Wednesday, August 14, 2013

You get what you pay for - $20 softboxes

LCD4Video SB-60 Collapsible Speedlight Softbox Kit - 24"
I love a bargain.  Who wouldn't?  If you have read some of my previous posts you know how much I love eBay.

I recently received an email from a member informing me of a sale at on a strobist style softboxes (shown here from the seller's web site). You know, the kind that folds up nicely and fit on your speedlights. They are great for off-camera lighting. Of course I had to order a set.

I have three speedlights in my arsenal but only one portable softbox between them--I had bought a similar one a while back on eBay for about $40 and I love it--so a couple more would complete my set. The ones on sale were listed as originally being $79.95. Of course I chuckled to myself at that price knowing that it was grossly over inflated. But I figured that at $20 bucks I couldn't go wrong.

I actually received my order very quickly. I was surprised and delighted since I had a photo shoot that weekend I could try them out. Here is my first impression of these softboxes.

To make a long story short, I am not very happy with the product as it comes out of the box. Although visually these modifiers look identical to other folding softboxes the feel of the construction appears to be ridiculously cheap. The bracket that holds the flash unit are needs some altering in order to make it work properly. Then again, I have to remind myself that these are only $20 and, as the saying goes, you really do get what you pay for.

My initial impression was that the material is of lesser quality than the more expensive softboxes of the same style I have seen and used. While the design and fabrication of the main box are the same as the others I did notice that the diffusing material was deigned a bit differently. Rather than a square of material that gets attached to the inner lip of the box with hook and loop closures, this one had more of a 'sock' feel as it wraps over the outer edges then attaches with hook and loop closure. This leaves no room (or place) to attach an egg crate grid should you want to. A nice option my other unit offers.

The other, and more serious issue, is with the flash bracket that ships with the box. As you can see in the image above, the bracket is the lynch pin for the whole system. The box and flash both attache to the bracket and the bracket mounts to the light stand. The bracket is designed to be adjustable, allowing for flashes of varying sizes. Unfortunately the construction is second rate and the adjustment screw didn't even tighten up causing the bracket to slide and shift awkwardly.

As I mentioned above, anyone with a little craftiness and ingenuity can fix this with a washer, replacement screw or any of half a dozen fixes, but why should the consumer have to do that? Had the proper hardware been used to begin with that problem wouldn't even be an issue.

Quality (and frustration) aside, these softboxes do what they were made to do and that is to diffuse light. If you want something that looks good, does a decent job and doesn't cost a lot, these $20 softboxes are a deal. Just keep in mind that you will need to fiddle around with them in order to get them working properly.

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