Sunday, 16 October 2011

The (Apollo) Clones are Coming

The Westcott 28" Apollo softbox has been long admired for it's quality of light, but as with most things in life, quality costs. For a long time there were no other softboxes like the Apollos and it appeared that Westcott had survived the attack of the clones (unlike the Lastolite Ezybox), however recently there has been a number of umbrella style hotshoe softboxes appearing: the Westcott Apollo clones are coming.

Westcott's Apollo softbox range had consisted of the 28" and 50" softboxes. As of Oct 2011, Westcott also introduced a 30"x16" stripbox (Apollo Strip #2337) and an 43" octobox (Apollo Orb #2336) to their hotshoe softbox range.

However even before the official launch and stock from Westcott, Chinese clones were already appearing online ready for shipping.

The initial findings of these umbrella-frame-style softboxes are of considerable interest to the amateur/enthusiast market, particularly due to the pricing; the clones can be found for about 1/3 to 1/2 of the cost of the Westcott equivalents.


Westcott products outside of the US (in the UK at least) is pretty sketchy and this has only recently been addressed with their Apollos and limited range of umbrellas being available on Amazon: prior to this the Apollo was only available in Europe, not just UK, from CVP and ordering and delivery wasn't the easiest.

The Apollo clones (branded as Photix or iShoot/PhotoLoving) are readily available via HK/China websites and some ebayers but delivery is slow (~13days) and via couriers that no one has heard of, although I've had all orders arrive. The larger (120cm) Orb clones do appear to be a little less available and similarly for the 50" clones.

Comparison: Physicals

The main physical and easily quantifiable differences can be summarised:
Apollo 28"28" cloneApollo StripStrip clone120cm Orb clone50" clone
diffusion panel65x65cm, stitched to top edge, 3x velcro edges 67x67cm, detachable, 4x velcro edgesno test sample57x85cm, detachable, 4x velcro edges105cm diameter, detachable, velcro edges116x116cm, stitched to top edge, 3x velcro edges
panel recess14.5cm5cm--5cm5cm11cm
depth (panel to back distance)50cm40cm--40cm43cm
output: at panel centre (via SB80dx at 1/8th)f/11 +1/10thf/11 +2/10th--f/11 +3/10thf/11 +7/10thf/8 +5/10th
output: at 6ft (via SB80dx at 1/8th)f/2.0 +6/10thf/2.8 +3/10th--f/2.0 +9/10thf/2.8 +2/10thf/2.8 +1/10th
closed down length91cm71cm90cm76cm89cm123cm
lightstand entry4x 14cm cross zipper, bottom1x 30cm vertical zipper, bottom4x cross zipper, bottom and side1x 22cm vertical zipper, bottom1x 22cm vertical zipper, bottom2x vertical zipper, 45cm

A note about the zippers: the clones have a single zipper of 30cm for the 28" clone and 22cm for strip whilst the Westcotts have 4 zippers creating a cross, where each zipper is 14cm

One complaint that has been made about the Apollo is that due to the flash being inside the softbox, it's a bit painful to having to keep removing the diffusion panel. One way around this is to adjust the flash power via zipper - unfortunately, with the clones this is not very easy unless you have very thin arms.

The 70x70 (28"), 60x90 and 120x120cm (50") softboxes were sourced from PhotoLoving/ebay store and the 120cm Octobox which was from LightUp Foto. PhotoLoving's packaging was significantly better (boxed) than LightUp Foto (plastic sheet wrapping) with both having to endure the postal trip/bangs from China.

Comparison: Panel

The light distribution patterns across the box seem reasonably similar:

Westcott Apollo 282
28" clone/70cm x 70cm
Strip clone
120cm Orb clone
50" clone/120cmm x 120cmm

Whilst we can note that the output is slightly more efficient over the Westcott (2/3 of a stop with the 28"), this is largely due to the difference in depth of the boxes where the clones are shallower. One possible implication of the shallower depth may lead to a slightly less diffused light that hits the front panel, although in practice this may be difficult to quantify given the difference in materials for the front diffuser panel.

It is also worth noting the differences in panel recess depth: the Westcott products provide a recess depth about 3x that of the clones which will affect the control of spill.

Comparison: Quality of Light

The main question that is likely to come is the usual:
Are the clones better/as good as the Apollos?
Whilst the build is quite similar (the Apollo 28" has always had complaints regarding it's delicate build) there are obvious cost savings in the clones: size of the recessed lip, depth of the softbox and the entry points for the light stands. To me, there is always a cost:light quality tradeoff.

As I only have access to the Apollo 28 and it's clone, these were the only comparisons.

The setup for both remained the same between the shots, including panel-to-subject distance (remembering there is a slight efficiency gain from the clone's output) and the umbrella bracket and angles remained consistent.

Both the camera (locked down on a tripod) and the light stand were in the same position to maintain the same background angle etc.

In both cases, the aperture on camera remained the same and the power was adjusted accordingly - in both cases, we metered f/2.8 +3/10 at the subject position.

Below is the setup used - the background was a mid grey Botero 051:

Furthermore the same camera/lens and SB unit was used to ensure consistency.

click through for larger

The clone provides surprisingly good light although does very poorly at controlling spill but this was to be expected given the size of the recessed lip. Second inspection of the light in the examples shows the Apollo produces a more diffuse light - notice how the light from the clone has higher a intensity on camera left side compared to camera right, whereas the Apollo's intensity is more even.

Also note the slightly more wrap from the clone which is due to the larger panel size.

Another comparison against the other umbrella clones modifiers against some of the Westcott products, including the Westcott Apollo 28 and a Westcott 43" white bounce umbrella.

All modifiers are the same distance away and bottom edge at chin height - flash output adjusted for consistent aperture. We can note that the Orb clone offers a very diffuse light source, on par with the Apollo.

Comparison: Colour

Finally, colour casts - same camera/lens/SB unit and power. The images were shot as raw and the exposure was adjusted slightly so the histograms were pulled to be similar. Looking at the montage below, the clone is surprisingly neutral albeit a little cool but it appears to be insignificant in most of my usage.


To conclude, I've found the clone to be a reasonable approximation of the Westcott with it's own positives and negatives. Whilst Westcott should stand by their products - although outside the US, this might be ineffective - there is no doubt that the clones will appeal to many people even with it's noted issues.

But, if my Westcott failed, would I go for another Westcott or a clone? I think I would still go with the Westcott but that's a personal choice.

1 comment:

Amber @ Westcott said...

Very interesting post! There will always be clones in the industry and it will always come down to quality and knowing someone stands behind their product. We appreciate your post - love seeing the comparisons! :)

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