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!
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!
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).
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!
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