Thursday, April 21, 2011

World's Largest On-Camera Softbox: the Fotodiox 8x12


I've been looking for a hands-free on-axis fill solution.  I've tried the Coco Ring Flash, which worked pretty well and got me the results I wanted.  However, I find it quite bulky and inconvenient to carry.  I wondered whether a small softbox fitted to an on-camera flash would work as well.  I found the Fotodiox 8x12 Softbox from Amazon and gave it a try.  How well did it work?  Hit the jump to find out!




The Fotodiox 8x12 softbox is a foldable mini-softbox designed for hotshoe flashes.  What sets it apart from dozens of other similar hotshoe softboxes is its size.  Fotodiox seems to have chosen the largest size that can still allow the softbox to be used with an on-camera flash.  At 8 inches by 12 inches, its surface is 33% larger than that of the 8 x 9 inch Lumiquest Softbox III, which to my knowledge was the previous recordholder for largest on-camera softbox.  The Fotodiox's extra size translates to a little extra softness.

In the real world though, even at 8 x 12, it can't get you the same soft light as bounced flash, or a large modifier like a more typical-sized softbox or umbrella.  For my purposes though, I was planning to use the 8x12 as on-axis fill.  Other than the Coco Ring Flash, my alternatives would have been popup flash (which is closer to the lens axis but a much smaller and thus harder light source) or on-camera hotshoe flash (not as close to the lens axis and a hard light source as well).  Mr. Strobist did have an innovative technique for handholding a hotshoe flash immediately beside the lens, which I've tried and works very well, but I wanted a hands-free solution so I can use another flash handheld (such as with a handheld umbrella).



The 8x12 is made of fabric, with no solid frame.  The exterior seems to be ballistic nylon.  The shooting surface is made of some sort of polyester, which I believe is similar to that of a "real" softbox.  The interior is texturized silver (not just smooth silver) to help spread the light more evenly and avoid hotspots.  There is also a built-in baffle inside, also made of polyester, to further reduce hotspots.  The baffle is attached to one side and is used by velcro-ing it to the opposite side of the softbox interior.


The 8x12 comes flat.  To use it, I simply fluff it up and attach it to the hotshoe flash using the built-in velcro strap.  The underside of the velcro strap is a bit rubberized to allow the 8x12 to grip the flash more securely.  Nice touch.  I'm confident it will stay on except in extremely strong wind.  At the same time, if it gets knocked off by accident, I'm sure it won't rip the flash head off with it.  Because the 8x12 has no frame per se, it can be somewhat floppy.  I like to use mine with the logo facing downward, which seems to keep it more level than otherwise.

I was pleased to find out that even with a 17mm lens (25.5mm equivalent) and a Nikon SB-600, the softbox did not block the lens -- barely.  With that combo, if the softbox tilts down slightly, it will show up in the shot.  It helps to use the lens hood to keep the softbox from tilting down.

LIGHT LOSS
I still don't have a flash meter.  I estimated light loss using the same testing protocol as with the Coco Ring Flash (I fired bare flash in manual mode and then fired the flash with the 8x12 inserted at the same power, then compared the apertures that yielded similar histograms.)  Using this protocol, it seems that the 8x12 eats up a little more than 3 stops of light compared to bare flash.

With Softbox: 1/128 manual power, f2.8 @ ISO 200

Bare Flash: 1/128 manual power, f/8 @ ISO 200

TEST SHOTS
Here are some test shots in TTL mode taken at sync speed to minimize ambient, all basic JPEG, straight-out-of-the-camera with no adjustments whatsoever other than resizing (except for the one shot below).  Note: there is a yellow tinge in the bottom right hand corner -- that's the desk lamp I used to help me focus on the target (because the 8x12 blocks the AF assist light of the hotshoe flash).

Here's what the 8x12's light looks like by itself and as on-axis fill.  I was about 2.5 feet from the mannequin head, and the wall was about 1.5 feet behind the mannequin head:
8x12 softbox only (SB-800)

Bare flash only (SB-600)

Bare flash as key (SB-600) + softbox as fill/commander (SB-800)
As with the Coco Ring Flash, it seems that TTL gets confused.  I think it's because the flash is facing forward, which causes the camera to use the distance data as part of its TTL calculations.  With a +1.5 exposure adjustment in Lightroom 3, the shots look like this:




"REAL WORLD" SHOTS
I was able to use the 8x12 in real world shots.  For these shots, we were in the desert and the sun was blazing.

Here is a comparison between a shot without flash, and a similar shot with the softbox.  Again SOOC, basic JPEG, no adjustments other than resizing.
No flash

With flash and softbox
MACRO USE
I also tested the 8x12 as a light source for macro flash.  Note: I only tested with the Tamron 17-50 VC (1:3 ratio), not a true macro lens.  These are SOOC, no adjustments.
Without flash

With flash and softbox

SUMMARY


Here are some of the things I like about the Fotodiox 8x12:
  • currently about half the price of the Lumiquest SBIII
  • 33% larger than the 8x9 SBIII.
  • The interior surface is not just white or smooth silver.  It has a bumpy silver surface which I think helps the light spread out more evenly inside the box and reduce hotspots.
  • Can still be used for on-camera flash.  Light enough that it doesn't seem to strain the flash head.  
  • Does not block the lens at 17mm (25.5mm equivalent) -- the main reason I didn't get the Lumiquest LTP.
  • Includes a built-in velcro strap and rubberized interior strip to grip the flash head without the need for a cinch strap.
  • Includes a built-in internal baffle for extra diffusion.  I haven't been using it though.
  • Much more portable than a ring light.
  • Includes a convenient carrying bag with a small strap that I can attach to my camera bag.
  • 2 yr warranty.
What I don't like about it:
  • It is not rigid and doesn't have any kind of frame, so the sides don't straighten out perfectly.  It flexes like starched dinner napkin.  But even if the sides aren't evenly straightened it seems that the light still looks even (even if I don't use the internal baffle). 
  • Takes a few seconds to unfold it, "fluff" it up, and attach it to the flash.  I think it would be faster if the sides had some rigidity.
  • Not 100% perfect for fill light because it still casts a shadow.
  • Blocks the AF assist light from the hotshoe flash.
  • Very tight fit on the YN-560 (which I think has the exact same dimensions as a 580EXII).
  • The front part is some sort of thin polyester fabric -- I'm concerned that it might get damaged.  However, from what I gather, that's the same type of material used in 'real' softboxes.
  • Carrying bag is extremely thin.  I doubt the bag will last a long time.
Where does the Fotodiox fit in my gear options?  If I'm in a fully controlled environment and wanted fill light, I would use bounce flash, an umbrella, or regular-sized softbox to minimize shadows.  If I'm shooting run-and-gun the whole day (e.g. as an event photographer), the Coco Ring Flash seems to provide less noticeable shadows (because it's closer to the axis).  But for everyday shooting purposes, which require me to take my camera in and out of my camera bag, or when I'm not sure if I'm even going to take any photos, bringing the Coco Ring Flash is too inconvenient, and I would instead use the Fotodiox 8x12.  That's why the Fotodiox's carrying bag has been firmly attached to my camera bag ever since I got it.

If you'd like to get the Fotodiox 8x12 from Amazon, here's the link (note: it's an affiliate link - thanks for helping to support the blog!).

Here are a few more shots with the softbox:




photo taken by my dad!