Every month, Parabolix Light has a lighting meetup where photographers can meet, discuss techniques and lighting, experiment with a live model, and get a chance to try out the Parabolix line of light shapers. We made another trip to the Parabolix studio in Downtown LA for the monthly lighting meetup, and to get another look at these great modifiers.
On this trip, we had an intent to compare the model closest in size to our Para 133 -- The Parabolix 45. We showed up a few hours before the scheduled start time to get our hands on the Parabolix 45 and run through a couple quick tests for this article.
The Parabolix 45 and the Broncolor Para 133 are VERY similar in almost all physical measurements. The important specs for each follow:
Broncolor Para 133
- Diameter: 47" (119.4 cm)
- Depth: 30" (76.2 cm)
- 24 rods/sides
- Weight (modifier only): 6.5 lbs (2.95 kg)
- Weight (focusing system): 5.2 lbs (2.36 kg)
- Total Weight: 11.7 lbs (5.3 kg)
- Diameter: 45" (114.3 cm)
- Depth: 27" (68.58 cm)
- 16 rods/sides
- Weight (modifier only): 7.0 lbs (3.18 kg)
- Weight (focusing system): 4.0 lbs (1.81 kg)
- Total Weight: 11.0 lbs (4.99 kg)
Note: we also weighed the Broncolor Para's focusing system with the 222 rod that we have (purchased to use with Profoto B1/B2/D1/D2 heads, to get it further away from the para in order to provide enough spread in the defocused position due to the built-in reflector and recessed flash tube on those models. More info on the challenges we encountered in using this combination are available in this blog post, if you're interested). The weight of the Para's focusing system with the Para 222's rod is 6.1 lbs (2.77 kg), bringing the total weight of the reflector and focusing system with this combo to 12.6 lbs (5.72 kg).
Setup of the Parabolix is straightforward. It assembles much like an Elinchrom Rotalux speedring with external rods that pivot and lock into the speedring. Assembly should be done with opposing pairs (as with any softbox) to keep tension on the panels even throughout assembly. Parabolix has assembly instructions available on their website. While initial setup may be daunting, as you become familiar with its setup, it can be assembled in under a minute, regardless of the size you are working with, since all of the Parabolix reflectors assemble identically.
The focusing rod attaches to the speedring via a Profoto mount, which is quick and easy — it also serves double duty, as you can use the Parabolix light shapers as regular deep 16-sided (hexadecagon) softbox, if so desired. Parabolix is coming with different outer diffusion options, so this functionality remains a very real possibility for Profoto owners.
The biggest advantage to the Broncolor Paras (at least in the smaller 88 and 133 sizes) is the super-fast setup. Four latches at the rear of the reflector open it up and lock the rods in place. Once you've set it up a handful of times, setup time for the Para is literally seconds. The focusing system attaches from the rear via a Broncolor Pulso-type bayonet locking mechanism.
One interesting thing to note is that the Parabolix's focusing rod attaches directly to the Manfrotto tilt-head as opposed to being a separate apparatus. In our testing, this gives it a more "solid" or "balanced" feel compared to the Broncolor Para's focusing system. This is likely due to the fact that the way the Broncolor focusing system is designed places some additional torque on the tilt head by it being offset. With the Parabolix, all of the weigh is around the same point/on the same plane, so there is less downward force at the point where the modifier attaches to the head. In practice, however, there is no issue with either system.
In the following images, we sought to display the light patterns emitted from each of the two modifiers in both of their extreme positions (defocused and focused).
In the defocused position, it appears that the Parabolix has a less "even" or smooth spread of light among the faces inside the modifier, however, this could be due to the stippled/textured Elinchrom fabric used. However, as you'll see in the comparison photos, this does not have an adverse effect on the quality and properties of light.
In the focused position, you see that both offer a strong "core" of light and still offering a large, soft fill from the outer facets. The Parabolix looks like it may be stronger and more contrasty at the focused position.
Through our tests, we noted the efficiency of each of the modifiers when working between Defocused, Mid-Focused and Focused positions. We positioned each modifier at about 7' high camera right and pointed directly at our subject, and recorded the meter reading from a Profoto Acute 2 1200R equipped with an Acute 2-D4 flash head at about minimum power. Below are the results:
- Defocused: ƒ/3.5
- Mid-Focus: ƒ/5.0
- Focused: ƒ/7.1
Broncolor Para 133
- Defocused: ƒ/3.5
- Mid-Focus: ƒ/4.5
- Focused: ƒ/5.6
From the results above, we can see that the Parabolix generates about a full 1-stop increase in power at each focusing point, versus the Para 133, which generates about a 2/3-stop increase in flash power for each point of focus in the modifier.
This could be attributed to the fabric used in the Parabolix, which is shinier and similar to the same fabric used in Elinchrom modifiers, which has more texture and generates more "spread" within the modifier, and also lends itself to more specularity when used without diffusion.
Price : Performance and Value
As in our original Parabolix preview, we noted that the price-to-performance ratio is highly in favor of the Parabolix system. We've outlined the costs associated with each system below:
Since the original review, we have acquired a Broncolor Move 1200L pack with MobiLED heads, and no longer require the FT222 focusing tube for the Para 222, so we have adjusted the shopping list above to reflect our current usage and application of the Para 133.
Even shaving off nearly $800 from our original setup by eliminating the 222 Tube and a nearly $100 cheaper Broncolor adapter (versus the $400+ Broncolor-Profoto Para Adapter), the Parabolix setup comes in at less than 1/4 the price (about 24% of the price, to be exact) of the equivalent Broncolor setup, and costs about the same as just the FT222 tube we used previously.
Below we have a couple sample shots of each modifier in each of the three positions that yields a different type of light. As you focus the light in the reflector, you'll immediately notice that shadows get deeper and the light falls off quicker, resulting in a more constrasty image, yet still with a soft fill coming from the rest of the reflector.
All of the images that follow are straight out of camera, and unretouched with the exception minor white balance and exposure adjustments.
Special thank you to our model, Jessica Weaver for standing in for these comparisons.
Broncolor Para 133
Comparison Images - Light Characteristics
Below we have stacked the photos with similar framing at each of the respective focus settings with comparison sliders.
In each of the below comparisons, "Before" is the Parabolix 45, and "After" images are from the Broncolor Para 133.
Defocused: Parabolix 45 (Before) | Broncolor Para 133 (After)
Mid-Focused: Parabolix 45 (Before) | Broncolor Para 133 (After)
Focused: Parabolix 45 (Before) | Broncolor Para 133 (After)
Comparison Images - Catchlights
Below we have crops to compare the catchlights from each modifier.
As above, in each of the below comparisons, "Before" is the Parabolix 45, and "After" images are from the Broncolor Para 133.
Defocused Catchlights: Parabolix 45 (Before) | Broncolor Para 133 (After)
Mid-Focused Catchlights: Parabolix 45 (Before) | Broncolor Para 133 (After)
Focused Catchlights: Parabolix 45 (Before) | Broncolor Para 133 (After)
The Parabolix parabolic reflectors operate on the exact same principles of more expensive parabolic reflectors from Broncolor and Briese. The quality of light from each modifier is very similar and nearly indistinguishable, even to a trained eye. The biggest difference appears in the fully focused position between the two, but the other two positions remain nearly identical.
The differences in the above photos with regard to contrastiness (for lack of a better word) can be attributed to slight differences and inconsistencies in light and model placement and distance, though we tried to keep things as constant as possible.
This actually highlights one of the caveats of working with a parabolic modifier -- even slight differences in placement and yield different results and there will be a slight learning curve when you begin to use one. You don't necessarily "feather" it like you would with other modifiers, as that will not achieve the same result that it would from a normal softbox. Many times during setup, you'll spend in the model's position to make sure it's firing correctly.
As big as these modifiers are, they are fairly lightweight for their size -- there is a small difference in overall weight when both are fully assembled, but it it no really noticeable when both setup and in transport.
Build quality of each is top-notch and the Parabolix is not lacking in any capacity. They carry a warranty, though we don't expect that you'll need it. The Broncolor and Briese paras feature 24 rods/sides, while the Parabolix (and other parabolic-type reflectors) feature 16 rods/sides.
While there are some very minute and nearly unnoticeable differences in the quality and characteristics of each modifier, the biggest difference remains in the setup. Setup of the Parabolix is quick once you have set it up a few times, and is the easiest possible way to assemble a reflector of this type and size. Broncolor has an extremely quick and easy 4-lever locking mechanism, and ultimately what you are paying for. Additionally, the 4-lever system is only available on the Para 88 and Para 133 models. Larger models such as the 177, 222, and 330 utilize a cranking system that opens the reflector gradually as you crank the handle.
Parabolix offers a range of different-sized reflectors from 20" all the way up to 55", with larger models (and even indirect stripboxes) in the works. For the price of one Para in your desired size, you can get an arsenal of Parabolix modifiers (we'd say the 20", 30/35, and the 55" would be a good combination to cover any application or space).
With the qualities of light, physical size, weight and nearly all other characteristics being as identical as they could be -- the only questions to consider are if the quicker setup & takedown, slight differences in quality of light and name-brand prestige are worth an extra $3000.
Is the name and setup worth the extra $3000? Let us know below!