Flashes, modifiers and white balance – a light modifier comparison

Can you mix and match your modifiers?

Okay, you got those studio strobes. Now you need to buy modifiers. And some of them seem excessively expensive. Why should you spend $200 on a small size, featureless camping tent? China comes to the rescue, once again, and offers modifiers for a fraction of the price. For around $40 you can buy a softbox that would cost 5 times more from an OEM. But are the Chinese variants worth the money or are there any hidden secrets? I try to answer these questions in this light modifier comparison.

The contenders

I collected a number of modifiers to test with my new flashes. Obviously I am a rookie, otherwise I would know better. The cost and ability to sell them afterwards makes testing an interesting option. So here are the modifiers I looked at and compared:

Elinchrom Portalite 66×66

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These are the “kit” modifiers I got with my flashes. They are well made and light, very easy to handle for a rookie. The mounts are plastic which is not necessarily a drawback as it reduces weight. Compared to the 3rd party variants the materials are much thinner. These are square modifiers and come with no internal diffuser

Walimex Pro 60×90

walimex-pro-Softbox-60x90cm

I got this one very lightly used. This is a medium sized yet bulky softbox. It has a nice Elinchrom mount but I do not like the quality of the velcros and I can already see some small needle size holes. The overall quality is good though. It has an internal white diffuser. It is rather heavy to handle and mount on the flash. The easiest way to do it, is put it flat on its face and attach the flash on the back. It also has the ability to rotate once you unscrew the two holding screws. However, I had to replace those screws because they were scratching the flash and I am not sure how stable the whole thing is when you unscrew them.

Meking 60×90 from ebay

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Meking (left) Walimex (right)

I got this one “new” from ebay although you are never sure what is new and what is not from these Chinese sellers… Materials are good and the softbox is overall well built. It has an internal diffuser and a rim where you can attach grids with velcros. I exchanged the Bowens ring for an Elinchrom to use it.

Elinchrom Umbrella Wide Reflector 90mm/ø160 reflector

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This is the reflector that Elinchrom provides for using with umbrellas. It is nevertheless a reflector and for the purpose of this test it is used with and without an umbrella.

Third party standard reflector 138mm/ø200mm

This is the typical 3rd party Elinchrom mount reflector found on ebay. The mount looks like Elinchrom but it is not as well crafted in my sample. It is a little but tricky to mount it. This is the same though with all 3rd party modifiers I have… I also use it with a grid.

85 cm shoot-through white umbrella

No need to introduce this one, it is the cheapest modifier you can find…

Elinchrom reflectors

I use Elinchrom gold and silver reflectors in some cases in the softbox to change the light color.

Other stuff

I also decided to see how the studio flashes and modifiers compare to speedlights. I have two speedlights an old SB-28 and a newer SB-700. I use them mounted on metal constructions from ebay parts that I bought and made secure and nice mounts. The cost is very low as I buy and sell what I do not need, usually in prices higher than the purchase price… I test the speedlights with no modifier or with umbrellas (my Elinchrom adapter was not yet ready). I also tested them with curious modifiers like a cheap portable softbox, a grid, a car windshield silver protector (~$2) and for barebulb, a clean Isostar container… yes this one…

isostar

Measurements

So, what is the purpose of this exercise? The idea is that there are plenty of ways to light your subject and plenty of modifiers. But can you mix them? What I figured out pretty early in my tests with studio lights and modifiers is that the color of the light is different. So I decided to make some tests and see the whether this was true. What I did is that I clamped a small WhiBal on the back of my chair and took pictures of it using different modifiers. For softboxes and umbrellas I set the distance to the diameter or diagonal of the modifier in order to have similar light intensity. Using the reflectors and speedlights without modifiers or barebulb, I did not consider the distance. For every measurement I targeted f8, however there are after all differences in light intensity due to different lighting patterns I guess. What I then did was to measure in Lightroom the grey area of the WhiBal and register the color I got and then use the WhiBal to color balance the photo and register the color balance values. All pictures were taken using a color balance of temperature 5200 and tint 11 (as it appears in Lightoom). In the following table you can see the measurements. The last column shows the grey point and color balance values before and after defining the white balance point.

 Conclusions

  1. The Elinchrom softbox produces a much warmer light than all the rest and it is difficult to match it with other modifiers without some color shifts.
  2. The Walimex is much cooler than the Elinchrom and the Meking has a terrible blue cast so I did not even include it in the table below…
  3. The Walimex can be used with the umbrella
  4. The reflectors are somewhere in the middle and could possibly be used with both but as I verified with real pixures they turn out cooler with the Elinchrom and warmer with the Walimex. However, they show that the color of the flash is around 5800. Using a silver reflector in the Elinchrom and a gold reflector in the Walimex somehow make them converge but still differences are large…
  5. Both strobes are much cooler than the studio flashes at 6500 compared to 5800. They can therefore be used with the cooler modifiers on the studio flashes.
  6. Surprisingly the Isostar container does not cast significant color shifts and the winshield protector even warms up the speedlite a bit!

I intend to add more modifiers in this table and real pictures to show the effect of combinations.

The table

 

Setup

Modifier

WB card

RGB%, Temp

Tint before fix

RX-400 with Elinchrom 66×66 Portalite with
silver reflector

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_1.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_2.jpg

88,87,89

5200,11

RGB%, Temp

Tint after fix

86,86,86

5400,-1

RX-400 with Elinchrom 66×66 Portalite with
silver reflector without diffuser

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_3.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_4.jpg

88,88,91

5200,11

89,89,89

5650,-5

RX-400 with Elinchrom 66×66 Portalite with
difuser

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_5.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_6.jpg

89,88.5,90

5200,11

89.5,89.5,89.5

5350,-3

RX-400 with Walimex 90×60 with internal
diffuser

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_7.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_8.jpg

85.5,84.5,91

5200,11

86.8,86.8,86.8

6600,-16

RX-400 with Walimex 90×60 with internal
diffuser and gold reflector

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_9.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_10.jpg

85,84,90

5200,11

84,84,84

6200,-15

RX-400 with Third party standard reflector
138mm/ø200mm

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_11.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_12.jpg

80,79,83

5200,11

80,80,80

5700,-5

RX-400 with Third party standard reflector
138mm/ø200mm with grid

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_13.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_14.jpg

80,79,83

5200,11

80,80,80

5650,-6

RX-400 with Elinchrom 90mm/ø160 reflector

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_15.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_16.jpg

81,81,85

5200,11

82,82,82

5800,-3

RX-400 with Elinchrom 90mm/ø160 reflector with
83cm umbrella

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_17.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_18.jpg

5200,11

83,82,88

84,84,84

6250,-14

SB-28

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_19.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_20.jpg

87,87.5,92

5200,11

89,89,89

6500,+6

SB-28 with 83cm umbrella

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_21.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_22.jpg

88.5,88.5,92

5200,11

89.8,89.8,89.8

6000,+5

SB-28 with grid

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_23.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_24.jpg

88.88.5.92

5200,11

90,90,90

6200,+4

SB-28 with portable softbox

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_25.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_26.jpg

79,79.5,83.5

5200,11

80,80,80

6000,+6

SB-28 with plastic container of Gatorade
powder as barebulb

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_27.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_28.jpg

90,90,94

5200,11

91,91,91

6300,+3

SB-28 with portable softbox

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_29.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_30.jpg

93.5,94,96

5200,11

94,94,94

6150,+7

SB-28 with silver windshield protector

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_31.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_32.jpg

87,87.5,91

5200,11

89,89,89

6050,+4

SB-700

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_33.jpg

http://coloraberration.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/112413_2350_34.jpg

91,92,95

5200,11

93,93,93

6500,+9

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