Fstoppers Reviews the Parabolix Parabolic Reflectors

Fstoppers Reviews the Parabolix Parabolic Reflectors

If you follow big name photographers or pages like FamousBTSMag on Instagram or elsewhere, you’ve likely seen a parabolic reflector. Even more likely is the prestigious names that are Broncolor or Briese plastered on the side. The results that these modifiers produce are absolutely gorgeous, there’s no doubt there. They offer the most even light spread of any modifier, a large range of sizes, and incredible versatility. If you’ve done some research, however, you’ll throw the idea of shooting with one out the door because of their incredibly steep price. A few months ago, I stumbled on a company by the name of Parabolix. What I found seemed entirely too good to be true.

To my surprise, it was true, and with no catch to boot. Parabolix manufactures parabolic light modifiers in a variety of sizes from 14 inches (that’s right, 14 inches) up to 50 inches. The eye-catching part of these modifiers is their price. Never before has a modifier of this class and capability been so affordable. The most expensive option that they currently produce is the 50-inch reflector. All together (focusing rod, light mount, and reflector), this would cost you no more than $1,000. That’s a steal. 

Now, what makes the Parabolix modifiers special is the fact that they retain the same functionality as the more expensive alternatives. And that functionality has three parts: the parabolic shape, the indirect light mount, and the focus rod. The parabolic shape plays into the very even lighting that you get from these reflectors because the deep shape not only gives direction, but contrast as well. If you were to put the Parabolix 50 inch up against a 48 inch or 50-inch octabox, you would surely notice a difference. There isn’t necessarily a "better" look, it is personal preference really.

Lights are also rear-facing inside of these reflectors. Meaning the light fires away from the subject and in towards the back of the para. The advantage to this is the lack of any hotspot whatsoever. Because the light bounces throughout the reflector and is not directly pointed at the subject, the spread of light is totally even from edge to edge. Traditional softboxes and beauty dishes create different light qualities depending on where you point them because the light fires directly towards the subject and doesn’t bounce as well and diffuse in the same way.

But what if we want a different quality of light? Well, you aren’t stuck with one look due to the light’s even spread. This is thanks to the focusing rod that the light mounts to. The rod can be pulled in and out of the box to change how tight the spread of light is. Should you pull the rod all the way back into the box, your light will be punchy, directional, and hard. If the rod is pushed all the way out, the light will be far softer. I was able to use this to great effect as I often will shoot both harsh and soft light in the same shoot. The focusing rod will let you change from soft to harsh quickly and easily. If you need even softer light, there is an optional diffusion cover that can be attached to each para to create yet more even spread. This versatility is something I sorely missed once sending these review units back.

Those are the reasons that you’d want a parabolic reflector. Why specifically the Parabolix? Most of that reasoning is price, but there is also one thing that these reflectors do that the more expensive ones don’t: They will mount virtually any light you want. From Profoto, to Alien Bee, to Elinchrom, and even speedlights, the Parabolix reflectors allow for any of it. The focusing rod has a stud on the end, as is typical of light stands or c-stands. On that stud, you attach the actual light mount. The Profoto mount is a cage with a Profoto speedring on the end, perfect for Pro-B4 and Pro7/8 units. There’s even a universal adapter that extends out from the focusing rod offering a simple stuff to attach your light directly onto. Any light you have will likely fit onto these modifiers. That’s a big deal.

I’m sure there will be skeptics of the build quality, but I can assure you that it’s just as good as anything I’ve seen from Profoto. The fabric of the modifier is tough and doesn’t feel like it would easily break. On the inside, the silver lining gives the same impression that it won’t chip and get ruined over time like some unfortunately expensive modifiers I’ve seen. The ends of the unit where the rods sit in a pocket felt like they could wear down over time, but after mentioning this to the Parabolix team, they said that an update for this piece was already in the works to improve the reflector's longevity. The focusing rod inserts into the reflector from the back via a Profoto-esque mount that clamps around the focusing rod. In my experience, having set up and torn down the reflectors probably 20-30 times during my review, the assembly of the modifier and the focusing system is a breeze compared to other large modifiers with this depth. You can see the assembly in the video below, as shown by Parabolix.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99i_KVE-Ouc

Pros

  • Easy to assemble, which is great for location work.
  • Great, unique light quality.
  • It's versatile.
  • The price.
  • It's built well.
  • Even light output from edge to edge.
  • Provides great detail.

Cons

  • The type of light that it produces is very different from a traditional softbox, you may have difficulty transitioning.
  • Big and a little heavy for their size. Bring sandbags.

I can’t say that the Parabolix modifiers are for everyone. Yes, they are incredibly versatile and capable pieces of equipment, but there is no one tool for every job. For those of you shooting portraits, advertising, or fashion work, the Parabolix line of reflectors may very well be your next go-to lighting modifier. In my time using them, there was not a single point where I was disappointed by the workflow that these afforded me, and the image quality is stunning. Should you be in the market for a true, focusable Parabolic modifier, I highly recommend giving Parabolix a look.

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26 Comments

big difference with the Para's from Broncolor is they have 24 sides. This will give you a unique look. But these are also looking good, and for the price :)

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

In the catch lights yes, I totally agree that there is a difference. As far as the rest of the shot goes, it's pretty similar!

Daris Fox's picture

How do these stack up against Elinchrom's Indirect Litemotiv series apart from size? Just curious to understand the differences of Parabolic and the Indirect lights.

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

The biggest thing is the focusing rod. The Elinchrom Litemotiv series is wonderful and they have the shape, but not the ability to 'focus' or 'defocus' the light like the Parabolix or Broncolor.

Daris Fox's picture

OK, it works in a similar way to a Fresnel light with how it focusses. Might have to see about getting one to play with. I love the Litemotiv line as the produce an amazing source of light to work with, but I'm always open to new ways of lighting and trying to understanding how they interact with my subjects.

Got one from Aurora and it's similar to Zeppelin but way cheaper. Love the light it produced.

david shepherd's picture

I have the 40" version and I love it! I will say that this is not equal to Broncolor Para series, but it is not trying to be. These are the best modifiers at this price class from anyone. Only Broncolor and Briese are superior but you will not know the difference if you never shot with them. I am buying another shaper this year, 20" or 30".

The only downside I see is these are not rated by the manufacturer for continuous light. I wish this could handle 1K continuous, but I love it none the less.

Seth Lowe's picture

Thanks for sharing.. been looking for something like this that wouldnt kill the wallet.

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

You will not be disappointed Seth!

Looks like the Parabolix are just a focusable parabolic, unlike Broncolor or Briese which not only have a push/pull focusing rod, but also can expand or contract to change the shape of the lighting. (hence the huge price difference I guess). But still not bad for the price.

David Walden's picture

Hi JF- Just wanted to clarify: those other brands do not "expand and contract" to change their shape (although one might think that based on their pricing). The price difference is mainly due to higher overhead costs and "branding". thanks, -david

I'm sorry but if you think the additional cost of a Briese or even the Broncolor over your product is simply a result of "overhead costs and branding" you are sorely mistaken. I have used both the Briese and Broncolor extensively and I can promise you, there is a lot more to those modifiers than overhead cost and branding. Are they expensive yes, but there's far more factors to those costs than the fact that one says Broncolor on the side.

David Walden's picture

There are other big differences, you are correct, and I wasn't trying to compare our product with theirs. I only wanted to correct the erroneous statement that those other brands "expand and contract" to change the shape of the lighting.

Lee Christiansen's picture

How ell would these work with Profoto D1's with a frosted dome? (For the big paras or small ones...?)

And with a heavyish light like the D1, how is the balance and strength of attachment?

Joakim Drake's picture

I'd imagine it would work as it would with other para's. I.e not optimal since light spread isn't as good and it will be extremely front heavy if you defocus the para which means the light will dangle far from the stand.

David Walden's picture

Hi Lee- In terms of balance, as long as your stand is decent, the larger units balance fine using monolights. I typically mount the 40" and 50" units on a combo stand that has about 2 ft radius support legs. The smaller reflectors we mount on C-stands. We've tested the larger ones for balance with heavy Speedotrons as well as Profoto Compact series, and they work great. thanks, -David.

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

Many people have invested in the B1's, and those work wonderfully as well. While the flash tube is recessed and won't spread as well as the Compact series heads or Elinchrom's, they work great and balance nicely. I do recommend C-stands or even Avenger roller stands.

Ett Venter's picture

I should jump in here. I own a B1 and a D1, and when I pair those up with my Broncolor Para 220 or Para 177, the light is pretty awful. It's nothing like what it should be. The recessed bulb doesn't offer the kind of spread that the Pro7 style lights offer. When I throw a Pro7 into the Paras, the Paras produce the exact kind of light that they SHOULD be producing.

When I use the B1 and the Para 220, the light that comes out is an incredibly hard, focused light - nothing like the light that should be coming out of a para.

So if you're a B1 or D1 user, you'll need to either buy a Pro7 style head, or you'll need to get that dome attachment for the B1/D1 lights that essentially converts the B1/D1 into a Pro7 style light.

Totally agree - recessed bulb does not work well for deep reflectors with indirect mount. It is ok to use recessed bulb with parabolic umbrella, but when focus point goes deep inside you are in trouble.

Recently I tested the latest 45" para from Parabolix with different heads and mounts, and to make that modifier to work at its best you really need to open up the bulb. The higher it protrudes, the better.

For that reason even PCB mount (both Balcar and Elinchrom) does not work well, as it has wide faceplate, which shields the bulb and prevents it from sending light backward.

Here are the images for
-- speedlight, no external diffusor, universal adapter - I expect that's what you are going to see with Profoto B1 without a dome
-- E640, PCB mount
-- E640, universal adapter
-- Quadra, universal adapter

All PCB Einstein E640 shoots were taken with dome attached. Elinchrom Quadra head is a bare bulb.

Eric Knorpp's picture

I love my D1's but the newer design of the flash tube inside is not very good, it makes my parabolic kind of useless and my beauty dish also. Although I love them, the newer inset design is only good when you want hard shadows. So with my other modifiers I use the Pro7 heads on my Pro7A packs bc the light spread is much nicer than the newer head design.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Are these only usable with Profoto?

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

They are compatible with any light. There is a universal adapter that allows you to mount anything from Alien Bees to Broncolor to Bowens or anything you can think of. They even offer a speedlight adapter! I recommend checking out their website (parabolixlight,com) to see the various mounts.

Eric Knorpp's picture

Why does everyone keep asking if they work with profoto when clearly the video above is with Profoto attachments...

Rex Larsen's picture

Paras are very popular now but I'm having a hard time seeing in the sample photos the advantage of this modifier. The Bron paras are currently the IT lighting product. For those that use them what is the great appeal considering the high cost ?

Eric Knorpp's picture

These actually look quite nice, well built and affordable. Ofcourse they are going to be better with Profoto 7 or 8 heads and not really any benefit for D1 heads. Has anybody order from these guys? I usually buy everything from B&H But was wondering how the service and shipping..?? Are they US based and have Stock? Would be nice to hear from anybody that has actually bought these..

They ship from California, my orders were shipped to East coast USPS second day delivery. Packed well, and the best thing is that after opening the box you do not have that sour feeling that you were tricked into buying yet another piece of cheap fabric paired with flimsy hardware. The build quality is solid.

It does not look like they keep a lot (if anything) in stock at least for now. Their site quotes 5-10 days ship time.

I am lucky not having a chance to test their repair/return services, but as to the general assistance on using the product they definitely willing to run an extra mile - I got several emails from David with instructions and lighting tips. Very helpful.