SMDV is a little-known and relatively new Korean company making waves in the lighting space. With the rise of Chinese manufacturers like Godox paving the way for more budget-friendly options with similar performance to the high-end, big-name (and expensive) brands like Broncolor and Profoto, a new market segment has been created for photographers who are looking for alternatives to the high-end marques, but at a price point that doesn't break the bank.
I found out about the company late last year (2017) with a curious post I stumbled on over at FlashHavoc where they announced the launch of their Megabox series of modifiers. The modifiers looked very interesting, as the design looked eerily similar to the Broncolor Paras. The design and similar appearance immediately made them stand out from other parabolic modifiers on the market by having 24 sides, versus the more common 16-sided octas/parabolic reflectors.
We were recently contacted by SMDV following the debut of their MegaBounce system — an indirect mounting system to be used in conjunction with their recently-released MegaBox modifiers, to turn it into a parabolic reflector, in the same manner the high-end Broncolor and Briese reflectors function.
SMDV offered to ship us their latest MegaBox 110 and focusing rod system for this review, where I'll go over the setup/breakdown, features and quirks, and finally some examples of the MegaBox in use.
Disclosure: SMDV has provided us with the following product for this review. As always, this has no bearing on our objective review of the product, and we will present all of our notes accurately and without bias.
What's in the Box?
SMDV kindly provided us with the following:
MegaBox 110 - 110cm Parabolic Reflector, Silver interior
Megabox Zoom Focusing System
Mounting cages & speedrings for Profoto & Broncolor
Everything arrived quickly, well packaged and in once piece. The products come in fairly spartan packaging — simple brown boxes with the item and an illustration printed on it.
The MegaBox itself comes with its own soft carrying case, very similar to what you'd receive with most Tripods; it's constructed of padded nylon and would offer sufficient protection during transport. Not much else to say about packaging, so let's move on to...
Overview, Features & Build Quality
As I noted previously, the defining characteristic, and the single thing that caught my eye most about SMDV's new product is the fact that it has 24 sides — similar to the original Briese and Broncolor Para reflectors, and something that I have not yet seen in a competing product; most similar products on the market have 16 sides at most; now, this may not be that big of a deal (I won't even begin to explain or claim to understand the physics behind the shape and number of sides and how, or even if it matters), but it's nice to see a product that's making an attempt at offering as close to the original as possible, without sacrificing quality or performance at the expense of lower manufacturing costs.
Build quality at first glance is excellent — the unit is as light as something this size could be; 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg) in its softbox configuration with a normal speedring, and about 10.1 lbs (4.6kg) with the focusing rod attached. The MegaBox collapses nicely and features a velcro strap on the outer edge to hold it all together before putting it away into the included carrying case. However, the MegaBox 110 will not fit into the case and fully close with the zoom focusing system installed. A minor oversight, but I thought it should be mentioned.
The MegaBox 110 is 114cm (≈45 inches) in diameter at the opening, with a depth of 67cm (≈26 inches) from the opening to the rear. For comparison, the closest Broncolor Para I have is the Para 133, which (oddly) measures in at 120cm (≈47 inches) x 77cm (≈30 inches).
The opening mechanism is intuitive and quick (more on that later, in the "Setup & Breakdown" section), and all metal pieces seem to be milled or cast. There's plenty of aluminum, steel, and fiberglass used throughout, and I have no doubts that this modifier is durable and built to last.
The fabric is an embossed soft silver fabric, likely to aid in evening out the light — It's not quite as random as the pebbled Elinchrom fabric used in other modifiers like the Elinchrom Rotalux series or the Parabolix parabolic modifiers. The interior also features a cable pass-through for your strobe heads, when used with the zoom focusing system in the MegaBox's indirect configuration.
The fabric performs well, and looks to be durable enough on location, but not quite as robust feeling as the fabric used in other high-end modifiers, this is possibly due to weight savings on a modifier this large. SMDV does also offer the MegaBox modifiers in white fabric — though I would caution against this, as an indirect parabolic modifier is better served by a more specular fabric, due to what it's trying to achieve — collimated, directional light with minimal scattering. If you were to only use it in the direct, softbox configuration (mounted from the back via a speedring, as opposed to the indirect configuratiion with the focusing tube), there may be a case for a white interior, though you may lose out on some flash power. Besides, SMDV includes both inner and outer diffusion for a softer light when used in the normal softbox configuration.
The MegaBox modifiers include both an inner and outer diffusion which looks to be very dense. In the direct softbox configuration, with the outer diffusion installed, there is a 1.5 stop light loss, and with both pieces of diffusion installed, you can expect a 3-stop light loss. That's a lot of light to be throwing away, so unless you need extremely soft light, I would only use the inner diffusion.
The inner diffusion is also included with the MegaBox, and is made out of the same material and density as the outer diffusion panel. It's built like many other inner diffusion panels with elastic and clips that clip on to loops on the inside of the softbox. Being that there are 24 sides, though, it is very tedious to install/remove the inner diffusion. However, the MegaBox can be collapsed and setup with both panels installed, saving you some time if you would only use it in this configuration.
The rods of the MegaBox 110 appear to be made out of fiberglass or plastic fixed to the outside of the modifier. They seem to be very sturdy and should easily stand up to the rigors of transport and repeated setup/breakdown on set/location.
The (available, but not included) zoom focusing system allows the MegaBox series of modifiers to be used in an indirect reflector, as other true parabolic modifiers. The Zoom Focusing System by itself weighs 5.2 lbs (2.3 kg) without the strobe adapter or counterweight rod. It's built entirely out of steel and aluminum, and thus should be extremely durable.
The focusing rod features a knurled ring at the rear to allow you to focus your light and lock the rod into place. It does not feature markings on the rod, so exact, repeatable results may not be possible, though that's hardly a worry. (EDIT 07/25/2018: As this was a pre-production model, SMDV has added markings to the focusing rod on the final product see here.)
The focusing rod features a standard 5/8" baby pin at the tip to mount your lights via an adapter or "cage", that allows your strobe to be positioned inside the modifier facing the rear, making it an indirect reflector, delivering strong, even, and smooth light.
Included with the Zoom Focusing System is a long counterweight rod (seen above, coming out of the blue receiver), that allows you to counterweight the modifier, and also allows you to tilt the modifier easily with a strobe mounted to the front. SMDV also includes an empty small sandbag with a carabiner to be used as a counterweight.
It's good that they include the sandbag, because counterweighting this modifier will be necessary if you are using monoblocs or heavy strobe heads. The tilt adapter, seen above, does not seem to be equipped to hold a heavy strobe mounted inside the front of the modifier — with a Profoto B1 attached to the front, the modifier immediately began sagging — I didn't want to risk over-tightening the tilt adapter and breaking it in order to get it to hold. Fortunately, a small 2-5lb sandbag , ankle weight, or the included sandbag is enough to remedy this issue.
Setup & Breakdown
While the setup and breakdown is not quite as easy as a Broncolor Para, SMDV has devised an ingenious way for a modifier with this many sides that allows it to set up and break down quickly.
TheMegaBox modifiers feature clever locking "tabs" at the rear of the modifier that click and lock open; Most modifiers will open like an umbrella from the inside (which has its own issues, particularly regarding durability, and are better usited to more lightweight softboxes or, obviously, umbrellas), or they have a Rotalux-style speedring at the rear, which, even if you've setup a Rotalux before, can still be a chore to wrestle with the collars and rods.
To setup the MegaBox, you simply pull on the rod, and push the locking lever on the rear to click that rod into place. Repeat the process all the way around the modifier, and in seconds, it's ready to go.
To collapse it, you do this in reverse; pull up on the rod to relieve pressure, and pull the tab up to release it from its locked position. This style of setup eliminates any wrestling with rods, while being fast and easy, allowing you to setup and tear down on location quickly. For fun, I timed myself setting up and tearing it down — it all happens in less than 25 seconds.
As I mentioned before, the MegaBox can be setup in either a direct (as above) configuration — where the strobe shoots through the back of the modifier like a traditional softbox/octabox. SMDV makes speedrings for nearly all popular light manufacturers — Profoto, Broncolor, Elinchrom, Bowens, Balcar (AlienBees), Hensel, etc.
In addition, the MegaBox can be used with the optional (not included) zoom focusing system which turns the MegaBox into an indirect parabolic modifier, with the same unique qualities and characteristics that come along with using this style of light modifier.
The zoom focusing system ataches via the rear in place of the regular speedring via 4 screws with plastic washers; and is interchangeable with a regular speedring.
Once the MegaBox is setup and the focusing system is installed, you will need an adapter ("cage") for your strobe. SMDV makes adapters for all popular strobe brands as well. They provided us with a Profoto unit, but I used the Broncolor adapters for my paras that I already owned, to mount my Broncolor lights to the focusing rod.
Below are some test shots I did with the SMDV MegaBox 110 in a few different configurations I think I might normally use it in. We linked up with a local opera singer, Ana Rangel for this test. The following photos are lightly retouched, but still show off the characteristics of the modifier.
For this lighting in this test, I used a Broncolor Move 1200L pack with MobiLED head; The camera, a Canon 1DX Mark II and a 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens, typically shooting around 1/250, ƒ/2.8-f/5.6, ISO 100 . The light was positioned high and down at the subject, about 6 feet away.
Direct Configuration — as a softbox
The following shot is with the MegaBox in the "direct" configuration, setup as a softbox, with the inner diffusion only. As one would expect from what's essentially a 4' octa, the light is very soft, flattering and wraps around with a very gradual falloff and light shadows.
Indirect Reflector — Flooded (defocused)
Next, I used the MegaBox in its indirect configuration, fully defocused (flooded) — this is typically how you'd want to use it if you wanted a large, soft source of light, similar to a large softbox/octabox. It yields the same qualities and characteristics of light, but with slightly more contrast and "punch":
Below is a side-by side screenshot in Lightroom from crops of the two straight-out-of-camera images; The difference is subtle — On the left, we have the MegaBox in its "direct" configuration with only the inner diffusion; On the right, in its indirect reflector configuration. Using it in the "indirect" configuration yields a slightly more powerful light source (due to no diffusion), and along with it, enhanced contrast with the same quality of light as the large softbox; almost as if some light dodging and burning has already been applied. The highlights appear more specular, and the shadows deeper. This alone saves some time in post, and the increased contrast works well for fashion and portraiture, preserving and highlighting details in fabric and skin.
To be honest, I was looking for more of a difference between these two configurations, but it's possible that the dimensions of the MegaBox 110 aren't truly parabolic, or at least not optimal for use in a fully flooded/defocused position. With the Bron Paras, there is a distinct quality of light and they carry much more contrast and more of that sculpting 3D light that Paras are known for, however, you can still see some of the parabolic effect below, albeit very subtle.
Of course, it could also be user error — In a future post, I plan to compare the MegaBox 110 to my Broncolor Para 133 in-studio and gauge its performance against the modifier it emulates.
Indirect Reflector — Fully Spotted (focused), Backlit Subject
Next, I wanted to see how it would perform fully focused in a strong backlit scenario. A heatwave rolled through on our shoot day, so it was a super hot and sunny SoCal summer day (really — it was already 100 degrees at 8am here).
When fully focused, true parabolic reflectors collimate/focus the light, resulting in anywhere from a 1 to 2 stop increase in light output, meaning you can get away with a less powerful strobe/pack if you're looking for a harder light. Below, I came up from ƒ/3.2 in the shade to ƒ/5.6 — about 1 2/3 stop down from where I was previously shooting. The light was positioned a bit higher and further away (10-12 feet/3-4 meters) for this shot — it metered about 2/3 under; so I brought the pack up to match — meaning that fully focused, the MegaBox 110 yielded about an extra stop of light. I still had plenty of power left in the pack (I was shooting at around 1/16 power on the pack, or about 75ws, or about a little more than a good speedlight at full power). That extra stop of light when focused could come in handy if your strobes run out of power and you're trying to tame or overpower the sun.
Indirect Reflector — Mid-focused
Finally, I wanted to test the MegaBox 110 mid-focused, and positioned closer to the subject for more contrast and quicker falloff — something you might use for more dramatic portraiture:
Here it delivered very contrasty results as expected, with a faster, more dramatic falloff and deeper shadows from the more focused light and closer distance-to-subject. Again, I expected a bit more of a dramatic effect considering the increased focus and relative distance. While It did deliver more contrast and sharper shadows as expected, it still seems like it's missing that little extra "punch" and detail I've come to expect of parabolic reflectors.
Paras are by far my favorite modifier simply for their versatility — it's great to see another offering available at a lower price point (albeit still a considerable investment for many photographers) for photographers who are interested in trying out these amazing modifiers.
The price for a MegaBox 110 at the time of writing (July 2018) is $949 USD, and an additional $499 for the Zoom Focusing System for a total just shy of $1,500 USD — There is some slight variance depending on the size of modifier you'd like, as well — SMDV offers their MegaBox line in the following sizes: 90, 110, 130, 160, and 180 (all measured in approximate cm diameters of the front opening), again, with silver or white interior fabric options. The $1500 price puts it at a significant premium above the price point of the Parabolix line of modifiers at a similar size ($877 for their Parabolix 45 complete package), Which, for the MegaBox's features and performance, put it right in line with where it's priced — between the Parabolix and the high-end brands. The significant cost to produce a modifier with more sides, a proprietary opening mechanism, and all of the R&D needed to manufacture a product like this certainly factors into its higher price.
Initially I thought the big brands in this space, like Briese and Broncolor, having created a unique modifier, were taking advantage of being "the only business in town" so to speak — but through purchasing, using and testing quite a few parabolic reflectors, what I've found interesting is the relative cost of these true parabolic modifiers — they're always much more expensive than your normal softbox or umbrella due to the R&D, tooling and manufacturing costs associated with producing them. It's becoming increasingly apparent that most lighting companies have made the active decision not to pursue making a true parabolic reflector because of these costs, but still want to capitalize on the "deep"/"parabolic" modifier craze, as evidenced by the use of those words in so many product names, which, in the case of the modifiers that carry those descriptors, is nothing more than marketing — though a deep modifier may still posses some of the properties of a true parabolic; such as some amount of increased contrast.
In our quick test, it appears that the SMDV MegaBox is somewhere in between a true parabolic modifier and a deep softbox — It delivers the qualities of light I've come to expect from parabolic reflectors, although not quite as intense of an effect (increased contrast, and that unique quality of "sculpting" or "3D" light). I'll need to try it out in a studio setting and see what sort of qualities it delivers under controlled lighting, so I will reserve and absolute opinion on its performance until I can do a true test of the modifier under controlled conditions to see what it's capable of delivering.
Overall, SMDV makes an exceptional product in the "parabolic" category. The build quality and performance of the MegaBox is on par with similar parabolic modifiers, and the setup mechanism along with the 24-rod design is worthy of praise and certainly unique of modifiers of this type and price point. If you're looking for something close to a Broncolor or Briese para, these come pretty close at about 1/3 the price (or less) of the two big names.
If you're interested in the MegaBox 110, stay tuned to the blog, our instagram, and subscribe to our YouTube channel, where I'm planning on doing a comparison between the MegaBox and my Broncolor Paras — and, if I can get my hands on a Parabolix, I'll throw that into the mix too.
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