Quality over quantity. Without a doubt, a light modifier plays a bigger role in the final photo than a light source. I’d rather have a little bit of good light than a lot of bad light.
However, when we look at websites that cover lighting related news, such as Lighting Rumours, by far most attention is spent on light sources. It is not surprising, because in general we see that in the last few years, light sources have changed significantly, while light modifiers do not really feature any new innovations.
On the other hand, it is not right to dismiss all light modifiers as ‘low tech’. It is true that most of them are all variations of the same shape and principle, but not all. Most modifiers rely on diffusion, scattering the light in multiple directions in order to get a pleasant light.
The light modifier that I will be reviewing in this article is not like the others; this one could be considered ‘high tech’. This modifier is the Godox Parabolic Light Focusing System. It comes in four different sizes and starts at US$1119. I’ll be testing the 120 cm variant, which is the P128 model. The other sizes available are 70 (P68), 90 (P88) and 150 cm (P158). We thank Godox for providing us with a sample unit to try out.
There is one note that I would like to make before we start this review, which is that light quality is very different from light quantity. The latter is quantifiable and can be measured with the right tools, but light quality (such as the softness, spread and fall-off) is extremely difficult to measure objectively. Instead I will describe the light characteristics and explain why a parabolic reflector differs so much from other modifiers available on the market.
In this review you will read the basics on parabolic reflectors. How do they differ from other modifiers, in theory and practice? Ultimately I will give an answer to if the Godox Parabolic Light Focusing System is any good, especially compared to the competition. Keep reading to find out!
Before we discuss the Godox Parabolic Reflector specifically, I think it is important first to understand what a parabolic reflector is, why it is special and what can be done with it? Why do I claim that this modifier is ‘high tech’ while most others aren’t?
At first glance you might think that a parabolic reflector resembles a deep umbrella. It does have a similar shape, a silver coating and you position the light inside. Where it differs is the way how the light reflects off this surface. Most modifiers scatter the light in all directions, but the parabolic reflector directs the light in a certain direction. The result of this is that the parabolic reflector acts more like a lens for light.
While this itself is already quite interesting, the real trick of the parabolic modifier is that by moving the flash relative to the reflector, it can be focused. Depending on the position of the focus rod you get very different types of light. Imagine a giant fresnel lens, but one that is small and light enough to bring on location shoots.
Like a lens, any imperfections in the build quality of the design directly lead to optical imperfections. There is only one specific shape of the reflector (called the parabola) where these focusable properties work and this is why true parabolic modifiers are expensive. If the reflector sags because of its own weight, the focusing rod is not centered properly or reflecting material is not tensioned properly then the light pattern will not be uniform. A non-uniform light pattern results in local hot spots, uneven light pattern and weird fall off. So yes, a parabolic reflector is as high tech as light modifiers can go.
In this section I will dive a little bit deeper into the theory behind a parabolic reflector. Personally, this helps me a lot to understand the characteristics of this light and how it can be utilized.
The way to control a parabolic reflector is through adjustments of the position of the focus rod. On the focusing rod of the Godox Parabolic Reflector there are ten different positions. I would like to explain the effect of three positions in particular. These are the focused position, the focal point and the defocused position.
In the images underneath I made a rough illustration of how the light travels in each of these positions. Be aware that these illusions are made to demonstrate the properties of a parabolic reflector in general, not the Godox one specifically.
When the light source is set in the focused position (where it is deepest inside the reflector) most of the light that hits our subject will come from the center part of the reflector. The resulting light will be relatively hard (due the fact that we only use the center part of the reflector) with a pleasant fall-off.
By moving the focusing rod to the halfway position the light is now positioned in the focal point of the reflector. As can be seen in the illustration the light rays that exit the reflector are parallel. In theory the resulting light pattern will not significantly change in size or intensity if the subject moves closer or further away from the light source.
The final position that I would like to highlight is the defocused position, when the flash is the furthest away from the reflector. This gives an evenly spread soft light, flooding your subject with light.
Within the defocused position there is one specific effect that is also worth highlighting, indicated in the illustration with the red circle. If the subject stands in this specific spot the parabolic modifier will appear to have only the edges illuminated, the inverse of the focused position. It gives a very special and unique effect. It is a specular light and it’s hard to describe it. A lot of people refer to it as ‘3D light’ and I think this is the right word for it.
It might be obvious, but a parabolic reflector only works well if you are using an omni directional light source so a COB LED will generally not yield the desired light pattern.
Again, I want to emphasize that a parabolic reflector only works when the shape of the reflector is correct and the position of the light source is well aligned. Below is an illustration where the light source is slightly misaligned and you can see what it does to the resulting light pattern.
For my tests Godox has kindly provided me with a P128 kit to test. The
standard kit consist of the following items:
- Godox P128 Reflector
- PB-G1 Grip Kit (used to set up the reflector)
- PF-M Focusing Mount
- Strobe Adapter (Bowens-Mount)
- PF-R870 Focusing Rod
- CB35 Carry Bag
There are also other accessories available for purchase, such as different mounting adapters, additional diffusers or grids. During my tests I also have used the Godox mount adapter, the D1 and D2 diffusion (the number indicates the density, and therefore the diffusion) fabrics and a grid additional to the standard kit. Both the diffusers and grid mount to the front of the reflector, making it work and appear more like a traditional softbox.
After unboxing the modifier it directly becomes obvious that this is not an ordinary light modifier. You can see that every part of the whole kit has been designed carefully and fabricated with great care. The materials that were used for the reflector look and feel premium.
After unboxing I was a bit surprised by how big this set is. Since the P128 has a diameter of 120 cm it is a large modifier but it is especially imposing due to the depth of the modifier. Even stored, the P128 remains quite voluminous. At 94 x 30.5 x 27 cm the CB35 bag is not particularly small. Be aware that even the smallest variant, the P68 ships with the same bag and therefore will be the same volume to transport, albeit for only a 70 cm modifier. I have one point of critique about the CB35 bag is that it lacks the possibility to securely attach a light stand to it. There is already one, but the light stand slides out if you tilt the bag backwards.
Setting up the parabolic reflector is fairly quick and easy to do. You attach the focusing rod to the focusing mount, open the reflector, attach it to the mount, connect the strobe adapter and you are ready to go. It is faster than most softboxes, especially considering the size. To open the reflector you need to use the PB-G1 Grip Kit. It is very fast and easy to do, but would rather have seen a tool-less setup. It is easy to misplace or lose these tools and in that case you will be stuck with an open or closed reflector.
Tilting the reflector can be loosening a knob on the PF-M Focusing Mount. What surprised me is that is knob is made from plastic, since all other components have been manufactured with the highest standard. Plastic ages, becomes less flexible and especially in colder weather conditions plastic can snap when you exert too much force on it.
From my first impressions it also looks like Godox thought of the serviceability of the reflector itself. While I couldn’t find spare parts for the reflector, most parts can be easily disassembled and replaced for new ones. Especially for the rods this is quite a big deal since accidents do happen, no matter how careful you are.
During my time testing the P128 I have used it both in the studio and on location. Setting it up in the studio is pretty straightforward. Just make sure you have a sturdy light stand with a large footprint because the combination of the parabolic reflector and light source puts quite some strain on it. It feels a little bit like using a boom arm without the counter weight. And, unfortunately, there is no possibility to mount a counter weight to the parabolic focusing system.
Personally I have used the AD300Pro, AD1200Pro and P2400 together with the P128 but I can imagine that using a heavier monolight-type strobe, such as the AD600Pro, would create some serious instability. I haven’t tried it myself because I didn’t have a light stand stable enough available. The AD300Pro was fine, it didn’t cause any major problems. Especially in the defocused position I can imagine that the combination of an AD600Pro and reflector would be very front heavy, since this is the position where the weight is the furthest away from the reflector.
In the manual it is stated that the Godox Parabolic Light Focusing System is only suited for the H1200P or H2400P. They take no responsibility for accidents that occur with lights of other brands. This statement leaves me rather confused. I understand why they include this in the manual, but much rather would have seen a weight limit. Why would you sell a Godox mount adapter if officially there are no light sources that are compatible?
Using it on location is slightly more tedious due to the large size. With any big modifier even a gentle breeze means that there is a risk of tipping over. There are a few small D-rings on the reflector to which you can attach some ground anchor lines. With enough lines and some weight on the light stand the combination is stable, but it is not very flexible because you literally cannot move it.
Without the wind, the P128 is much easier to use at an indoor location outside of a studio. The included CB35 bag makes it easy to transport and setting up just takes a couple of minutes. What I like most is that the P128 can act as many different types of modifiers depending on the position of the focus rod and the addition of the diffusion fabric. I can easily change the light characteristics depending on the subject I encounter. There is no need to choose which modifier you want to bring, you just bring them all (in one).
This versatility as a main light is amazing, however I would not want to replace the smaller softboxes I use for fill lights for a P68 or P88. Having to lug multiple CB35 bags is not feasible for me since I usually do not rely on the help of an assistant.
Without a doubt the light quality that the modifier produces is by far the most important aspect of this review. Like I stated in the introduction, it is difficult to describe the quality objectively or to express it quantitatively. Hopefully, this section together with the section about the theory behind the parabolic reflector should help you understand the strengths and weaknesses.
In practice, the theory that I earlier explained does not always hold up: it is an oversimplified version of reality. In practice there are more variables to consider, such as the true form of the reflector light distribution of the light source and the reflector material quality. That is why all parabolic reflectors that I have tried and used until so far all have different behavior. Making a true focusable parabolic reflector has proven difficult for most manufacturers. In the next section I’ll discuss some alternatives.
From my observations the Godox Parabolic Light Focusing System does behave like a true parabolic modifier. One way to get an indication if the reflector has the right shape (of a parabola) is to stand in front and look how the reflection of the light source on the reflector changes while you adjust the focusing rod. If correct you can see a gradual and smooth shift in the way the light reflects, almost a linear relation to the focus rod position.
At the focused position the middle of the reflector is much brighter compared to the outside ring which remains dark, as we would have expected based on the theory. The resulting light on the subject is very directional, hard and it has a quick fall-off. It creates a spotlight with a bright center and a gradual fall-off.
When moving the focusing rod into the focal point position the light rays exiting the reflector should be parallel to each other, but due to the textured finish on the reflector there is some diffusion in other directions. Although there is some stray light, the effect of the parallel rays is certainly still present. If the light source is in the focal point the resulting light quality will be directional but still relatively soft due to the larger size of the modifier.
Another advantage of the focal point position is that the efficiency of the light output is very high since the light is directed towards the model without too much stray light. This benefit of high efficiency is also present when the modifier is focused or defocused. With efficiency I mean that the amount of light which is lost is low, especially considering the large size of the modifier. A traditional softbox relies on layers of diffusion fabric that absorbs light, reducing the overall efficiency.
Finally, the defocused position is where the parabolic reflector gives the softest light. When the focusing rod is set to this position it is easy to observe that the light is spread into all directions, showering your subject and environment with light.
While in this last position the resulting light pattern is fairly dull due to the softness, there is one very special effect that occurs when your subject is placed relatively close to the modifier as I have mentioned in the theory section. At this specific setting and position the modifier almost works as a ring light, but it also wraps around the model. The effect is most present with the bigger modifier sizes.
For this 3D wrap-around effect to have a good effect it is important that you place your subject centrally in the light pattern and at the right distance to the modifier. As long as you are using a modeling light on your flash it is easy to do if you explain to your model what to look for. A smoother texture on the reflector and a bigger size would even have emphasized the ‘3D’ effect, but I was able to reproduce the effect easily with the P128 I had to test.
In the images underneath you can clearly see the effect of focusing the reflector by moving the light source. I have deliberately included photos in this review without skin retouching so you can see the effect the parabolic reflector has on the skin.
Since most of the work that I did with the parabolic reflector was either in large rooms or outside, I didn’t feel like I needed the grid. Adjusting the focusing rod gave me enough control to adjust the light spread of the modifier. On a few occasions I did use one of the two optional diffusion fabrics. I found the D2 fabric especially useful, since it makes the resulting light source very homogenous and uniform. Perfect for situations where the parabolic reflector effect is undesirable. Just by bringing an additional piece of fabric you greatly extend the capabilities of the overall set. The two examples underneath were made by including the difusion fabric.
Godox has a great video on their social media pages which covers what I just described. Aries Tao does a great job at presenting the effect that the various settings of the focus rod has on the light pattern. While it is a video that is sponsored by Godox, I can verify that the effect shown is accurate.
Personally I love the effect I can get with the parabolic reflector, but it also has its weaknesses. Most commonly, you will see the parabolic reflector being used for fashion and beauty photography. Since the reflector relies on the reflection of light in a specific direction, it is not a good tool to use for photographing glossy or reflective items. A light modifier that relies on diffusion instead of reflector will be a much more pleasant and uniform reflection. This also includes people with glasses.
While the Godox Parabolic Reflector is a special type of equipment, it is not unique. Similar offerings have been created by other manufacturers. The most well known ones are made by Broncolor
(Para-series) and Briese (Focus.2), but also several ‘cheaper’ versions currently exist.
I think the Para line-up from Broncolor is the best known when it comes to parabolic reflector. Most professional photographers have heard of this modifier, but not a lot of people have actually worked
with it. While I never owned a Para modifier myself, I have rented several studios that were equipped with it. Even the smallest Para costs several thousands of dollars, it was never feasible for me to buy one.
I think most people that are reading this are interested to hear how the Godox modifier holds up against the Broncolor. From my experience Godox comes close to matching the performance of Broncolor’s Para. The light characteristics of the Para are slightly more directional and with harder contrast. From my perception this is caused by some slight differences in the texture of the silver reflector fabric. The Para 133 and 88 use a smoother texture, resulting in less diffusion and a more profound effect. Once I rent a Para modifier again I can validate by doing a direct comparison.
One other difference is that the Para modifiers are available in bigger sizes compared to Godox. The maximum diameter of the Para is 220 cm for the 222 variant while Godox stops at 150 cm with their P158 model.
Besides Broncolor, Briese is another manufacturer that is supposed to have a very good parabolic reflector line-up, called the Focus.2. I personally have no experience with Briese, but have heard nothing but good recommendations for the Focus.2. This is to be expected from Briese, because their equipment is very high end. I struggled to find pricing for the Focus.2 modifiers but expect it to cost more than the offerings by Broncolor. I get the impression that Briese prices are “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”.
Besides these two premium brands, there are a few options that come at a similar price as the Godox variant or are slightly more inexpensive. The Parabolix Light-Focusing System is one of them. Again, I had no experience with the brand myself but I read mixed experiences from others. Based on my online observations the parabolic ‘effect’ is less profound and the build quality is not comparable to most high end modifiers.
SMDV, a Korean brand, also has an indirect adapter for the Mega Speedbox line-up. My experiences with SMDV have always been very positive, but haven’t tried this specific modifier. I am not sure if
it is actually a parabolic reflector since they do not advertise it. My assumption is that the modifier does not have the shape of a true parabola and therefore will not act as a parabolic reflector.
In general, an indirect adapter does not convert a softbox into a focusable reflector, for this you need a specific shape. Even if softboxes are called ‘deep’ or parabolic they do not have the properties that you are looking for in a parabolic reflector. As explained earlier, different textures, exact shape or compromised build quality give undesirable light patterns.
I have also seen some other relatively unknown brands advertise ‘parabolic’ modifiers. At first glance these might sound appealing, but often these are direct copies of better known brands but with severe compromises. The build quality leaves a lot to be desired and as consequence the shape will not be a real parabola.
I have always been intrigued by parabolic reflectors. To me it feels like this is the right way to diffuse your light, instead of using the ‘brute force’ approach with layers of diffusion fabric inside a softbox. I love it that I have control over the light characteristics by simply moving the focusing rod. A parabolic reflector is very versatile and can be used in many different situations, certainly not a one-trick pony.
The way how Godox introduced the Parabolic Light Focusing System showed that they set the bar very high while developing this modifier, which led to some serious expectations from my side as well. I am happy to say that the parabolic reflector does exactly what it promised to do. It delivers great performance, very close to being a true parabola and therefore benefiting from all the optical qualities that a parabolic reflector has. I can also say that the build quality has surpassed my expectations.
Most of my comments and remarks have been very positive, I do have a few points where Godox could have improved their design. I much rather have a tool-less assembly method rather than the grip kit you need now. It has only been a short period that I have been using the P128 and I nearly lost the grip kit twice already and I haven’t seen it being sold separately (yet).
Also I would like to be able to add a counterweight to increase the overall stability of the combination when using heavy light sources, although officially only the H1200 and H2400 heads are supported. I much rather would have seen a weight limit that is officially supported.
Besides this I would also have preferred a more specular reflector material. I think this is more personal, since a more specular material would have created an even more emphasized effect, but this also means that the modifier is less forgiving. A slightly displaced subject could result in a different light distribution, meaning that it is hard to ensure consistency between your shots. On top of that, very specular fabrics are usually not very durable since any defect is very prominent.
And the other disadvantage is also the price if you are used to buying traditional light modifiers. Starting at $1199 the Godox Parabolic Light Focusing System is certainly not cheap. However it starts to make sense when you compare it to the competitors that make true parabolic reflectors. I think there are only two real competitors that can match or even surpass the performance of the Godox system and those are Broncolor and Briese. Compared to them the Godox system can be even considered reasonably priced. Godox gets you to 99% percent of the effect for less than half of the money.
That said, it is still a lot of money and certainly not all photographers would need the capabilities that the parabolic reflector has to offer. If your work relies more on soft light instead of directional I would recommend buying a softbox instead. Even a high quality softbox is much cheaper to buy and easier to transport.
I think it is a missed opportunity that Godox limited themselves to 150 cm as the biggest available model. At bigger sizes the ‘3D’ wrap-around effect would be more prominent and a lot of photographers would buy these modifiers for that specific effect, since it cannot be produced with any other modifier.
A true parabolic reflector is something very special to use and experience. There is a lot of lighting equipment I have used in these years working as a photographer and writing for Lighting Rumours, but this type of modifier is really unlike anything else. It is a complete lighting system bundled in one package. It is like a Swiss Army knife, an all-in-one solution and a marvelous piece of engineering.
And Godox has managed to create a version of that which retains all the characteristics of a true parabolic reflector, but made it much more affordable that more photographers will be able to enjoy it.
Thanks to Godox for providing us with sample units to review. For more information on the Godox Parabolic Light Focusing System, visit the manufacturer’s web site. A kit including the P128, as featured in this review, is available for $1,599 from Adorama.