The Broncolor Para's are a modifier that we've been eyeing for some time. Excellent for beauty and fashion work, the Broncolor Para's can fill a multitude of roles in any lighting kit. Their unique properties make for an unmistakable quality of light well-suited to our needs.
This won't be an all-out review of the Broncolor Para 133 (we'll save that for another post), but rather our challenges and experiences when using it with Profoto's OCF-series flashes.
While doing our research on these modifiers -- The Para 133 in particular -- we could not find any definitive information on their compatibility with Profoto's OCF-series flash heads (the B1's and B2's). Information we did manage to find was based on knowledge of the products in question, and no first-hand or anecdotal information on the combo in use. So, to help others that may be in the same situation, we set out to put together some first-hand information on using the Broncolor Para's in conjunction with Profoto B1's and B2's.
While it may be sacrilege to pair the two big competing brands, Broncolor does make a Profoto adapter for their Para focusing tubes, so we knew that our heads would be able to be mounted natively, without the use of that funky universal bracket-thing, or frankensteining an adapter or mount with various clamps and pins, or using another stand to boom it in place.
The most concerning part of attempting to use this combo is that the B1's and B2's do not have an exposed flash tube. Instead, they sport a recessed flash tube and an integrated 77-degree reflector. This is likely due to the fact that these are primarily location lights, so durability and protection for the flash tube was paramount in their design choice.
77-degrees isn't super-narrow and is normally enough spread for any modifier you'd use it with -- although it can generate a hotspot (or dead spot, in the case of a beauty dish used at a close distance) in the center of the modifier. However, when used with something that wants an omnidirectional light source, like a Parabolic reflector -- the recessed flash tube and built-in reflector is not optimal.
We begun to explore options for achieving optimal spread and coverage using the B1's and B2's inside the Broncolor Paras. The first thing we came up on were the optional Frosted Glass Domes that Profoto make available for the D1's and B1's (These will NOT work with the B2's, so don't try). The reviews and information we found on these seemed to be the ticket. They reported increased spread and performance with modifiers that work better with omnidirectional sources.
Armed with some information through our research, we contacted the Samy's Camera Pasadena rental department and setup an appointment with Ken to demo the Broncolor Para 88 and Para 133 units and do some testing with our flashes, based on the information we gathered.
The biggest thing we wanted to test (and at the time could not find any information on), was how well the B1's and B2's could fill the Paras when fully defocused. We had some reservations on whether or not it would be able to, again, due to their built-in reflectors and recessed flash tubes. Secondly, we wanted to test the B1's with the optional frosted domes to see if that would remedy any spread issues. Finally, we wanted to come up with a solution, should our tests confirm our suspicions.
The two smaller Paras set up extremely quickly with 4 latches that open the reflector and lock everything into place -- you could literally have this out of the bag and up on a stand inside of a minute flat. The focusing assembly attaches through the back via the Broncolor-style bayonet mount and locks with a twist. From there, you attach your adapter and your flash, and you're good to go.
Once we had the Para 88 set up, we mounted a B1 to it and fully defocused the light to check the spread.
As we suspected, the B1's do not offer enough spread to completely fill the Para 88 when fully defocused. We then set up the Para 133, as I had hoped that because of its longer focusing tube and increased depth compared to the Para 88, that we'd get a little more coverage at the defocused end of the focusing tube with the same light.
No luck. The coverage was roughly equivalent (in a relative sense) to what it was with the Para 88 when fully defocused.
We then attached a frosted dome to another B1 and see what -- if any -- effect it had on the spread of light at the long end.
We found that while it did appear to offer some extra coverage at the long end, it still fell short, and did nothing more than soften the edge of the spread of the B1's -- with the minimal amount of coverage gained in this application, along with robbing the head of some power, we felt that this wasn't the solution to our problem.
I had heard of people attaching extensions to the focusing tube (maybe something like this or this), in order lengthen the focusing time and get the light further out to fill the broadest edges of the para. This would have had to do if it were the only option, but I wouldn't be happy about it.
Ken then suggested that we try the Para 133's focusing tube inside the Para 88. BINGO. While it still fell slightly short of filling the extreme edges of the para in the fully flooded position, it was very close. Paired with the frosted dome, it was just right. This was the solution we were looking for. Since we were looking at purchasing the Para 133 initially and supplementing it with an 88 or 222 later on, Ken suggested we pair the 133 with the 222's focusing tube to have the length we'd need to be able to fill the 133 with the B1's and B2's. A bit janky, yes, but still OEM-looking. Plus, our 133 kit would come with the 133 tube, in case we ever pick up some Broncolor or Profoto lighting that relieves us of this issue.
Ultimately we had decided against purchasing the frosted domes for now, since, as I mentioned, it merely feathers the edge of the light, and doesn't offer any extra useful spread in this application. It may do its job in a large softbox or a beauty dish, but the harder edge from the opal glass diffuser works well by controlling spill when you can manage to get the head far enough out to provide complete fill of the Para.
Hopefully this post provides some insight into using the Broncolor Para and Profoto B1/B2 combo, from firsthand experience. We couldn't find any definitive information during our search, so we wanted to put the information out there for anyone who might be in the same situation. We'll be doing some tests as soon as Para 133 comes in, so be sure to keep an eye out. Better yet, subscribe to our newsletter!
Have you used this combo? Are you thinking about it? Let us know what you think in the comments!