Parabolic softboxes “make a mockery of the laws of physics” and are “completely unnecessary”

Nov 13, 2020

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Parabolic softboxes “make a mockery of the laws of physics” and are “completely unnecessary”

Nov 13, 2020

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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When somebody begins a video with the phrase “what a load of marketing bulls**t”, they’re about to either make themselves look like an idiot or they’re going to back their claim up and show you some solid evidence. In this video from Karl Taylor, I’m leaning towards the latter. Karl takes a look at parabolic softboxes and demonstrates why they really don’t offer all that much benefit over regular octagonal softboxes (or octaboxes).

 

It never ceases to amaze me how certain products are created purely for marketing reasons. When in fact, they have no physical or practical advantage whatsoever over existing products. Parabolic softboxes are a perfect example. This is a product that has hijacked the word “parabolic” from parabolic reflectors and merged it with the word softbox to make a mockery of the laws of physics. They take up to three times more space in your studio than necessary, they’re much heavier and more cumbersome and they don’t deliver anything different.

It is a pretty bold claim, but it’s one that Karl’s happy to prove in the studio with some practical examples using a standard 5ft octabox vs a 5ft parabolic softbox. Karl explains the purpose of softboxes, how they work and why the whole concept of a parabolic one makes absolutely no sense when you take a look at the light coming out of that front diffusion panel.

And, well, the photos he shoots with both modifiers certainly seem to back this up, with images from both the regular octabox and the parabolic softbox appearing pretty much identical. There was some difference in how the light presents on the subject once the diffusion was removed if you just want to try using it as a parabolic reflector, but those looks can also be achieved quite easily with other, less expensive and less cumbersome methods – as Karl also demonstrates.

I’ve never done side-by-side comparisons the way Karl does in the video, but I’ve always felt this way myself. I do have a 4ft parabolic softbox in my collection, although I’ve never really felt it gave me much more than I could get with regular 4ft octaboxes I’ve owned in the past, under most circumstances. I have noticed that maybe it give me a bit more reach (as in, throws the light a little further) when using it out on location at a distance from my subject, but in the studio, at closer distances, where it provides the most softness, there’s no noticeable difference whatsoever for me.

Do you see a difference with parabolic softboxes over a regular octabox? Other than the added bulk, obviously.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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4 responses to “Parabolic softboxes “make a mockery of the laws of physics” and are “completely unnecessary””

  1. Bill Avatar
    Bill

    He forgot to mention that true parabolic reflectors can increase light output, which reduce battery output, and increase shoot time outdoors.

  2. Les Dishman Avatar
    Les Dishman

    I watched a video by this guy maybe a month or two ago that says literally the exact opposite about parabolic soft boxes that he is saying in this particular video.

    1. Wild Wild Avatar
      Wild Wild

      I’m afraid you’re thinking of his video on parabolic *reflectors*

  3. WillMondy Avatar
    WillMondy

    A parabolic softbox will collimating the light and make the light rays parallel, once it passes the diffuser it does scatter, but in theory it should be more similar to light passing through a window on an overcast day.

    The difference is quite subtle and kind of pointless.

    Collimating light with a parabolic mirror and diffuser can produce a great fake window though, to simulate daylight and reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder. You can also use led strips, fresnel lenses and a diffuser for a more compact version.