What is A Soft Box ?
Softboxes are invaluable for studio photography. Photography is about capturing the light, but light can be bent, diffused, colored, and changed with the right lighting equipment. A softbox works to reduce harsh shadows and create a more natural lighting effect. It does this by diffusing the light through a translucent piece of fabric so that it’s more evenly distributed. Softboxes come in a variety of different shapes which create different catch lights and sizes depending on needs. The size is most important for how harsh or gentle the light is because a large softbox gives more even light. The inside of a softbox is silvered so that the light source is multiplied and reflected to be more powerful than it really is while the black exterior stops light bleeding out.
How to Use a Softbox
A softbox should be used about 6 feet away from your subject to get the best light fall off. The rule is that the area of coverage for the light doesn’t really matter for size except greater than this distance because the fall off is still about 1-1.5 stops up to this unless your light is really close. The shape of the softbox can be seen in a reflection and square or rectangular ones look most light natural window light in this case.
What to Look For?
You can get a softbox pretty cheap, but the difference is that the materials or size might not be great. You can find some with the continuous light source built in but for most studio photography you want a mount that fits your speedlight or a softbox that comes as an extra when buying a strobe. Most softboxes can be used for either strobe or speedlights effectively but will give completely different results because of the power of the lights. If you already have lighting then you’ll need a softbox that has a mount which fits, while if you’re looking for a cheap choice choose one that has a light built in or comes with the lighting you want so you know it fits.
The Top Softboxes for Studio Lighting
1. Westcott 2336 43-Inch Round Apollo Orb
An octagonal softbox that creates round catchlights. This is best as a speedlight softbox as it has a hole for the light stand inside it and is only 43”. Since you won’t be able to really fit a large strobe light into it the profile just isn’t deep enough. This would make a good portable softbox because it has a built in umbrella frame with a pole to attach to the light stand and is very light. It also comes with the translucent softbox diffusion cover. This is only the box itself, there is no lighting included with it which is why it’s very cheap.
2. Neewer 700W Professional Photography
This is actually a full softbox lighting kit and is perfect for amateurs or those with a home studio. It has two medium softboxes with a continuous light socket built in and comes with the stands/carry case. The bag is padded to protect the bulbs and the lightboxes which are collapsible. The softboxes are 24×24 sized. This has an option for either square or octagonal softboxes which means it’s versatile for both people or products as studio softbox lighting. It also comes with basic bulbs but you’ll probably want to upgrade those to something brighter if you want a stronger light since this isn’t a speedlight softbox.
3. LimoStudio 24 x 24 Inch Dimension Softbox Light
Similar to the Neewer 700W kit, this also has two boxes, bulbs, stands, and a carry case. The difference is the brand. Neewer is a better brand overall despite the fact that the quality between them is much the same. This has two medium square softboxes that are the same size as the Neewer and the same power but there’s no option for octagonal boxes instead. This would be a better kit for a product photographer rather than portrait studio soft box photography.
4. Godox 120cm / 47.2in Portable Octagon Softbox Umbrella
Godox is one of the biggest names in photography lighting. Godox softboxes are quality construction compared to offbrand ones and yet they are similarly priced. This is a speedlight softbox only without lighting or room for a strobe light. It has a domed back to provide more depth to the light and comes in two sizes – 31.5” or 47.2”. It also has a zipper which closes the box around the stand to prevent light bleed. Godox has lots of accessories so it’s easy to find a grid and different diffusers for this box. It also comes with a cleaning cloth and bag as well as the white diffuser cloth.
5. Fotodiox Pro Softbox 32×48″ with Speedring for Alien Bees Strobe Light
Alien Bees is one of the most common types of strobe lights. This is ideal for studio softbox photography because it’s a large size that can act like a window. The 32×48 size is definitely large enough, though it comes in other sizes up to 70”. It is heat resistant to withstand the lighting and has a vent for lights as well. The speedring rotates and has a thumbscrew lock. It also comes with a warranty.
6. Chimera 1540 Pro II Softbox, Large – 54x72in.
This is a pretty expensive softbox for speedlight and there’s not a lot of difference between this one and most others. The inside has a removable baffle but it is not heat proof so it’s not to be used for continuous light. The inner poles are sectioned which makes it easier to collapse and store than most softboxes. The hole is large enough to stack two speedlights to increase the strength while the diffusion cloth has a 1 stop adjustment for light.
7. Westcott Rapid Box – 26″ Octa Soft box
This is a soft box light for a strobe light and is a heavy duty design with a tilting bracket. It’s a medium size of 26” which means it will be more useful for products than portraits except for catch lights. It comes with the bracket but not the stand. You’ll need to purchase the deflector plate separately if you don’t want hotspots. The Rapid Box is designed for quick set up which makes it a good portable softbox.
8. SMDV Speedbox-40
A rather snazzy and professional looking but small softbox. This is only 17” in diameter so it’s useful for strong catch-lights or close up products only. It’s designed to work as a speed light box and has double diffusion panels and an SB-05 mounting bracket that can be tilted 90 degrees with a detachable handle. It’s quick and easy to put up and is supportive enough to handle most flash units. The rods are quite thin though, so while it’s a portable softbox taking it apart too many times is likely to mean it will get damaged.
9. LumiQuest SoftBox III
A tiny photography softbox that is designed to be ultra portable. It attached onto a flash unit with a strap and can be used handheld as well as for an off camera flash. The design is small enough that it won’t get in the way of your viewfinder while handholding and folds down so it fits into a camera bag. This is ideal for softening on-camera flash and while it may not be enough light, it’s enough to expose for a sky with a darker subject and then be able to save it in post processing. It is center weighted to help it stay on your speedlight and drops the light about 1-1.25 stops.
10. Neewer 32 inches /80 centimeters Octagon Softbox
This is a similar speedlight softbox to the Westcott. Softboxes like these are designed only for a small speedlight and this one is only 32” so it’s about a medium size. It uses an umbrella style design and a zip portion for the light stand to prevent light bleed. It’s sturdy and solid but the slit design means that the angles that it can be used at are quite limited (around 90 degrees) unless you have a boom lightstand to hang it from.
11. LimoStudio Photography Video Studio Continuous Softbox
This is a small and cheap softbox that isn’t particularly useful. It’s 26” but the bulb isn’t bright enough to be considered studio lighting so you’ll need to replace that. The light stand is pretty flimsy and it’s difficult to take down once it’s up so it’s best left up to avoid breaking it. The cord is also really short so you can’t use it without an extension. What is true of softboxes like this is that they’re there to fool first time buyers into thinking they’re getting a deal because it’s cheap when really it’s only good for youtube quality videos.
12. CowboyStudio Pro 30-Inch Octagon Umbrella Speedlite Softbox
Another small speedlight photography softbox. This softbox light is just the umbrella and stand design that is pretty standard among cheaper models like this. The neat thing about this model though is that there’s an option to buy the honeycomb grid with it, something none of the others offer. It comes in both a rectangle and octagon shape with a diffuser and carry case. It’s too flimsy to use outside of a studio and the closure is velcro which makes it much harder to close and adjust the flash.