Sunday, 9 September 2012

Mega JS Mama's Twin: cloned at 50"

Mama's got a brand new bag twin - a Chinese made 120cm x 120cm umbrella framed softbox.

Westcott have had a long succesful history with their umbrella framed light modifiers: I've owned numerous Westcott products including their double folds/shoot throughs/convertible bounce umbrellas and also their Apollo 28" which are all great products.

However with success comes the inevitable imitators. For a long time the Apollo range stood alone, but in late 2011 along with the release of the new Apollo range (strip box/octobox) came the onslaught of imitations although the Apollo 50 survived the cloning.

As of summer 2012 the Westcott Apollo 50" imitations -- sometimes refered as 120cm x 120cm umbrella softboxes -- appeared on the Chinese websites and ebay. What follows are my thoughts on the Westcott Apollo 50" clone in relation to the Westcott Apollo 28".

First up the 50"/120cm softbox is huge and well justifies the "Big Mama" name (a phrased coined by Zack Arias) that has been given to the Westcott Apollo 50". The image at the top shows both an Apollo 28" and the 50"/120cm and tries to give a sense of size - both are on identical lightstands that are directly opposite each other.

The 120cm softboxes appear reasonably well made and when compared to the Apollo 28" quite sturdy although I believe the Westcott Apollo 50" has similar construction.

The diffusion panel measures 116cm x 116cm (almost identical to the Apollo 50") and is stitched to the top edge with 3x velcro sides attaching to the softbox via a 5cm wide velcro strip on the box - the wide velcro gives the option to attach an optional grid. The softbox has a recessed edge of 11cm which is about 1/3 shorter than the Westcott; the front (panel) to back distance ~59cm and closed down it's ~123cm, which is very similar to the Apollo 50".

Currently, USD pricing of the 50"/120cm Chinese softboxes are about 1/2 of the US Westcott price (although Westcott's Autumn 2012 sale price makes the Westcott item only 1/3 more expensive). In Europe the cost disparity is such that the cost of an official European Westcott Apollo 50" is greater than 3x the cost of the clone: the Apollos are significantly more expensive in Europe than in the home US market.

Power efficiency appears to be marginally better than my Westcott 28", with the 50"/120cm giving f/2.8 (1/2 stop better) at a distance of 6ft with a SB80dx at 1/8th as the light source. The measurements were taken in a room with white 7ft ceilings and walls which may be adding fill to the final meter readings.

Light distribution across the panel is reasonably even:

and very similar to the Apollo 28" light distribution. The light produced is also very neutral, with no obvious colour casts.

Furthermore, the 120cm softbox appears to produce even light on subjects with no apparent hotspots (in line with the Westcott Apollo 28" and also the 120cm Orb clone) which was not necessarily the case with the Apollo 28" clones.

simple RAW conversions, incl WB correction but no curve/shadow/highlight adjustments

As noted above, the 50"/120cm box is big and practicalities come into place. This softbox will be suitable for full length/group portraits but, for a typical 5ft 10 subject, with the lower edge of the softbox at waist height the top edge of the softbox will probably be 2ft above head height. Such constraints mean that use indoors neesd to be considered not only for controlling bounced spill from ceilings etc but also the working space required.

Additionally, whilst the 50"/120cm softbox can be accomodated by a lightweight stand (Manfrotto Nano in my instance) the leg supports really do need to be almost flat to provide support. Excessive tilting is not easy (as per Westcott Apollos even though there are workarounds that don't require booms etc) . Outdoors the 50"/120cm and lightweight stand combination will simply be broken equipment waiting to happen.

First impressions of this 50"/120cm softbox are good. It produces a nice soft light with no apparent hotspots with no strange colour casts so it would look like these imitations will have their own admirers.

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