Phottix has been steadily working its way up the ladder when it comes to reliable and affordable photography equipment. Much like Yongnuo, Phottix started in the marketplace as somewhat unreliable, but in recent years has done a lot to turn that around. Introduced a few months ago, the Phottix Luna collapsible beauty dish caught many an eye as a perfect answer for beauty lighting on the go. But the question remained: does it produce the same results as a real beauty dish?
Before we get to that, let’s talk about the design and build quality. The design is really smart, using interlocking plastic joists that easily lock together and force the box into the dish shape. The box then easily collapses when the joints are bent inwards, much like how a ladder joist functions. I've seen a couple ideas for collapsible dishes like this, but I have to say Phottix's design makes for one of the fastest set-up and break-down speeds of any lighting modifier I have ever put together.
I think only an umbrella could be faster. For run-and-gun photography, this box is a gem. I unpacked and mounted the dish in under 10 seconds with extreme ease. There is no fiddling with metal rods with this design, which I really love.
The box is also incredibly light. Packed inside of its cinched bag, it weighs about a pound, which is nothing when I’m used to carrying an excess of 25 pounds on my back when on the go.
The quality of the pieces is pretty impressive for the most part. The material of the box itself is comparable to the more expensive soft boxes on the market, and the plastic joists that keep the box in shape feel surprisingly sturdy. The dish on the inside of the box is aluminum and held in place by three metal rods. You rarely have to touch this part of the box, but if you do you might be a bit unimpressed with the quality here. It’s basically the only place I wish felt more reliable. The way the metal rods hold the dish in place doesn't feel particularly tough. I just felt like the rods had the center dish slightly off kilter, but there was no way for me to really repair them without feeling like I would cause irreparable damage to the rods by permanently bending them out of alignment.
Aside from my slight beef with the center rods, I really like the quality of this product. I would classify it as both solidly and smartly built.
If you were to look at a traditional beauty dish beside the Phottix collapsible one, you would immediately notice how shallow the edges of the Phottix box are. A traditional beauty dish has very steep edges that scoop up dramatically. The Phottix box splays out on the edges, and this is important to note as it greatly affects the kind of light you will get out of the modifier.
Below is a photo I took with a traditional beauty dish. You can see how constrained the light is, allowing for a nice shadow gradient that gives her cheekbones definition.
Now bear with me, as it’s pretty obvious how different her pose is, but it should help illustrate the point I’m making. Below, you can see how much broader the key light is.
That is because I have replaced the traditional beauty dish with the Phottix, which has much less light constraint due to the shallow edges of the box. Also, the Phottix box produced brighter light than a traditional dish by about one stop. This is certainly something to be aware of when shooting.
The light that the Phottix produces is actually quite pretty. It has the same balance of softness that beauty dish fans look for, which is kind of a hybrid between an unmodified flash burst and a soft boxed light. That said, the quality of the light isn't quite the same due to the angle of the edges on the Phottix.
Also note that there is not an easy way to mount a grid on the Phottix. Though it does come with a diffusing sock you can place over the front of the box, doing so would just make this into a small octobank (not as though that is a bad thing!). I'm pretty sure those of you who are DIY savvy could find a way to mount a grid on it, but for those looking for a turnkey solution, the Phottix lacks in that department.
Also note that the box ships with only a Bowens adapter. If you want to use this with speedlights, you will have to buy the Phottix speedlight adapter that will allow a Bowens connector. You can also buy several different speedrings for the beauty dish, including the ever-popular Paul C. Buff adapter (known as the Balcar).
By itself, the dish is relatively inexpensive at $75. However, if you don't use a Bowens mount and/or you want to use it with speedlights, you could be looking at a larger investment here. That said, buying all these parts is actually quite a bit cheaper than many other lighting modifiers on the market. Just know what you're getting yourself into.
What I liked:
Speedy setup and teardown
What could use improvement:
Edges are too shallow to produce true beauty dish light
Rods holding center dish don’t feel as sturdy as the rest of the box
Doesn't come with built-in solution to mount a grid
Let me be straight with you: this box doesn't really produce true beauty dish light. The shallow edges of the box preclude it from being one, but that doesn't mean you should ignore this modifier. It sets up faster than nearly any other modifier on the market, and though it’s not really a beauty dish, the light it produces does look pretty great. With the included diffuser sock, you have yourself a lightweight, easy to assemble soft lighting solution for portraits on location. The size is perfect for half-body and headshot poses. If you can ignore the fact it’s touted as a beauty dish, you can find yourself pretty darn happy with the quality of light for what is a pretty minimal investment.