Foldable Beauty Dish and other modifiers compared

 Introduction

I received two modifiers the other day and decided to compare them with my 28″ Fotodiox beauty dish. I’ve had the beauty dish for about three years and its showing its age with dents etc. I like it as a beauty dish and also as an easy to use soft box with its diffusion sock.

The two modifiers that came UPS were a Westcott Rapid Box 26″ octa and a Cheetah Light 33″ foldable beauty dish.

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I decided to do a quick comparison of the three, primarily to see if there were significant differences in the way they put light on a subject. With and without diffusion panels.

I have a couple of Cheetah Light Pro Brackets so I could mount the Cheetah BD and the Fotodiox BD onto light stands along with the Rapid Box, which has an integrated light stand bracket, for a group portrait.

Size difference is apparent but not dramatic. The Rapid Box does not come with a deflection plate, although one is available as an option.

Cheetah Light Foldable Beauty Dish

This is a new offering from Cheetah. It is different than most foldable modifiers in the way its ribs are designed along with the folding (stretching) mechanism. Rather than having one central point that slides along a shaft or fits onto a catch, there are spreaders between the ribs about 2/3 of the way out from the center. One reason for this design is so that the ribs can be two different diameters. DMWA9486The fitting that connects the ribs to the spreader also acts as a step down holder. Thus, the rib from the speedring to the spread can be a larger diameter and more rigid, while the last third is skinnier, permitting it to flex and create the outer dish shape. Its quite an ingenious design and definitely promotes a dish shape rather than the standard octa continuously curving shape.

The spreader uses an over center design to keep them open against the tension created by the ribs and fabric.

When I first opened the dish I applied the spreaders sequentially around the dish. I discovered that’s not the best approach for keeping the ribs perfectly positioned over the seams in the fabric. So, I relaxed the dish and tried again. This time I opened the spreaders opposite and then opened the next two that were 90* from the first two and then opened the last two sets. That made it much easier to keep the ribs over the seams.

The ribs are attached to the speedring with sturdy looking rivets. There are three spring legs attached to the speedring to hold the deflection disk.

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They each have two position notches to permit having the disk closer or farther away from the flash tube. I would prefer rigid stand-offs like those on my Fotodiox dish. That said, the spring legs work fine to hold the disk.

The speedring adapter has a 6″ outer diameter.  Thus adapters I have for my EZ-Pro foldable octas and strip boxes will fit. That means I can easily change adapter rings to use the foldable octa with my Einsteins. It also means that if one preferred, they could get a vertical speedlite bracket that would fit the speedring. I prefer using the Cheetah Pro Bracket.

Mounting a Cheetah Light CL 300 on the Pro Bracket permits getting the flash tube well into the modifier.

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I prefer mounting the light on the bracket with the display up. The flash tube isn’t perfectly centered in the opening. Some fiddling might get it closer, but I doubt there would be any difference in the light. For me its more important to get the tube completely into the modifier.

Another nice feature is the fabric baffle with a draw string that permits closing the back of the octa around the mount. Opening the baffle gives easy access to the speedring adapter for swapping from one to another.

I have not modified my Pro Bracket to elongate the sliding slot in the vertical bracket which would also help to center the tube. Looking at the picture its obvious that doing that slight modification and turning the bracket around would make it easy to lower the CL body to center the tube. Probably worth the effort. When I do that I’ll also change the CL-300 to the 1/2 20 base for additional rigidity.

One significant benefit the Pro Bracket offers is an ability to get the CL-300 flash tube completely into the modifier.

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I think getting the tube into the modifier, especially a beauty dish with the deflector plate, is a valuable attribute.

It means all the light is radiating toward the back and outer curve of the modifier and the deflector is keeping direct illumination of the subject by light from the tube. This is the way the large incandescent light beauty dishes I used long ago worked and it seems light a good design to emulate with strobes.

 

Shadow transition without and with the diffusion panel

I setup a light stand 7 feet from Manny and placed the CL-300 at full power. This make it easy to check for maximum light by looking at the color checker on the camera back. I’ve found that when the white square begins show clipping blinkies it will read close to 93% in Lightroom with no input adjustments. That’s the color checker specified exposure value based on the x-rite RGB values converted to a percentage. What Ansel Adams called white with detail in his zone system. I stood next to Manny on the side away from the light so my nose was probably closer to 8 feet from the light. I aimed the center of the modifier to be just about between Manny and me.

For these comparisons I had the modifier aimed directly at the subject. When using them in production most photographers with jiggle the modifier about, feathering a bit one way or another to get just the look they want for the shot. That however, in my view, is counter productive when doing a comparison. A comparison is intended to illustrate the basic characteristics of the light from a modifier. Logic suggests that if two modifiers provide essentially the same light characteristics in a neutral position, its likely they will be able to be adapted with feathering etc. in much the same way.

Here is a close crop to make it easier to see the shadow transition. The exposure was F10, ISO 200, 1/200 shutter speed. There is no diffusion panel on the front of the modifier.

The disk is in the farthest detent in the stand offs.

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 Nice smooth light in the highlight areas, fairly quick but smooth transition to the shadow area next to the nose. The shadows of the glasses frame exhibits the same smoothness.

I think some of the smoothness is attributable to the white interior fabric surface. It has the feel of vinyl which means a nice smooth reflective surface.

Adding the diffusion front panel creates this result:

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The diffusion panel requires opening the aperture to F9.0. A penalty but not a great one. The shadow next to the nose is a bit more clearly defined. Probably because the light is now coming from a single large source rather than from a ring with a dimmer center caused by the deflection plate. Overall, the two images are very similar. Whether one uses the diffusion cover is more a matter of preference than dramatic change in lighting characteristics. The 1/3 stop difference in output is negligible.

There probably will be a greater difference when bringing the modifier in to 3 feet where its designed to be used.

In summary 

The Cheetah Light foldable 33 inch octa/ beauty dish is a reasonably priced, well made product that delivers. Its easy to unfold into its working configuration. It provides a nice smooth wrapping light using just the deflection plate. It also offers a smooth wrap with the diffusion panel in place over the front of the box. It mounts easily on a Speed Pro Bracket. And should also work well with monolights to which it can be attached via the optional speedring adapters. The Bowens adapter, which works with the Pro Bracket, is about 1/2 an inch flatter than others I have, which helps get the flash tube into the modifier.

Westcott Rapid Box 26 inch Octa

When I found this on the Adorama website it looked promising. Quantum has a similarly sized foldable octa that seemed like an ideal addition. Then I found out its price and that it had a bracket built-in rather than fitting onto the flash with the tubular mount used to attache the Cheetah Light 19″ foldable octa. So, I ordered the Westcott from Adorama, it was listed for $170 which was about $100 less than the Quantum version and they looked nearly identical.

I’ve been trying to find a Westcott modifier I like and can use for several years. My first try was an Apollo. One of the U channel ribs bent the first time I opened it. So it went back the next day. Anyway here are my impressions of the Rapid Box:

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Its light, comes with a built-in bracket that will hold the speedlite or flash, in its normal position with the head tilted forward. That’s both good and bad. the good is that its easy to position the flash on the cold shoe and fit its head into the opening. Its bad because the flash head travel is limited by the cold shoe slot on the bracket. The cold shoe has a protruding element that fits into the channel so the flash can not be turned 90* to get the head deeper into the modifier.

The ribs are wires about 1/16 in in diameter. They are chromed but otherwise about the same as the music wire I used to repair collapsed U channels on some Apollo knock-offs. Very similar to those in the Cheetah 19″ unit, or a similar Quantum foldable octa I had several years ago. The center fitting that extends and holds the stiffening robs, also wire about the same diameter, snaps into place by being over center. Thus there is no need for a retaining clip. There are two red dots that correspond to raised ribs to assure alignment and keep the wire rods under tension. The interior fabric is silver. Its a vinyl like coating that has a visible texture. I have no idea if it contributes to light scatter or is just a by-product of the manufacturing process.

The mounting bracket is permanently attached.

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There is a locking pin that can be released by pressing the tab pin next to it. This permits the top half of the vertical bracket support to be rotated over the opening in the speed ring for storage in the carrying case. The bottom part of the bracket, including the swivel attachment to the light stand, does not require farther disassembly for storage in the carrying case. Unfortunately, the thumb screw that holds the upper and lower portions of the bracket vertical together, and permits adjustment for the height of the flash unit, interferes with the flash unit sliding farther into the modifier. I did some more fiddling to see if I could get the flash tube completely into the modifier and discovered that the adjustment slot on the horizontal portion of the bracket also was at the end of its travel. My overall impression is that the bracket was designed by someone who may have had access to speedlites, but not to other flash units that were likely to used with the modifier. The build and material quality of the bracket was cheap looking.

Overall the fabric, ribs and opening mechanism are similar to the Cheetah Light 19″ foldable octa. The bracket on the other hand is disappointing. the carrying case quite good quality with both handles and a shoulder strap. I didn’t have the optional deflection disk, so I can’t comment on its construction. It attaches to the dish via a threading opening in the center mount. Before I’d pay the $16.00 I’d go to a hardware store and get a stove bolt that fit the thread and find an appropriate sized metal disk. The disk that came with the 19″ foldable looks to be about the same size.

Shadow Transitions without and with the diffusion panel

The light delivered to the subject is hard to distinguish from the 33″ foldable. The shadow transition along the side of the nose is smooth with a clear edge.

The exposure settings were F10.0, ISO 200, 1/200 shutter speed.

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Adding the diffusion fabric once again creates a slight loss (F8.0) of light output.

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And also has just a bit more subtle transition from shadow to highlight. It too delivers nice smooth highlights.

In summary

The Rapid Box 26″ octa delivers nice light. What concerns me is its construction and the premium Westcott wants me to pay for their name stenciled on the outside. The bracket is not as well made as eBay brackets I’ve purchased for $20.00. And, the plastic cold shoe limits the ability to get the flash head into the modifier. Fabric feels and looks identical to the fabric on the 19″ foldable octa from Cheetah. The frame also looks like it was designed by the same engineer and made out of the same music wire. so the question is; does 7 inches more diameter justify the higher price. Not for me. Ironically, the carrying case is the best made part of the package.

I’m still waiting to find a Westcott modifier I will keep and use.

Fotodiox 28″ Beauty Dish

This is a work horse. I’ve run it over with my car. Its fallen over when mounted on a too high light stand with insufficient sand bagging. (Lazy me, and it was inside.) Main reason I bought it was the larger size and interchangeable speedring adapter. I use it with the diffusion sock for a quick soft box when doing product photography and model shoots.

Here’s the light it delivers with a CL-300 mounted:

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Same position as the two foldable dishes. Exposure was F14, ISO 200, 1/200 shutter. Naturally the silver interior helps. and the nature of a solid metal dish is that no light escapes out the back. Still its a stop better. The shadow transition is nice with a sharp edge that one expects from a beauty dish. Just a hint of spectrality in the highlights. Also, something desirable from a beauty dish.

And now with the diffusion sock:

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As we would expect, the shadow edge is softened with the same smooth transition from shadow to highlight. The specularity is also diminished in the highlights. The sock require the aperture is opened to F11. The fabric on the sock is visibly thicker than with the two foldable. That probably adds to the increased exposure but also helps to make the light more diffused.

All-in-all nice light and a useful tool.

If you are interested in seeing how this dish works as a single light click the link below. (The link leads to a NSFW gallery, you’ve been warned. 🙂 )

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All the images in the gallery were shot with an Einstein in the dish, mostly without the sock. All on location in the living room or basement of a Milwaukee bungalow.

In closing

I was surprised at how hard it is to find any real differences in the character of the shadow transitions between the three modifiers. Also, how close the diffused modifiers look to one-another as well as those without diffusion.

The Cheetah Light foldable octa, even if one includes the Speed Pro Bracket is the most economical option. Next is the Fotodiox dish. Westcott’s Rapid Box is the most expensive, and in my view the least well made.

Afterword

Over the last 6 months I’ve been doing beta testing for Edward Tang at Cheetah Light. The objective was to get the Cells IIc FP-Sync trigger working with the Cheetah Light family of Hybrid strobes. Last week I ordered some tube protectors for my Cheetah Lights. When the shipment arrived the foldable octa was inside. I didn’t ask Edward to send it, and he didn’t ask me to write a review. Ironically the other box at the front door was the Rapid Box I’d ordered from Adorama. That coincidence prompted me to do this comparison.