Softbox technology hasn’t really evolved much over the years. It has a little bit, shifting from those horrible speed rings with individual spines you had to bend and contort to fit that took so long to set up that once you’d done it, they just stayed permanently set up in your studio to those lovely “easy open” boxes that went up umbrella style and can be setup and broken down in a couple of seconds – this is what all my softboxes are today.
But now it looks like we’re seeing another design shift as both Adorama in the USA and Essential Photo here in the UK have released softboxes that fold down completely flat. Adorama calls them the Glow ParaSnap and Essential Photo calls them the Pixapro FlatPak but they essentially both look like the same box with a folding mount that lets you store them flat for easy stacking.
When I say they essentially both look the same, I mean they literally use the same product photos, but with their respective brand colours – red for Pixapro and yellow for Adorama’s Glow line. The way they work is that the hinged mount essentially tensions all of the spines that give the box its shape. When you flatten it out, the box expands into its useful form. When you fold the mount over, it packs down flat for easy storage – a big benefit over the current umbrella-style “easy open” designs.
Rob Hall posted a video of the Adorama versions to YouTube when they were initially released last month if you’re still a little confused about the mechanism and its benefits.
Interestingly, though, they appear to be available in different size options between the USA and the UK. For example with Octaboxes, Pixapro has the 100cm Flatpak while Glow has the 44″ ParaSnap – which is about 4″ larger in diameter (or a 36″ which is 4″ smaller in diameter). Pixapro’s smaller octabox is 70cm (or around 28″ for that one country that doesn’t use the metric system yet).
The size discrepancy isn’t the only difference between them, either. You might have noticed in the photo above that the Pixapro version comes with a grid whereas the Adorama Glow version does not. The Adorama one is also significantly more expensive at $249 vs the £149.99 (or ~$195) of the Pixapro one (which also comes with the grid). As well as the size differences on the Octaboxes, there are also shape differences.
Pixapro offers rectangular softboxes, too. Adorama currently only lists your standard 8-sided octabox in 36″ or 44″ sizes. Essential Photo, though, has rectangular softboxes with dimensions of 30x90cm, 60x60cm and 80x120cm, each featuring the FlatPak hinge style mount.
Adorama seem to have some in stock right now – and with the prices they’re charging, I’m not surprised to see they haven’t sold out already – but Essential Photo only has the Pixapro ones up for pre-order right now. I’m not sure when they’re supposed to ship, but while they do cost a little more than their older model umbrella style boxes they’re still a pretty good value. They’re not that much more expensive, though.
My most used Pixapro modifier, for example, is the 16-sided 65cm Easy Open “Rice Bowl” parabolic. This costs around £60 at the moment (it used to be £70) but then you have to spend another £33 on the grid, bringing it up to (at current prices) £93 (used to be £103). The new style 70cm FlatPak Octaabox is only £109.99. If you need to store or travel with a lot of modifiers that makes the FlatPak a no brainer to me.
Adorama’s price discrepancy is a little greater, though. My favourite of the Glow EZ Lock line is their 48″ deep parabolic. This thing is fantastic. It’s a gorgeous soft light with a decent throw. Great for outdoor use. It costs $95 and comes with double diffusion and a grid. The new ParaSnap 44 is a little smaller, doesn’t come with a grid and costs a relatively whopping $249. Sure, it looks like a fantastic new design – assuming it holds up when it comes to long term durability – but 2.5x the price (plus whatever the grid costs) for what is ultimately going to be a similar quality of light is a pretty hard sell – especially if you want to have several of them on hand to use simultaneously for various setups.
But, it’s early days. Perhaps Adorama’s prices will come down. Maybe Essential Photo’s will go up. Maybe the range from both will expand to cover different shapes (16-sided, please!) and more sizes. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. But either way, it’s a very cool update to softbox design and hopefully one that more manufacturers will start to adopt!