable.

Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella used outdoors with Tronix Explorer for ballast

At the risk of me being too verbose, David Monteith-Hodge summed up the Westcott 7′ White Parabolic Umbrella in the following points:

Pros

  • It’s HUGE – lots of soft light
  • It’s HUGE – easy to position
  • It’s HUGE – very even lighting across large areas
  • Comes with a carrying case
  • Sturdy

Cons

  • It’s HUGE – turns into a sail in windy conditions
  • It’s HUGE – harder to keep light out of shadows
  • It’s HUGE – need lots of space indoors

Where to buy

The Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella is available for $99.90 in the USA and £109.99 in the UK.

Pictures by David Selby and David Monteith-Hodge

  • Edwin

    Did you notice that the focal point of the parabola was at the very tip of the shaft? I didn’t trust the strength of the product at first, but I found that I filled the umbrella with light more efficiently when I mounted it as far away from the bulb as possible. Although, when I wanted the edges to feather a bit more, I moved it in.

    • David A. Selby

      Our model was the white one and as such had no “focal point”.

      • Edwin

        Cool! I also own the white one! I enjoyed looking for the focus of mine by humming close to the main shaft until I could hear the sound come back to me in a weird surround-sound type reflection. It’s one of those dumb fun things that really help. As long as the umbrella is anywhere near parabola, it should have a focus (I probably mixed up my terms for the worse last time).

  • David Freedman

    One thing you might want to point out, David, is that Westcott’s weasel-worded advertising copy notwithstanding (“This durable shaft is finished off with a 7mm tapered tip allowing for insertion into a variety of photographic lights.”), the 7′ umbrella shafts are not compatible with Elinchrom umbrella mounting tubes. The tip of the shaft may be 7mm but the shaft itself is 8mm.

    Dave F.

    • Dominique

      Thanks. That appears to put paid to this Elinchrom user’s genuine interest in the product.

  • Jazz Guy

    You didn’t use a ballast? Are you Scots mad?

  • zhiyang

    Hi, just wondering, does the white umbrella reflective eat up alot of light? I’m considering getting one to use with my speedlites for outdoor portraits etc (:

    Thanks! (:

    • David A. Selby

      If using speedlights with the white version then I’d recommend a multiple flash bracket of some kind. A single flashgun would probably struggle.

      • zhiyang

        Thanks for the reply David (:

        But I’m wondering if the white reflective parabrolic will eat up alot of light, cause I intend to use it outdoors and I’m afraid it’ll reduce the efficiency of my speedlites :/

        • David A. Selby

          It’s certainly less efficient than the silver version, but I can’t give you a quantitative answer on how much so.

          • zhiyang

            Oh I see. I’ll just have to decide between the silver and white then. Thanks for your help! (:

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